Here’s a pastime that could drive you nuts. Try to imagine what could have been going on in the mind of Iannis Xenakis when he created these compositions. What world (or worlds) could he possibly inhabit that would produce Syrmos (1959), a piece for 18 strings? It consists of spicy pizzicatos and tantalizing Col legnos, all within a hearty Avgolemono soup of glissandos. Sometimes these glissandos are simultaneous, competing with one another in a mêlée of flavors. Aroura (1971) is similarly structured, but in a more capricious mood, with quiet sequences suddenly interrupted by bird-song like string figures. Rapid are the mood swings and wildly disruptive the pauses and eruptions.
Of course there’s no development to speak of, but each piece has its own inner structure that you end up sensing rather than knowing. Voile (1995) has several themes that recur, one of them being a series of descending fifths that repeats at key moments. It is intricate and, I believe, mathematically calculated through Xenakis’ stochastic methods. Without warning it terminates in a series of jarring chords. Theraps (1976) is a contemplative yet scary piece for solo contrabass, at one point sounding like sirens in a revolution-torn country. As a political prisoner several times over, Xenakis must have known its sound well. Analogique A+B (1959) makes intriguing use of magnetic tape, sounding quaintly like a Stockhausen piece from the same era. And what world was Xenakis visiting when he produced the listener-unfriendly Ittidra (1996)? All this piece consists of is a series of repetitive jarring chords. I’ve listened to it ten times and although I understand it, I can’t accept it. It’s too much like an obstreperous child who occasionally blurts clever things. “Vibrato-free blocks of sound,” say the notes. Balderdash. It’s the one brilliant failure on an otherwise bemusing disc.
– Peter Bates