Iannis Xenakis - Rebonds - Psappha for solo percussion

Iannis Xenakis
Rebonds, Psappha

Florent Jodelet
Percussion solo

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Iannis Xenakis 1922 - 2001

Psapphafor solo percussion 1975
Rebondsfor solo percussion 1987-1988

The Greece that the music of Iannis Xenakis always drew on was hardly the Greece of classical Antiquity but, to the contrary, that of the end of archaism, at the intersection between the mythical tales about the creation of the universe and constituted rationality, "the discovery of the mind", to borrow the expression of Jean-Pierre Vernant. Amongst the musician's explicit references were, in particular, the pre-Socratic philosophies of Pythagoras and Parmenides, as well as the birth of Western theatre and ancient tragedy with the Oresteia of Aeschylus.
François-Bernard Mâche emphasised the importance of the chthonian myth on the musician : "Xenakis's work is a meditation on the telluric and cosmic forces in their sensible aspect and not only in the abstract laws that govern them." Certain titles are even derived from ancient dialects.

"Psappha", or rather "Psapphô", is the authentic, archaic version of the name Sappho (7th - 6th century BC), according to the testimony of the poetess herself and Mytilenian coins. In the course of combats waged during the Resistance, in the 1940s, Iannis Xenakis had composed one of his very first works on texts by Sappho, taken from the Odes. Dedicated to Sylvio Gualda, who gave the first performance in London on 4 May 1976, Psappha pays homage to the daughter of Skamandrônymos, "the first to introduce changes or metabolae in the rhythmic formulas she used" (Iannis Xenakis), for her invention in the rhythmic domain of hendecasyllabic verse. Metrists also recall the Sapphic aeolian pentameter of fourteen syllables and the Sapphic antispastic tetrameter of sixteen syllables. Amongst the nine volumes of the edition current in the Hellenistic and Roman era, the first book of fragments naturally included the poems composed in Sapphic strophe, the strophe that Sappho had used with predilection and particular skill, so that it took on her name. The Sapphic strophe presents three hendecasyllabic verses, followed by a fourth verse of five syllables. The number of syllables is standard, and the modern rhythmic transcription of meters results in eleven bars, equal to the number of syllables in verses 1, 2 and 3.

Iannis Xenakis sought to write a work focussed not on timbre but on pure rhythm, and whose rhythmic unity, used in the five sections, is made up exclusively of two elements, the short and long syllables, borrowed from Greek metrics, and grasped in riddles stemming from the theories of Eratosthenes, in the development of independent lines and, according to the sketches, in tree diagrams. Mathematics and, particularly, intersection, union and negation, play an essential role in Psappha, a philosophic catalyst, a tool for the formulation of the sound edifice, as well as the liberating instrument of art. For while music was both rational and technical for Iannis Xenakis, it also unveiled another, more mysterious dimension, that of the immediate revelation, where the work eludes all science of aesthetics, "while allowing itself the caresses of the inferential and experimental".

Concentrated on the expressive force of the skins, Psappha opts for the most distanced, most abstract solution. Sixteen instruments of indefinite pitch are used in the work, divided into two categories of timbres (skins/woods and metals). Within each of these categories, the instruments are again divided according to their register (high, middle and low). Instructions include a list of instruments from which the performer can choose whilst respecting a distribution by register. Written in proportional notation, here used for the first time, the work resorts to neither Markovian chains nor an aleatory course and inaugurates a path that the composer will use systematically in his writing for percussion : the beat, with the superposition of asynchronous layers of accents. These accents have the senses of "greater intensity""abrupt change of timbre""abrupt addition of another sound" or "simultaneous combination of previous meanings". Iannis Xenakis thus creates an "auditory representation of the experience of time and psycho-acoustic limits of human perception of duration that can be understood on several levels". Sylvio Gualda, whose role was decisive in the genesis of the composition, described Psappha as a "tragic work", owing to the importance of silence, about which Iannis Xenakis wrote in Arts / Sciences Alliages that it was "banal", but which, here, gives particular relief to the sound.

