Xenakis: Electronic Music

November 13, 2008


Iannis Xenakis: Electronic Music
(Electronic Music Foundation; 66 min.)

The Wikipedia page for Iannis Xenakis calls him “an important and influential composer of the twentieth century”.  To the extent that this claim is true, it serves as an indictment of twentieth-century music.  If you thought the Moog machine was sufficient reason to hold electronic music in contempt, Xenakis is going to introduce you to a whole new world of pain.

It is not entirely clear on what grounds this can be called “music”.  It should appeal to those who enjoy the sounds of garburators and automobile accidents.  Parts of it sound like garbage trucks being dropped through plate-glass ceilings.  Certain episodes made me want to phone a fax machine in order to hear something more beautiful.  The “compositions” bear pretentious titles like ‘Diamorphoses’, ‘Concrete Ph’, and ‘S.709’.  This nonsense is sufficient proof that being “important and influential” is a very equivocal honour.  Humbug.

UPDATE: It seems that Xenakis composed at least some of his electronic music by doodling on pieces of paper — or maybe just spilling ink onto them — and then feeding the doodles and ink blots into a contraption that converted them into “music”.  Here’s a good YouTube video that well illustrates both the method and the madness.  Remind me again why this is considered worthy of praise?

3 Responses to “Xenakis: Electronic Music”

  1. […] think it’s safe to say that Craig Burrell is not a fan of Iannis Xenakis: The Wikipedia page for Iannis Xenakis calls him “an important and influential composer of the […]

  2. elfortunawe Says:

    You don’t know me and will most likely not be swayed by what I have to say, but I cannot let this stand.

    I’m not a huge fan of electronic music generally, but I do have to protest your indictment of the Moog synthesizer as “sufficient reason to hold electronic music in contempt.” I would put forward the music of Joy Electric as a good counterexample. The guy behind the project received a classical training in piano, and uses only analogue monosynthesizers (including Moogs) to create individual lines of melody that he layers together. It’s just pop music, but I think he manages to make electronic instruments sound musical enough.


  3. […] his own thoughts on the music of other composers.  Upon attending a music festival dedicated to Iannis Xenakis, Craft offered this delightful appraisal of Xenakis’ Bohor: The program’s centerpiece […]

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