Author Topic: Xenakis's Xen  (Read 64302 times)

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gomro

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Xenakis's Xen
« on: May 10, 2007, 01:54:54 PM »
Any thoughts about the composer the author Milan Kundera christened "the prophet of insensibility?" Personally, I disagree completely with Kundera's assessment (though it was meant in a positive fashion): recondite mathematics or not, there is plenty of emotion in Xenakis' best music.
« Last Edit: December 04, 2011, 12:09:17 AM by knight66 »

Offline val

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Re: Xenakis's Xen
« Reply #1 on: May 12, 2007, 03:52:35 AM »
It is difficult to understand Kundera words. I suspect that he never heard some of the greatest works of Xenakis. It is absurd to say that "Nuits", one of the most impressive and terrifying works of our time, shows "insensibility".
The same with masterpieces like Medea or Komboi.

paul

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Re: Xenakis's Xen
« Reply #2 on: May 12, 2007, 07:02:59 AM »
Any thoughts about the composer the author Milan Kundera christened "the prophet of insensibility?" Personally, I disagree completely with Kundera's assessment (though it was meant in a positive fashion): recondite mathematics or not, there is plenty of emotion in Xenakis' best music.

Xenakis would disagree with the idea of his music having emotions. Xenakis seemed to firmly believe that his music only expressed music and I don't believe that he had any intent of expressing emotions through his music given his attention to timbre and structure. Additionally, I can see Xenakis thinking of emotion in music as being manipulative, given his thoughts about freedom and music. At the premiere performance of La Légende d'Eer, he wrote in the introductory notes: "Music is not a language. Any musical piece is akin to a boulder with complex forms, with striations and engraved designs atop and within, which men can decipher in a thousand different ways without ever finding the right answer or the best one." I'd be interested in reading what Kundera has to say about Xenakis and what he means by insensibility.

gomro

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Re: Xenakis's Xen
« Reply #3 on: May 12, 2007, 10:57:26 AM »
Xenakis would disagree with the idea of his music having emotions. Xenakis seemed to firmly believe that his music only expressed music and I don't believe that he had any intent of expressing emotions through his music given his attention to timbre and structure. Additionally, I can see Xenakis thinking of emotion in music as being manipulative, given his thoughts about freedom and music. At the premiere performance of La Légende d'Eer, he wrote in the introductory notes: "Music is not a language. Any musical piece is akin to a boulder with complex forms, with striations and engraved designs atop and within, which men can decipher in a thousand different ways without ever finding the right answer or the best one." I'd be interested in reading what Kundera has to say about Xenakis and what he means by insensibility.

Xenakis is correct about music (Stravinsky said much the same thing), but if he denied emotions in his work, he missed the depth of his own analogy. Men will "decipher" boulders or clouds or music "in a thousand different ways," and they will bring their own cultural and intellectual baggage to the game as well. Thus, to one listener, Jonchaies seems to be unbridled rage, to another a spaceship voyage, to yet a third a Rubik's cube of musical timbres, pitches and rhythms -- and each of these will also have emotional response based on their analysis of what they hear.   Even Kundera, in his tribute "Prophet of the Insensible," states that he found pleasure in listening to Xenakis' work, while simultaneously confessing its complexity and intellectualism. (I am trying to find the precise quote; it's not in English on Google, anyway. I'll dig it up eventually...)

Online Brewski

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Re: Xenakis's Xen
« Reply #4 on: May 14, 2007, 09:12:32 AM »
Xenakis is one of my favorite composers, even though I've just heard the tip of the iceberg as far as his massive output is concerned.  But Erikhthon has become a favorite, as has Nuits.  I haven't yet heard anything by him I haven't liked.

His music is filled with emotion, to my ears, even if that was not his intent.  Although he may have used compositional methods designed to eliminate emotional content, it shows up anyway (which somehow I think is part of his brilliance). 

Recently at St. Thomas Church here in NYC, I heard organist Kevin Bowyers play Gmeeoorh (with the help of two other organists!) and liked it better than any other work on the program.  Near the end are some fortissimo passages (or probably more like "fffff") that made me wonder about the structural integrity of the building.  ;D  Just amazing. 

