XENAKIS, IANNIS: Le Depassement de Soi DVD
Linaia-Agon is one of Xenakis’ game pieces, scored for tuba, trombone and French horn. Structured as a contest (Agon) with referee and scorekeeper, it’s powered by a complex set of calculations that create unique sets of combinations of actions for the musicians. Each action for each musician is determined, but not fully - that is to say, some parameters are strictly controlled, while others may not be. It’s fiendishly complicated, and this is intentional: Xenakis believes that the effort required to do difficult things makes its own musical contribution to the work, and to the experience of listening to the work – hence the title of the DVD: ‘Going beyond oneself’. In interviews he extrapolates out from this the idea of difficulty, struggle and transcendence of the expected and the possible as a necessary, noble and human imperative. The DVD offers 2 studio versions of the piece, immaculately recorded in stereo and surround-sound - one 10 and the other 15 minutes long. Obviously very different, they reveal something of the power of the compositional method. The documentary then digs down into the work in detail by explaining, in the context of Xenakis’ life and work, his compositional methods and the problems they tackle; his deep relation to mathematics and mathematical theory – with detours into more general questions of the music-math connection; the idea of game pieces and the mechanics of this particular work; the notion of open form in music; technical matters concerning extended and performance techniques; the many problems and travails encountered finalising and interpreting the score; strategies involved in making the piece performable - and the eventual solution effected by bringing a computer into the mix in place of the conductor, referee and score-keeper. It’s an academic, intellectual and very thorough dissection of a single work, that sheds light on the musical preoccupations of the ‘60s, Xenakis’ work in general, and the intellectual and physical effort contemporary performers have to put in if they want to essay such works. It’s an impressive programme that swims against the tide of easy celebrity presentation, gosh-wowing, and ‘making it simple’ for the viewer - who is for once treated like an adult who could give a damn. In addition there’s a studio performance of Zythos, for trombone and six marimbas, a 58-minute French radio presentation of Linaia-Agon (sound only) based on interviews with Xenakis and two more versions of the piece. Invaluable. All praise to Mode for this level of commitment.