Today’s Birthday: IANNIS XENAKIS (1922) Romanian-born French composer

Iannis Xenakis (1922)

Xenakis was a Romanian-born French composer, architect, and mathematician. He started out studying engineering and music in Greece but was forced to flee in 1947 when he was denounced as a communist. He moved to Paris and, for the next 12 years, worked with the architect Le Corbusier. In his 30s, he began seriously studying composition with Olivier Messiaen and others and earned acclaim for his use of mathematical models in musical composition. What computerized composition tool did he develop? More… Discuss

Metastasis or Metastaseis (“dialectic transformations”), i

s an orchestral work by Iannis Xenakis, a Greek composer-architect and a major figure in the postwar development of musical modernism worldwide. He is particularly remembered for the pioneering use of stochastic mathematical techniques in his compositions, including probability (Maxwell-Boltzmann kinetic theory of gases, aleatory distribution of points on a plane, minimal constraints, Gaussian distribution, Markov chains), game theory, group theory, Boolean algebra and Brownian motion

Metastasis was inspired by Einstein’s view of time (a function of matter & energy) and structured on mathematical ideas by Xenakis’s colleague Le Corbusier. The 1st and 3rd movements don’t have a melodic theme to hold them together, but rather depend on the strength of this conceptualization of time. The 2nd movement does have some sort of melodic element. A fragment of a 12-tone row is used, with durations based on the Fibonacci sequence (1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34…) 

The preliminary sketch for Metastasis was in graphic notation looking more like a blueprint than a musical score, showing graphs of mass motion and glissandi like structural beams of the piece, with sound frequencies on one axis and time on the other. In this video I tried to display this by presenting the frequency spectrum (0-20.000Hz) of the piece and how Xenakis actually “drew” music.

SWF Symphony Orchestra
Hans Rosbaud, conductor
October 1955

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