Author Topic: The Late Works of XENAKIS  (Read 17233 times)

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snyprrr

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The Late Works of XENAKIS
« on: January 13, 2009, 12:56:09 AM »

a lot of people seem to have a problem with the direction xenakis began charting in the late eighties until his last composition. i think offended and derisive in cases. i know i certainly didn't like it, but yes, i'm feeling so much better now.

the hallmarks of xenakis' late style become almost stereotypical: cyclopean masses move in an ever slow "walking" tempo in a very regular meter. gone are the glissandi, the echo chamber rhythms, ALL the really cool stuff that everybody liked! i especially remembered hating the arditti violin concerto "DOX-ORKH". i was like heeeyyyyy, what?

but of course, now that i HAVE  a lot of it, ha, i better like it, so....

for me, the 80s contain most of my favorite works: SHAAR/TETRAS, LICHENS, THALLEIN,all the HARPSICORD works, KEQUROPS, JALONS, TRACEES(1987). all the mature characteristics from JONCHAIES on are present. including the classics from the 70s, these are all my very favorite modern music.

but something very strange happened on the way to the pompideau (sic) center, argh

1986

saw the trombone piece KEREN, the orch. work HOROS, and the piano quintet AKEA.

HOROS showed the blueprints of the new style. the simplicity of KEREN an apparent distillation and portent of the extreme "simplicity" to come. AKEA shares a few of the new characteristics, but i find this work stands alone, and it also his last chamber work in the recognizable style.

1987

saw XAS for sax qrt, and ATA for orch. the regular pulse is now solidly in the forefront. both works share many similarities, and ATA builds on HOROS, TRACEES is the last orch work in the classic killer xenakis style. best five minutes of xenakis, period. anyone?

harmonically now xenakis has streamlined the melodies and made the cluster totally vertical and fan-like. to me ATA sounds like stravinsky and messaein (?). xenakis is beginning to sound like "regular" music, haha...horror of horrors!

1988

THE watershed year for the new style. REBONDS for perc, WAARG, EPICYCLES, and ECHANGE for ensemble (epicycles w/ solo cello, and echange w/ solo bass clarinet)

it almost seems as his late style is derived from his percussion music. rebonds is probably one of the most popular pieces for a percusionist. nuff said.

the three ensemble pieces are something else. one can barely recognize the old xenakis anymore. WAAG seems like an extremely slow greek theater...am i reminded of boulez' ritual? everything is extremely easy to follow. if waarg was the only piece in his ouevre that sounded like this, it might be a ...no i won't say it. i like it, but just doesn't seem like xenakis. the same goes for the cello "concerto", though this piece as played by rohan de saram is to me one of xenakis' most "spacey" pieces. it kind is a precursor to DOX-ORKH. the cello line sounds vaguely stereotypically native american. the ensemble show affinities with XAS.

the bass clarinet "concerto" ECHANGE is verrry slow and menacing, very cosmic, not at all like the other pieces. as far as i know, this is the only piece by xenakis that has this particular sound. the clarinet does all the usual xenakis tricks as the ensemble opens and closes dark vistas. still, an anomaly for me...is it really xenakis?

1989

OOPHAA for harpsicord and perc, and OKHO for 3 perc. OOPHAA is one of xenakis' mellowest works, very regularly metered, and OKHO of course, is the premier piece in all the universe for three djembes. when i saw this on an arditti string quartet cd i freaked (and not in a good way).

suffice to say that the new xenakis rhythm is here to stay 1-2-3-4 1-2-3-4

1990-91

a slew of new orchestral works: TUOAKEMSU, KYANIA, DOX-ORKH, ROAI, KRINOIDI, and TOORKH (W/ TROMBONE SOLO).

i haven't heard TOORKH yet, though there are already 2 recordings (both w/ lindberg). i imagine it sounds like DOX-ORKH, which pits the new xenakis orchestral walking monolith against an old fashioned MIKKA violin solo. this piece made a very bad impression on me.

