Record Player, 1978

21 May 2021

My parents had a record player they would let me access as a 5 year old. I somehow learned to respect the needle while torturing the records they let me play with. The trick with this record player was that it had different gears to it, for speeds. There was 33, there was 45 and 'N' right between them. Slipping the turntable into neutral, I could move it freely but still get sound. Using my finger to keep the speed is consistent as possible, I played Dave Brubeck's Blue Rondo ala Turk backwards—the beginning of it, with its pulsating product for proto-prog opening, a line of beats. It reminded me of riding my bike past picket fences and putting a stick out to bounce off the top of the pickets. You could control the speed, it made a sound that is pleasing, you felt it in your hand, and at a certain point pulses would turn into notes if you ran the stick across them fast enough.

At the end of WWII, during the Greek communist resistance, a young man just about to get his bachelors degree wants some goddamn change in government. He's been a musician his whole life, but is equally obsessed with mathematics and architecture. He hears crowds pick up a chant of revolution, started by a few, then weaving into more, out of phase, infecting the crowd with the color of the phrase. Through the voice of the crowd, the phrase takes on melody and rhythmic qualities governed seemingly by chance, but the mathematician hears something he thinks he can reproduce for an orchestra. One demonstration reaches a particularly high fever-pitch, and the government decides to literally go ballistic, openly shelling the demonstrators. Iannis catches one near his face, and loses an eye and cheekbone on one side.

Field dress is applied, maybe a frontier suture.. He has an appointment in France which he essentially walks to after this happens, fleeing carnage that's just warming up.

(This is the fantastic, caricatured version of Xenakis' youth I had in my head when I was young.)

For many musicians, walks can have a functional quality. Set the rhythm of your footsteps as a base on which ideas received from the cosmos can be laid out, grafted, held up to the light to see if they work. Your eyes are busy taking in the scene, your feet are hypnotized by locomotion, so there's a certain kind of sensory deprivation quality to it, which can make you an open vessel to receiving, as Stravinsky said of his experience writing the Rite of Spring. Iannis was a little more sensory deprived.  He couldn't shake the sound of the crowds, the scattered sound of artillery bouncing against an urban infrastructure.

With an appointment at a prestigious institution from which he could explore his twin passions of architecture and music, he arrives at his graduate appointment and begins study which would lead him to compose Metastaesis and Pithoprakta, two pieces composed of sounds generated from probability theory, equations inaccessible to anyone with less then a graduate-level skill in calculus. I like to think these pieces recall the natural soundscapes he heard on his walk. Nature has a rich pallet: rain falling on a still pond, a flock of birds taking flight all at once, wind passing through lush, leafy trees.

You hear something in your head, a reptile-brain memory that's etched in there somehow and never leaves. You define systems of notation to jog your memory about what that sound is, but it always falls short. Music is re-creating what's internally perceived, always unsuccessfully, always full of errors and, therefore, a certain danger.

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