Iannis Xenakis ‎– GRM Works 1957-1962 [English]

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[reviewed by / autor recenzji: Peter Marks || ENG]

To go to the roots of a movement is always a fascinating undertaking, I thought I had done so plumbing the depths of bands like Cabaret Voltaire, SPK and Severed Heads. I can see now that I was wrong. Iannis Xenakis quite clearly laid the groundwork for the revolution of sound which was to explode from the underground in the mid to late 1970s. As a matter of fact, he was still alive when all of that took place. God only knows what he thought of it.

The experiments in tape loops and the basic, primal expressions which took the world by storm some decades after Xenakis did these pieces could never have happened without his work. While the planet was going mad falling over itself to praise shitty do-wop bands and white artists who stole their entire act from those who were black, this man was upending the very nature of three dimensional space. I know a lot of people who absolutely adore the Hafler Trio’s manipulations of ambiance and I really hope they don’t read this and then track down this release. Their heads just might explode.

How many other unsung maestros are out there who did this in those days? I have only begun to discover their legacy, but this one album makes me realize who inspired Coil to produce their debut How to Destroy Angels. I know this from playing them back to back, my eyes opening wider with each pass Xenakis makes. His masterful usage of space itself to define the boundaries of composition is unlike any which I have come across. Did it help matters that he was an avowed atheist? A man who also designed some of the most striking examples of modern architecture out there, I’m going to wager a refusal to be distracted by the dangling carrot of the afterlife allowed his creative visions to lunge forth without any inhibitions.

I really am just astounded that this kind of thing was going on all those years ago. Not just because of the time, but more out of awe at how contemporary these works sound. This man had his eye firmly on the future and was possessed of vision I’ll never ever even approach. The ridicule and rejection must have been overwhelming for him to deal with. Outside of the small group who had an appreciation for this (and I’m sure some of them did works of their own I haven’t heard) there was the rest of the “cultured few” who would only go as far out as the kitschy safe harbor of an Esquivel. One other thing to consider in all of this would have been his location: Greece.

Now that country was hardly in an artist-friendly phase of it’s existence at that point. The authorities must have watched Iannis’ movements very closely because these kinds of compositions are so otherworldly and abstract they very well could have undone whatever order was bent on maintaining control of the populace. Have no illusions, this is chaotic misanthropy brought out of the shadows right into the temple of light. Current 93’s debut Nature Unveiled is another former cornerstone in my musical lexicon which now drifts in the primordial dissonance that Xenakis clearly wrote the rules to. This man isn’t well known, but he had the courage and conviction to compose these beautifully grotesque sculptures. During years where those who ran this planet were hell-bent on destroying it.

Perhaps this is why what he did sounds so pertinent, the world has not changed at all.

Iannis Xenakis ‎– GRM Works 1957-1962
LP, compilation, 2013
Recollection GRM, REGRM 007

2 responses to “Iannis Xenakis ‎– GRM Works 1957-1962 [English]

  1. Regarding Greece, a bit of homework might have been in order – in 1947 Xenakis left Greece for Paris under sentence of death, and was not able to return there until almost thirty years later. All the music on this album was produced in Paris, in the studios of the GRM which had already been setup (by Pierre Schaeffer) at the end of the 1940s, so while his music was indeed innovative, if you really want to get to “the roots of a movement” it also belonged in a tradition of innovative music which dated back to just after the Second World War. I’m sure you’d find plenty of other things in that tradition to interest you – it’s not hard to find out about.

  2. Gee, the album didn’t come with all these details in the sleeve but your condescension is appreciated nevertheless.

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