"Rationality and emotionality are inseparably bound up with each other in the music of Iannis Xenakis. The structures of what remain essentially emotional pieces are to be understood as ciphers of human existence. Interpreters of his music are thus obliged to play the "notes" and make them as true to the text as possible. That is as may be; but none of the present compositions is really capable of being interpreted "correctly". And there is more besides: many a passage is actually not playable at all, because in all his works Xenakis often ignores or goes beyond the technical possibilities of the particular instrument.
He asks for sonic effects that are realisable neither on the piano nor on the harpsichord, e.g. the omnipresent tremolo in thirty-second notes in the harpsichord piece Khoaï, or the note repetitions in the piano work Evryali that are far too rapid. Some short single pitches can not be realised either, such as those moments in Herma where the sustaining pedal on the piano must be depressed. The main reason for the difficulties encountered in these works remains however the lengthy stretches of enormous complexity and multilayered writing, which in reality can not be mastered by any interpreter. In order to demonstrate this principle, the main aspects of the works in question have been outlined.
The agglomerations of notes are typical for the music of Xenakis. They are sometimes simple in form, and may for example be built up from a large number of stochastically (i.e. aleatorically or statistically) combined notes. Xenakis called these chaotic structures "sound masses" or "sound clouds". Let us deal first with a sound cloud. In Herma (from 6:27 to 6:37 in the present recording) the player has but to render the range and the density of the mass of sound - the amount of single notes per second, something that does not present a real problem.
The difficulties begin where large groups of notes have to be executed very precisely, e.g. where repeated melodic or rhythmic units are woven into different registers of sound. Such passages on the recording may be heard in Mists (0:00-1:05) and Khoaï (4:48-5:04): this is where highly chromatic lines that rise or fall undergo interpolation. Similar aural situations arise with the canonic superimposition and re-imposition of insistently repeated and rhythmically similar single pitches, in Evryali (0:52-1:04) or Khoaï (3:11-3:30), to give just two instances. In Naama three competing rhythms are superposed one above each other (4:14-4:35). These complicated sonic textures, made no less rebarbative by their repetitive and overlapping structures, can obviously not be realised with rhythmic exactitude by a single musician, just as the correct voice leading can not properly articulated either.
The situation for the player becomes even more complicated when the many lines or voices of a sonic texture cross, e.g. in Evryali (2:33-2:59): voice crossings can only be realised to a limited extent on the piano because of its uniform timbre. For the pianist, just one possibility remains: differentiating the various voices by degrees of loudness, a strategy that can only come close to the intended effect. On the harpsichord, these voice crossings can certainly not be made audible on a single manual - something that Xenakis calls for in Naama (13:13-13:36).
Another hurdle for the interpreter is the simultaneous execution of multilayered textures or interpolated and structurally differentiated "sound clouds". One example of such a situation is in Herma (1:07-1:40): here, one layer of staccato notes is to sound simultaneously with another layer containing notes that are to form a compact cloud by means of the pedal. In actual fact, for these passages two pianists at two pianos would be needed.
The question soon manifests itself as to why Xenakis chose to write such complex works for a solo instrument and not for multiple pianos or harpsichords, or indeed for an ensemble. And why did he not realise these pieces as "electronic" or "electro-acoustic" works aided by a computer? Here there are no human or instrumental limitations, both the aural result and artistic intention can be exploited to the full. It is possible that in the case of the present compositions he wanted the flow of the music to be governed uniformly or from the centre, something implied more by a solo work and a single interpreter.
One might also surmise that some of the works were conceived for a single piano because much of what he wrote remains highly "pianistic". An example are the rising arpeggios at the beginning of Mists (0:00-1:05). This passage and similar passages call for the sound of the piano. An additional reason is related to the problematic reception of electro-acoustic music: in a concert situation - that is to say in a singular communicative context - one perceives in an entirely different way a composition that was made in the studio and subsequently reproduced by a recording medium. It may be that the experience is less intensive than with music performed in a direct way. In the case of the works discussed here, Xenakis possibly preferred an imperfect but "live" performance in order to increase contact with the audience.
The desire to hear a composition exactly as Xenakis had in all probability imagined it - the notation is precise enough - remains legitimate nevertheless. The conductor Daniel Grossmann presents with this CD possibly the first attempt at a reconstruction of the aural imaginings of the composer. The recordings come across as spontaneous, but are in reality the result of intensive work at the computer. And it was precisely in the field of loudness relationships that a plethora of single notes had to be finely gradated.
Rhythmic successions of many other single pitches - ones that produce the aleatoric sound clouds and which Xenakis deliberately notated imprecisely - had to be pondered about too, in Mists (3:15-6:30) for example. Achieving a balanced sound within exactly structured textures and articulating optimum relationships of loudness between superimposed but discretely structured layers remain at the centre of Grossmann's approach. He also availed himself of the chary use of panorama effects, that is to say the acoustic distribution of various notes and note groups between the left and right loudspeaker channels, thus making evident the individuality and autonomy of distinct planes of sound.
The strict basic pulse and tempo given by the computer have been rendered slightly more "human", and are no less the worse off for this. One important aim of his work was, in the end, to garner a convincing dramaturgy within a single work, and thus bring about the optimum rendition of the relationship between the loud and the soft sections as well the best possible lengths of the crescendi and decrescendi.
Paradoxically enough, it is just such a computer-aided recording that wholly evinces through its very rationality the enormous liveliness and freshness immanent in the music of Xenakis. A CD recording is not - well not primarily at least - designed for the reproduction of music within a public concert, and is inapplicable to the problem pertaining to the reception of electro-acoustic music. The present recordings should be judged on the basis of any normal recording, namely as a documentation of a single act of interpretation with its own artistic claim. This CD must nevertheless be understood not as a substitute for a "real" recording already in existence or one to be made in the future. The intention is to enhance the reception of the composer's music - from the audience and performer perspective alike."-Tom Sora, NEOS
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