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“Iannis Xenakis: Electronic Works, Volume Two” is another
fine release on the MODE label, devoted to the revolutionary
works of composer Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001). In this case,
the featured electroacoustic works are “Hibiki Hana Ma,”
composed during 1969 and 1970, and “Polytope de Cluny,”
composed between 1972 and 1974. Both of these works are
for eight-channel tape.

“Hibiki Hana Ma” (Reverberation Flower-Interval) was suggested
to Xenakis by composer Toru Takemitsu (1930-1996), and was
to be performed during the 1970 World’s Fair, at a new concert
hall in Osaka, Japan. This hall was equipped with then
state-of-the-art acoustic equipment, which included 700 speakers
beneath the floor and 128 surface and suspended speakers
that were distributed throughout the building. Xenakis was
also a professional architect and engineer, having worked
with architect and designer, Le Corbusier (1887-1965) from
1947 until his death. This background facilitated his interest
in the spatial and electroacoustic characteristics of venues
where his music was performed. As a result, “Hibiki Hana Ma”
was a 17-minute, purely aural piece, whereas “Polytope de Cluny”
involved the use of computer-automated lasers and mirrors,
as a part of the experience.

I should emphasize that to fully appreciate these works, it is
best to hear and see them in the proper acoustic setting. In
the case of “Polytope de Cluny,” that setting was the Roman
Baths of Cluny, hence the reference to the venue in the title
of the piece. Unfortunately, audio/video recordings can only
provide an approximation of “live” performances. Musician and
curator Sharon Kanach described her 1970’s experience of this
work in the accompanying liner notes.

For Xenakis, “Polytopes” are spatial compositions of light
and sound, typically where light, color and architecture
overlap in one site. Needless to say, my experience of
“Polytope de Cluny,” while sitting in front of a small screen
and hearing it through two speakers and a sub-woofer
must have been a poor substitute for the real thing. At least
while listening, I was able to see the images from the
Festival d’automne à Paris, where the work was performed
during the 1970’s, but it certainly wasn’t the multimedia event
that it was meant to be.

Since “Hibiki Hana Ma” (Reverberation Flower-Interval) was
purely aural, there were no accompanying images. As typical
with works of Xenakis, this music consisted largely of computer
determined textures and masses of sound, usually of indefinite
pitches. I’d advise anyone who listens to this music to abandon
their preconceived notions of normal “…rules, boundaries and
limitations,” and just “go with the flow.” You should put yourself
in the “Xenakis zone.”

Incidentally, both of these pieces are also available on CD,
as with the other Xenakis DVDs in this series; however, the
CD versions don’t include the eight-minute, bonus work,
“NEG-ALE,” which is on the DVD. Xenakis composed it in 1960
for Peter Kassovitz’s black and white film, “Vasarely,” which was
based upon the life and work of abstract artist, Victor Vasarely
(1908-1997). This music was scored for piccolo, French horn,
cello, and a “bongo with a drum stick.” Xenakis later withdrew
this score from his catalogue. In fact, the scored film is included
on this disc, which is the first time it’s ever been presented
commercially. It’s an interesting oddity, and Xenakis enthusiasts
will no doubt want to see it; however, I found the music and
the film to be quite forgettable. An informative trilingual booklet
with notes accompanies this 51-minute, 2008 DVD release,
which I found to be an important part of a very worthwhile series.

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