Iannis Xenakis GRM Works 1957-1962

[Recollection GRM; 2013]

Styles: musique concrète, experimental, abstract
Others: Pierre Schaeffer, Pauline Oliveros, Hoor-Paar-Kraat, Frank Rosaly

Once said of (and to) Iannis Xenakis by composer, organist, and ornithologist Olivier Messiaen:

I understood straight away that he was not someone like the others. […] He is of superior intelligence. … You 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.

I’m not sure how much the concepts uttered above hold any sway over the contents of GRM Works 1957-1962. If you tried to spitball a mock-up of his music onto draft paper, you’d have to use T-squares that haven’t been invented yet and other measuring tools made of feelings, richness, and darkness. We don’t have the technology! However, there’s nothing accidental about the living, breathing, threshing, soothing beings Xenakis brought to life through his compositions.

You might think you’re a hot little shit sandwich with your oscillators and what have you, but Xenakis created such sounds more than 50 years ago and, with a few exceptions, rendered what was to come relatively moot. This is heart, this is imagination, this is current in every sense of the word. “Diamorphoses” is a private asteroid shower while you’re isolated in a hospital bed, dope-sick and marveling at the lights and colors. People hear progressions such as this and have their lives changed. “Orient-Occident,” originally conjured for a film by Enrico Fulchignoni, is more of a ghostly mystery of broken glass, ice-water droplets, and rumbling furnaces; then a giant battering ram butts its head against your bedroom door, and you’re hanging onto your sanity by a low thread count while a warm glow settles over you like a fine early morning mist.

As with so many of these experimental composers, if you want to really hear what goes on in the mind of Xenakis, you’ve got to commit to the sprawling, crumbling fortress of a sidelong excursion, in this case “Bohor,” named for Bors the Younger, Lancelot’s cousin. Here is a vibrant, round-table intermingling of instruments/effects that come and go of their own volition. There’s no effort here, just continental drift broken up into smaller echo-chunks of bells big and small, dinner-plate clanks/clunks/clinks, ominous swells both dank and pungent to the ear, and a light coat of sound-varnish I can’t quite identify. This piece was dedicated, back in 1968, to Pierre Schaeffer, a rival of sorts in experimental circles.

“I hope you are pleased with it,” Xenakis wrote in a note. While Schaeffer offered dry criticism of the unremitting intensity of “Bohor” in return, that is to be expected. He could never let on how powerful he undoubtedly found it to be; perhaps that’s the biggest compliment of all. And with that I concur.

Links: Iannis Xenakis - Recollection GRM