KYANIA, ROAI, and KRINOIDI represent the essence of a singular darkness in xenakis' music. these are slow, dark anguished worlds. the "walking" orchestra sound started with HOROS is grinding to a halt in late xenakis. the pieces keep getting slower and slower, the dissoneces building into columns turning in on themselves. the notes in the timpani cds will have to suffice...

but at this point apparently, xenakis was using whole sections from one piece to the next, and if you asked me, i wouldn't be able to tell the three pieces apart in a blind taste test. in the nest year was MOSAIQUES which was literally sections of the previous pieces since HOROS.

at the same time came the 3rd string quartet TETORA, which when i first heard on the arditti cd, it was just totally different than anything on there. there is not a note out of place in this slow granite moving block. is there one pizz? the same rhythmic and harmonic concerns of the "walking" orchestra are present here too.

THE LAST PHASE

4 more orchestra works: DAMMERSCHEIN (94), KOIRANOI (95), IOOLKOS (96), and SEA-CHANGE (87).

i don't think KOIRANOI has been recorded, and SEA-CHANGE is only available on a greek cd.
the other two pieces continue further on from the previous works, with IOOLKOS the most constipated collection of bristle dissonences i ever heard.  the tempo has slowed to an utter crawl. SEA-CHANGE is apparently only four minutes, and IOOLKOS is eight, so IOOLKOS is pretty much what we get for a final statement from xenakis, and it's not very pretty. i like to listen to it when i reallly need to clear my head.

the quartet ERGMA is M.I.A., but VOILE (20 STR) and ITTIDRA (6 STR) sound a lot like IOOLKOS, just giant walls of slow moving clusters.
the string duos HUNEM-IDUHEY and ROSCOBECK utilize the "walking" rhythms, and the non-vibrato piercing dissonences of the other pieces.
also, for his final statements for strings, these pieces seem to raise the question, huh? from tetras to...here??? xenakis seems to have the most ignoble end phase of any composer i can think of, but hey, i like this stuff.
also, the cello/piano PAILLE IN THE WIND i have not heard....very strange combo for xenakis.

the sextet PLEKTO (fl, cl, piano, perc, vln, vnc) sounds like messeain (?- i just can't spell) pure and simple. the only recording i've heard on mode, well i don't like the recorded sound, and i think they take a 12 min. piece only 8 min. you can definitely hear how they should have stretched out the tempo. the piece does sound a bit like WAARG

the brass piece in memory of LUTOSLAWSKI continues the lackys-daisy slow moving dissonent counterpoint, ay, from KHALL-PERR to this?

the two "chilly" sounding ensemble pieces KAI and KUILENN sound like drifting ice packs. the available recording is one of the worst technical recordings i have ever heard, but i would really like to hear these pieces done again (though i won't hold my breath). though sounding somewhat like everything else in this period, these pieces do get points for the "chiliness".

that leaves ZYTHOS for trombone and 6 perc., and O-MEGA for ensemble and perc.

O-MEGA is available of bvhaast, but i have heard neither piece. i can imagine that O-MEGA fits the WAARG/EPICYLES mode, but i DO wonder about ZYTHOS. why hasn't lindberg recorded it?

it seems as though xenakis' style became solidified, like his own musical tombstone. one really has to trudge through this stuff, and there is a dark light glowing in the midst of a few of these pieces, but there is a LOT here that a lot of people could quibble with, too: the recycling, the apparent abandonment of earlier achievements, the forebidding demeanor of much of this music. the incomprehensible- why would he go there?

some of these pieces may take time for good recordings.
NOW I KNOW i left out xenakis' most exciting work during this period, the electronic works VOYAGE ABSOLUTO DES  ONAN VER ANDROMEDA (1989) and S.709 (1994)...WILD, WILD STUFF!!!
...and the vocal works...there is THE BACCHANTES

snyprrr

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Re: The Late Works of XENAKIS
« Reply #1 on: January 13, 2009, 12:57:45 AM »
WHOOPS...DIDN'T FINISH.

well, if anyone made it this far...the floor is yours.

