Perfect Sound Forever


(April 2000)

I'll put it bluntly: Xenakis is one of my all time favorite composers. I like to think of him as the Lee Scratch Perry of classical music. The main characteristics of his compositional process - playing with time signature and micro-scopic/mirco-tonal interventions in the structure of sound as humans can conceive of it, and a will to create music as a pan-humanist enterprise - foster a sonic environment where Xenakis's tries as much as possibe to show that we are part of a continuum where almost all human endeavor must be understood to be part of a larger framework. His work is truly cybernetic. But is it nature or nurture?

Norbert Weiner, the inventor of many of the core concepts of cybernetics and information theory wrote in his classic treatise on cybernetics "The Human Use of Human Beings" back in 1954 made an observation that I sometimes let echo in my mind when I think about a lot of the informing tropes of sound as motion and architecture as flowing movement/patterns that Xenakis's music brings to mind. "Our tissues change as we live: the food we eat and the air we breathe become flesh of our flesh and bone of our bone," he said in his classic book that launched cybernetics into science culture as one of the core issues of contemporary methods of organizing information. But the notion of the body caught in a cycle of continuous change and transformation was only the beginning for Weiner. The adage continues with an investigation that resonates with Xenakis's own investigations into sound and culture that seems almost uncanny: "and the momentary elements of our flesh and bone pass out of our body every day with our excreta. We are but whirlpools in a river of ever flowing water.  We are not stuff that abides, but patterns that perpetuate themselves." It's this motif that resonates so strongly with Xenakis's  attempts to see music as a pan humanist project, and his electronic works are all attempts to portray a place where culture acts as a formalized code and becomes transcendant and utterly translateable.

"Hibiki-Hana-Ma" is part of a larger attempt to try as much as possible to create a forum where music can be a bridge between radically different cultures. From the shores of a Japan in the midst of reconstruction after the devastation of WW II, Xenakis attempts a music that through exploring the ways that sound can portray the emotive qualities of an absurd world where racism, ethnic strife, and human betrayal of any and all sense of compassion for your fellow man created one of the most horrific centuries in human history, a new music arrives. A music that by exploring the pain of a world devastated by human greed, attempts to transcend that conditions that created the context of its creation. Hibiki-Hana-Ma translated into English simply means "reverberation-flower-interval." Patterns and pain, transcendence and translation: these are the tropes that Xenakis uses to guide his listeners into a hypothetical place where all aspects of human nature can be celebrated.

Also see this article on the early aesthetics of Xenakis' work

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