Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001) was a composer primarily famous
for his explorations of new sonorities and textures. The term
“Stochastic Music” is often associated with him, and he is
probably the most well-known exponent of this type of music,
a true pioneer of the style. “Stochastic Music” involves elements
typically generated by mathematical processes, and Xenakis
used probability, game theory, group theory and set theory,
often generated by computers, to produce his scores.
Xenakis was also an architect, and one of his most famous
creations was a multimedia installation for the French Pavilion
at the Montreal Expo in 1967. In connection with those
festivities, the opening of a new Arts Center in the nation’s
capital of Ottawa was scheduled, and Xenakis received a
commission for the center’s inaugural concert. The opening
of the center was delayed for two years, meaning that his
commissioned work, “Kraanerg,” was first performed in 1969.
A 75-minute ballet, “Kraanerg” was the longest single work
by Xenakis. Like most of his choreographed pieces, it was
performed in concert as well, and I watched a 2006 concert
performance of it, released on DVD by the Mode label in 2008.
“Kraanerg” was performed by the Callithumpian Consort, under
the direction of noted pianist and conductor, Stephen Drury.
It was scored for 23 instruments and four-channel tape, along
with many instances of extramusical images that were shown
during the taped sections. These images were created by
Tim Chu, the director of this film.
Anyone familiar with Xenakis’s music will no doubt know
what to expect when listening to one of his works. He coined
the title, “Kraanerg,” by combining the Greek term, “kraan,”
which means “accomplishment” with the word “erg,” which is
a measurement of a unit of energy. Employing compositional
techniques derived from mathematics, the score of “Kraanerg”
places emphasis on musical sonorities, sound textures and
densities, as opposed to elements such as pitch and rhythm.
The processed sounds from the instrumental group were
recorded on the four-channel tape and played in conjunction
with and in opposition to the music performed by the ensemble.
There were also many moments of silence, varying from
two to 28 seconds.
Obviously, this can be quite trying and taxing for “newbies”
to avant-garde musical styles, and I’d only recommend
“Kraanerg” to “extreme” listeners like me. Nevertheless,
it was a fantastic performance, and was captured particularly
well in this, its first “surround sound” release. Fortunately, an
interesting 26-minute interview section is included featuring
Xenakis authority, James Harley, and Gerald Pape, director of
Xenakis’s CCMIX studio, circa 1991-2008. Other contributions
were offered via input from the composer’s widow, Françoise,
and prima ballerina Veronica Tennant, who danced in the
Canadian premiere of this work in 1969. This section is truly
beneficial for those who wish to understand the music of
Xenakis and in particular, the history of “Kraanerg.”
The tape used in “Kraanerg” was the focus of an additional
12-minute documentary from German composer Daniel Tiege,
and included a couple of musical examples.
All in all, this was a fine DVD presentation of one of the
seminal works from a true musical iconoclast. I highly
recommend it to those wishing to “broaden their horizons.”