Blackest Ever Black (With Florian Hecker and Russell Haswell)

Published in Collapse vol. 3.

Rediscovering The Polyagogy of Abstract Matter

As I see it, music is a domain where the most profound questions of philosophy, thought, behaviour, and the theory of the universe ought to pose themselves to the composer.2

The images in the following pages are screenshots taken during the drafting of the electronic ‘score’ of Haswell & Hecker’s collaborative sound work, Blackest Ever Black,3 composed using Iannis Xenakis’s UPIC.4 The conception and continued development of the UPIC—a digital system allowing the creation of music through the simple act of drawing—may seem, if not a departure, then something of a minor element of Xenakis’s oeuvre (only a handful of Xenakis’s works were composed exclusively using the UPIC). But an examination of the thinking behind this technology sheds much light on the philosophical importance and integrity of Xenakis’s work, and its points of intersection with the philosophy of Deleuze (and Deleuze/Guattari).

Haswell and Hecker have spoken of the four movements of Blackest Ever Black as ‘assist[ing] the experience of synaesthesia’.5 And indeed, the UPIC emerged in the context of Xenakis’s lifelong efforts to express in his work abstract forms which he saw as belonging essentially to no particular medium, any more than they were the exclusive province of the sciences or the arts. But what is the significance of synaesthesia, and of the UPIC’s graphism-sound translation, in relation to Xenakis’s interrogation of music?

For Xenakis, forms themselves were a sort of epiphenomenal ‘froth’ generated by the ordered relations between multiplicities of elements. To discover the mathematical structures underlying their emergence, and to understand what happened when the composer ‘incarnated’ them in time, was to require a series of mathematically-inspired conceptual ‘generalisations’, which saw Xenakis leave all musical tradition behind.

By the time of 1953–4’s Metastaseis, Xenakis’s key conceptual innovations—involving above all a thinking of the dialectical couplets unity/multiplicity, local/global and continuity/discontinuity—were already in place: The use of ‘sound masses’, ‘clouds’ or ‘complexes’, defined through global textural and dynamic properties, and within which a multiplicity of individual lines are locally determined mathematically or statistically; giving rise immediately to the problem of continuity between one mass, state, or constellation, and another—precisely, metastaseis—whence Xenakis’s characteristic use of glissandi.6

In a reprise of Leibniz’s theory of petites-perceptions, according to which in perceiving the sound of the sea we operate an ‘integration’ of infinite unconscious perceptions of individual waves, a crucial inspiration for Metastaseis was the wartime experience of ‘the transformation of the regular, rhythmic noise of a hundred thousand people into some fantastic disorder’—the mathematics of a political singularity as native workers faced occupying Nazi troops.7 The question of the nature of continuous transitions intersects with the question of the individuation of masses: why are certain clusters of frequencies registered as ‘a’ sound, and at what point does it change in nature, becoming many? Throughout Blackest Ever Black, simple units of sound gradually, insensibly shift and diverge into separate lines; as if, where there previously was a cloud or a swarm, we now see its constituent members, waves subtracted from the sea.

It was not only mathematics, but equally a close attention to the physical and perceptual parameters of sound as material, that would allow Xenakis to escape the impasse he diagnosed in serialism,8 towards what could properly be called a structuralism, indeed a post-structuralism.8 For the latter, serial music would be just another fetter to be shed,9 a brake on the exploration of the objective Idea (in a quasi-Platonic sense, as we shall see) of music, informed by a sonic materialism.

According to Xenakis, serialism’s baffling overcomplexity for the listener stems from its being based upon insufficiently interrogated categories of musical thought. The theoretical passing over of the greater part of the complex transformations that intervene between the tone-row and sound-matter itself, mean that what is quite systematic ‘outside-time’ becomes disarrayed ‘in-time’ as those dimensions of sound suppressed under serialism’s ‘tautological unity’10 emerge haphazardly in auditory experience, uncontrolled and unorganised. Serial music also leaves ‘out of account the problem of continuity-discontinuity’:11 Although, naturally, continuous and discontinuous change took place within compositions, the problematic was not afforded the attention Xenakis believed it merited in music as in mathematics.12 And so ultimately, the rigorous but arbitrarily-applied system of serialism failed the intelligence of the musical ear. To rectify this situation, Xenakis would seek an understanding of both the logic of musical perception and the mathematical structure of music, bringing them together into a new, generalised theory and practice.

