IANNIS XENAKIS: Works for Percussion – CD + Video DVD – Zig Zag

by | Jul 6, 2005 | Classical CD Reviews | 0 comments

IANNIS XENAKIS: Okho for 3 Djembés; Rebounds B and A for “set”
of percussion instruments; Psappha for “set” of percussion; 2 Videos:
“Making of…;” “Clip Rebounds B” – Pedro Carneiro, percussion and
Djembé/ Matthew Rich & Stephen John Gibson, Djembés – Zig Zag CD +
DVD ZZT 040901 (Distr. by Harmonia mundi) ***:

What section to put this disc in was a quandary. I decided since the
videos are really subsidiary – something like the videos they used to
have on Enhanced CDs – it would go in this Classical CDs section. 
Next quandary was playing the darn thing.  The CD and DVD side
labels (around the center hole since there is room for a normal label)
were reversed.  The DVD side was unplayable on two of my three DVD
players – the display reported “wrong region.”

I decided to start with the videos, and they might be a good
introduction to the CD side for anyone.  The Making Of video has
interviews with the main percussionist as well as the recording
engineer.  It is obvious that the percussion works of Xenakis are
very complex and few are annotated in the usual manner with the musical
staff.  Various alternate scores are used depending on the
particular work.  The soloist observes that “Playing and recording
are two different professions.”  One sees the extreme virtuosity
required for the player for these works. There is discussion of the
need for the performer to control his normal wide dynamics because the
mikes are so much closer to his instruments than an audience would
be.  Xenakis’ interest in the composition of spatial music is also
considered and demonstrated.  Therefore it seems contradictory
that the recording engineer is shown setting up only a pair of mikes
and the CD is standard stereo.

But to the music:  It will certainly be for a minority of
listeners.  None of the percussion instruments used have much in
the way of tonal pitches, just variations of timbre. Xenakis is heavily
into the math of music and various complex ways to dividing up
time.  He is interested in the percussion in various ethnic
cultures, especially Indian, African and Japanese, and these influence
his music.  The rhythms of the music are not the sort one would
dance to – they are extremely precise and often rapid cross-rhythms of
a highly intellectual bent.  The Djembés are a type of African
membranophone, and woodblocks are also heard in the works. The closing
work, Psappha, is a reported classic among Xenakis many works for
percussion. It uses some change elements a la John Cage’s
theories.  The score calls for six groups of instruments but it is
up to the performer to decide what instruments will be in each group
and when to use them. Also, the indications in the score  may be
interpreted several different ways. The piece is based on various
mathematical equations – the one given in the note booklet for the
beginning of the work looks like computer code.  The need for
full-range speakers is probably a given for listening to this CD, but I
doubt if it is destined to become an audiophile favorite. [Available
from www.ArchivMusic.com]

– John Sunier