To mark the hundredth birthday of the Greek-French composer Iannis Xenakis, the mdw’s Department of Musicology and Performance Studies (IMI) and Special University Programme in Electroacoustic and Experimental Music (ELAK) have teamed up with the festival Wiener Festwochen to organise a symposium on Xenakis’s electroacoustic oeuvre that is scheduled to take place from 19 to 21 May 2022. This symposium’s three days will also feature performances of the composer’s entire electroacoustic oeuvre at the Future Art Lab’s new Sound Theatre, a space on the mdw Campus that is virtually predestined for this event.
It was particularly in his electroacoustic works that Iannis Xenakis enjoyed the opportunity to develop ideas and concepts as well as sounds and compositional models characterised by a high degree of radicality: while this genre liberated Xenakis from instrumental limitations and performing conventions, he also used his multimedia conceptions, in particular, to create works whose length and intensity surpass those of all his instrumental pieces. Examples would be La Légende d’Eer (ca. 45 min.) and Persepolis (ca. 54 min.). Only a few of his 13 electroacoustic pieces were created as purely musical works; for the most part, they were conceived in combination with other media such as film, lighting design, etc. and for specific sites and architectures.
This combination of factors as well as Xenakis’s ambition to configure his electroacoustic material on his own with help from sophisticated processes (multiplicative tape techniques, stochastic synthesis, granulation) not only gave rise to an extensive body of sources that afford glimpses into his compositional process but also vividly demonstrate the experimental and at times almost contradictory ways in which he proceeded. Before this backdrop, philological study of this heterogenous material is not only essential but can also bear fruit with respect to other electroacoustic musical works in light of the significant situation in terms of the sources. This symposium will therefore focus not just on Xenakis’s electroacoustic music but also on the theoretical foundation of a philology of electroacoustic music. The questions to be addressed will hence also include ones such as: In what sense can electroacoustic recordings be regarded as text? What is meant by “comparative methods” in this context? What do words like “original” and “authenticity” mean, and what are the consequences for electroacoustic musics’ performance and interpretation?
Due to the specific material situation of the sources of electroacoustic music, basic philological research is urgently needed: tapes are increasingly falling victim to physical decay, unsystematic digitisation is obscuring musical evidence, and some machines used for the reproduction of electroacoustic music have long since been discarded and disappeared. What’s more, and not insignificantly, there exists an urgent need to preserve knowledge of how to use these machines and read the various carrying media.
We’re quite pleased that Curtis Roads (University of California, Santa Barbara) and Michel Chion (Université Paris III) have agreed to deliver impulse lectures. The renowned Xenakis specialist James Harley (University of Guelph, Canada) will speak on the connection between Xenakis’s electroacoustic output and his instrumental music—a topic that on which Marko Slavíček (Technical University of Berlin) will also focus in his lecture Orchestrating Noise. Laura Zattra (Bologna Conservatory), Michelle Ziegler (Paul Sacher Foundation, Basel), and Elena Minetti (mdw) will discuss fundamental philological issues in light of this electroacoustic music’s specific materiality, since tapes and punched tapes, software, recording and playback devices, technical assistants, etc. need to be addressed in addition to aspects of notation and/or recording. Furthermore, Reinhold Friedl (mdw) will provide an overview of the situation of the Xenakis Archives and also probe the little-known music-ethnological sources in Xenakis’s electroacoustic music.
As an alternative to the originally philological comparison of texts, Thomas Grill (mdw) will be presenting audio-based comparative methods from the field of music information research (MIR). Marcin Pietruszewski (Northumbria University, Newcastle) will discuss his software simulations of Xenakis’s later electronic oeuvre, and Pierre Carré (IRCAM, Paris) will present the reconstruction of the piece Polytope de Cluny (which he will also play at the symposium’s concerts). Peter Nelson (University of Edinburgh), who himself worked with Xenakis on the UPIC computerised musical composition tool, will discuss the relationship between this tool’s specific sonic qualities and the human voice.
On the symposium’s three evenings, we will be introducing Inannis Xenakis’s entire electroacoustic oeuvre at the Future Art Lab’s new Sound Theatre. Exacting preparations for the task of sound direction, particularly for the multi-channel pieces, will be made with support from Wolfgang Musil, Thomas Grill, and Reinhold Friedl, while the interpretations will be based on critical study of the sources and employ historically informed performance practices. Students and teachers of the ELAK programme will be assuming responsibility for sound direction alongside guests such as Pierre Carré.
A special challenge here is embodied by the differences between the individual works themselves—which range from monophonic to 8-channel, from tape compositions to computer-generated synthesis—and the differences between their performance concepts. It is for this reason that we will be augmenting the Sound Theatre’s own hemispherically arrayed 21.2-channel periphonic speaker system by characteristic additional loudspeakers set up within the space in order to further extend the spectrum of timbres and spatiality.
These performances also point ahead to 18 June 2022, when the contemporary art museum Belvedere21 will conclude this year’s Wiener Festwochen by hosting performances of Iannis Xenakis’s principal electroacoustic works as part of a long concert night featuring an alternative sound projection concept for a larger audience; this event will also include non-European musics that inspired Xenakis as well as present-day musical forms, amounting to a big birthday party in keeping with Xenakis’s motto, “We bear the light of the Earth.”