This would enable him to ‘fertilize’13 music with mathematics, rather than imposing formal systems upon music with little regard for the knot intricating together mathematics, music and the physical sciences since the dawn of Western Civilisation.14 In order to theorise how ‘to make the sound itself live’, it had to be realised that ‘the inner life of music is not only in the general line of the composition, of the thought, but also within the tiniest details’.15 If on the macrocompositional level serialism represented a necessary escape from the tonal,16 its proponents’ lack of attention to timbre17 or to the analysis of sound masses bespoke a failure to listen to what the sound was telling them, beyond the overcoding they had imposed upon it. Ultimately the richness of sound overflowed their enterprise. The UPIC would need to apply a ‘new simplicity’, it would map the structure of music beginning with sound itself.

When Boulez later denounced Xenakis’s music as ‘too simple’, Xenakis would argue that ‘if music reaches a point where it has become too complex, you need a new kind of simplicity. Complexity is not synonymous with aesthetic interest.’18 That the UPIC, in particular, was used as proof of lack of sophistication by Xenakis’s detractors indicates a failure to understand the principle at work: ‘a maximum of calculated sobriety in relation to the disparate elements and parameters’ is necessary in order to ‘open onto something cosmic’; ‘a sober gesture, an act of consistency, capture or extraction that works in a material that is not meager but prodigiously simplified, creatively limited, selected.19 With the UPIC, Xenakis realised the plan (conceived during his time with musique concrète pioneer Pierre Schaeffer in the early 1960s)20 of extending to the molecular level of sound the theories that he had already applied to molar statistical aggregates on a macrocompositional level in exploring the problems of continuity and individuation of sound masses. With the use of computers, ‘the circle would become complete, not only in the field of macroform but also in the smallest domain, that of sound synthesis.’21


But within this domain also, Xenakis immediately identified – and set to work breaking from – conventional wisdom: electronic sound-synthesis at the time was based exclusively upon Fourier’s demonstration that any complex wave can be analysed into a series of simple sine waves.22Rather than assembling sound from such notionally ‘natural’ ready-mades (virtual regularly oscillating bodies), CEMAMu’s approach would be to ‘take the pressure versus time curve as a starting point—that is, what we hear’—a continuous series of intensities (differences in pressure) of arbitrary complexity: ‘Instead of going backwards, we start with the curve’, says Xenakis;23 ‘I wanted to take possession of the sound in a more conscious and thorough manner—the material of the sound’.24

But if the ‘crisis of serialism’ and the journey into concrete sound helped break out of the stave, reinforcing the fact that ‘sound is much more general than pitch’,25 and that ‘[i]t’s important […] to go beyond the limits of the pitch versus time domain’,26 Xenakis had already been instinctively drawn to ‘impure’ sounds, the ‘rougher […] richer’ tones possible through unconventional usages of acoustic instruments, precisely because they produced effects falling outside ‘the traditional pitch versus time relationship and the musical idea that is linked to it’.27 So that when he came to work with Schaeffer, Xenakis found no difficulty in understanding why the latter ‘despised sine waves’ and worked instead ‘with concrete sounds because they are really alive,28 and soon set about providing the enabling technology for the experimental electronic ‘biology’ of this sonic life.29 In the wake of works such as Metastaseis, with their gigantic hand-drawn scores, and ever-enthusiastic for a ‘generalisation’ of methods and technical automation (Xenakis, for whom the orchestra is ‘a machine […] which makes sounds’),30 in the late 60s he began work on what would become the UPIC, a system allowing the composer to experiment interactively, using graphical gestures, with ‘the material of the sound’.

Just as serialism demanded specialist knowledge and codes, so early computer music systems demanded a detailed technical knowledge. Again, the UPIC aimed to break decisively from this, using a simple pen and tablet interface to focus attention on the act of composition. The composer would be given the simplest and least intrusive tool to realise their musical ideas, and would meanwhile participate implicitly in Xenakis’s probing of the alliance between mathematical structure, the physics of sound, and the psychology of musical perception; between abstract structures, material synthesis, and artistic composition.

The UPIC puts the composer in control of every level of what is presented as a minimal hierarchy of composition – from the creation of waveforms that will determine the timbre, volume and intensity of the sounds to be employed, to the ‘orchestration’ of these voices into ‘pages’ of the score, and the mixing and layering of pages into a final recording. Importantly, no level of the hierarchy need ever be closed off in order for the composer to work on the next;31 one might then describe the system as one of ‘transparent stratification’, rendering completely open to experimentation the levels of organisation necessarily in play in any musical composition. In addition, the UPIC user decides how, in Xenakis’s terms, to bring the ‘outside time’ pages of the score ‘into time’: A page of music could be assigned, in the first version of the UPIC, a duration from 0.2 seconds to 30 minutes,32 in later versions from 6 milliseconds to 2 hours.33

This unprecedented elasticity of musical time encouraged by the UPIC is present as an ordering principle in Blackest Ever Black, where Haswell & Hecker use elements whose family resemblances are barely consciously recognisable, as they undergo extreme transformations, morphing from the instantaneous to the highly attenuated.

