Iannis Xenakis – Metastasis (1954)

metastasis

Metastasis or Metastaseis (“dialectic transformations”), is an orchestral work by Iannis Xenakis, a Greek composer-architect and a major figure in the postwar development of musical modernism worldwide. He is particularly remembered for the pioneering use of stochastic mathematical techniques in his compositions, including probability (Maxwell-Boltzmann kinetic theory of gases, aleatory distribution of points on a plane, minimal constraints, Gaussian distribution, Markov chains), game theory, group theory, Boolean algebra and Brownian motion.

Metastasis was inspired by Einstein’s view of time (a function of matter & energy) and structured on mathematical ideas by Xenakis’s colleague Le Corbusier. The 1st and 3rd movements don’t have a melodic theme to hold them together, but rather depend on the strength of this conceptualization of time. The 2nd movement does have some sort of melodic element. A fragment of a 12-tone row is used, with durations based on the Fibonacci sequence (1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34…)

The preliminary sketch for Metastasis was in graphic notation looking more like a blueprint than a musical score, showing graphs of mass motion and glissandi like structural beams of the piece, with sound frequencies on one axis and time on the other. In this video I tried to display this by presenting the frequency spectrum (0-20.000Hz) of the piece and how Xenakis actually “drew” music.

SWF Symphony Orchestra
Hans Rosbaud, conductor
October 1955

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Ben Johnston – Suite for Microtonal Piano (1977)

Suite for Microtonal Piano (1978) is a suite for specifically microtonally tuned piano(s) by Ben Johnston written in 1977 (see also just intonation). According to Bob Gilmore the piece, “take[s] extended just intonation well beyond the point reached by Harry Partch.”

“The piano is tuned to a selection of overtones from the fifth octave of the harmonic spectrum of C. All octaves are tuned in the same scale….The lowest C (33 Hz.) can be used to tune the scale by ear. In succession, touch the nodes producing the 3rd, 5th, 7th, 11th, 13th, 17th, [and] 19th partials. Then G, D; D, A; E, B; [and] B-flat, F; are just (beatless) fifths.”

Movements

  1. Alarum
  2. Blues
  3. Etude
  4. Song
  5. Toccata

Alarum is a Shakespeare era stage direction indicating “a grand entrance” and an archaic word for a call to arms, so
“Alarum” is a fanfare.

“Blues” and “Song” are both slow movements. “Blues” uses as blue notes the minor seventh (C-B♭) and mediant (in D dorian exactly halfway between E and G). “Song” is in E phrygian.

“Etude” is a study in serial technique and six-against-five polyrhythms in which Johnston indicates “blur with pedal”. This, “clues us in that the linear intricacies are only part of the story here: the amazing swirl of overtones resulting from an atonal application of this tuning are of equal importance.”

“Toccata” features diatonic outer sections and a spikier chromatic middle section.
The piece has been recorded and released on:

Microtonal Piano by Ben Johnston (1997). Phillip Bush, piano. Koch International Classics 3-7369-2.
















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Jos Kunst – Insecten (1966)

Joseph Petrus Johannes Maria (Jos) Kunst (Roermond, 3 January 1936 – Utrecht, 18 January 1996) was a Dutch composer and musicologist. Art grew up in Maastricht and studied French literature at the University of Groningen. On his 27th birthday he began studying music at the Conservatory of Amsterdam, successively by Joep Straesser and Ton de Leeuw. Besides his activities as a composer and as a French teacher, he was working as a lecturer in contemporary music and composition at the conservatories of Zwolle and Amsterdam. At the International Gaudeamus Competition in 1967 he received the AVRO-incentive for the piece Insects for 13 strings. Two years later, at the Gaudeamus Competition for 1969, he won the first prize with the orchestral work Arboreal. His main musical inspiration in the period up to 1975 were Anton Webern, Edgar Varèse and Iannis Xenakis. In 1975 he decided to stop composing. In 1976 he succeeded Rudolf Escher as teacher for the music of the twentieth century at the Department of Musicology of the University of Utrecht. As a musicologist he kept mainly concerned with what is called ‘cognitive musicology’: music science that seeks to describe what music does to the listener. Main musicological publications: Making sense in music: an Enquiry into the formal pragmatics of art (Dissertation, 1978), Philosophy of musicology (Martinus Nijhoff, 1988). In addition to his scientific work, he was active as a poet: he published poems in a Dutch monthly magazine in the years 1979-1988 and in 1982 appeared in the Meulenhoff compilation Nobody Will Ever Own. In 1988, he made ​​use of the possibility to retire early. From that time he wrote again, but kept to himself, unlike in the past, and as much as possible outside the organized musical life. In this period, Claude Debussy was an important source of inspiration. Jos Kunst died at age 60.

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Iannis Xenakis: Complete Works for Cello

Iannis Xenakis composed just two pieces for solo cello, both fiercely remarkable in their own right. Nomos Alpha, from 1966, is an example of what he called symbolic music, in which the order of musical events is determined according to mathematical rules, while Kottos, composed 11 years later, is a portrait of one of the giants from Greek mythology who fought with Zeus against the Titans. The most substantial of the other pieces here is Epicycles for cello and 12 instruments, an example of later Xenakis, which is far less visceral in its impact and almost archaic in its chant-like melodic writing. The remainder are smaller-scale and pair Arne Deforce’s cello with single instruments – violin, clarinet, double bass, piano. Perhaps the most interesting is Dhipli Zyia, for violin and cello; written in 1951, it’s a rare example of early Xenakis – Bartókian in style and using Greek folk tunes as its source material. [Source]