Premiered on 1st July 1988 in Rome by its dedicatee, Sylvio Gualda, Rebonds is an immense abstract ritual. It is a series of movements and hammerings, pure music of increased rhythms. Organised in two pieces of unequal length that can be played a then B or B then A (the order chosen here), the work pursues the exploration of the beat as seen in Psappha and taken up again in Aïs (1980), Komboï (1981), Chant des soleils (1983), Idmen B (1985) and Okho (1989). But unlike Psappha, the work is devoid of dramatic dimension. Beat, periodicity, repetition, duplication, recurrence and imitation (accurate or otherwise) are the most obvious signs of change on a greater scale in the musician's writing. According to Makis Solomos, the beat symbolises an overall idea that is stated in three ways : order, which regulates the rhythmic universe through opposition to disorder; minimal periodicity versus aperiodicity; and discontinuity as opposed to continuity of a primary time presumed to be infinitely smooth. The same year he finished Rebonds, Iannis Xenakis wrote an article, "On Time", wherein we read : "Time is the blackboard on which are inscribed the phenomena and their relations outside of time of the universe in which we live. Relations mean structures, architectures, rules, yet, can one imagine a rule without repetition? No, certainly not. Moreover, a unique event in an absolute eternity of time and space would have no sense. However, every event, like every individual on earth, is unique. But this uniqueness is the equivalent of death, lying in wait at every step, at every instant. So the repetition of an event and its reproduction, as faithful as possible, corresponds to this fight against disappearance, against nothingness. As if the entire universe were desperately struggling to cling to existence, to being, by its own untiring renewal at every instant, at every death."

French composer, architect and civil engineer of Greek origin, born in Braïla (Rumania) on 29 May 1922, Iannis Xenakis began engineering studies at the Athens Polytechnic in 1940, and musical studies with Aristotle Kundurov. He participated actively in the communist Resistance against the Nazis. Suffering serious facial wounds in 1944, he resumed his studies the following year and clandestinely continued his Resistance activities, this time against the English, after earning his engineering degree (1946). Sentenced to death "on a political basis and as a terrorist", he fled Greece - where he did not return until 1974 - and eventually settled in Paris in 1947. He worked with Le Corbusier up until 1960, collaborating on the construction of the La Tourette convent (1954) and the Philips Pavilion at the Brussels World Fair (1958). A student of Milhaud and Honegger, he enrolled in Olivier Messiaen's class at the Paris Conservatoire (1950-52) and studied composition in Gravesano (Switzerland) with Hermann Scherchen. Pierre Schaeffer welcomed him into the Groupe de Musique Concrète at the French Radio-Television in 1957. In 1965, Iannis Xenakis was granted French citizenship and, the following year, founded EMAMu (Team for Musical Mathematics and Automation) in Paris, which, in 1972, became the CEMAMu (Centre for Studies in Musical Mathematics and Automation). In 1967, at the University of Indiana in Bloomington, he created the CMAM (Centre for Mathematical and Automated Music). He composed "polytopes", son et lumière spectacles, in Montreal (1967), Persepolis (1971), Paris (1972 and 1978) and Mycenae (1978). Professor at the University of Indiana (1967-72), researcher at the CNRS (National Centre for Scientific Research, 1970), professor (1972-89), then professor emeritus (1990) at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, professor at City University in London (1975), Doctor of Letters and Human Sciences (1976), he was elected a member of numerous national and international institutions, including the Institut de France (1983), awarded the Beethoven Prize (1977), and made a Commander in the Ordre des Arts et des Lettres (1991). In 1980, he presented the UPIC (Polyagogic Computer Unit of the CMEMAMu), a computer system allowing for approaching composition through drawing. Amongst his writings are Musiques formelles (1963, translated as Formalised Music, published in 1971) and Musique-Architecture (1971). Iannis Xenakis died in Paris on 4 February 2001.

Laurent Feneyrou

Florent Jodelet


Born in 1962, Florent Jodelet studied percussion with Michel Cals then with Jacques Delecluse at the Paris Conservatoire, where he obtained a First Prize in 1983. He completed his training with Jean-Pierre Drouet, also receiving tuition from Iannis Xenakis at the University of Paris and from Michel Zbar (in electroacoustic music). His taste for creation has led him to collaborate intensively with contemporary composers, and his concert career has enabled him to play numerous works: concertos for percussion and orchestra; solo pieces and chamber music, both in France and abroad.

In addition, he has built up a discography of the contemporary percussion repertoire with discs devoted to Philippe Fenelon, Michael Jarrell, Maurice Ohana, Kaija Saariaho and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Since 1988, Florent Jodelet has been soloist with the Orchestre National de France and since 1998, assistant-professor at the Paris Conservatoire.


Rebonds pour percussion solo
1 Jeu de Wood-blocks Kolberg 2 Bongos Sonor 1 Conga Delaporte 3 Tom-toms Ludwig 1 Grosse caisse Ludwig 1 Grosse caisse Capelle

Psappha pour percussion solo 
1 Mokubio (wood-block japonais), 1 Jeu de planches de bois, 3 Gongs de l’opéra de Pekin, 1 Jeu de profilés metalliques, 1 Cloche metallique, 3 Bongos, 3 Congas Delaporte,
3 Tom-toms Ludwig, 1 Grosse caisse Ludwig, 1 Grosse caisse Capelle


Rebonds pour percussion solo 1987-1989
Pièce b
Pièce a

 pour percussion solo 1976
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