Reinhold Friedl: Sources of Non-European Music in Xenakis's Electroacoustic Oeuvre

Many composers of early electroacoustic music had the tendency to protect and conceal the origin of their sounds. Sound material was compositional capital and thus in need of protection. Xenakis was among them. The precise origins of many sound materials are not known. After Bohor (1961) there is hardly an electroacoustic piece by Xenakis that does not draw on sounds from non-European music and uses them in a barely disguised way.

As the tapes in the Xenakis archive of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) in Paris show, Xenakis recorded non-European music at least since 1951 on tape. In 1955, Xenakis became a member of the Groupe de Recherche de Musique Concrète, the later GRM (Groupe de recherches musicales) in Paris. Pierre Schaeffer, the director of the group, also founded Radio France's own label Ocora for non-European music in 1955 (called SORAFOM then) in the course of his radio work in Africa. Xenakis collected these releases and one of his Sunday afternoon pleasures was to visit the ethnomusicological collection at the Musée de l'homme in Paris. Sind his sound track for the film Orient-Occident in 1960, Xenakis used largely original recordings of ethnological music in his electroacoustic works. The Xenakis archive in Paris contains a long list of his tape and cassette collection: music a.o. from Zaire, Central African, Laos, Bali, China and Japan. Xenakis recorded the sounds of Persian jewellery, used African thumb pianos, (known as sanza or kalimba), Japanese claves and integrated the sounds of a biwa in Hibiki-Hana Ma (1970). The characteristic bass bordun of his scandalous work Bohor was created from recordings of a Laotian mouth organ. In Polytope de Cluny (1972), one finds a passage of several minutes of an imaginary sanza orchestra.

Comparative listening raises new questions about the sources: which recordings have been used as material for his electroacoustic compositions? What are the origins? How have they been manipulated? Some forensic aspects are discussed that have an eminent role in categorising sources: composers have often reasons not to tell the whole truth.


Reinhold Friedl studied piano, composition, musicology and mathematics. He is directing the avant garde group zeitkratzer and a specialist of extended piano techniques. He received numerous prizes and fellowships as Eurocréation Paris, Villa Serpentara Rome (Berliner Akademie der Künste), STEIM Amsterdam, Paris Cité des Arts,... as well as commissions by the French State, Maerzmusik Berliner Festspiele, Wiener Festwochen, Asphodel San Francisco, ZKM Karlsruhe, RomaEuropa Festival, the BBC London, Ultima Osolo. His music is performed by groups like Diotima Quartet Paris or Ensemble 2e2m. Friedl released over hundred CDs and LPs as composer and performer. Interdisciplinary cooperations with artists as Sasha Waltz, Frank Castorf (Volksbühne Berlin), PhD Xenakis’s tape music – a philology of electroacoustic music at Goldsmiths University London.

Friedl curates the record series Perihel for Karlrecords (2022: 5LP and 5CD-Box Iannis Xenakis: Complete Electroacoustic Works), invented the Off-ICMC (International Computer Music Conference) and directed the music department of Podewil Berlin. In 2022 he curates the Xenakis centenary events at Wiener Festwochen and the X100 festival at Kraftwerk/Atonal Berlin. Reinhold Friedl is guest professor at the Katarina Gurska Institute in Madrid, Spain, and has a teaching assignment at the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna, Austria. Lectures and teaching also at University Paris VIII, Universität der Künste Berlin, Goldsmiths University London, Musikhochschule Basel, ZKM Karlsruhe, University for Music and Drama Gothenburg, Music University Thessaloniki, MIT Melbourne, etc.