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greg

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Re: Xenakis's Xen
« Reply #5 on: May 14, 2007, 09:27:41 AM »
Thus, to one listener, Jonchaies seems to be unbridled rage
TO THE EXTREME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  >:D

karlhenning

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Re: Xenakis's Xen
« Reply #6 on: May 14, 2007, 09:31:14 AM »
His music is filled with emotion, to my ears, even if that was not his intent.  Although he may have used compositional methods designed to eliminate emotional content, it shows up anyway (which somehow I think is part of his brilliance).

Interesting.  A composer finds the methods amenable to him, and then the work exists, in some ways apart from many of the ideas that went into it.

I'm intellectually curious as to whether music can be "emotionless" . . . even if that is one of the composer's aims, how would he consider himself to have succeeded, how will he determine that?  And, even if he should succeed, how can he be sure that the listener will not attach emotional content to the music?

Quote from: Bruce
Recently at St. Thomas Church here in NYC, I heard organist Kevin Bowyers play Gmeeoorh (with the help of two other organists!) and liked it better than any other work on the program.  Near the end are some fortissimo passages (or probably more like "fffff") that made me wonder about the structural integrity of the building.  ;D  Just amazing.

Well, he'd studied architecture, Bruce, so he know what stress the structure could withstand  ;D

greg

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Re: Xenakis's Xen
« Reply #7 on: May 14, 2007, 09:35:15 AM »
I'm intellectually curious as to whether music can be "emotionless" . . .
that's impossible!

Online Brewski

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Re: Xenakis's Xen
« Reply #8 on: May 14, 2007, 09:47:33 AM »
I'm intellectually curious as to whether music can be "emotionless" . . . even if that is one of the composer's aims, how would he consider himself to have succeeded, how will he determine that?  And, even if he should succeed, how can he be sure that the listener will not attach emotional content to the music?

If "emotionless" can be synonymous with "abstract," I think Babbitt, for example, would qualify.  But even he has flickers of humor (and no doubt, other things) in his music. 

My take is that your second sentence is probably the gist of it: we "assign" emotions to chord progressions, keys, timbres -- maybe even specific instruments -- that may or may not be what the composer intended. 

--Bruce
Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.
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Twitter: @brucehodgesny

Offline scottscheule

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Re: Xenakis's Xen
« Reply #9 on: May 14, 2007, 09:48:01 AM »
Interesting.  A composer finds the methods amenable to him, and then the work exists, in some ways apart from many of the ideas that went into it.

I'm intellectually curious as to whether music can be "emotionless" . . . even if that is one of the composer's aims, how would he consider himself to have succeeded, how will he determine that?  And, even if he should succeed, how can he be sure that the listener will not attach emotional content to the music?

Interesting question.  By the same token, we could ask whether music can actually have emotion, since some listener may not attach emotional content to the music.  We could ask the same question about "merit."  Some listener may attach no merit to the work--some may attach much.  But I cling to the belief that music's qualities exist independently of subjective appraisals.

My hunch is that the way to judge music's qualities, and thus determine whether it has emotion, et al, is to ask not what every person might possibly feel about it, but rather to judge what the typical reasonable listener would get from it.  Some people may, for instance, find Pierrot Lunaire to be a frightful disorganized mess, but I don't think we need to worry about their opinions.

By that standard, I think it's perfectly possible that music can be emotionless.  However, certain dissonances and consonances, certain rhythms and silences, all can inspire twinges of emotion.  Perhaps a good analogy is temperature: we can make things very close to absolute zero, but never achieve it.  Such may be the case with emotion in music--we can drain most of it, but not all of it.

mahlertitan

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Re: Xenakis's Xen
« Reply #10 on: May 14, 2007, 10:04:34 AM »
yeah, recommend me a "sad" piece by Xenakis please.

karlhenning

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Re: Xenakis's Xen
« Reply #11 on: May 14, 2007, 10:05:04 AM »
Still, there is probably a range of music which is intended to be emotional (Mahler, for instance) and music whose emotional 'surface' is, so to speak, less immediate (much of Ravel, for instance).

Offline scottscheule

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Re: Xenakis's Xen
« Reply #12 on: May 14, 2007, 10:09:45 AM »
Still, there is probably a range of music which is intended to be emotional (Mahler, for instance) and music whose emotional 'surface' is, so to speak, less immediate (much of Ravel, for instance).

