New York is currently enjoying a wide array of events celebrating Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001). In addition to various concerts throughout the city, The Drawing Center is hosting Iannis Xenakis Composer, Architect, Visionary. The exhibit, which runs until April 10, 2010, presents pre-compositional sketches as well as hand-written scores and architectural plans. The Drawing Center's site describes the show as exploring "the fundamental role of drawing in the work of Greek avant-garde composer Iannis Xenakis." Indeed, the exhibit reveals how Xenakis often began his creative process by sketching shapes, color-coded patterns and motifs. In Sharon Kanach's essay Music to be Seen: Tracing Xenakis's Creative Processes (featured in the show catalogue), Xenakis is quoted as saying, "In retrospect, I think it was more natural for me to draw...I was convinced that one could invent another way of writing music. I started imagining sound phenomena with the help of drawings."
The path from the visual to the aural is made abundantly clear throughout the exhibition. The viewer is shown the progression of drawings that eventually lead to a complete and traditionally-notated score. Many of the initial drawings (like the top-left image of Metastaseis) contain "curved surfaces" and other forms. These are followed by renderings on graph paper (see the center image to the right) in which pitch, register, timbre and time are mapped out in accordance with the previous designs.
Video is also skillfully used throughout the show to further emphasizes the connection between the visual impetus and the eventual sonic result. Below are two such examples, a synchronized score/audio clip from Metastaseis and the complete score/audio to the electronic work, Mycenes Alpha.
On a personal note, I must say that this show merits multiple visits (it's free so you can hook yourself up as much as you like). Rarely does one get a chance to comprehensively investigate the creative process of such an important artist, especially one whose work spans the fields of music and architecture. While it makes sense for this show to be presented at an art gallery (the exhibit will later travel to the Canadian Centre for Architecture from June 17 - October 17, 2010 and The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles from November 7, 2010 - January 30, 2011), it nonetheless seems a shame that there isn't a major American musical institution hosting the event. Student composers need to be exposed to a wide variety of methodologies when it comes to conceiving sounds, forms and other applicable structures. Regardless, this show made me want to go home and compose and that is a good thing.
Related Event Links:
February 5, 2010 - The Jack Quartet plays the string quartet of Xenakis at the Morgan Library February 6, 2010 - Daniel Tiege's Xenakis Interpretations 5 electro-acoustic works at the Diapason Gallery