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Iannis Xenakis's Biography

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Iannis Xenakis, whose first name is sometimes transliterated as Yannis, was born in Braïla, Romania on 29 May 1922.

Reference sources seem confused how to describe Xenakis's nationality. Some call him a Greek composer and some call him a French composer.

His parents were Greek and when Iannis was 10, they returned to Greece. Xenakis originally studied on the island of Spetsai and then took up engineering in Athens.

During World War II Xenakis was a fighter in the Resistance movement that fought against the German occupation of Greece. He was wounded and lost the sight of one eye.

After the war, in 1947, he moved to Paris and worked as an architect for Le Corbusier, where the buildings he worked on included the convent at La Tourette. Although he studied music under Olivier Messaien he did not produce his first musical work, Metastasis until 1954.

Messaien was unconventional in his approach often using non-Western influences and exploring the sounds of birds and also (musically) the colour of their plumage. He encouraged Xenakis in his style which incorporated mathematical concepts of chance and probability (stochastic music), as well as architecture and natural phenomena.

Xenakis said in Formalized Music: Thought and Mathematics in Composition:

"... the collision of hail or rain with hard surfaces, or the song of cicadas in a summer field. These sonic events are made out of thousands of isolated sounds; this multitude of sounds, seen as totality, is a new sonic event."

Xenakis was a pioneer in the use of computers and electronics in composition, although in later life some of his works were more influenced by folk music.

Xenakis was made an Officer of the French Legion d'Honneur and Commander L'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 1991.

The Czech author, Milan Kundera wrote in Testaments Betrayed:

"I fell in love with Varese and Xenakis: those pictures of sound-worlds that were objective but not-existent spoke to me of a life freed from human subjectivity, aggressive and burdensome; they spoke of the sweetly non-human beauty of the world before or after mankind moved through it."

Iannis Xenakis died in 2001.

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