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Compositional Models in Xenakis's Electroacoustic Music

Author(s): Agostino Di Scipio


Source: Perspectives of New Music, Vol. 36, No. 2 (Summer, 1998), pp. 201-243
Published by: Perspectives of New Music
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/833529
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COMPOSITIONALMODELS
IN XENAKIS'S
ELECTROACOUSTIC MUSIC

AGOSTINO
DI SCIPIO

N IANNIS XENAKIS'SOUTPUT, electroacoustic music plays a role that is


quantitatively marginal but quite meaningful in its content. In the fol-
lowing observations, my aim is to demonstrate that highly relevant
aspects of Xenakis's contribution to today's musical thinking are found in
electroacoustic works like Concret PH (1958), Analogique A-B (1958-
59), and Bohor (1962), up to La Legend d'Eer (1977), Mycenae-Alpha
(1978), and Voyageabsolu des Unari versAndromede (1989), and most
recently Gendy301 (1991) and S709(1994).

PRELIMINARY OBSERVATIONS

In electroacoustic music, compositional strategies are mediated by tools


of work and thought-i.e., by a TxXvql(tekhne), an entire world of
202 Perspectivesof New Music

techniques and technologies-often considered foreign to the field of the


musicological discourse. However, this z?xvi( represents an essential
expression of the knowledgewhich converges in the compositional pro-
cess. As Pierre Schaeffer wrote, ". .. les idees musicales sont prisonnitres,
et plus qu'on ne le croit, de l'appareillage musicale...."' The elabora-
tion of the sound material and the strategies of musical design are cap-
tured in actions, procedures, and tools which actually permit us to
"record" and study the compositional process and to observe how the
composer's ideas are transformed into audible musical objects.
My analyses below lean on the notions of model of sound material,
model of musical articulation, and controlstructure:

* A model of sound material is the operative description of "compos-


ing the sound." The analysis of electroacoustic music cannot waive
the study of this aspect so essential to, and distinctive of, this type of
compositional praxis. Characterizing a model of sound material
shows the features of sound (microstructures) that are cognitively
availableto the development of musical form (macrostructures), and
may illustrate the theory of sound implicit in the way in which the
composer represents, conceives of, and works on and within the
sound material.
* A model of musical design is the operative description of "compos-
ing with sounds." It illustrates the strategies of articulation of musi-
cal form, i.e., the way in which the material is worked on and the
way by which the overall form is developed out of smaller units and
components.
* A control structure represents the conceptual interface, as well as the
operative link, between microstructures and macrostructures. It
implements the relationship between the conception of material and
the conception of musical form, and thus illustrates the features of
material actually used (from among those available) in a certain
musical construction.

This approach helps us, I believe, to tackle questions that are funda-
mental in music analysis:what is the material of the musical work under
observation? By what methodswas the material worked on? How did this
way of working finally bring forth the perceivedmusical structure?What
relationship is there between sound and music? Thus, it becomes possible
to grasp meaningful features of the music theoryand the aesthetic hypoth-
eses underlying the work in question. Music analysis is understood here
as a question of characterizing and evaluating the musical knowledge
Xenakis's Electroacoustic Music 203

mediated by the z-XvTIin the process of composing, and the way in


which such a mediation is accomplished.2 This is crucial as long as the
particular tools for such a mediation are consciously chosen or even spe-
cially designed by the composer-as in Xenakis's case.
* * *

Xenakis's work with electroacoustics has developed in two main phases:


first, at Pierre Schaeffer's Groupe de Recherches Musicales, in Paris, from
1957 to the middle of the sixties; later, at the Centre Etudes Mathema-
tique Automation Musique (CEMAMu), founded near Paris in 1966 by
the composer himself together with mathematicians and researchers in
computer science.
Except for Analogique B (for tape, eventually superimposed on
Analogique A, for strings), Xenakis's work at the GRM resulted mostly in
pieces of musique concrete.I use the term here in its oldest sense (1948),
pointing to a transformation of the compositional process: "... une
inversion dans le sens du travail musical ... il s'agissait de recueillir le
concret sonore, d'oui qu'il vienne, et d'en abstraire les valeurs musicales
qu'il contenait en puissance."3 Bohor(eight-track tape) is an outstanding
example of such an attitude, a powerful, compact, sonorous fresco more
than twenty-three minutes long, delirious and violent in its materic
magma. A relevant characteristichere is that this music is void of appar-
ent phrase-like articulation, void of recognizable logical progression.4
This is perhaps explained by Xenakis's decision to focus on the potential
for articulation in -rather than with-the sound material itself. I would
like to illustrate this potential as explored in the composition of Concret
PH and Analogique B-two works which, in rather different ways, both
represent a mediation between the noisy violence of Bohor and the con-
structive, mathematico-philosophical approach in Xenakis's instrumental
works of the same period, such as Achorripsis (1956-57) and the
computer-generated ST/10-1 (1956-62).

FROM CONCRETPH . . .

ConcretPH (1958) is a 2'45"-long textural composition, a "cloud" filled


with splinters of sound only vaguely differentiated among themselves. As
is well known, this piece was conceived as an introductory event in Le
Corbusier's Philips Pavilion, presented at the Brussels World's Fair in
1958 (the Pavilion also included Varese's only tape work, Poeme Electro-
nique).
204 Perspectivesof New Music

Sound design for Concret PH followed three steps. As a first step, the
sounds of hot coals and burning material were recorded on tape. As a
second step, very short chunks were extracted from the recording and
isolated from their original context. Each chunk here corresponds to a
single crackle, to a single creak of the coal in consumption-noise bursts
lasting no more than a few hundredths (sometimes even a few thou-
sandths) of a second. As is expected, such sounds have a very large spec-
trum (see Example 1). Indeed, at this level the determination of
frequency becomes dependent on the duration: the shorter the sound
impulse, the wider the frequency band. (In other words, following
Heisenberg's "uncertainty principle," a precise localization in the time
domain causes indeterminacy in the frequency domain.) As a conse-
quence, frequency and its perceptual attribute, pitch, are hardly control-
lable here, as it is impossible for human ears to integrate differences of
pitch and amplitude in such brief moments.5
As a third step, the short noise bursts were assembled to create a
longer texture, by piecing together innumerable scraps of tape. A series
of such textures was obtained, each having a particular temporal density
dn = kn/At. Textures were then submitted to two distinct strategies of
densification:

1. layering of m copies of the same texture: D = mdn (density of


microevents controlled by means of a geometric series)
2. layering of different textures each with its own density:
D = 2ndn.

In both cases, the result of layering is a qualitative enrichment of the


sound texture, heard as the fluctuating timbre of a rough dust of sound,
with rare periodic patterns.
In Example 2 readers can see a sonogram of the entire recording of
Concret PH.6 Two types of texture can be distinguished, one made of
very short noise bursts (wide frequency bands, with peaks at around
6000-9000 Hz), the other made of slightly longer bursts (narrower fre-
quency bands, with peaks at 4000-5000 Hz). Often the two types over-
lap, e.g., in fragments 40"-50" (Example 3a) and 110"-120" (Example
3b). Occasionally, one of the two is more in evidence-the first in frag-
ment 30"-40" (Example 3c) and the second in the brief excerpt 80.9"-
86.6" (Example 3d) and later in fragment 100"-110" (Example 3e).7
Features found in large-scale spectral analysis are also found at smaller
scales. For instance, Example 3c (fragment 30"-40") shows a sono-
graphic snapshot which is quite similarnot only to that of the entire piece
(Example 2) but also to that of a very short detail only 0.3" long
Xenakis's Etectroacoustic Music20 205

(Example 4, 37.7"-38"). Example 5 illustrates this phenomenon in


fragment 90"-100" (Example 5a), and in its ever-smaller particulars
(Example 5b, 94.5"-96"; Example 5c, 94.8"-95.2"). In short, this
"4zooming in" reveals the properties of a self-similar object, a surface in
relief that is fractalin dimension: something halfwvaybetween a plane and
a solid. An object of this kind, of dimension H = 2.6666667, is illus-
trated in Example 6.8

l iklI IiI ,LL


aii . .11 I sh l J 0.11i i L- It

1S4.467 '111.3?0 '200272 '203 17S '206O77 '208,980 '211-882 1214.785 '217.682iw

.0
dB8

-10

-20

-30.

-40 -

50-
A

-s0
HZ:

EXAMPLE 1: CONCRET PH IS ENTIRELY MADE OF EXTREMELY SHORT


NOISE BURSTS. SHOWN HERE IS THE WAVEFORM OF ONE SUCH SOUND
(APPROXIMATELY 0.1" IN DURATION) AND ITS FREQUENCY SPECTRUM
...

206 Perspectivesof New Music

0'-80"

EXAMPLE 2A: SONOGRAPHIC REPRESENTATION


OF CONCRET PH00"--80"

* .. ..

