Xenakis was born in Braïla, Romania in 1922. His family moved
back to their native Greece in 1932. Xenakis began composition lessons
at the age of 12 and studied music intermittently during his engineering
studies at the Athens Polytechnic. His university years were largely
interrupted by the events of World War II. The year he entered the
Polytechnic, 1940, was also the year that Italy invaded Greece.
Xenakis became increasingly active in the student demonstrations
of the Greek Resistance and was incarcerated several times. He was
eventually forced to go into hiding after being sentenced to death
by the government. In 1945, Xenakis suffered a shell wound to his
face that disabled his left eye.
the war, Xenakis planned to flee to the United States. His stopover
in Paris, however, became a permanent one. In 1947, Xenakis was
hired by the famed architect Le Corbusier as an engineering assistant
and helped design, among other projects, the Philips Pavilion for
the 1958 Brussels World's Fair. Xenakis concedes, however, that
he was more interested in studying composition than in being an
architect during this time. A series of auspicious meetings enabled
Xenakis to pursue that interest. He briefly studied with Arthur
Honegger and Darius Milhaud, and was later referred to Olivier Messiaen
in 1951. Messiaen encouraged Xenakis's uncommon background in architecture
and mathematics, saying, "Take advantage of these things. Do them
in your music." Conductor Hermann Scherchen, who would become a
lifelong confidant and supporter of Xenakis's music, said the following
when he first encountered Xenakis's music in Paris, "I find it interesting
that you don't approach music as a musician. You look at it from
a different point of view, from the outside." Xenakis, whose name
means "gentle stranger," became a French citizen in 1965.
began adapting principles of mathematics and probability to his
instrumental music around 1954. Works such as Metastasis
(1953-4), Pithoprakta (1955-6) and Eonta (1963-4)
were composed according to these principles, an approach Xenakis
called stochastic music. The premiere of Metastasis at the Donaueschingen
Festival in 1955 drew criticism particularly from the serialists
who described the work as "protoplasm-like" and "crammed with
Xenakis answered his critics in a bold article that same year, "The
Crisis of Serial Music," in which he articulated his formalized
techniques. In his stochastic works, statistical methods were used
at every level of the musical process, from score composition to
sound synthesis. Xenakis also pioneered a unique approach for using
the same mathematical procedures in creating both the micro- and
macrostructure in electroacoustic music.
1957 to 1962 Xenakis composed at Pierre
Schaeffer's electronic studio. In the electroacoustic works
he created there, Diamorphoses (1957-8), Concret PH
(1958), Orient-Occident (1960), and Bohor (1962),
Xenakis continued to explore a texture concept that he had been
exploring in his instrumental works, what he calls "cloud" or "galaxy"
technique, manifested by slowly evolving, granular sound masses
in which the internal details are constantly moving, often by way
of glissandi, repetition, or tremolo. Xenakis departed from the
purer, more transparent appropriations of musique concrète
that prevailed at Schaeffer's studio and instead explored the deeper
structures of his sound materials, preferring extremely rich sounds
or extremely faint sounds highly amplified. Bohor (1962)
not only marked a new level of sound exploration but also a severe
split between him and Schaeffer, though the work was dedicated to
established the School of Mathematical and Automated Music in Paris
(CEMAMu) in 1966 and later a sister institution at Indiana University.
Xenakis has also created, among other things, a tool for writing
electronic music called UPIC.
He has taught at Tanglewood, Indiana University, and the Sorbonne.
In addition to his orchestral and electroacoustic works, he has
written several choral, dramatic, and chamber works, as well as
sound and light shows known as polytopes.
is the music of our age," said Varèse after hearing Xenakis's
breakthrough work Metastasis.
on Xenakis (a discussion with Xenakis at the Computer Music
Festival in Delhpi, Greece).