Iannis Xenakis’s work inhabits a fascinating world located on the peripheries of Architecture and Music. His work is born from a remarkable life having been a resistance fighter, mathematician, composer and an architect – a true polymath.
Xenakis’s work explores the ‘meta order’ that exists in seemingly chaotic systems. Nouritza Matossian writes of him in her autobiography: 'Xenakis knew that it wasn't the intrinsic qualities of the sounds, such as people's shouts and screams, machine gun fire, rhythmic chanting, but the characteristic distribution of vast numbers of events, many different components engaged in a huge choreography, whose movement in space constantly altering in mixture and proportion, which produced a new composite living sound organism.'
Xenakis famously worked as an architect with Le Corbusier on the Philips Pavilion for the Brussels world fair in 1958, before focusing his attention on musical composition. The pavilion was a milestone in architectural thinking and illuminated architecture as a time based phenomenon. ‘In this multi-media environment, two new pieces were performed: Varese's iconic Poeme Electronique; and Xenakis's Concret PH, a short electronic work constructed from the sounds of burning charcoal. The title refers to the key elements of the building's design, the material of reinforced concrete, and the basic shape of hyperbolic paraboloids.’[Professor Jonathan Cole].
Xenakis’s architecture was dynamic, fluid and temporal. The complex curved surfaces of the pavilion broke down boundaries and echoed the continuous glissandi that were to be so prevalent in his later musical compositions. His musical and orchestral ‘designs’ sought to explore the spatialisation of music and the nature of sound, adopting an inherently architectural approach. Pieces such as Nomos Gamma, ’67-’68 and Terretektorh ’65-’66 saw 98 orchestral players employed throughout the audience so, in Xenakis’s words ‘A shower of hail or even a murmur of pine forests can encompass each listener.’ [Professor Jonathan Cole]. For me the work of Xenakis goes beyond the usual metaphorical comparisons relating music and architecture. His spatialised music reflects back on our understanding of architecture as being a series of temporal based events. In turn his architectural approach to musical composition has contributed to a deeper understanding and fascination with the nature of sound.