Karlrecords – KR024 – 15th July 2016

Edward S. Robinson

How I hadn’t encountered the work of Iannis Xenakis previously, I will never know. Nevertheless, it was at the 2016 European Beat Studies Network conference that I first saw – and then heard – examples of his work, courtesy of Antonio Bonome in his talk on ‘Polytopy and Burroughs’ Coordinate Points’. The crazy, three-dimensional graphs, or polytopes, which accompanied Metastasis were utterly mind-bending. Given that I’m neither a musician nor a mathematician, they didn’t mean a great deal to me, but as visual pieces, they were stunning. Conceptually, Xenakis’ fusing of two disciplines, music and architecture, breaks new ground in itself, with the combination of architecture and music translating to the architecture of music. And then Bonome played the sounds these images represented. Huge, extended, quivering, brain-draining walls of sound. Powerful, immense, they seemingly took solid physical form. This was truly something.

La Legende d’Eer was composed in 1977 and 1978, when Xenakis was in the midst of his far-reaching explorations of mythology and philosophy. La Legende d’Eer is another of Xenakis’ monumental polytopes, and was created to mark the opening of the Pompidou Centre in 1978. While previous editions have presented the music as a single track and across different releases, featuring an array of errors, this latest reissue from Karlrecords (which makes the work available on vinyl and download for the first time), uses the eight track version Xenakis himself presented at Darmstädter in 1978.

La Legende d’Eer represents one of Xenakis’ most renowned and celebrated electroacoustic compositions, and is a challenging work to sat the least. Not being musically minded in the compositional sense, or scientifically minded in the sense of the technicalities of the mechanics and frequencies and all that jazz, I’m perhaps rather ill-equipped to respond to the fullness of Xnenakis’ objectives and achievements. As such, this is less of an academic analysis and more of a straightforward review, and pulled more from the gut than drawn from anywhere else. However, this is sound which elicits a cerebral, emotional and physical response first and foremost. This is extreme music, which many would likely dispute even constitutes music, and a similarly extreme response is surely a natural one.

Those who are wired to actually derive enjoyment from it are likely a very small minority, but one I happen to belong to. The eight tracks segue together, and begins as a series of trilling whistles of feedback, building into a screeding, shrill mesh of treble, howling drones and pained hums that bow, bend and scrape. If sounds reminiscent of Whitehouse (the resemblance of ‘Wriggle Like a Fucking Eel’ to moments on track seven is remarkable, but then the twittering, jittering top-end noises Xenakis creates are also very like those which make up the majority of the Great White Death album) and the entirety of the careers of Merzbow and Kenji Siratori can be heard, then La Legende d’Eer marks the foundation stone of power electronics and noise. Amidst the earthwork rumbles and the buzzing swarms of hornets and the atomic detonations, shrieks, rattles and crashed are churned together to form a huge, excruciating aural assault.

Acute listening reveals complex internal polyrhythms of the sonic vibrations as they bounce together and against one another. And as the tones and velocity of the sounds shift, so the rhythms change. Indeed, La Ledenge d’Eer is a work in which sound is in perpetual flux. Bleeping arcade game sounds bubble from a tidal wave of noise which resembles a landfill sit’s worth of tin cans, blooping laser modulations surge and swell before devouring themselves and being carried away in an avalanche of static and pink noise. Extraneous jazz honks through a kaleidoscope of sparkling circuitry and low-end interference. In short, there’s a lot going on, and what goes on changes over the course of the piece(s).

It’s a three-dimensional attack on the senses, designed to inflict maximum disorientation and temporal dislocation. And it succeeds. It will necessarily and inevitably twist the psyche and create an almost indefinable sense of discomfort, and it doesn’t require a mathematical equation to calculate the unsettling effects of the sound on the listener. 38 years after its composition and it’s still an astounding and quite devastating work.

 

Iannis Xenakis - La Legende d'Eer

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