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Perspectives of New Music,

Perspectives of New Music,

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Published by: rhyscorr on Mar 07, 2012
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Towards a Space-Time Art: Iannis Xenakis's PolytopesAuthor(s): Sven SterkenSource:
Perspectives of New Music,
Vol. 39, No. 2 (Summer, 2001), pp. 262-273Published by:
Stable URL:
Accessed: 27/10/2011 02:46
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TOWARDSASPACE-TIMEART:IANNIS XENAKIS'SPOLYTOPES
SVEN STERKEN
INTRODUCTIONOLYTOPES" ISTHECOLLECTIVE NAME
ofa series ofmultimediainstallations,includingsound,lightandarchitecture,conceivedbyIannisXenakisduringthe1960s and 1970s. Theword"polytope"isGreek;inthiscontext it has to beinterpreted literally:polymeans "alot,several,"whiletoposmeans"place."Furthermore,everyPolytopebearsthename of the siteor thecitywhere ithasbeeninstalled. Thename ofthesespectacles alreadyindicates thathere,we aredealingnotonlywithmultimedia works(thoughtheverynotionof multimedia wasthen notyetused todesignatethis kind of work asis the casetoday),but with anartthatfullyintegrates"space."Xenakis'sattention tospaceis notsurprising,sinceforaperiodoftwelveyears (1947-59),heworked as anengineerandan architectinLe
 
Towards aSpace-TimeArt
Corbusier's officeinParis. Heparticipatedinimportant projects,suchasthe LaTouretteMonasteryinLyonand the famousPhilipsPavilionatthe1958 BrusselsWorldFair. It isinthissameperiodthatXenakisstarted to draw attentionas acomposer.In thePolytopes,Xenakishastransposedhistemporalthinkingintothree-dimensionalspace;theseartworkscan thusbe consideredasthe return to architecture of acomposerwho,inhismind,hasalwaysremainedanarchitectandanengineer.1Throughthemasterlyuse ofthe latesttechnologicaltoolsinthePoly-topes,architecture becomesan art of timeand musicanart ofspace.Inthisway,thesespatialized lightand soundscenographiestakepartinthetradition thatlinksWagner's conceptionofthe total art work(theGesamtkunstwerk)withcontemporarynotions ofcyberspace,inthesensethattheybothdeal with thecreation of animmersive and artificialenvi-ronment.Inthisarticle,we willthereforeexamine thepositionofthePolytopesinthisquestfor aspace-timeart.
QUALITATIVEANDQUANTITATIVESPACE
What wegenerallycall"theenvironment"actuallyconsistsofa whole ofspaces.Accordingtothewaythesearedefined,we canconsider twotypesofspace:materialspaceandenergeticspace.2Thefirstone,materialspace,isdefinedbythetraditional,classicalarchitecturaltectonics:walls,ceilings,floors,windows,etc. Thearche-typeof such aspaceissymbolizedinafamousetchingfrom theeighteenth-centuryFrencharchitecturetheoreticianLaugier'sEssai surl'architecture(seeexample 1).Itsymbolizesthe"primitivehut" and itisactuallyanallegoryof the"firstarchitecturalact."As minimalasitmayseem,throughthissmallintervention ofman,afragmentofthevastspaceofnaturebecomes aplace,inthesensethat,fromthismomenton,itdistinguishesitself fromtherest ofthesurroundingspacethroughacertainsymbolicorphysicalquality.Architecture hereplaysthe role ofinterfacebetweentheinsideand theoutside,betweenthedomesticatedand theuntamed.Thesecondtypeofspace,calledenergeticspace,isdefinedbysensoryqualities,suchaswarmth,smell,color,lightandsound.Picture forinstance acampfire,aroundwhichheat andlightcreate animmaterialspace.Inoppositiontothequantitativeaspectsofphysicalspace,oneexperiencesthissensoryspaceinaqualitativeway;itiscreatedbyener-geticwavestravellingthroughtheair,withouttakingintoaccounttheboundaries ofmaterial(architectural)space.Laugier'sprimitivehutis,in263

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