Offline Archaic Torso of Apollo

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Re: The Late Works of XENAKIS
« Reply #2 on: January 13, 2009, 01:45:29 AM »
This is a useful post, charting the evolution of the X Man's vast oeuvre  8)

For now, just a minor nitpick:


i haven't heard TOORKH yet, though there are already 2 recordings (both w/ lindberg).

The recording I have is with Mike Svoboda (on col legno). I didn't even know Lindberg had recorded it. Are you sure about that?  ???

Anyway - on reflection, Troorkh displays some of the characteristics you've mentioned. I was surprised that it sounded relatively stable and consonant in relation to other Xenakis works I'd heard (though I'd stress that "relatively"). There are also some amazingly high-register declamatory statements from the trombone.
formerly VELIMIR (before that, Spitvalve)

"Who knows not strict counterpoint, lives and dies an ignoramus" - CPE Bach

snyprrr

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Re: The Late Works of XENAKIS
« Reply #3 on: January 13, 2009, 02:32:40 AM »
lindberg is on BIS with berio and turnage.

thanks for the descrption..i would like to hear lindberg do it.

Offline edward

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Re: The Late Works of XENAKIS
« Reply #4 on: January 13, 2009, 09:16:45 AM »
I'm another who doesn't tend to like late Xenakis too much. As you say, the rhythms can seem pedestrian and the music often comes close to nothing more than a lengthy monolothic sequence of chords (with, in the concertante works, an often modally-tinged melodic line overlaid on it).

Of the works from this period, I do like Troorkh, Ata and Tetora, but listening much beyond that they can sound very samey. The last few works are often very short and perhaps this indicates a lack of ability to retain focus due to his ill health at the time.
"I don't at all mind actively disliking a piece of contemporary music, but in order to feel happy about it I must consciously understand why I dislike it. Otherwise it remains in my mind as unfinished business."
 -- Aaron Copland, The Pleasures of Music

snyprrr

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Re: The Late Works of XENAKIS
« Reply #5 on: January 13, 2009, 03:51:42 PM »
I'm another who doesn't tend to like late Xenakis too much. As you say, the rhythms can seem pedestrian and the music often comes close to nothing more than a lengthy monolothic sequence of chords (with, in the concertante works, an often modally-tinged melodic line overlaid on it).

pedestrian...lengthy monolithic sequ. of chords....modal melody....that's it. did we mention the LENGTH of some of these pieces?

i did want to point out ECHANGE.  it is one of the only works here that takes a bit of a different tack, more solidly in xenakis" "cosmic" way-very slow opening and closing of vistas. i think a couple of these late works, perhaps KYANIA, ROAI, KRINOIDI...bring this dark evil glowing out.  there does seem to be a disturbing undercurrent of cosmic darkness here and there that remind me of a malevolent universal revelation,,,in a verrry "non human" way...like xenakis is channelling those aliens from "the twilight Zone" that have the book "to serve man" which turns out to be a cookbook! i think xenakis' secular/atheist/humanist "faith" showed him the endgame...utter annihilation.

i don't really know the full story about his health, but seeing as he was such a "brain". did he suffer from any brain ailment? it just seems like his music became so calcified, such bald contours, that it seems as though we can actually HEAR in his music his mind taking leave of him. but i don't know.

i welcome all struggling fans to chime in.

snyprrr

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Re: The Late Works of XENAKIS
« Reply #6 on: January 13, 2009, 03:56:35 PM »
this thread is starting to depress me....oh xenakis, we hardly knew ya

Offline edward

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Re: The Late Works of XENAKIS
« Reply #7 on: January 13, 2009, 07:16:50 PM »
My understanding was that Xenakis suffered from Alzheimer's, and that this was the reason why he didn't write any more after O-Mega.
"I don't at all mind actively disliking a piece of contemporary music, but in order to feel happy about it I must consciously understand why I dislike it. Otherwise it remains in my mind as unfinished business."
 -- Aaron Copland, The Pleasures of Music

greg

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Re: The Late Works of XENAKIS
« Reply #8 on: January 13, 2009, 07:43:39 PM »
A Xenakis thread not started by me!  :o 0:)