I: . D: . . . . ' . :... :
' '
','' :
*-
'^!:''-! .": :.., ? ; ,i :, ,' :' . ' '
j:"

' i
_......
t-- ';, :t'
, I ' : - ; :

;
. j;EXAMPLE
2B' CONCRT PH-80"-160"
i:

2B:
CONCRETPH-808:~'"-
EXAMPLE I60"

EXAMPLE 2B: CONCRET PH-80-1 60


Xenakis's Electroacoustic Music 207

n,

i::
o, ?i ? i:: ? :?:' ? : -:-I.:I
:? i ' ''
a,
?i( : :? ?'??:::'
,, :j: i ir::::.?:':'-?;???

?,r:? It
?, f: i:: ??%?,. ?,.? -:
" ::I :.i t,l r
???
? i'??': :i: sC
i?:- :i ?rri ?f. I ;F?
::
ix:?tt:
-? ;*r
.?( ,ir? :1:1
ilai:
-fair ?1 t: r thi ..
k ." 'It"
t:''I I;:I
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.r? 'I' ??re
": 1??::I?:I i ii ir;-
I ?i: a
i ? ?I,: :i: . Z...
i.; :. ?::p:L ??' -?.?
:$ ?* ::
I"?'
r
r?:r i
L
:i?f?
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I:i
::1
i(b
i :1:Ii

?1 ??I?
'."
'' :?'
i?

ai
L:::O :
'???
'f
:i:
??I/I'

:i':(-il
Cia
I'
:::
+. f Er
'. r :? f i:.-:? ?:L i
r 1 Y
I ?;
i r.r! i? ?L:
1: ii ?i t I I-?1
r
i. 1 .?I
?;L?r?
r?.:
IO LI U U

EXAMPLE 3A: PARTICULARS OF CONCRET PH-OVERLAPPING OF TWO


TYPES OF SOUND TEXTURE, FRAGMENT 40"-50"

EXAMPLE 3B: CONCRET PH-OVERLAPPING OF TWO TYPES


OF SOUND TEXTURE, FRAGMENT 110"-120"
208 Perspectivesof New Music

EXAMPLE 3C: CONCRET PH-FIRST TYPE OF SOUND TEXTURE (NOISE


BURSTS OF WIDE SPECTRUM IN EVIDENCE), FRAGMENT 30"-40"

n,
r,
r-
.
w,

s
o_
: I?:
1(, - ? . ?' . ? I : 1
;
*-? 1
i ?: :.::: / ::.?: :?I?.: :?? i,?i?
h::

j;I:I:,-
j??:
i :?:?i:
1
?I ,t ,
::i:? I.i ??F i?i? j?; "'',? ?:t:?'
i :
" i: ii.
.r ?? ?t i.i r- L?

-L?
t:C r?: I r. :
?? :::i::iC
.;?
" ii::;?:! ?:Ilj.ItI?
r
it-
:I
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?1, ??;-?
s
PI
?i????:.t
:Icl
' ??i?,
"'i
.1.' TF:i
;.? ti.
I?
i.?l
r: i''l.t' 1: i).'."'
asidclki ?..I:li ?I

i
?-;

?'": r,l,t u:r? s"t?l:::II i, i:


ffi':, ''
CI:Ci
?e
.I:i
c;?
C?? "! '
;I B?:
c
?'?. 'I' ri,
t ?' :: "
.1 ; 1 'i? ? ?: i'E

O w I)r LP u* * I--------?r*nlrurm
lvr,n r -rxln*e sra*n?-,?--

g0'524- 26'613

EXAMPLE 3D: CONCRET PH-SECOND TYPE OF SOUND TEXTURE


(NOISE BURSTS OF NARROWER SPECTRUM) IN EVIDENCE,
FRAGMENT 80.9"-86.6"
Xenakis's Electroacoustic Music 209

R
?,
?,
*,
6
O ir: r .
?. ?

(( ?i:?:: ?i .:.::::? :.. :. .??.'.


. ....: : ::?.'.:.'?: ::?':1-
?:l..:l::::::i
"
ii::.I
:;?:?
,1
;;t
-:r ???i
?:?/
7-k?'': ?i
,Ir;
iT:
?i?:
: ' ??:I':d
.:.i
,?1 .i.- ?: ;?: :: ri:?;f ?
t: ???.I ...,. I!; ii(: ''*.. *- ,j?
i:?(?:?? ; r
i:!I-: i?
E ? i:: 1:"?'YY
ji ...?lI?:
:p;lf:i,
?r iiO'1 iii.;F-;rl i:b
rS"
i i
Y?i i
i:r
1I.i.iitI
'r::::?. .i'JI:i
i. ?.!:?'
.1 I:ii ::
.: r
;: :?: li?
i .?).c.
?r?i?::,-?.
i?
j'?2i 1":'''? ?tr
? '
C
oo tl to
-?? r* "'C""' ?::::
;??::

EXAMPLE 3E: CONCRET PH-SECOND TYPE OF SOUND TEXTURE


(NOISE BURSTS OF NARROWER SPECTRUM) IN EVIDENCE,
FRAGMENT100"-110"

EXAMPLE 4: A SMALL DETAIL OF CONCRET PH, 37.7"-38"


210 Perspectives of New Music

So"-Ioo'

EXAMPLE 5A: CONCRET PH, FRAGMENT 90"-100"

I_

*,~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ :1I f
'i&
'^ ::1:.::*:M J|^ ~~~~~~~~~~ -. ?

*?-;... -*~ .. :
: . .... ':^
"i!~-.~i'::":.: - r: ^:i . - . '*:. " *".* - ' :^ . *^* . ;: :-:' **^
~/' ". .
' :
:.: !.*/:..
? ..:::*! :
-::t'".;-..' .'.
- *: ::.' .':'. . . ..
r~~~~~~~?
*'^^ t.4 "-^4'a '-.?*-? ,(:*!...* to '^ ^ li . :/
'.^t .* <^ . *-* ^ :- M *: **.* !:>* *"**<t-'<; . ( '
*?
^
~***.~~~~~
-* f'
*:'"*
':
?''''"(":""'''
'-
'"
;'t. an1
'. h' ' '"""
1.0

. .: ~
:_ '.:
?.l.:'i: : :

EXAMPLE 5B: CONCRET PH, A SMALL PARTICULAR, 94.5"-96"


Xenakis's ElectroacousticMusic 21 1

~~~ ~ ?; ~ ~ '3

?,~ ~ ~ 4 ~

if?
re,?

EXAMPLE 5C: CONCRET PH, A SMALLER PARTICULAR, 94.8"-95.2"

..

rd
. .
J ; W0
.

& I
i

EXAMPLE 6: A FRACTAL SURFACE, OF DIMENSION 2.666667


(REPRINTED FROM B. MANDELBROT, FRACTALS: FORM, CHANCE,
AND DIMENSION. SAN FRANCISCO, 1977)
212 Perspectivesof New Music

The overall piece presents a rather simple macroscopic shape, going


from the sonorities of the first type of texture, in evidence at the begin-
ning of the piece (Example 7a, 15"-20"), to the slightly less fragmented
ones of the second type, in evidence towards the end (Example 7b,
140"-145").

~~~~~~~~~~?- i....

' * - . :. : ' .* ' . . ?


? _ . ': . * . . . . . . . '* * * ** -
*-'~~~. . , ?

'
?._, .. .. . *. . .;
' ''
'"~" ': ..
:'. ~
?'.i '' !~:.i~..
i~
- .i!~;..ii~;
. ~:
:'
:~'~Ji~ ,.i?zib:""?
?:i: i . !~ :~:!i?~..~
~:".. .
i :..~i '

::.' 16
:':
,-.~. " :.''r..i~" ::: ' ..*:.^.::' ,'-i.'. ~:,,X-;
~
0~~~~~~~
i,...'"
..A.f.....;i:.,:/:^.? ~>;*
l^ e~" " .: .>.-...:"..;::
: **;,-:?:^; ....t-.',::; ^'.i^*,?;.:^ '. .;.^^;...^^ ..
~ :;ii"
~ ~~~':,
if~ . : :'
::I

EXAMPLE
7A: DETAILOF THE SONOGRAMOF CONCRETPH-THE FIRSTTYPEOF
TEXTURE IS PREDOMINANT AT THE BEGINNING OF THE PIECE,
AS IN FRAGMENT15"-20"

*..-
' .
=6"-;!. '*:4-:.- . ' iX::A
' ::;:! ': :

"' ....1^',;~~~~
':~~
"' ^140'
^~'
-l^' '^ 1:465..'