Indeed.  Also, it may be helpful to distinguish between two different judgments--the intent of the composer, and the understanding of the listener, which may be quite different.

karlhenning

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Re: Xenakis's Xen
« Reply #13 on: May 14, 2007, 11:21:42 AM »
And even the intent of the composer has its context, of course.  A lot of listeners are sure they make a personal, emotional connection with music, meaning that they understand the music better than anyone else (e.g.) . . . and then, too, the Romantic literature was the dominant style at the advent of the recording age, so for some portion of the listenership, music which sets out to stake some particularly emotional turf, is The Musical Norm.

The compositional tendency to scoff at all the emotional stuff has a pedigree reaching back to Satie, and Cocteau and Les six.  And, to be sure, one need not scoff, to take a musical position of a relatively emotion-neutral intent.

greg

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Re: Xenakis's Xen
« Reply #14 on: May 14, 2007, 12:02:35 PM »
Quote
yeah, recommend me a "sad" piece by Xenakis please.
that's hard, since there are so many different shades of "sad".... in fact, much of his music sounds sad, confident and quirky at the same time

Offline Maciek

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Re: Xenakis's Xen
« Reply #15 on: May 15, 2007, 12:53:04 PM »
that's impossible!

No, I actually think Karl is quite capable of intellectual curiosity...

Online Brewski

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Re: Xenakis's Xen
« Reply #16 on: May 26, 2007, 11:47:36 AM »
Now listening to Xenakis' Metastaseis (1953-54), endlessly intriguing, on a live recording by Charles Zacharie Bornstein and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (superb).  I can't imagine what listeners in the mid-1950s would have made of this score: massed high frequencies, tightly clustered pizzicatos, tremolos everywhere -- all very tense and ultimately quite exciting. 

I don't understand why his scores don't show up in the concert hall more often.  I searched Carnegie Hall's site, just for grins, and there is a single concert in March 2008 with the debut of a young percussionist, Martin Grubinger, doing Psappha and Rebond b, but otherwise, no orchestral pieces, no piano works, nothing.

--Bruce
Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.
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Twitter: @brucehodgesny

greg

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Re: Xenakis's Xen
« Reply #17 on: May 26, 2007, 12:05:54 PM »
Now listening to Xenakis' Metastaseis (1953-54), endlessly intriguing, on a live recording by Charles Zacharie Bornstein and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra (superb).  I can't imagine what listeners in the mid-1950s would have made of this score: massed high frequencies, tightly clustered pizzicatos, tremolos everywhere -- all very tense and ultimately quite exciting. 
there's actually a recording on his myspace page of Metastaseis, lol
cooler than the recording i have, probably

I don't understand why his scores don't show up in the concert hall more often.  I searched Carnegie Hall's site, just for grins, and there is a single concert in March 2008 with the debut of a young percussionist, Martin Grubinger, doing Psappha and Rebond b, but otherwise, no orchestral pieces, no piano works, nothing.

--Bruce
Yeah, I've noticed this too, and it's pretty sad. I think one of the reasons is because of his nationality. There's probably 4 or so Elliot Carter CDs at my old library, with none of Xenakis (they just have a CD with a drummer playing Psappha). I think the only pieces the public will ever be familiar with are his solo percussion works  ??? Elliot Carter's american, Xenakis is an "obscure" composers, though one of the most important and influential in the last 50 years.

Oh yeah, and Mikkel told me once that his library had a couple of Norgard CDs... no wonder, he lives in Denmark!  :D i think that's how it works, i'd have a heart attack if i saw my library have a Norgard CD

Xenakis seems to be pretty popular and influential in France, or at least that's the impression I've gotten. I bet if you looked up orchestras in France they might actually have a Xenakis work they play every now and then.

Kullervo

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Re: Xenakis's Xen
« Reply #18 on: May 26, 2007, 01:57:25 PM »
i'd have a heart attack if i saw my library have a Norgard CD

Mine does, the violin concerto (though, to be fair, it's paired with Ligeti). Here in li'l Lakeland, Florida.  8)

greg

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Re: Xenakis's Xen
« Reply #19 on: May 27, 2007, 10:59:58 AM »
Mine does, the violin concerto (though, to be fair, it's paired with Ligeti). Here in li'l Lakeland, Florida.  8)
interesting.... (that's the recording i have, too, the one with Ligeti)
ok, i was exaggerating, but it is surprising (my old library didn't even have any Ligeti either  :P )

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