This Electronic Works 2 disc in Mode's Xenakis series includes two pieces from the late Sixties and early Seventies. Both were originally written for multi-media installations. The fantastic new remixes from the master tapes are by Gerard Pape. Great liner notes by Sharon Kanach provide the perspective of someone who experienced Xenakis's polytopes live, lying on her back, with the floor vibrating and surrounded by a laser light show.
Hibiki Hana Ma (1969-70 -- 17'45) *****
This first, lesser-known work ("Reverberation - Flower - Interval" in English) is one of Xenakis's masterpieces. Commissioned for the Osaka World's Fair of 1970 by composer Toru Takemitsu, it was to incorporate recordings made in Japan under the supervision of Seiji Ozawa. There are clearly manipulated strings in the piece, but the musicians are not identified, and it is possible these sections were lifted from "Kraanerg" for the electro-acoustic final product. The Federation of Iron and Steel Companies' pavilion featured state-of-the-art acoustic equipment -- over 800 speakers dispersed throughout, including in the floor and suspended from the ceiling. (The liner notes include a very futuristic looking drawing of this speaker array.)
The music itself is incredibly dynamic and diverse, featuring the glissandos that were characteristic of Xenakis in his prime. The electronics build at times to sound like a rocket launch, followed by vast pointillistic cloud effects as though the listener has been launched into space. This must have been unbelievable live in 1970 in Osaka! Strings are clearly a component of the construction, along with various unidentifiable percussion effects and other sounds like crackling.
Polytope de Cluny (1972-74 -- 24'26) ***
This better-known work was commissioned by the French Minister of Culture, Michael Guy, for the first Festival d'Automne in Paris in 1972. Performed in the cavernous Roman Baths of Cluny, a T-shaped, barrel-vaulted hall built out of large blocks of stone, Xenakis included an unprecedented battery of lasers inspired by an installation he had seen in Osaka. With only three lasers and over 100 mirrors, Xenakis created a digital program on 9-track magnetic tape that triggered a staggeringly complex sequence of lasers in time with the music. The resulting spectacle was so popular that Xenakis was asked to reprise the event at the following year's festival.
Unfortunately I don't find this longer work to be nearly as effective as "Hibiki Hana Ma," at least not as an audio-only experience. It begins and ends impressively with great electronic washes, but in between there is not sufficient dynamic contrast to maintain interest. There are sounds like bells, and what sounds like a door creaking, and rattling percussion. This is interesting, but as it goes on without notable crescendos or shape, interest flags. Finally the raw electronics picks up again in the finale, and the ending sounds like electronically amped-up surf crashing.
Xenakis was a visionary, a musical genius who was one of the best and most important composers of the late 20th century. This is another great addition to Mode's documentation of his music!