EXAMPLE
DETAIL
OF
THE
SONOGRAM
TYPEOF
CONCRETPHTHE
SECOND
OF
7B: PREDOMETAIL
EXAMPLE OF WARDS THE CONCRE T PH- THE SECOND TYPE OF
TEXTURE IS PREDOMINANT TOWARDS THE END, AS IN FRAGMENT 140"--145"
Xenakis's Electroacoustic Music 213

* * *

Xenakis's interest in particular acoustic phenomena-such as the shrill


sound of cicadas, the drumming of rain, the human noises of crowd
scenes, the thunder of battle9-is well known. However, I would rather
avoid speculation here as to the possible implications behind the sound of
burning materials. The material of ConcretPH, as we have seen, does not
so much lie in this acoustic phenomenon as in the audible result of the
dissection, selection, and composition of innumerable noise impulses.
That is the material handled by the composer, something which is itself
designed, and largely devoid of perceptual qualities revealing its actual
phenomenal origin (indeed, listeners tend to perceive these sounds as the
sound of breaking glasses). That material is then manipulated, as we have
seen, by means of simplistic statisticalprinciples, which in the end lead to
the rather simple form of the whole piece.
It is to be emphasized that each fleeting creak of sound in ConcretPH
is a point of catastrophe and discontinuity; it represents a tiny explosion
which transforms a bit of matter into energy. Not by chance, then, is the
overall form of the piece so simple and static: simplicity at the macro-level
allows the listener-and the composer himselfl-to turn his/her atten-
tion to the morphology of the scraps of sound this music is made of, to
the shortest processes by which matter is transformed into energy. The
listener's attention, then, is turned towards the form of each of these
sonic events.
In line with the musique-concreteapproach, here the model of sound
material is a mixture of manipulative procedures through which-with a
definition found in the system-theory literature-"noise is transformed
by learning into a sign."'l In this annotation, "learning" is perhaps the
most important thing: it means interior accretion and awareness of the
auditory experience, which finally becomes a project of art through
choice and isolation of particular features of the acoustic phenomenon.
These are the features of the very material in the composition of Concret
PH: every single component of the whole is marked by a creative inten-
tion, by an intentional act that changes its nature and meaning. What we
call material here, then, tends to lose its connotation of something natu-
ral and becomes a designed object itself-an artifact.
In spite of the simple cloud-like structure, the unfolding of Concret
PH is rather extraneous to explicit figurative criteria and devoid of
mimetic or narrative references. Despite Xenakis's debt to Schaefferian
aesthetics, there is something here that sets Xenakis at the margins of
musique concrete.I refer to an attitude that renders the musical work a
definitive artificium, the resultant of a project of art addressing many
214 Perspectivesof New Music

time scales in the structure of music. Incidentally, this is mirrored-


though hidden from the ear-by the self-similarityof the time-frequency
representation of the piece as a whole.

... TO ANALOGIQUE B

Analogique B (1958-59) marks a departure from the concretist approach


of pieces like Concret PH and Bohor(this latter, however, was composed
later, in 1962). Brought to conclusion partly at the GRM and partly in
Hermann Scherchen's studios in Gravesano, Analogique B represents the
very first attempt at welding musical invention to a conception of sound
freed from classical acoustics.
This "electro-magnetic music for sinusoidal sounds"" is made up of
many brief sinusoidal signals recorded on tape. Here Xenakis's concep-
tion of sound lies close to that put forth by physicist Dennis Gabor (as
well as by Norbert Wiener). The possibility is explored of composing
sound by innumerable overlapping elementary signals-sinusoidal sound
grains. Such a possibility is expressed by Gabor's series expansion:

s(t) = Zn,kan,kg(t-kT)ejnn

The elementary signal is represented by g(t). It has a real and an imagi-


nary part-i.e., in Gabor's own description:

enQt = p-2(-texp-a i2Tfol

where a is the parameter allowing us to establish both the duration of the


grain and its band width. For Gabor, therefore, "elementary signals are
harmonic oscillations of any frequency fo, modulated by a probabilistic
pulse."'2 A Gaussian curve is utilized for the pulse's envelope, as in fact it
allows one to locate the elementary signal in both time and frequency
with minimal spectral dispersion. Example 8 shows Gabor's "grid,"
where the time/frequency continuum is quantized into its smallest
cells-called by him logons-of area AtAf An elementary signal is repre-
sented by a corresponding logon in the grid. The three graphs in
Example 8 show the intuitive notion that the frequency spectrum
depends on the temporal pattern of elementary signals, while the density
in the particulartime span remains the same.
Xenakis's approach is different with regard to the envelope curve of
the grain. He leaves it constant-a rectangular envelope. Shown in
Xenakis's Electroacoustic Music 215

F F IIms F

Af
I

III II
u -> T -> T -> T
t

A A A

F iF F

EXAMPLE 8: THE NUMBER OF SINUSOIDAL GRAINS REPRESENTED IN THE


TIME/FREQUENCY GRID (TOP), IS THE SAME IN ALL THREE EXAMPLES,
BUT THEIR TEMPORAL PATTERN IS DIFFERENT, THUS CAUSING THE
SOUND TO CHANGE SPECTRUM (BOTTOM)

Example 9 are a Gaussian grain and a rectangular grain, with their


relative frequency spectra. As can be imagined, the latter is perceived as a
brief explosion of noise in a frequency range centered on the frequency
of the elementary signal.
The rectangular grains in Analogique B have a fixed duration of 0"04;
amplitude and frequency values are localized on a plane broken down
into tiny cells with an area of AgAf-Xenakis calls it a "screen." In order
to obtain dynamical sounds, a "book" of such "screens" is used, at a dis-
tance of At = 0"5 (see Example 10).
The global characteristicsof a "screen" are (1) the density of grains in
the volume AgAJAtC, (2) the shape of grain distribution; (3) the degree of
order/disorder in such a distribution. The strategy employed for
Analogique B deals only with the first of them. It consists in a Markovian
process implemented as a transition probabilitymatrix (TPM): the evolu-
tion of the sound texture is traced by the probability that at a certain time
t the screen's parameterswill be modified with respect to t - At.
216 Perspectives of New Music

[N /
t t

a
\ a
k)

A
I f f
EXAMPLE 9: A GAUSSIAN GRAIN AS DESCRIBED BY DENNIS GABOR IN 1944,
AND A RECTANGULAR GRAIN AS UTILIZED BY XENAKIS IN ANALOGIQUE B

Ag
n -

hf

At

- I

EXAMPLE10: A "BOOK OF SCREENS," AS UTILIZED BY XENAKISAT THE


MICROCOMPOSITIONAL LEVEL IN ANALOGIQUE B. REPRESENTEDARE DIS-
CRETEVALUES OF FREQUENCY (AF), AMPLITUDE (AG), AND TIME (AT). DE-
SCRIBED HERE ARE TWO IDEALLYSINUSOIDAL TONES OF EQUAL AMPLITUDE,
ONE AT FIXED FREQUENCY, THE OTHER SWEEPING DOWN IN FREQUENCY
Xenakis's Electroacoustic Music 217

A simple TPM looks like the following:13

X Y
X 0.2 0.8
Y 0.8 0.2

It represents the probability

* that symbol Xwill be followed by another X (20%);


* that Xwill be followed by Y(80%);
* that Twill be followed by X(80%) and
* that Ywill be followed by another Y(20%).

In Analogique B, two TPMs were utilized in the determination of ampli-


tude, density, and frequency values:

x Y X Y
X 0.2 0.8 X 0.85 0.4
Y 0.8 0.2 Y 0.15 0.6

The decision as to whether the former or the latter should be used was
made at any given time on the basis of several rules which, for brevity's
sake, are not described here. X and Tare associated with two sets of val-
ues selected from among sixteen regions of frequency (each correspond-
ing to an octave), two sets selected from among four regions of
amplitude (in phones),and two sets selected from among seven regions of
density (in logarithmic units). Once the set has been selected, the partic-
ular values in that set are chosen on a purely random basis.
To successfully predict the evolution of the parameters, it is necessary
to answer this question: what is the system's general tendency during a
certain number of transitions?In the case of our first example matrix, we
have the following relationships:

X' = 0.2X+0.8T
T = 0.8X+0.2r

Thus, after only eight transitions, a stationary state is reached. Probability


levels in the stationary state are X = 0.5 and Y = 0.5; for the second
matrix, X = 0.73 and T = 0.27. It is possible to calculate the mean
entropy of each TPM in a stationary state as

H = (HX) + (Hr)
218 Perspectivesof New Music

in which Hx represents entropy for X states of the TPM and Xy repre-


sents entropy for the Ystates, calculated as

H = --pilogpi

(pi are the transition probabilities established by the matrix).