I'll try to get back with this thread in a bit, but a few thoughts:
-Xenakis' late style seems to be very dry, but at the same time it could be thought of as a sort of dissonant plainchant, with its regular rhythms and simple line (when looked at from the perspective of an individual performer).
-It can be challenging to the listener not because of its complexity, but because the concentration involved- I'm thinking of a specific piece that I haven't listened to much- possibly Ioolkos is what I'm thinking of.
-Some of his works from the late 80s are some of my favorite works of all time- Ata, (written during my birth year) Keqrops and Jonchaies.


greg

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Re: The Late Works of XENAKIS
« Reply #9 on: January 13, 2009, 07:46:26 PM »
Xas is a funny sounding piece, your description of Ioolkos is perfect  ;D and O-Mega was a piece written for Evelyn Glennie, and I've always wanted to listen to it...

snyprrr

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Re: The Late Works of XENAKIS
« Reply #10 on: January 14, 2009, 12:29:08 AM »
that's the most understanding assessment i've heard.....the dissonent plainchaint reminds me of messiaen. kind of like universal humanism.

alzheimers? wow, it IS as though you can hear it in the music.....yes, dry, sandblasted.


yea, the more i think about this thread, the more i've been taking each work separately, and as i said, taken individually there ARE little masterpieces.

i ask you...is KEREN old school or new school xenakis? it DOES represent the absolute simplification...it IS very regularly metered...yet it appears out of nowhere and has established itself as standard rep for tboners. perhaps his vocal melodies are the only thing i can point to...AKANTHOS' long notes...the real greek influence, perhaps.

HOROS and KEKROPS are both from 1986, and here we have a clear pair. KEKROPS retains all the classic xenakis traits, whereas HOROS, seems like a real evolution...all of the different strands represented in say...LICHENS (1984)...have now come out the other end of the worm hole as a solidified mass (as best represented by IOOLKOS)...the various strands of the universe have become self aware and transformed into a unified, dense, tumbling entity devouring itself. some of this music reminds me of a monstrous larvae undulating under its thick skin.

and i DO like REBONDS, even though it is mostly just skins...yet another rep standard now (as with PSAPPHA). i just don't care for OKHO, which is becoming the most oft recorded work. KASSANDRA for sakkas and perc. falls here too.
and then we have one of his mellowes, nicestt works, OOPHAA for harpsicord and perc.  A LOT OF SOLO PERC MUSIC!

endless recordings of these pieces!  zzzzz....

which brings up the problem of intelligent programming of the current crop of recordings, which seem to duplicate to the point of $$$$$.

greg

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Re: The Late Works of XENAKIS
« Reply #11 on: January 14, 2009, 12:29:10 PM »
I was surprised at the Alzheimers' thing, too. Where'd you find that out, Edward?

He certainly doesn't look like he knows where he is in this pic:
"Uhhh... where am I? France or Jamaica? Whos is this guy again? Wait, why is there a dent on my face? Ahhhh!!!!!!!"

greg

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Re: The Late Works of XENAKIS
« Reply #12 on: January 14, 2009, 12:57:26 PM »
His percussion works do seem to be recorded a bit much, but I have no problem with it personally. Any extra recording there is of this guy is an extra Xenakis recording on the market, period. I don't think I've ever heard Keren, and I have Okho on my computer waiting to be burned to CD.


Quote
HOROS and KEKROPS are both from 1986, and here we have a clear pair. KEKROPS retains all the classic xenakis traits, whereas HOROS, seems like a real evolution...all of the different strands represented in say...LICHENS (1984)...have now come out the other end of the worm hole as a solidified mass (as best represented by IOOLKOS)...the various strands of the universe have become self aware and transformed into a unified, dense, tumbling entity devouring itself. some of this music reminds me of a monstrous larvae undulating under its thick skin.
I love this description. I don't know if it's the drugs, but you have a knack for it.  ;D

But yeah, Keqrops has both the old and "new" of Xenakis seamlessly, and I've never thought about it until now, with the point you made. The square rhythms- "plainchant" seem to be making more of a showing, especially in the piano playing, although the piano technique retains the style of works such as Evryali, which almost remind me of some type of wild free jazz playing in the higher registers.  There's also the glissandos of old.

