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Iannis Xenakis: GRM Works 1957-1962

img  Tobias Fischer

A scandalous 1962 performance of Iannis Xenakis' "Bohor" in Paris; constant artistic disagreements between him and Pierre Schaefer during their tenure at the GRM; and yet, millions at the Philips pavillion seduced by the mesmerising crackle of his masterpiece "Concret PH" - if only we could free our ears from the shackles of history and hear it! It is the implicit promise of this collection of classics that, by having the works mastered by a top-notch engineer and pressed on heavy vinyl, one can re-live the ecstasy, bewilderment and repulsion of those who heard it first. Unfortunately, that's an impossible task. The elements that made these four electro-acoustic compositions so exciting when they were written, is precisely what makes them sound somewhat unspectacular today: A lot of the work being performed here consists of pitching, bending and processing concrete materials, like burning coal, airplanes noises or the rustling of Oriental jewelry - a vision of sound art, thus, which has been copied by myriads of producers all over the world to a degree that makes it sound completely familiar. Listening to "Concret PH" in a stereo mix, when it was really conceptualised for a surround-sound eleven-speaker constellation doesn't help either – no wonder Xenakis never cared much for releasing his oeuvre on records. My recommendation is this: Crank up the volume to an unbearable level. Then, with your senses refreshed, appreciate the work's fascinating disdain for narrative structures, the careful placement of each sound, the complete lack of complacency, the palpable fascination of the composer for his materials. Xenakis was extremely precise when formulating his concepts, but the end results were never academic. It had to be music – it always was.

By Tobias Fischer

Homepage: Iannis Xenakis
Homepage: Recollection GRM