A further macroscopic control utilized by Xenakis is called the
exchangeprotocol between perturbation states and stationary states. It is
employed to determine TPM internal parameter values for each section
of the piece-eight in all, for a total of only 2'35". The exchange proto-
col thus establishes the alternation between sound behaviors of growing
entropy, or perturbations P, and more static behaviors, or equilibrium
points E.14
These details give us a pretty clear picture of the various levels in the
compositional process: (1) the granularrepresentation of sound provides
the composer with minimum discrete elements; (2) manipulating these
elements (microcomposition) results in the actual sound material for the
entire work; (3) the concept of "screen" represents the control device
connecting microcomposition with criteria of short-term (TPM) and
long-term musical design (exchange protocol P and E).
As in ConcretPH, here we see again a continuity of micro- and macro-
levels. However, this time such continuity is caught in a rather formalized
system, whose states in time finally shape the resultant sound object. As
with later examples of algorithmic composition, the compositional
approach here seems to consolidate in a "mechanism" that the composer
lets manifest itself.'5 The perturbations that temporarily disrupt the sys-
tem's stability actually prove to be anything but an ulterior means for
manifesting the mechanism's functionality and consistency.
In short, the composition of Analogique B reflects the quantistic
approach that Xenakis borrowed from Gabor16 as well as the statistical
methods that Xenakis utilized in instrumental works during the late fif-
ties.

* * *

In the composition of Analogique B, the quantization of the sound con-


tinuum down to the finest time scale enables the composer to instantiate
programmable, formalizable compositional processes within the sound
itself. More recently, this has become typical of granular approaches to
digital sound synthesis. In general, while sound synthesis based on
Fourier's paradigm-a summation of perfectly harmonic sine functions,
which are impossible to locate in time-leads us to thinking of and
Xenakis's Electroacoustic Music 219

working out the sound material in terms of spectral characteristics,i.e., in


the frequency domain only,granularrepresentations lead us to working it
out in its micro-time structure. "Composing the sound," then, requires
the determination of time relationships among innumerable finite ele-
ments. In Analogique B, the conceptual tool to accomplish this is the
transition-probability matrix. More recently, composers have employed
other techniques, such as random distribution within either static or
dynamic boundaries (as used by Curtis Roads and Barry Truax),17 and
mathematical models of nonlinear, chaotic systems (as used in my own
compositional work).18 In most approaches of this kind, the morpholog-
ical and perceptual properties of sound and music are to some extent
dependent on the coherence of micro-level processes, whose functional-
ity, then, is to bring forth the overall form of a sound object or texture.
Albert Bregman, renowned scholar in the field of auditory perception,
has pointed out that granularrepresentations can be pertinent in model-
ing dynamical sound events of particular complexity (transient phenom-
ena, turbulence, auditory images rich in noise components and
compounded of innumerable microscopic events). He adds, however,
that this is only possible if an adequate description of the way in which
grains succeed and overlap each other is developed.19 That is, if the com-
position of grains is adequately achieved.
For many, the sonority of Analogique B is rather disappointing in com-
parison with the theoretical implications in play. This is not explained
simply by the poverty of the technical means available at the time of its
composition. Indeed, it can be explained, as we shall see later, also by the
strategies themselves pursued by Xenakis: stochastic laws seem to prevent
the emergence of a higher structurallevel; they seem not to be capable of
bringing forth those "sonorities of second order" Xenakis expected to
achieve.20The reason for this may be that his formalized system is not an
ecosystem,i.e., it is not nourished by retroaction and "environmental"
conditioning; it does not change itself with the changing context. It has
no (nor does it desire) memory. The relevance of this point is hardly tri-
fling-and I will come back to the issue in my final discussion.
Still, emblematic in this music is Xenakis's gesture aimed at generating,
by one and the same process, both complex timbral entities and the over-
all form of the work, so that the passage between micro- and macro-
structure is rendered continuous.21 As is well known, a similar composi-
tional attitude was shared by many composers at the time of the realiza-
tion of Analogique B. Xenakis's contribution with respect to these
matters, rarely understood, represents a position of a profoundly differ-
ent nature compared with that of Stockhausen, who, however, has been
220 Perspectivesof New Music

the most famous supporter of temporal and structural unity in electro-


acoustic music.22

MYCENAE -ALPHA

Mycenae-Alpha(1977) was the first music realized by means of the UPIC


computer system-the "polyagogic" computer unit of the CEMAMu. It
was recorded on monophonic tape although its public performance calls
for either two or four loudspeakers.23On the UPIC, composing is car-
ried out by tracing lines on a graphic pad connected to the computer.
The graphs are stored and then utilized either as audio waveforms or as
amplitude envelopes. They can also be utilized as pitch envelopes (glis-
sandi) or tempo curves.24
The sound is generated by table look-upsynthesis,the most straightfor-
ward standard synthesis method known in computer music. The sound-
sample amplitudes are looked up from a short array (wavetable) where
the waveform samples are stored, stepping through the arrayby a step o
proportional to the desired frequency:

a = NpSt(l/p)

wherein Np is the number of points in the wavetable, St is the sampling


period and p is the period of the signal to be generated. The method can
be formulated in this way:

s(i) = Ag(,)

wherein g(O) is the sample read from the arraylocation X, namely

O = [0++ o(i)]modNp

As we can see, o varies with the index of discrete time, i. In the UPIC
system, o is controlled by the curves the composer intends to use as pitch
profiles.
The "score" of Mycenae-Alpha (Example 11) consists of a diagram
illustrating the temporal progression (horizontal axis) of a values (vertical
axis). It gives no information as to the actual pitches heard (except in case
the wavetable utilized stores the samples of a single-period sinusoid). Nor
does it give information about the particular wavetable selected for the
synthesis. However, it shows that the piece is made up of thirteen sec-
tions, each having a characteristicgraphic outline. The shortest section is
section 4, only 5" in duration; the longest is section 13, lasting 1'01".
Xenakis's Electroacoustic Music 221

1 2 3 4

C.,-_ I

5. i
C,.
.,

5 6
I
A'\

a'

11 _ _ 12 13

i I I I

EXAMPLE 11: THE SCORE OF MYCENAE-ALPHA


222 Perspectivesof New Music

Section 7 and 13 have an identical shape but a different duration (1'01"


and 24"). The low, fine weave in section 3 is almost perfectly mirrored in
section 6, but the latter ends with different pitch profiles. There is also a
strong similarity between section 11 and 12. Many sections feature tree-
like shapes (like section 5, where each line follows an independent path).
Only the transition from section 9 to 10 is rather smooth; in all other
cases the beginning of a new section is marked by abrupt changes in the
music.
From the point of view of computer music system design, UPIC cer-
tainly represents one of the earliest examples of a uniform and coherent
music interface. However, there are also strongly constrictive aspects. I
shall mention two of these from among those which, in my opinion,
betray an involution in comparison with earlierworks:

* The notion of timbre appears reduced here to one "parameter"


among others, understood as the set of harmonics of a periodic
waveform (as is typical of table look-up synthesis); in earlier works,
as we have seen, timbre tended to be understood as dynamic form,
the epiphenomenon of microcomposition;
* The distinction between "musical structure" and "sound structure"
has been reinstated (the fact that the same profiles could be used as
either audio waveforms or pitch functions, does not prove the con-
trary). That distinction was implicitly put into question in the earlier
works, which reflected a notion of composition that shares little with
instrumental and vocal music.

Similar observations also apply for Voyage absolu des Unari vers
Andromede (for two-track tape), realized with an updated version of
UPIC.25 Despite the different formal reach (Mycenae-Alpha lasts 9'36"
and Voyagemore than 15'), Voyage,too, is divided into sharply contrast-
ing sections. Both works feature extensive glissando textures26 contrast-
ing with constant-pitch structures. Overall, differentiated sonorities
alternate between the following oppositions:

* sounds having wide-band spectra


* continuous spectrum: noise strias (at times rhythmically ani-
mated);
* discrete spectrum: pulse trains.
* sounds having limited-band spectra
* harmonic spectrum: smoothed pulse trains;
* almost-pure sounds: one single spectral line.
Xenakis's Electroacoustic Music 223

Introducing the UPIC system,27Xenakis insists on the impact of com-


puter graphics on musical didactics, and on the potential of composi-
tional design laid out graphically. Using the UPIC, composition takes
place first of all within the flat world of the time-o plane; auditory experi-
ence takes place only after this drawing of lines. Although it has raised the
interest of many,28I find this approach a debatable one in that it implies
an a posteriori association of a sound pattern with a visual pattern. In a
sense, the sound is conceived almost as if it were the by-product of ges-
tures removed from the flow of time-which, instead, is the essential
dimension in the experience of all acoustic phenomena, including music.
(Notice in section 8 of the Mycenae-Alphascore that some pitch profiles
move back in time!)
In this sense, Xenakis's work with the UPIC seems to conform literally
to his well known statement that "time could be considered as a blank
blackboard, on which symbols and relationships, architectures and
abstract organisms are inscribed."29 I shall return later to the issue of
time in Xenakis's music, as I do not believe it can be reduced to such a
thoroughly reductionist position.

SOUND AS A STOCHASTIC PHENOMENON. FROM LA LEGEND D'EER ...