The molecular has the capacity to make the elementary communicate with the cosmic: precisely because it effects a dissolution of form that connects the most diverse longitudes and latitudes, the most varied speeds and slownesses, which guarantees a continuum by stretching variation far beyond its formal limits.34

This simultaneous harnessing of the cosmic and the elementary makes of the most radical material experimentation at the same time a radical democratisation of means. Contra any theoretical elitism, the UPIC’s lines of sound provide a ‘more universal’35 medium to ‘produce, explore, and create new musical worlds’ – ‘everybody can understand a line’[/note]Ibid.[/note] Theory-laden avant-garde practices ultimately operated a new overcoding of the music they had liberated from the classical tradition, at once constituting a new priestly caste versed in particular theories, and cutting off whole tracts of unexplored terrain, creating, in Xenakis’s word, new musical ‘islands’.36 Whereas the stave is an unresolved mix of the symbolic and graphical, and whereas serialism tended only to exacerbate this condition whilst at the same time reterritorialising upon a model drawn from badly-analysed structural composites (the twelve tones and their transformations) – as if one had dismantled the house of music only to rebuild it using an esoteric new system of construction, rendering it uninhabitable in the process – with the UPIC, Xenakis sought to attain maximum deterritorialisation by using a technology unmediated by theories because based exclusively on elementary acoustics,37 but allowing the composer, through the graphical interface, sensitively to construct a new habitus, a minimum reterritorialisation (‘just a little order […] to protect us from chaos’):38 a tool that operates not with overcoded conventional points, but with ‘graphisms’,39arcs sonores’.40


It is this twofold goal of maximum deterritorialisation and universal accessibility that Xenakis calls polyagogy.41 And it is important to observe that the UPIC was not conceived merely as a way to make experimental composition more efficient for the composer, but moreover as a way to make it literally ‘child’s play’. Xenakis’s commitment to opening up these new spaces of musical freedom to all was indicated at the founding of CEMAMu, which sought to establish ‘a new general level of awareness’ through the recognition, and practice, that ‘everyone is creative,’42 and by enabling and encouraging children to ‘evolve away from the tonalsystem still generally prevalent in Western civilization.’43 It is not that the child can ‘play at’ being a composer, but that the composer finds himself raised to the status of the child in relation to sound, having to jettison all he ‘knows’ about music: solfeggio, harmony, counterpoint, and so on, all turn out to be obstacles in the way of a real becoming-music (just as Messiaen had divined in the case of Xenakis himself). The employment of manual gesture creates a direct coupling between sound and mind (‘direct to the mind’;44 ‘The hand is the organ of the body that is closest to the brain’45—with the UPIC, ‘we can solve the problems of the composition directly, with our hands.’46

It is not so much any particular piece composed with the UPIC that matters, but this becoming in which the user learns a ‘hand-eye-ear’ coordination as novel to the seasoned composer as to the child, an ‘interdisciplinary pedagogy through playing’.47

Blackest Ever Black recovers the power of this vision, thirty years after the first working model of the UPIC was completed, and in an age where the digital manipulation of sound has become ubiquitous to the point of banality. Xenakis’s vision for a mass-market production of the UPIC48failed, of course; but in certain sense his pioneering explorations of sound did presage modern pop producers for whom ‘sonic construction’ is the object of meticulous technical adjustments quite divorced from any traditional musical concerns. But equally, in an age of digital sampling, where a second of the most anodyne pop recording has been subjected to more electronic manipulation than Stockhausen’s entire oeuvre, we might ask how the UPIC can stand as anything other than a relic of a highbrow dream, whose austere, uptight, still too-classical sensibility was overturned even as its aims were realised in popular musics.

