Friday, July 20, 2012

Xenakis Is Metal

[Y]ou have the good fortune of being Greek, of being an architect and having studied special mathematics. Take advantage of these things. Do them in your music.

--advice given to Xenakis early in his musical career

I first heard about Iannis Xenakis when he was name-dropped by SepticFlesh as an influence on their style. Metal points in his favor: +10.

In his early 20's, he was involved in street fighting against British tanks. He was shot in the face by a tank shell and survived, one eye down and seriously scarred on the left side of his face. Don't re-read that section. He was shot, in the face, by a tank shell. Metal points in his favor: +10,000.

For his part in resisting the monarchy's efforts at restoration, he was sentenced to death, in absentia. I think we can pretty much stop counting his metal points here.

More importantly, Xenakis was a radical force in 20th century music. He wrote music with special attention paid to rhythm, and atmosphere, much like death metal. He based some of his compositions on ancient religious practices, not unlike many black metal practitioners. Like any band that you "have to see live to appreciate," he understood that place and medium are part of the message, creating works that fused architecture and music. He also had some very weird ideas about suing math and computer science principles in composition, and was a pioneer of electronic music. Most of it was definitely not pretty.

In short, the guy was either nuts or a genius.

"Metastaseis" is an orchestral work that's completely cinematic in nature.

"Mycenae Alpha" is an electronic piece created using UPIC, a system of his own design which translates drawings into music.

Finally, "Psappha" is a percussion work that's based on the rhythm of the poetry of Sappho, the ancient lesbian poetess.

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