In the first English edition of his book Formalized Music, Xenakis


described an approach to sound synthesis that is completely independent
of the Fourier paradigm. The approach was based on initial experiments
Xenakis pursued at CEMAMu and at Indiana University (Bloomington),
and which he further pursued in the realization of La Legend d'Eer
(1977), worked out at CEMAMu and at Cologne WDR, and later in the
realization of Gendy301 (1991) and S709 (1994).
La Legend d'Eer is a long continuum of sound lasting about forty-six
minutes, recorded on a seven-track tape.30 It is made up of both
computer-synthesized sounds and recorded samples. The latter include
the sounds of African and Japanese instruments, eventually processed at
the Cologne studio. (Listening to the piece, I find that these sounds
seem to resonate from earlier electroacoustic works, especially Diamor-
phosesand Orient/Occident.) The computer sounds were obtained in part
with the UPIC system and in part with stochastic methods.31 At first, the
music is a rather fine thread of high-pitched synthetic sounds. Later it
gets denser and denser until it becomes a massive texture mixing up sev-
eral distinct sources. Processed instrumental samples are present in an
ever increasing manner as the piece unfolds. Except for the initial pitched
224 Perspectivesof New Music

sounds, most synthetic sounds in the piece are quite noisy. In my obser-
vations below, I focus on the stochastic synthesis methods through which
these sounds were achieved. I will then discuss the detail of the musical
application of these methods in Gendy301.
* * *

The sound-representation domain addressed by Xenakis is the time


domain of the acoustic waveform. The idea is to directly generate the
sound signal by using probabilistic functions. The signal is seen as the
path traced by a point animated by incessant Brownian motion, capable
of ranging continuously from more or less stable periodic patterns to
rather irregularcurves devoid of periodicity. The mathematical constructs
Xenakis used to this end unite in a group of eight methods of sound gen-
eration, all of which, despite some differences, share the same strategy: to
establish a condition of initial disorder and introduce means by which it
can either be reduced or increased. The reasoning behind this approach
stems from two considerations:

* the complexity of natural sound phenomena cannot be reduced to


the terms of the Fourier paradigm because its limitations heavily
condition the sonological applications (both with analog and digital
technology);
* sound design should be regarded as an act of creative imagination; it
cannot be relegated, therefore, to the simulation of known sounds.32

The latter consideration is extremely important. In the twentieth century,


musical forms have gradually been freed from the reproduction of pre-
established frames. The inspiration behind a music of electronically pro-
duced sounds springs from extending this freedom to the realm of the
sound material itself. Therefore, simulation of pre-established sonic
materials (e.g., the sound of musical instruments) is excluded on the basis
of this position.
As mentioned above, in the direct-synthesis approach developed by
Xenakis the instantaneous signal amplitude can be thought of as an alea-
tory variable and can be defined in terms of the probability of the occur-
rence of allowable values. The whole of such probabilities can be
expressed by relating x value of variable X to the probability P of its
occurrence. Thus, by means of

f(x) = P[Xsx]
Xenakis's Electroacoustic Music25 225

we show that P is the probability that X will assume a value included in


the interval [oo, x]. We can also characterize the probability densityfunc-
tion expressing the probabilities of a continuous random phenomenon:

F(x) =f xf(t) dt.

The functions most often used by Xenakis are the following (see
Example 12):

e Uniform: f(x) I1, withO0< x <


* Cauchy: f(x) / (a2+ +x2)
* Gauss: f(x) = [1/( F2-na)]e_(X_t)2 / (2a2)

* exponential: f(x) = l/2keXli-i

These can rather easily be simulated on the computer using simple Algo-
rithms.33

flxi ix
i x

-a + 'tI I I
K

f(xj f([XI

.-O.

EXAMPLE 12: AN APPROXIMATE GRAPHICAL RENDITION OF PROBABILITY


DENSITY FUNCTIONS (TOP LEFT: CAUCHY; TOP RIGHT: EXPONENTIAL;
BOTTOM LEFT: GAUSS; BOTTOM RIGHT: UNIFORM)
226 Perspectivesof New Music

There is a connection in the way Xenakis conceived of sound material


in Analogique B and Concret PH and this digital sound synthesis
approach. The quantistic hypothesis he followed during the late fifties is
taken here to extreme consequences. Earlier the quantization of the time
continuum reached the granularityof elementary signals as short as a few
hundredths of a second. It is now even finer: the entity subjected to com-
positional decisions is the digital sample itself, the instantaneous pulse
necessary for a digital computer to generate sounds. In Xenakis's experi-
ments, samples succeeded each other with a lapse of about At = 0.00002"
(sampling rate = 50 KHz). The signal was obtained by directly calculat-
ing the sample values in discrete time, i.e., operating in a bidimensional
space AtAg. Frequency and timbre characteristics,therefore, become the
resultant of particular sample patterns; they are to be regarded as emer-
gent properties, i.e., epiphenomena of a process that occurs in the lowest
technically availablescale of time.
Broadly speaking, Xenakis's stochastic synthesis belongs to a class of
methods that can be formulated quite simply as

s(i) = f(s(i- k))

in which function festablishes the relation between the amplitude of the


signal at time i and its amplitude at time i - k. Iffdoes not implement
any consistent acoustic model, then we may call this a nonstandard syn-
thesisapproach.
In computer music, nonstandard synthesis has been used not only by
Xenakis but also by composers like Herbert Briin (in his compositions
realized with the SAWDUST program) and Gottfried Michael Koenig
(SSP program). More recently it has been utilized by younger composers
(e.g., Paul Berg, Arun Chandra, Jonathas Manzolli, Michael Hamman).
The important point shared by all nonstandard methods is that the
sound-generating process depends on the composer's arbitrary inven-
tion. Sound material shifts into the realm of the possible-paradoxically
appearing dematerialized, virtual, i.e., not preexistent to an act of cre-
ation and design. The composer becomes integrally responsible for the
musical artifact, by means of a thorough continuity of the compositional
approach. He composes sound and music at once. A perfect instance of
this is Xenakis's recent Gendy301.

... TO GENDT301

In 1991, twenty years after his first experiments with direct synthesis,
Xenakis took up this research line once again. He marked his return by
Xenakis's Electroacoustic Music 227

writing a computer program called GENDY (GtNeration DYnamique),


which he wrote himself in BASIC and which was later translated into C
by his colleagues at CEMAMu. The program implements an algorithm of
sound synthesis called dynamic stochasticsynthesis,34and is called up by
another program, PARAG3, which has the role of a higher-level control
structure. Gendy301, a tape piece lasting 18'45", is the first work using
dynamic stochastic synthesis. The world premiere took place at the Mon-
treal International Computer Music Conference (October 1991). The
piece is now available on CD (Neuma 450-86), but there it bears the
slightly different title of Gendy3.The two recodings being perfectly iden-
tical, I think the title was changed because of editorial aspects, which are,
of course, completely irrelevant to us here (in the files available at
Xenakis's Paris publisher, Salabert, Gendy3 is officially claimed to have
been premiered in Metz, France, in November 1991).
Dynamic stochastic synthesis entails distorting a waveform in time and
amplitude, calculating the amount of transformation through stochastic
variations. It assumes that the sound signal is traced by a series of wave-
forms J, each consisting of I linear segments (Example 13a). The end
coordinates of the i-th segment in the j-th waveform are xij, Yij. Phase
continuity between waveforms j and j + 1 is assured by establishing

Xo,j+ 1, 0,j+ = Xi- i,j,Yi- I,j-

The method can be described by saying that the end coordinates of seg-
ment i in the j-th waveform are stochastic variations applied to the end
coordinates of the segment i in waveform j- 1. That is,

= Xi,i+fx(z)
Xi,j+

Yij, = Yi,j+fy(z)

where fx(z) and fy(z) return positive or negative values, given an argu-
ment z (itself a random number with uniform distribution, i.e., white
noise). Samples are computed by linear interpolation between the initial
and end points in each segment:

s(t) = s(t) + [i + ,j-Yi, /ni,j]

where nij is the number of samples in the i-th segment. The segment
duration is

= 1)/Sampling rate.
dij (nij-
228 Perspectivesof New Music

Therefore the j-th waveform will have a total duration (period) of

Dj = Yidi,.
We have three possibilities:

* transformation of the ordinates only

Yi,j+ = Yi,+fy(z)
i,j+ 1 = Xi,j
(which means only the amplitude values are modified, thereby
causing a change in the spectrum);
* transformation of the abscissae only

Yi,j+ 1 = Yi,j
xi,j+1 = Xi,+fx(z)
(which means alterations of Dj, which cause changes of funda-
mental frequency of the sound, and, therefore, of pitch; eventually
this also causes audio rate frequency modulation, with related
spectral enrichment);
* transformation of both coordinates
=
Xi,j+ Xi,j+fx(z)
Yi,j+l = Yi,j+fY(z)
(which means alterations of both spectrum and pitch; Example
13a and Example 13b show a transformation of this type).