The evolution of electronic instrumentation has taken us from a machine where the musician must physically link up circuits and oscillators, through keyboards with banks of pre-programmed sounds, to sampling technology, where any sound can become a ready-made instrument. Now hard-disk recording, like the UPIC, gives access directly to ‘the curve’, to a base-level sonic material which is transparently stratified and editable on all levels. Indeed, it is quite possible using HDR to ‘draw’ waveforms onto the screen just as in the UPIC. But the extreme facility and infinite potential of this technology seems to fail Xenakis’s test of the power of simplicity, and in contemporary dance music the gap is all too often filled by barely-remixed tradition and modish cliché. Despite honorable exceptions, for the most part dance musics remain tonal and monorhythmic, composed of recognisable samples or fourier-synthesised tones.49 It is tempting to venture an analogy between music and videogames (1978 being the year of Mycenae Alpha and Space Invaders alike): where the rudimentary technology of early games demanded a real and compelling synaesthetic becoming between human and machine, contemporary games, with their immaculate representational capabilities, can, and all-too often do, fail to create that symbiotic bond, becoming glossy representational entertainment instead.

The key to appreciating the UPIC’s continued importance, therefore, is to understand it in the context of the polyagogical campaign to liberate children from Western musical heritage before they had been enculturated into it. Now, it may well be that in reterritorialising the abstract matter of sound back upon the landscape of excitational attractors and rhythmic tics, the outer edges of pop music initiate a slow drift of the human towards the plane of abstract sound, through a rhythmic contagion that we might place side-by-side with this polyagogy. Indeed, this subterranean kinship is dramatised in the lightshows and quaking electronic sub-bass eruptions of Haswell and Hecker’s ‘UPIC diffusion sessions’, which continue a tradition of ‘disorienting, hallucinatory light-shows’50 engineered by Xenakis himself. But popular electronic music tends to thrive on producing excitation via jarring, violent sonic alienations; whereas, if simply listening to Blackest Ever Black heralds the shock of an encounter with sound as if for the first time, this should not obscure the fact that Xenakis envisioned a participatory and continuous process of sonic re-education (or de-education), with the hand-eye interface of the UPIC providing the graceful ‘glissando’ between the natural proclivities of the human ear and the vast virtuality of sound.

Creating a ‘plane of consistency’ between the hand-eye apparatus and sonic materiality, the UPIC realises an abstract phylum that spans both and which is the seat of synaesthesia. In occluding forms and their production behind opaque codes, symbolic practices (such as serialism) militate against synaesthesia: the ‘section’ they take through musical possibility is not a clean enough cut. Of course, synaesthesia is not a goal in itself, either for Xenakis, for the UPIC, or for Haswell & Hecker; but it seems to play the role of a sign that one has accessed forms no longer belonging to the human organism and its perceptual system, but traversing it from the outside.

Beyond this vision of a ‘becoming’, polyagogy might also be said to correspond in certain respects with Deleuze’s call for an experimental programme of ‘transcendental empiricism’; it initiates an encounter that lays bare the audiendum—that which can only be heard, and therefore cannot be heard qua (re)cognisable;51 that is to say, sound-material as series of intensities, or differences in molecular pressure—the ‘phenomenon closest to the noumenon’:

[W]e are in a kind of continuum from […] usual objects that we use in music down to the aspects of music that are inaudible, but which produce these events on a higher level.52

Further, it offers a theoretical possibility of accounting for how this material is integrated, individuated, amassed into recognisable forms, opening the way to a ‘disjointed, superior or transcendent exercise’53 of the musical faculty.54 The UPIC reinstates a phylogenetic link to the noumenal continuum or the hidden in-itself of sonic difference, allowing us to render sonorous that which cannot/can only be heard. Whereafter, ‘[i]t is now a problem of consistency or consolidation: how to consolidate the material, make it consistent, so that it can harness unthinkable, invisible, nonsonorous forces’;55 ‘to elaborate a material of [sound] in order to capture forces that are not sonic in themselves.56

This raises the question of expression: In Blackest Ever Black Haswell & Hecker use the UPIC as a stenographer to translate into sound graphisms ranging from images of contemporary events, to their own designs, and finally surrealist automatic drawings. But of course there is no question of ‘dumbly literal sonic analogy’57 The UPIC may ‘allow the child to find out what a fish, a house, or a tree sounds like,58 just as Haswell & Hecker give us the opportunity to ‘listen to the shapes of leaves, terrorist atrocities and kebabs.’59 But neither invite us to play a game of recognition, but instead draw us into a polyagogical dérive. Just as synaesthesia, far from being a sort of harmony between recognisable forms, is a sign that one is encountering something from outside, so what is ‘expressed’ in UPIC works are these structures that intersect us obliquely: it is the machine that will instruct us as to what the drawings are really ‘of’ so that we are momentarily transported outside ourselves; inciting us to further polyagogical investigation.60