I think it's a pretty natural evolution. I suppose he falls into the category of composers that simplify their music in their later years- just think Prokofiev. Instead, though, he only simplifies rhythm. This is possibly one of the things that earned him the reputation as one of the the most uncompromising composers. Even Boulez's music sounds less harsh than his early years. Compare Repons, with all of its pretty effects to the Piano Sonatas, or Structures. Not to mention Penderecki or Gorecki...

If I had to guess the explanation for why he chose to write using simpler rhythms through his later years, I say it had to have started off in 1977 when he wrote La Legende d'Eer. The whole middle section is a manipulation of a basic pulse, into an amazing, techno-like trance thing which people addicted to ecstasy would enjoy very much.  >:D From there, he wrote Jonchaies in the same year. Now, I can't think of a piece which has rhythms as regular as Jonchaies before that point in time. So, I think it became more natural for him, and he started acquiring a taste for, regular rhythms. Glissandos appear less, too, because, well, when you're basing music on glissandos for a long time, it might get old after awhile. Just strip one thing down after another and it beocomes his new style (having messiaen as a teacher didn't hurt at all, either).  ;)

Offline edward

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Re: The Late Works of XENAKIS
« Reply #13 on: January 14, 2009, 01:14:31 PM »
I was surprised at the Alzheimers' thing, too. Where'd you find that out, Edward?
I think I originally read it in an obituary, though there's a review quoted here from before X's death that mentions the illness: http://www.moderecords.com/catalog/080xenakis.html

I'm pretty sure it was also mentioned in a talk regarding Xenakis' music during the inaugural soundAxis festival in Toronto (which had a lot of performances of Xenakis' music, many of them very fine).
"I don't at all mind actively disliking a piece of contemporary music, but in order to feel happy about it I must consciously understand why I dislike it. Otherwise it remains in my mind as unfinished business."
 -- Aaron Copland, The Pleasures of Music

greg

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Re: The Late Works of XENAKIS
« Reply #14 on: January 14, 2009, 01:29:59 PM »
ah, I see. I know what it's like to know someone with Alzheimer's. If he tried to write something, he'd forget what he was even writing or where he was at after 15 minutes.  :P

greg

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Re: The Late Works of XENAKIS
« Reply #15 on: January 14, 2009, 03:47:42 PM »
Just saw this one posted. One of my favorite Xenakis works of all time.

Hibiki Hana Ma

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iJRrM4TpXSQ&feature=channel_page

but be warned if you have no sense of imagination  0:)


snyprrr

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Re: The Late Works of XENAKIS
« Reply #16 on: January 14, 2009, 05:07:37 PM »
TRACEES is also a nice pendant to KEKROPS.

yes, definitely find KEREN....utube?

today i was listening to the last ensemble pieces and looking through his works list.
 after the big run of orchestra works ending in TROORKH (1991).  things get disjointed.


but the listening....first, thank timpani records for their great series that opened up a lot of the late works. right now, KOIRINOI (1995) is the only work of note that still has no recording. but for the chamber pieces, which come from two sources, the ST-X Ensemble and Ensemble Recherche.

now if you have the cds by ST-X, you'll know that the recording quality flucuates widely. the cd "XENAKIS LIVE IN NEW YORK" Is possibly the worst recording of anything i have, and it includes the two last ensemble pieces KAI for a mixed ensemble of winds brass and strings, and KULLIENN for 9 winds. the recording is distant and claustrophobic. the playing seems ok, but KAI is taken a bit quick. it's supposed to be an 8min pieces, but comes out at 6min. this piece really needs a better recording and performance. KULLIENN has a glacial flow and timber that DOES sound like slowly moving icebergs. definitely a better recording.