As the width of the signal is represented by sixteen-bit integers, the


values of yij must be kept within the interval [+-32767] to avoid satura-
tion. Moreover, too-extreme aleatoric variations of xij can lead to wild
frequency modulations; so they, too, must be kept within a given range.
To deal with these problems, Xenakis resorts to the notion of an elastic
barrier, a control process with three arguments

fx(z) MIR[fc(z), fXmin, fXmax]


fy(z) - MIR[fy( z),fYmin,fYmax]

nij+ MIR[n ,j+ 1, Nmin, Nmax]

Yij+ 1 MIR[yi, + 1, Ymin, max]


Xenakis's Electroacoustic Music22 229

whereinAfrin andAfXax determinethe marginsof stochasticvariationsfor


the abscissae,fY'minand J5tma.determine the margins of the ordinates, Nm..in
and N,,, determine t-he range of samples per segment (the duration
range for dij), and lastly Yminand Ymax are equal to -32767 and +32767
(or lower amplitude values) respectively. This causes a mirror-like reflec-
tion of excess values within allowable limits.

2.j

x x x x 5.
O.j 1.1 2,j 3.j 4,j X8.j 9.j
FDj

y
5,j y6,
EXAMPLE 13A: POLYGONAL WAVEFORM GENERATED
WITH DYNAMIC STOCHASTIC SYNTHESIS

I
j+V'%OJ
O .j+1
y
5Si
Y7,j+l
V6j+
EXAMPLE 13B: POLYGONAL WAVEFORM GENERATED WITH DYNAMIC
STOCHASTIC SYNTHESIS; SEGMENT END POINTS HAVE BEEN
CALCULATED AS STOCHASTIC VARIATIONS OF SEGMENT
END POINTS IN THE PREVIOUS WAVEFORM
230 Perspectivesof New Music

The PARAG3 program supplies the GENDY program with the follow-
ing parameters:

* number of I segments per waveform;


* duration of the synthesis process;
* type of stochastic function fx;
* type of stochastic function fvy;
* arguments of the elastic barriers;

For fx and f, one can select among stochastic functions of the type
alreadyillustrated (uniform, exponential, normal, Cauchy). In Gendy301,
these functions are also used at the level of the macro-structure. The
PARAG3 program assigns a "time-field" to sixteen different voices-or
simultaneous synthesis processes; a field may be passive (silence) or active
(synthesis triggered) and its duration is calculated by exponential law,
based on a mean value D:

d = (-1/D)log(l - z)

(as usual, z is a random number of the interval [0, 1]).


Overall, this formalization closely resembles the approach taken for
Achorripsis and ST/10,35 except that the musical parameters for the
instrumental lines are now replaced with initialization parameters for the
stochastic synthesis. Like Achorripsis, the large-scale framework of
Gendy301 can be represented by a matrix (voices x time-fields) with a
certain density of active cells, as, for instance, in Example 14.
Some of the eleven sections in Gendy301 show a predominance of har-
monic spectra, with much or little glissando activity. This is the case in
section 1; Example 15 shows the sonogram of its first thirty seconds,
where very wide harmonic spectra (partials up to 8000-9000 Hz.) and
the parallel striations of the harmonic glissandi can be seen.36 Wide noise
bands are found in other sections; in Example 16 we see the sonogram of
a seven-second fragment corresponding to the passage between section 3
and 4 (ca. 5'10" from the beginning). In section 4 (Example 17a), acous-
tic energy is statistically spread over a very wide frequency range, up to
17 KHz (notice, however, the strange "hole" between 10 and 11 KHz).
By observing Example 17a, we can also understand how dense the tem-
poral articulation is at very high frequencies; we can also glimpse a har-
monic structure which appears three times behind the wall of noise. In
Example 17b the first of these three interruptions in the noise band is
Xenakis's Electroacoustic Music 23

2:13;tot,Hin:Sec 2:13
7;psi7;8;Pge:3;,ur.iin:Sec:
SOt:S352;ysp/-
128 139 ....*I,.... 149 , 159 169 197 180sec
,. . , ....*, .... ........ **....***...I *..*. ***.*I*-.*-11
....,I
I.. . . , . . .. ... I.. . . . .. . * *
. . . . ." *. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 1. 2
3 .... ....I ...., ...., ....,I .... ....,
.5. ....2 ....t , ...., .... 3

.... , .., ..... .... I.. .... .... I .... I .... . I .... ..?
......... ,, ......... . .......... ...... , ........ .... , ....,
.... ...., ...., ....,
.... .... , .. ...... . . . , ....
....
... . ...
.. .. .... .. , ....
.... , ....
.... , ....
.. ..I,?,5

,.. . . . .... .... .... .... .... ........ . . ...., n

, I....
... , .......
....,
.... * ....
. . ....,
.... II ....
.... ....,
I .... ....,
........,, ...., . .. ....
....
..... ....,. .... ..I ....
... .... I .... * ....I , .......1 ,14
i....,* , ....
.... 11
, .., .. ....,.... ..... , ....,
.... ..... .. .. -... .. .. ... *...
.. .. '....
.. .... ....
.. .. ..
.. .... . .. ..1 11

.. ; , I... .
.... ,
............. ... ,
4.. ,3
St:S352;sp. ?;Psi;-8 Pge=
du,,in,13 2; Sec= 2 tot,in Sec- 2:13
69 79 89 99 199
119 12.M
EXA.M .. . PA.
T .O..E... .... T ... O... . T1 LI NS 2
I 113
I... .. , .. .. I .. .. . . . . . .. .... I ....*14
I, I I , ..... .. ....I . . ..... I ....I it ' I 15
enlarged, wi in Em. 7w. e se the7s o a s frag-
. .... .... .... I.... I.... I.... I.... I.... i....
a .... .... 11
-I- I.... .... .... I ..I . .. I .. .... .... 1
traa.c....co
i ur. The .a ace isf as the reflect
I ..I .... .. . .. .. I I..... ..I .. .. I ,6
114

I.I
I- . ..I . . .1 ..?I. .. ..,... ...., .... .... I ...

EXAMPLE 14: TWO PAGES OF THE GENDT301 SCORE. THICK LINES

INDICATE ACTIVE TIME FIELDS (ACTIVATION OF THE SYNTHESIS

PROCESS). THE ONLY PARAMETERS REPRESENTED HERE ARE START


TIME AND DURATION FOR EACH OF THE SIXTEEN LAYERS AVAILABLE

enlarged, while in Example 17c we see the sonogram of a sound frag-


ment of only 0"5-nearly white noise.
Sounds in Gendy301 are both new and ancient in the context of elec-
troacoustic and computer music. They are ancient insofar as they reflect
the classical opposition between harmonic spectrum and noise spectrum,
232 Perspectivesof New Music

as well as the proliferation of glissandi so peculiar to Xenakis's orchestral


works. And yet, they are new each time inasmuch as they result from a
microcompositional process based on an indeterministic model-and also
because they are absolutely mobile, so varied in their dynamics as to
reach quite deafening extremes.

. ' Mj

''
: ..'.. ~ . .:.. ~'.. ',.' :.
5' .
f-. ;

v e t "s

EXAMPLE 15: SONOGRAM OF THE BEGINNING OF GENDY301, 0"-30"

EXAMPLE 16: SONOGRAM OF A SEVEN-SECOND PASSAGE IN GENDY301

(TRANSITION FROM SECTION 3 TO SECTION 4)


Xenakis's Electroacoustic Music 233

EXAMPLE 17A: SONOGRAM OF THE ENTIRE


SECTION 11, 94" IN DURATION

EXAMPLE 17B: A PARTICULAR OF


SECTION 11, 4" IN DURATION
234 Perspectivesof New Music

EXAMPLE 17C: A PARTICULAR OF SECTION 11, 0.5" IN DURATION

DISCUSSION

There is a thread uniting pieces like Analogique B and Concret PH to


Gendy301 (and S709, not described here): Xenakis tends to create a
mechanism that, once started, exhibits itself in time, rendering auditorily
explorable the potential of knowledge captured in the theoretical pre-
mises and assumptions behind the model mechanism. Xenakis makes
electroacoustic music a vehicle for a theoryof sound of a level adequate to
his theory of music. In this medium he seems to circumscribethe compo-
sitional techniques of his instrumental music. Xenakis's art then becomes
an utterly cultural fact-a creative gesture which no longer leans on
materials existing prior to the artistic concept. This represents a most
important challenge in contemporary music, one which is both highly
influential and yet very poorly understood. Also, the approach implies the
possibility of interpreting music technology in the special sense of an
integral poiesis, as a cognitive disposition for exploring possibleresults
(sound and music) rather than as a powerful means for the realization of
musical ideas too often highhandedly considered independent from the
technical substratum. That represents, in a sense, a condition sine qua
non towards the reconciliation of music theory and music praxis in our
time.
Even in the work of composers reputed to be highly sensitive to the
sound materials' inner vitality, the ontological status of sound appears as
Xenakis's Electroacoustic Music 235