Throughout its four movements Blackest Ever Black is haunted by fugitive figures from outside, sonic personae in closely-marshalled crowds. The listener naturally tries, but ultimately fails, to apply to them the test of recognition: cicadas, screaming fireworks, foaming waves, crackling clouds of static, swarmachines of sound. Sometimes the glissandi and the sonic latitude recall those ‘cosmic’ instruments that lurk in the margins of the orchestra, indicating the spaces beyond – the onde martinot beloved of Messiaen (which ‘make[s] audible the truth that all becomings are molecular’),61 the theremin, the reputedly madness-inducing hydrocrystalophone or glass harmonica, or the inharmonic spectra of the mark tree. But during periods of densely-differentiated sound, the listener feels rather as if she is eavesdropping on an encrypted transmission from another planet,62 being absorbed into some unknown material in a state of extreme torsion, or witnessing the catastrophic collapse of microphysical filamentary structures, the breakdown of cells or gradual processes of liquefaction; and every so often, an echo of Xenakis’s war, the ominous whine of warplanes on the horizon.

Thus Blackest Ever Black invokes a universe of unnameable phantom objects, colliding, brushing, scraping, resonating and devouring each other, suddenly expiring or becoming incandescent; sometimes metallic and buzzing with electricity, sometimes mobile and animate (usually insectoid – from Messiaen to Xenakis, ‘the reign of birds seems to have been replaced by the age of insects, with its much more molecular vibrations, chirring, rustling, buzzing, clicking, scratching and scraping’.)63

According to Xenakis, time, pitch, interval, and intensity can all be characterised as real numbers; but, in the midst of this mathematical regime according to which ‘we are all pythagoreans’,64 timbre is not structural and cannot be ordered; it is a matter of vague zones of indiscernibility, connected in topologically unforeseeable and manifold fashions65—ORGAN PIPE TO MEET LITTLE FLUTE ON THE PLANE OF CONSISTENCY.66 The system of heterogeneous series of quantitative multiplicities is coupled with a qualitative multiplicity of the Bergsonian-Riemannian (the conjugation is Deleuze’s, of course) continuous manifold type, on the basis of a subterranean play of pure difference. And, in this sound-world of ‘protoplasmic-like material’67 (‘material [as] molecularised matter’)68 which so scandalised Xenakis’s peers, continuity is the rule. Terrestrial instruments become families of topological invariants (varying according to size and elasticity of materials); and outside their multidimensional, infinite yet circumscribed zone, lurk instruments with which we are by rights, as Leibniz would say, incompossible. The ‘stretching [of] variation far beyond its formal limits’69 precipitates a type of cosmic regression to the embryonic state of music—before music was born, there was the great vibrating cosmic egg, the organ-without-organs: ‘Embryology already displays the truth that there are systematic vital movements, torsions and drifts, that only the embryo can sustain: an adult would be torn apart by them.’70 As Haswell & Hecker duly demonstrate, the UPIC’s polyagogy gently returns composer and audience alike to a larval state, giving us a way of traversing and inhabiting this whole extended sonoverse, with ‘just a little order’71 to survive these wrenching transformations. Rather than throwing us in at the deep end, polyagogy, comprising a cartography of the objective Idea of music, teaches us to swim in sound; as described by Deleuze:

To learn is to enter into the universal of the relations which constitute the Idea, and into their corresponding singularities […] To learn to swim is to conjugate the distinctive points of our bodies with the singular points of the objective Idea in order to form a problematic field.72

Polyagogy as discipline of becoming and problematisation of the body: What Xenakis says of performers of his music surely filters down to the audience also: ‘I do take into account [their] physical limitations […] but what is limitation today may not be so tomorrow.’73 ‘It is the composer’s privilege to determine his works, down to the minutest detail’74 but this also will ‘give the artist […] the joy of triumph – triumph that he can surpass his own capabilities’75 in an encounter with a higher order of generality that reunites and reconnects actually-existing-musics (‘islands’)76 into an pangaeic, cosmic Idea in continuous variation:

We should be able to construct the most general musical edifice in which the utterances of Bach, Beethoven or Schönberg, for example, would be unique realisations of a gigantic virtuality.77