this cd was on vandenberg which then release "iannissimo!" (much better recorded, but the playing is somewhat staid), and then the label defunct. the ensemble was picked up by mode records, for whom the've had three releases. the first two are a mish mash of old and new ensemble/solo pieces, and the third is KRAANERG.

the main feature is xenakis' last piece with piano, PLEKTO, whose small ensemble also features the now ubiquitous perc. solo. this piece is supposed to be 14min, but they dispatch it in 8min, and you can tell that the piece could use a slight slackening. and the recorded piano sound is hideous. just like some Hindemith, these pieces need ABSOLUTE commitment and heart to show them in the best light,  the memorial to lutoslawski for brass lasts 3min. this might as well be the definitive recording and performance, cause we'll probably never get another.

(their recording of WAARG and THALLIEN are about 3 min. longer than any of the competition, and though the "sleekest" performances, they do miss the playfulness and zest)
O-MEGA i need to hear. only 4min? (BVHAAST CD)
and ZYTHOS for tbone and 6!!! percussionists has no recording (come on lindberg) and most certainly has an intriguing instrumentation. what must this piece sound like? the instrumentation of some of these late pieces seems so random, but i guess it all depends on who was commissioning. it occured to me that EVERY xenakis piece up to a certain point was a classic. i can't think of a xenakis dud until we hit this period. is TROORKH  this period's "classic". or is it in one of these tiny piece that are so easy to overlook? maybe because ATA incorporates so smoothly, and musically!, all the "late" concerns (to me, it's the one xenakis orch piece that actually sounds like "normal" music! (messiaen+stravinsky?)) perhaps it's one of the 3 electronic works.



snyprrr

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Re: The Late Works of XENAKIS
« Reply #17 on: January 14, 2009, 05:09:46 PM »
btw- i think the guy in the photo is dj spooky

greg

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Re: The Late Works of XENAKIS
« Reply #18 on: January 16, 2009, 01:01:19 PM »
yeah, that's dj spooky.

couldn't find Keren on youtube.  :P


snyprrr

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Re: The Late Works of XENAKIS
« Reply #19 on: January 16, 2009, 05:31:00 PM »
i'm wondering if this topic is grinding to a halt, being subsumed into the very fabric of the music being discussed.

i've spent about a week in such a bleak musical landscape that i'm exhausted. how can i continue until someone has the good sense to make these pieces available to the 5 or so people who would buy the cds?

but i have learned a lot from my fellow threadsters, and thank you. i also found some webstite "matt" something, where he listed his opinions about many works that we haven't heard yet (like PAILLE IN THE WIND). if anyone has more good news, please keep this topic in mind.


one point we haven't mentioned is xenakis' obsessive use of the pacific "pelog" scale, most notable in the beginning of JONCHAINES, but seems to make a ubiquitous appearance in mannny of the late works.


my final listening session seemed to center on WAARG (1989), which i believe i had previously mislabled. i remembered it as an instantly attractive piece in one continuously unfolding movement, the 13 instrumentalists seeming to act as "characters" in one of xenakis' greek fantasy operas where the instuments take on the personalities of the gods (like PHLEGRA). but when i just listened to in again (out of the three recordings-asko, st-x, contempoensemble-there is 3min difference, and i preferred the contemoensemble's sprightlier quick reading).......the piece seems like a "concerto for chamber ensemble), and i find very little of the ponderousness of some of the other pieces. there is a LOT of energy and fun in this piece, and it utilizes most all the techniques old and new.

only the very ending of EPICYCLES returns to this manic activity, and then small interjections in TETORA (1990),  but other than those two examples, i struggle to find where the energy went.
the "livliest" late piece, the final string/wind ensemble piece KAI, in spite of acceleration, never reaches "fast", being too wrapped in its own knottiness to escape.

til i hear O-MEGA, ZYTHOS, ERGMA, ALAX, PAILLE IN THE WIND, KOIRANOI, and SEA-CHANGE,....what more can i do?