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Title: Music as an Art of Space. Intersections between Music and Architecture in the Work of Iannis Xenakis
Authors: Sterken, Sven
Issue Date: 2007
Publisher: Culcidae Architectural Press
Host Document: Resonance. Essays on the Intersection of Music and Architecture. pages:31-61
Abstract: The speculations about the relation between music and architecture are probably as old as both arts themselves. Generally speaking, they occur on two levels: the intellectual and the phenomenological. The first interpretation dates back to ancient Greek thought and is linked with the problems of form and structure. The most elaborate paradigm here is the theory of ‘harmonic proportions’. This synthesis of rationalism and metaphysics knew its peak in the Renaissance when numerous architects and composers tried to shape architectural and musical form according to the same numerical principles. In the second interpretation, originating from 18th century aesthetic relativism, the emotional effect of art is central. Here, beauty does not arise from the intricate structure of the work of art, but from its aesthetic effect and its immersive power. As Paul Valéry states in Eupalinos ou l’architecte, in this context, music and architecture differ from the other arts in their capacity to surround man entirely [1]. This immersive quality derives from the fact that both arts deal with space.
In both interpretations cited here, the link between music and architecture has less to do with common features than with the existence of a third element that acts as an intermediate between both fields: mathematical proportions in the first case; the concept of space in the second. Both aspects of the music-architecture relationship have found a contemporary assimilation in the work of Iannis Xenakis (1922-2001). Throughout his career, Xenakis has been active as an architect and a composer, building a substantial record of research and production in both fields [2]. Nevertheless, despite one of his books being entitled Musique Architecture, he has hardly conceptualized the relation between both arts on the theoretical level, nor has he clearly pointed out a common method in his dealing with musical and architectural form [3]. This paper discusses precisely these aspects of Xenakis’ work. Situated within the theoretical perspective mentioned above, the analysis will be carried out on the basis of a number of Xenakis’ works in both fields, supported by fragments of interviews and writings. It is our contention that in his early work, Xenakis approached both music and architecture from a scientific and mathematical perspective. As a consequence, his musical compositions and built work from this period stem from similar formal concepts and methods. In his later work, Xenakis’ approach has become more pragmatic, using space as a means to articulate the complexity of the musical language and enhance the sensuous experience of sound. His elaborate proposal for a ‘City of Music’ in Paris can be considered the climax of this evolution. Thus, a shift will be revealed from an abstract, conceptual relation between music and architecture, to a more sensual and practical approach to sound and space.
ISBN: 1847283373
Publication status: published
KU Leuven publication type: AHb
Appears in Collections:Architecture, Campuses Sint-Lucas Brussels and Ghent

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