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The mysterious Iannis Xenakis assessed in new doctoral thesis

31.10.2011 - (idw) University of Gothenburg

Ten years after his death, the composer Iannis Xenakis is still attracting attention around the world. Many people consider him to be one of the most influential composers of our time. However, equally many find his works to be nothing but incomprehensible as they are full of contradictions. A doctoral thesis from the University of Gothenburg, Sweden, sets out to untangle some of his contradictions. I guess it doesnt happen very often that a doctoral thesis written in the field of history of ideas deals with a composer, but Xenakis ideas certainly are worth writing about. And I think it would be great if I could help make his music more understandable, says the author of the thesis Andrej Slávik.

Xenakis was born in Romania and grew up in Greece, but lived most of his life in France. He was active in all genres of modern music, and became famous for his spectacular audiovisual installations and for his architectural projects, such as the Philips Pavilion at the World Exposition in Brussels in 1958.

Xenakis was also famous, and even infamous, as a highly productive abstract theorist who expounded his compositional techniques and enigmatic philosophical visions in numerous writings and interviews. These are the primary focus of Andrej Sláviks doctoral thesis with the succinct title X.

Sláviks thesis is not only the first book in Swedish about the composer; it is also the first study in any language that deals with the full range of his aesthetics.

As a theorist, Xenakis may often appear contradictory. Thats why I have consciously chosen to paint a contradictory picture of him, says Slávik.

His unquenchable demand for originality, his interest in mathematical and scientific theories, his quest for the basic elements of sounds and his controversial application of computer technology in the creation of art all of these observations are part of the widely held view of Xenakis as a sort of musical formalist. Yet this picture is complicated by his recurring memories from the war, his multifacetedaesthetic sensibility and his fascination with nature.

Many people have noticed the contradictions, but how do they all hold together? This is where my thesis contributes the most to research, says Slávik.

His distinctive relation to classical philosophy and his view of music as a cosmic drama are key to the interpretation of Xenakis texts and point to another contradiction that calls for an explanation.

My intention is not to untangle all the contradictions, says Slávik. Instead I want to show how they work.
Yet the thesis targets more than just other Xenakis experts. It is also meant to contribute to the current discussion concerning artistic research, a controversial new topic at Swedish universities.

Artistic research is quite new in Sweden, whereas Xenakis was able to present parts of his works as a thesis at Sorbonne University in Paris already in the 1970s, says Slávik.

The case of Xenakis also raises the question of what should be considered artistic research. Does a researcher have to as Xenakis did use mathematical methods to be a true scientist? And, on the other hand, isnt some established research already linked to artistic activities? Historians, for example, would not be historians if they did not create stories about the past. This implies that they in fact have more in common with researchers within film and literary composition than with those within for example the study of logic or linguistics.

The thesis has been successfully defended.

For more information, please contact: Andrej Slávik
Telephone: +46(0)736 86 56 05
E-mail: jQuery(document).ready(function($) { $("fb_share").attr("share_url") = encodeURIComponent(window.location); });
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