Regardless of whether Xenakis regrets the ‘perpetual compromise’78 that prevents him from being a ‘pure ontologist’ like Parmenides, he realises that such ‘perpetual compromise’ is also a ‘perpetual exploration’79 of this virtuality, a transcendental empiricism. For music is in fact nothing but this compromise between the mathematical and the biological, between structure and hand, between the Idea ‘outside time’—a continuous plane populated by ‘tones without sound’80—and their qualitative manifestation under certain conditions of selection, those of the duration which ‘we’ are. Here we remark Xenakis’s proximity to his contemporary, and Deleuze’s mathematical inspiration, Albert Lautman, whose Platonism speaks of a dialectic (comprising precisely those couplets discontinuous/continuous, local/global, unity/multiplicity, which underpin Xenakis’s oeuvre) eternally inaccessible to us except through an ongoing speculative contemplation of the mathematical theories that ‘incarnate’ it.81 Ideas, or problems, are just those things that lie out of reach, that we struggle to grasp, making life both unbearable and bearable, and music recalls this struggle, as ‘dream or nightmare’.82

This allows us to say that synaesthesia is the anamnesis proper to the polyagogical apprenticeship: A sensation of that which can neither be heard or seen, ‘colours of sound’,83 a ‘transcendent employment’ of the faculties and the collapse of their borders – it is the remembrance of mathematics in its purest form, disincarnated from even the symbolic. Is music anything else?

As well as his endorsement of the Leibnizian theory of petites-perceptions, Xenakis himself also seems to personify a type of ‘transcendental deduction’ that recalls the hallucinatory theory of perception put forward by Deleuze:84 the legacy of the war – chronic tinnitus, a lost eye – obliges Xenakis to reconquer the world through abstract principles, venturing ‘generalisations’ like a solitary musing Beckettian, or one of Kafka’s animals, from inside ‘a deep well […] and I’m still there, so that I have to think harder than if I were able to grasp reality immediately.’85 An undoubted advantage given that, as Bergson showed us, the ‘immediate given is not immediately given’;86 and we saw how the UPIC aimed to reproduce this ‘becoming-child’ in forcing the composer to jettison all they knew about music. This emphasis on reconstructing the world from within sets Xenakis and Deleuze alike against a zen-like model of contemplation: As Deleuze and Guattari argue, in a passage that resonates with Xenakis’s rather withering dismissal of Cage’s attempts to ‘let the universe speak’ by suppressing the agency of the composer:87

The claim is that one is opening music to all events, all irruptions, but one ends up reproducing a scrambling that prevents any event from happening […] instead of producing a cosmic machine capable of ‘rendering sonorous’.88

Contemplation is already action, selection, composition,89 in so far as this contemplation takes the actively exploratory form of a transcendental empiricism: not content to ‘let music be’, it attentively probes the being of music in order to discover its material basis and its life.

In writing electronic music you also have to direct the invention of new tools.90

If the greatest creative act is to create something with which to create – to imitate ‘physis physeôs91—then the UPIC could be said to be, if not Xenakis’s most important work, then certainly a most significant, if still latent, part of his creative legacy to future musicians, more of whom it is to be hoped will take up the gauntlet of Blackest Ever Black’s ‘grand celebration of Xenakis’s sound universe’92 and put the polyagogy of abstract matter back into practice, creating a music that ‘moves the soul, “perplexes” it’.93 A music, then, to be accompanied by a philosophy that likewise ‘tends to elaborate a material of thought in order to capture forces that are not thinkable in themselves.’94