something preexistent, an external natural object subjected to human


channeling and transformation. Technology then plays the role of a
microscope revealing the sound matter's most intimate details. And still
this matter is given beforethe act of composing, as a natural, preexisting
process in which the composer grasps details of musical form. Gerard
Grisey writes: "the object allows us to understand the process in its
Gestalt, and to effect a system of combinations."37 So it happened that
some have used the computer to analyze preexisting sounds and to use
the analysis data as a compositional structure. Tristan Murail's orchestral
writing, for example, "simule (...) des spectres naturels donnant a
entendre la metamorphose d'un son inharmonique de cloche en un son
harmonique de trompette."38 Here, the technological medium is impor-
tant for its instrumental function-its computational "power" and preci-
sion. In a way not foreign to widespread platitudes and beliefs, T?;XvTis
still an instrument for the control of Nature: tools are exploited to put
sound to use. In contrast, Xenakis seems to conceive of technological
means as a concrete way for the sonic matter to become the very result of
invention. The sound object is the result of composition, and therefore is
wholly comprised in the world of the artificial-it represents no preexist-
ing nature to be contemplated in its perfection, nor does it represent an
aim that results from an exploitation of natural forces.
What the sound material "materializes" is the creative intent from
which it takes origin and form. Musical form, then, begins with a net-
work of relationships in which it is difficult to glimpse a "syntax," since
this network does not determine relations of cause and effect at the level
of the elements (or symbols)of the musical flow, but at the level of the
minimal time units within sound. By acting "within" the sound rather
than "on" it, Xenakis's mechanism aims at creating a network of relations
on a presyntactic(or subsymbolic)level, allowing perceptually relevant data
to emerge at a time scale relevant to the listener. The music comes to life
by means of operations that take place beforeany syntactic norm can be
recognized as such by the listener.
This leads to a paradigm shift that I have tried to summarize in the fol-
lowing way:
It is possible to reconcile and combine "composing the sound" with
"composing with sounds," following a line of musical research unit-
ing formalized approaches (algorithmic composition) and qualitative
exploration of sound and music as perceived. This includes a blur-
ring the opposition of form vs. matter-the quantitative vs. the qual-
itative, the conceptual vs. the perceptual-and is to be seen as a
realm of artistic expression peculiar to electroacoustic music and
computer music, as it is only accessible through these media.39
236 Perspectivesof New Music

In a similar vein, Hugues Dufort writes: "Si tout le concret percu par
l'oreille est sous-tendu par des relations abstraites, on ne voit plus la rai-
son de maintenir une distinction entre une composition musicale qui
porterait les sons et une composition musicale qui porterait sur le
formes."40 In Xenakis's electroacoustic music, composing means letting
the form of sound and music emerge from lower-level processes-be it
the level of sound grains (Analogique B) or the digital samples themselves
(Gendy301).
* * *

It must be pointed out, however, that Xenakis's methods fail to develop


an evolutionary flow in sound matter. I shall conclude this discussion by
examining this theoretical knot, which has quite strong repercussions on
the issue of musical time.

Even though a statistic process may have a direction, it is always


moving towards the mean-and this is exactly what evolution is not.

This statement-quoted from Edgar Morin41-helps us define the episte-


mological and conceptual coordinates in order to discuss the experience
of musical time in Xenakis's electroacoustic works. By starting from here,
I also mean to affirm the methodological necessity of skipping over
Xenakis's own reductionistic definition of time as "a blackboard on which
one writes events and structures." I would rather concentrate on how he
works and what he works on-than on his declarations concerning the
subject matter. Declarations of intent sometimes are to be distinguished
from actual experience. The notion of a perfectly spatialized time seems
well suited only to works like Mycenae-Alpha which, as has been said
above, are not at all entirely representative of Xenakis's electroacoustic
works.
The preceding sections of this essay suggest that Xenakis, in his electro-
acoustic music, is aiming but perhaps not succeeding at setting up a self-
organizing system or mechanism. That his mechanism does tend toward
self-organizing behavior is revealed by its being sensitiveto the initial con-
ditions set up by the composer: the system behaves differently, though
consistently, upon different initial settings. That self-organization, how-
ever, does remain purely potential is revealed by the fact that his mecha-
nism is event-insensitive, i.e., unable to change its behavior upon the
occurrence of unpredicted states or events provoked by its own function-
ality.
This notion-that stochastic processes are event-insensitive-means
that the unexpected, the singularity of events, does not become a source
Xenakis's Electroacoustic Music 237

of information and transformation, but rather favors a levelling-off ten-


dency reflecting the relentless increase of entropic disorder (this is coher-
ent with the world view proper to the classical interpretation of the
Second Principle of thermodynamics). Being memoryless, Xenakis's
mechanism does not learn from the history of its previous states; it can-
not interact with the external, nor can it interact with its own history. As
stated above, it is not an eco-system-it has no context.
Paradoxical as it may appear, this state of affairs represents a deficit in
"technological efficiency," a problem brought in by the theoretical-
cognitive limitations of stochastic laws-which in fact the composer
adopted in order to deliberately break down causality,i.e., the symmetry
of beforeand after. Hence there derives the need for very simple overall
formal shapes, with separate sections for each of which the mechanism is
resetwith new input data. We might say that in this utterly formalized
music the event isforced by the external: all changes having some relevance
for the shaping of the musical form are fed in by an intention that ulti-
mately transcends formalization and stems, therefore, from intuitions left
out of formalized processes.
For Xenakis's mechanism cannot avoid being uprooted from its con-
text. Particular occurrences in the sonic matter leave no promises and
open no temporal horizons; they leave no traces of themselves in time.
Singularity does not become catastrophe,in the sense that it does not
cause a change of behavior by altering, even without annulling, the laws
governing the functioning of the mechanism. A state of suspension
ensues, moment by moment, in the flow of time as experienced by the
listener.
If time, here, really were dynamic evolution, the mechanism's laws
would then require that the occurrence of unforeseen (unforeheard)
events cause the activation of self-organizational dynamics. In reality, the
occurrence of particularpatterns and textures of sound is not capable, in
Xenakis's mechanism, of reorienting the flow of time. The occurrence is
soon forgotten: the composer's mechanism denies time the power of
endowing the elements of the musical flow with a coefficientof creativity.
Xenakis's radical gestures reflect an epistemological need to combine
algorithmic and stochastic,determinism and indeterminism,42 and finally
lead to an essential nonlinearity and fragmentation in the experience of
time. His work reflects a world no longer describable in terms of the
order-from-orderprinciple-with which Schrodinger had identified a
purely deterministic rationalism of Laplacean stamp-but a world ani-
mated by the order-from-disorderprinciple, a world where things are
incessantly put in order, warding off the ever-deeper abyss of entropic
disorder. Yet, Xenakis does not manage to take a further step, toward the
order-from-noiseprinciple, i.e., toward a world neither strictly coherent
238 Perspectivesof New Music

(algorithmic order) nor strictly incoherent (statistic order) but, if any-


thing, in a dynamic condition of chaos.43 There things would find their
(unstable) order, and the world would take form through the event,
through singularity.As is proposed by a positive interpretation of the Sec-
ond Principle: in self-organizing systems, an increase in entropy is a cre-
ative force, the bearer of isles of temporary order in the incessant flow of
transformation.
Xenakis's compositional models leave the sound matter in a condition
of statistic order, lacking any theoryof the event capable of describing the
constructive and destructive dynamics of the experienced musical form.

CONCLUSION

From Concret PH to Gendy301, Xenakis is approaching an aesthetic-


cognitive paradigm that pushes his art right into the sphere of noise, as
the reflection of the violent Nature that is free will-not unlike Lucre-
tius's description in his De Rerum Natura. The technology of the sto-
chastic laws constrains him within the margins of disorder and statistic
order, before any chance for true evolution can arise from the sound. The
events and discontinuities that nourish the musical form remain largely at
the mercy of a demiurge, not comprised by the criteriaof the mechanism
itself.
This music incarnates the utopia of an art which aims at resolving the
dialectic between material and form-between Nature and Culture-by
means of an integrally constructivist disposition. This I call an instance of
integral subjectivity,resulting in works of art which are thoroughly arti-
facts: nothing in the work exists prior to the artist's action. Constructiv-
ism, here, takes the form of the objective, "natural"manifestation of the
mechanism; but the latter is designed and built up by the subject itself.
The S6val.;t (dynamis)-the living force-which in principle could let
the mechanism reveal itself remains largely left to the incursion, from the
external, of the subject. The techno-logy(knowledge in use) behind this
music testifies to the intelligence of an art in which chance and necessity
are perfectly integrated.
Xenakis's Electroacoustic Music 239

NOTES

This paper revises and expands a previous essay published in Italian in


1995. The author wishes to thank the editors of Sonus-Materiali per la
Musica Contemporanea(Potenza) for permitting translation of the unre-
vised parts.

