Iannis Xenakis at The Canadian Centre for Architecture



The Canadian Centre for Architecture (CCA) presents an exhibition exploring the fundamental role of drawing in the work of Iannis Xenakis (1922–2001) in its Octagonal Gallery. This is the first North American museum exhibition devoted to Xenakis’s paper-based works. The exhibition, which opened on 14 January 2010 at The Drawing Center in New York, travels to Montréal, where it will be on display between 17 June and 17 October 2010, before being presented at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles (MOCA) from 7 November 2010 to 30 January 2011. During its showing in Montréal, the exhibition serves as a touchstone for musical performances at the CCA by Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, Sixtrum, and Ensemble Transmission, as well as the screening of films touching on Xenakis’s life and work in addition to public programming throughout the city.

Xenakis was one of the most influential avant-garde composers of the late twentieth century. He earned international acclaim thanks to his interdisciplinary works and fascinating personal and professional life, having also worked with Le Corbusier on architectural projects. Among his many creations, Montréal audiences are likely to be most familiar with the Polytope de Montréal, the 2 spectacular sound and light show Xenakis designed for the central space of the French pavilion at Expo 67.

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Iannis Xenakis: Composer, Architect, Visionary explores several of the artist’s musical and architectural innovations that first appeared on paper, in the form of hundreds of captivating graphical documents that reveal Xenakis’s profound sensitivity, unique aesthetic, and ability to translate image into sound with exceptional acuity. Influenced by new advanced mathematical concepts exploring the notions of contingency and relativism, he employed probability distributions and stochastic methods to create masses of sound, linear permutations, and sonic pointillism. In conceptualising his meticulously drawn works, he made use of coloured pencils; his training and natural talent in drawing allowed him to compose complete pieces of music through this process of “thinking through the hand.”

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Featuring more than sixty seldom-seen documents, dating from 1953 to 1984, this retrospective celebrates the architect, engineer and composer by presenting handwritten and computer-generated musical scores, architectural blueprints, precomposition renderings, notebooks, and archival photographs sourced mainly from the Archives Xenakis at the Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris, and from the personal archives of his widow, the French novelist Françoise Xenakis, who lived with Iannis for more than fifty years. The exhibition also includes conceptual
drawings and renderings by Xenakis for his multimedia “Polytopes.” These sitespecific installations are advanced explorations of the spatial intersections between light, colour, sound, and architecture. Individualised encounters with Xenakis’s unique musical scores will be made possible through listening stations and portable iPods. The complex graphic sketches for Pithoprakta (1955-1956) will be projected during the playback of the delicately yet primitively textured music. The exhibition will also feature a listening station for Mycenae Alpha, with a projection of the graphic score Xenakis created using the composer’s UPIC interface (Unité Polyagogique Informatique du CEMAMu*). The machine symbolises the composer’s lifelong fascination with innovation and his ongoing speculation on the transformations brought to late twentieth-century life by technological advances.

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(Thanks to the CCA press office for providing the text and the images)

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Soledad Bizzarra

Soledad Bizzarra


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