While laptops abound in music today, Xenakis was there in the early days of computers in music: the massive mainframes. His use of mathematics to produce stochastic (i.e. statistically randomized) sound-producing processes was the scientific analogue to John Cage's use of the I Ching. Xenakis's polytopes brought together light, sound, colour and architecture. With multi-speaker sound projection, computer-controlled lights, lasers and mirrors and site-specific architecture, Xenakis polytopes were immersive multimedia experiences before the word "multimedia" was even coined. And while composers have long used their subjective responses to nature as an inspiration for their music, Xenakis used the mathematics of natural phenomena, from the motion of atoms to galactic forces, to structure his viscerally powerful compositions.
Drawing from the myth of Er in Plato's Republic, the formation of supernovas and experiments in computer-controlled sound spatialization, La Légende d'Eer is a formidable sonic experience. The opening is heroic, like Er of Plato's tale, as scintillating, pulsing high pitches gradually go out of phase with each other, getting more and more dense, hinting at a reality that encompasses and transcends our human dimension. Barely discernible percussion — bells, thumb pianos, etc. — appear, meld and move out of focus, creating throbbing, ever-changing sound entities, mysterious and compelling. Aggregates of tones and clouds of noise shift location, cutting through one another, masking and then revealing further layers within layers. Ensuing sound composites vary in density but seldom in intensity. They are sonic incarnations of implacable cosmic forces.
Over the years, La Légende d'Eer has been released several times, with varying results. Xenakis's original seven-track version had an eighth track, now lost, that controlled the projection of the sounds in space. Using two quadraphonic joysticks, mixing engineer Volker Müller had the difficult job of simulating the rotation of multiple sound sources in stereo format. His mix goes a long way to making the subtleties of the work audible and transparent.
This release marks the first time it has been released on vinyl. Légende is an acknowledged masterpiece, but it's not for the faint of heart. (Karl Records)