1. Pierre Schaeffer, Traite des objects musicaux. Essais interdisciplines


(Paris: Le Seuil, 1966), 16-17.
2. On this issue, see my paper "On the Centrality of Technefor an Aes-
thetic Approach on Electroacoustic and Computer Music," Journal
of New Music Research24, no. 4 (1995): 369-83.
3. Schaeffer, Traite, 23.
4. At the time, Bohorwas one of the most radical attempts at annulling
linear articulation in Western music. Another tape piece that was just
as radical at the time was Fabricfor Che (1968) by James Tenney.
5. See Brian Moore, The Psychologyof Hearing (London: Academic
Press, 1982), 50-52.
6. The sonograms in these pages were made using a NeXT computer at
the Centro di Calcolo, Padua University. All other graphics were
realized on an IBM486 at the Laboratorio Musica & Sonologia in
L'Aquila. At the time of the making of this analysis (1994), the only
recording of ConcretPH at my disposal was that published on None-
such LP H-71246. The work is now also available on the Electronic
Music Foundation CD, EMF 003 (together with Diamorphoses,
Orient-Occident, Hibiki-Hana-Ma, and S709).
7. In this second type of texture are hidden some sweeping sounds-
heard as extremely short chirps; see example, overleaf.
8. Example 6 is drawn from Benoit Mandelbrot's book Fractals: Form,
Chance, and Dimension (San Francisco: Freeman, 1977).
9. See Iannis Xenakis, Formalized Music (New York: Pendragon Press,
1992), 9. The 1992 edition of Formalized Music is an updated and
augmented version of the 1971 English edition (Bloomington: Uni-
versity of Indiana Press, 1971), which, in turn, integrally reprinted
and expanded the original French version, Musique Formelles (Paris:
La Revue Musicale, 1963).
240 Perspectivesof New Music

~~~
~~~~~..
""fi^^h^,^,,-
"

.~

?- ?*- '
i. '* .^
''^'^ ^ ; .. :.- .
-

.^ ,~~
~~~.~.~ ~
^:
~ ~ ~~~~~~..
.
- ll* ll
~i
;|-,;, .*;
. . .. . , ;l: j *:
: ^,

i ./ rc

CONCRET PH: TWO EXTREMELY SHORT, BARELY AUDIBLE CHIRPING


SOUNDS (SEE NOTE 7); TOP-79.4"; BOTTOM-130.7"
Xenakis's Electroacoustic Music 241

10. Stafford Beer, "Below the Twilight Arch," General Systemsno. 5


(1969): 20.
11. Formalized Music, 103; Philips recording 835487.
12. Dennis Gabor, "Acoustical Quanta and the Theory of Hearing,"
Nature 4044(3) (1947): 592.
13. For an easily readable computer-code implementation of first-order
TPMs, see Charles Dodge and Thomas Jerse, ComputerMusic: Syn-
thesis,Composition,Performance (New York:Schirmer Books, 1985),
283-88.
14. The same strategy was utilized in Analogique A (for three violins,
three cellos, and three double-basses). The compositional process of
Analogique B closely resembles that of Analogique A, the basic ele-
ments of which are very short notes; the distance between successive
screens is At = 1.111 (MM J, 54). Analogique A-B proposes the
neat superimposition of instrumental and electronic sounds; it makes
overtly clear that no attempt at timbral integration was made. Musi-
cologist Angelo Orcalli describes the sounds of Analogique B as "the
buzzing of insects" in his book Fenomenologia della Musica Speri-
mentale (Potenza: Sonus Edizioni, 1993), 117.
15. Formalized Music, 94.
16. He borrowed Abraham Moles's as well. However, Gabor had antici-
pated most of the relevant psychoacoustical notions discussed in
Moles's The'oriede l'Information et Perception Esthetique (Paris:
Flammarion, 1958).
17. Barry Truax, "Real-Time Granular Synthesis with a Digital Signal
Processing Computer," Computer Music Journal 12, no. 2 (1988):
14-26; Curtis Roads, "Automated Granular Synthesis," Computer
MusicJournal 2, no. 2 (1978): 61-62; Curtis Roads, "Asynchronous
GranularSynthesis," in Representationsof Musical Signals, ed. Gianni
De Poli, Aldo Piccialli, and Curtis Roads (Cambridge: MIT Press,
1991), 143-86.
18. Agostino Di Scipio, "Composition by Exploration of Nonlinear
Dynamical Systems," Proceedings of the International Computer
Music Conference (Glasgow, 1990), 324-27; "Caos deterministico,
composizione e sintesi del suono," Atti del IX Colloquiodi Informa-
tica Musicale (Genoa, 1991), 337-50; "Micro-Time Sonic Design
and the Formation of Timbre," ContemporaryMusic Review 10, no.
2 (1994): 135-48.
242 Perspectivesof New Music

19. Albert Bregman, Auditory Scene Analysis (Cambridge: MIT Press,


1990), 118-19.
20. Formalized Music, 103. For a more extended discussion on this
point, see my paper "The Problem of Second-Order Sonorities in
Xenakis's Electroacoustic Music," Organised Sound 2, no. 3 (1997):
165-78.
21. Orcalli, Fenomenologia, 120.
22. "Die Einheit der musikalischen Zeit" was written in 1961 for broad-
cast on the WDR, Cologne. It was first published in English transla-
tion as "The Concept of Unity in Electronic Music," trans. Elaine
Barkin, Perspectivesof New Music 1, no. 1 (Fall 1962), 39-48. The
original German text was published with some revisions in Zeugnisse
(Frankfurt: Europaische Verlagsanstalt, 1963), and in Karlheinz
Stockhausen, Texte 1 (Cologne: Verlag M. DuMont Schauberg,
1963), 211-21. For a discussion of microcomposition in the fifties
and sixties, see Henri Pousseur's book Fragments Theoriques:I-Sur
la musique experimentale (Universite Libre de Bruxelles, 1970), in
particularthe section "De la microstructure absolu."
23. Neuma CD 450-74. Perspectivesof New Music cassette PNM 25.
24. In a later release of UPIC on the AT386 computer, these curves
were called arches, see G. Marino, J. M. Raczinsky, and Marie-
Helene Serra, "The New UPIC System," Proceedingsof the Interna-
tional ComputerMusic Conference(Glasgow, 1990), 249-52.
25. Perspectivesof New Music CD PNM 28.
26. Though Xenakis's orchestral scores are liberally supplied with glis-
sandi, that is not the case with his earlier tape works, with the excep-
tion of Diamorphoses.
27. See, for example, Iannis Xenakis, "Music Composition Treks," Com-
posersand the Computer, ed. Curtis Roads (Los Altos, Calif.: Kauf-
mann, 1985), 171-91.
28. On graphical methods of sound synthesis, see discussion in Curtis
Roads, Computer Music Tutorial (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1996),
329-35.
29. Formalized Music, 192.
30. A stereo mixdown of the seven tracks is available on CD, Montaigne
MO 782058.
Xenakis's Electroacoustic Music 243

31. See Richard Toop's liner notes for the CD MO 782058; see also
Formalized Music, 293.
32. Formalized Music, 246.
33. See code examples in Dodge and Jerse, 266-78.
34. Iannis Xenakis, "More Thorough Stochastic Music," Proceedingsof
the International Computer Music Conference (Montreal, 1991),
517-18; Marie-Helene Serra, "Stochastic Composition and Stochas-
tic Timbre," Perspectivesof New Music 31, no. 1 (Winter 1993):
236-57; Peter Hoffman, "Implementing the Dynamic Stochastic
Synthesis," offprint from Les Cahiers Groupe de Rechercheen Infor-
matique Image et Instrumentation 4 (Caen, 1996).
35. Formalized Music, 134.
36. These sonograms have been realized analyzing a monophonic copy
of the tape, so as to provide an image of the total spectral structure.
37. Gerard Grisey, "Tempus ex machina: A Composer's Reflections on
Musical Time," ContemporaryMusic Review 2, no. 1 (1987): 269.
38. Hugues Dufourt, Musique,pouvoir, ecriture (Paris: Bourgois, 1991),
335.
39. Agostino Di Scipio, "InseparableModels of Material and of Musical
Design in Electroacoustic and Computer Music," Journal of New
Music Research24, no. 1 (1995): 34-50.
40. Dufourt, Musique,pouvoir, ecriture, 195.
41. Edgar Morin (ed.), Teorie dell'evento (Milan: Bompiani, 1972), 31
(translation mine).
42. Morin, Teoriedell'evento,297.
43. H. von Foerster, "On Self-organizing Systems and Their Environ-
ment," in Self-organizing Systems,ed. C. Yovits (New York: Perga-
mon Press, 1960), 31-50.