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Iannis Xenakis – GRM Works 1957-1962

Editions Mego

Iannis Xenakis - GRM Works 1957-1962

“Concret PH” begins with glass splattering, not in a Vagina Dentata Organ way, but made to seem like static, or phrases in static – those late night TV static patterns that only emerge when your brain is looking the other way. With Xenakis, your brain often has to look the other way. I know nothing about Xenakis as such but he seems like a tough guy: a hard philosophy. He doesn’t seem like he’s the kind of guy who values compromise. “Concret PH” acts as an introduction to Varèse’s soundworks at the Philips Pavilion at the World’s Fair in 1958, but it’s also an introduction to another world, and acts like this here. These tracks aren’t soundscapes you need or ones you even want. You can’t really look upon them fondly, even in retrospect. They aren’t even the kind of thing you smile about with your ATP/Supersonic friends as you swap stories about endurance – “Yah, I lasted the whole three hours. Wearing a blindfold. And up to my knees in water.” These are immersive. They are not palatable. It’s not a nice even Boyd Rice/Merzbow sweep or drone, you can’t drift with this. It’s jagged and proportioned; perhaps over-thought (and your head feels his head). It’s what Form might look like shorn of context; like that apple pie from the work canteen that tastes of exactly nothing, that can only be matter in its purest form.


I’m trying to give this a positive review. I’ve listened to it lots of times. I’ve tried hard to pinpoint something it reminds me of, or find something textually clever to say about it to disguise my lack of understanding. I’ve played some of it to my students – they mostly recoiled – and I’ve tried it in different contexts (it’s best, I think while staring up the road, waiting for a bus) but, mostly, I’ve just tried to find a way to get the around the old aesthetic descriptors, the affectives aren’t effective with this kind of thing. It’s simply not appropriate to say “I like this!” (or even “I hate this”). In that way this music – it doesn’t all sound the same, by the way, some is quite… bassy and slow, some thin and mean – is transcendent and necessary (did I just say you didn’t need it? I lied) and maybe it’s worth a chuck of money to start puzzling out why.


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