  1. Text by Robin Mackay in collaboration with Russell Haswell and Florian Hecker.
  2. Xenakis, in H. Lohner, ‘Interview with Iannis Xenakis’, Computer Music Journal 10: 4, Winter 1986: 50-5, 54.
  3. Warner Classics and Jazz (UK) WEA 64321CD / WEA 69972LP.
  4. Unité polyagogique informatique du CEMAMu: See H. Lohner, ‘The UPIC System’, in Computer Music Journal 10:4, Winter 1986: 42-9; B. A. Varga, Conversations with Iannis Xenakis (London: Faber, 1996) 194-8; and Iannis Xenakis, Formalized Music: Thought and Mathematics in Music, trans. S. Kanach (NY: Pendragon, 1992), 329-34. CEMAMu, the Centre d’Etudes de Mathématique et Automatique Musicales, is a nonprofit co-operative founded by Xenakis in 1966 to conduct research and development in electronic and automated music (See Conversations, 118-33). On the aims of CEMAMu, see Lohner, ‘The UPIC System’, 43.
  5. Curtis Roads, Blackest Ever UPIC, sleevenotes to Blackest Ever Black.
  6. Equally so in his architectural work – the Philips Pavilion, constructed during his time working with Le Corbusier, and employing the same curve functions as the Metastaseis score, constituted ‘a glissando in space’ (Varga, Conversations, 24)
  7. Xenakis, in Varga, Conversations, 52.
  8. On Xenakis as structuralist, see T. Campener Iannis Xenakis: strutturalismo e poetica della sonorità oggettiva, at
  9. Xenakis, in Varga, Conversations, 51.
  10. Xenakis, Formalized Music, 204.
  11. Xenakis, in Varga, Conversations, 76-7.
  12. Ibid., 72-3.
  13. Revault d’Allones’s expression, in I. Xenakis, Arts/Sciences:Alloys, trans. S. Kanach (NY: Pendragon, 1985), 386.
  14. As is well known, Messiaen’s benificent influence on Xenakis began with his advice not to worry about conventional musical studies, but to use what Xenakis already had at his disposal: his knowledge of mathematics, and his Greek heritage. Xenakis’s theoretical work is deeply rooted in his researches into presocratic thought (see Xenakis, Formalized Music 201–209).
  15. Xenakis, in Varga, Conversations, 64.
  16. Ibid, 54.
  17. Ibid.
  18. Ibid., 29.
  19. A Thousand Plateaus, 344-5.
  20. Xenakis, in Varga, Conversations, 42-4.
  21. Ibid., 43.
  22. Ibid., 43-4.
  23. Ibid., 119.
  24. Ibid., 44. Italics ours.
  25. Ibid., 67.
  26. Ibid.
  27. Ibid., 67.
  28. Xenakis, in Varga, Conversations, 44.
  29. To “study the evolution of timbres, dynamics, and register […] to make chromosomes of attacks”—Xenakis, quoted in Harley, ‘Electroacoustic Music’, 35.
  30. Xenakis, in Varga, Conversations, 67.
  31. Lohner, ‘The UPIC System’, 46.
  32. Ibid., 48
  33. Roads, ‘Blackest ever UPIC’.
  34. A Thousand Plateaus, 308–9.
  35. Xenakis, in Lohner, ‘Interview’, 51.
  36. Xenakis, in Varga, Conversations, 54, 59. Xenakis would later identify mathematically the transformations of serialism with the Klein Group.
  37. Xenakis, in Lohner, ‘Interview’, 51.
  38. What is Philosophy?, 201.
  39. Xenakis, in Lohner, ‘Interview’, 52.
  40. Lohner, ‘The UPIC System,’ 48.
  41. ‘“Polyagogique” is my coinage – “agogie” means training or introduction into a field; “poly” means many.’ Xenakis, in Varga, Conversations, 121.
  42. Lohner, ‘The UPIC System’, 43.
  43. Ibid.
  44. Xenakis, in Lohner, ‘Interview,’ 51.
  45. Ibid.
  46. Xenakis, in Varga, Conversations, 120.
  47. This is carried even further in the latest versions of the UPIC which allow realtime manipulation.
  48. See Lohner, ‘The UPIC System’, 44.
  49. It is also noteworthy, and reflects some of the paradox of Xenakis’s legacy, that whilst UPIC aims at a maximal ‘generalisation’ in all dimensions, as Curtis Roads remarks, ‘the sound palette of the UPIC is utterly singular’ (Roads, ‘Blackest Ever UPIC’) – unlike HDR, it is, properly speaking, a musical instrument. Unless used in a spirit of deliberate obfuscation its sound-space is quite characteristic and has real integrity. Of course, this recognisable consistency owes something to the fact that Xenakis’s aim with UPIC, as with his composition, is never to explode and destroy, but to isolate just what it is that holds things together: what is sonic consistency?
  50. J. Harley ‘The Electroacoustic Music of Iannis Xenakis’ Computer Music Journal 26:1, Spring 2002: 33-57, 33.
  51. See Difference and Repetition, 138-45.
  52. Xenakis, in Lohner, ‘Interview’, 53.
  53. Difference and Repetition, 143.
  54. See Difference and Repetition, 138-45.
  55. A Thousand Plateaus, 343.
  56. Ibid., 342.
  57. D. Fox, ‘Seen and Heard’, Frieze 98 (Apr. 2006).
  58. Xenakis, in Varga, Conversations, 121.
  59. Roads, ‘Blackest Ever UPIC’.
  60. In relation to the notion of expression, it should be noted that for the 1976 defence of his doctorate (published as Arts/Sciences: Alloys – see note 14 above), Xenakis chose Michel Serres as one of the panel; the Serres whose Le Système de Leibniz (Paris: PUF, 1969) advocated reading Leibniz as a proto-structuralist, for whom the relations uncovered by different modes of knowledge were more or less distinct expressions of a universal structural order. From this point of view, one might profitably investigate the relation between Leibniz’s mathesis universalis, Xenakis’s ‘global morphology’, and the work of A. Lautman (recently republished as Les mathématiques, les idées et le réel physique, Paris: Vrin, 2006).
  61. A Thousand Plateaus, 308.
  62. ‘When astrophysicists receive signals from space with radio telescopes it’s important that they should recognize the quality and quantity of periodicity so that they can draw conclusions with regard to the phenomena that occur in space […]messages transmitted by intelligent beings have to be differentiated from natural signals [which] are more or less periodical […] [T]he messages sent by intelligent beings also arrive in the form of periodic signals to a certain extent, otherwise the result would be just noise […] [This] very profound problem […] corresponds exactly to the question of pattern recognition in the field of sound synthesis and melodic patterns.’ – Xenakis, in Varga, Conversations, 92.
  63. A Thousand Plateaus, 308.
  64. Xenakis, Formalized Music, 202.
  65. ‘We can’t say that between two timbres only one path can be traced.’ – Xenakis, in Varga, Conversations, 83.
  66. ‘[…] take the low G tone on an organ, the waveform has a certain complexity. As you go towards higher pitches, the complexity diminishes until it becomes almost a sine wave […] So […] the more you gravitate toward the higher notes, it converges toward the sound of a little flute.’ Xenakis, in Lohner, ‘Interview’, 52.
  67. Xenakis, in Varga, Conversations, 35 (Serialist Antoine Goléa’s description of Metastaseis upon its first performance in Donaueschingen in 1959).
  68. A Thousand Plateaus, 342.
  69. Ibid., 309.
  70. Difference and Repetition, 118; ‘“Regression” will be misunderstood as long as we fail to see in it the activation of a larval subject, the only patient able to endure the demands of a systematic dynamism’ – Deleuze, ‘The Method of Dramatisation’ in Desert Islands and Other Texts, 98.
  71. What is Philosophy?, 201.
  72. Difference and Repetition, 165.
  73. Xenakis, in Varga, Conversations, 65.
  74. Ibid., 56.
  75. Ibid., 66
  76. Xenakis, in Varga, Conversations, 51, 59.
  77. Xenakis, Formalized Music, 207.
  78. Xenakis, in Lohner, ‘Interview’, 55.
  79. Ibid., 54.
  80. Lohner, ‘The UPIC System’, 46.
  81. See Lautman, Les mathématiques, les idées et le réel physique, op.cit.
  82. Deleuze, ‘The Method of Dramatisation’, 99.
  83. Xenakis, in Varga, Conversations, 72; ‘Increasingly, it is the “colour” of the sound that matters’ (What is Philosophy? 191). Messiaen himself insisted that he saw the colours of music – as ‘musician’s colours, not to be confused with painter’s colours.’ – appearing all at once, as in the stained-glass at the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, which according to Messiaen was a ‘luminous revelation’ to him. And Xenakis himself (in Varga, Conversations, 173) will invoke the ‘Inner Colour’ that cannot be predicted, even by an experienced composer, from the clusters of individual notes involved. Cf. A Thousand Plateaus 347-8: ‘the phenomena of synaesthesia […] are not reducible to a simple colour-sound correspondence; sounds have a piloting role and induce colours that are superposed upon the colours we see, lending them a properly sonorous rhythm and movement’.
  84. See The Fold, 93–4.
  85. Xenakis, in Varga, Conversations, 48-9.
  86. Deleuze, ‘Bergson 1859-1941’, in Desert Islands and Other Texts, 23.
  87. ‘We all have fortuitous sounds in our daily life. They are completely banal and boring … Silence is banal … I’m not interested in reproducing banalities’ (Xenakis, Alloys, 94-5). Nevertheless Xenakis respected Cage greatly and was an early supporter of his work—see Varga, Conversations, 55-6.
  88. A Thousand Plateaus, 343-4. Deleuze & Guattari do, in fact, go on to mention Cage.
  89. See A. Villani, present volume, 62.
  90. Xenakis, in Lohner, ‘Interview’, 50.
  91. See Villani, present volume, 62.
  92. Roads, ‘Blackest Ever UPIC’.
  93. Difference and Repetition, 140.
  94. A Thousand Plateaus, 342.