Concerning Sieve-based Composition

Exarchos, Dimitris. 2006. 'Concerning Sieve-based Composition'. In: The Creative and Scientific Legacies of Iannis Xenakis Conference. University of Guelph/Fields Institute/Perimeter Institute, Canada 8-10 June 2006. [Conference or Workshop Item]

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Abstract or Description

he central part of this paper will consist of an analysis of Xenakis’s works from the later period of composing with sieves, such as Akea, À l’île de Gorée, Echange, Ata, and others. In this period (1983-1994) the composer was preoccupied with a theoretical research that had commenced during the 60’s; in that period Xenakis had conceived Sieve Theory as a means to establish all musical structures. In the later period the foundations of music are largely reduced down to what has been considered as the most essential element in music composition and theory throughout the history of music; namely, the construction of scales.
Regarding Jonchaies (1977, for orchestra) Xenakis had written: “Concerning a given piece, having resolved the problem of the scale is having resolved half of the problems of composition (Xenakis, ‘À propos de Jonchaies’ Entretemps, Vol.6, p.133. My translation).” In this work we have the first appearance of a scale whose many facets will be used in works of the following periods. This is the first sieve constructed according to the interval structure of the Javanese pelog scale. It is also the first scale whose construction did not employ any mathematical formulas but was based on aesthetic criteria (in the sense that it would not fit into the sieve-theoretical criteria of periodicity and symmetry). This sieve, will serve as the starting point for the creation of scales that are, not infrequently, employed in more than one works – either orchestral or chamber music.

According to recent research, sieves have been used in conjunction with techniques such as cellular automata and ‘halos sonores’, or less formalized techniques that are to be found in the actual compositions (such as sieves as sonorities or as rhythmic structures). Drawing connections between works that use the same or similar sieves, and exploring the manner they have been combined with other techniques, can form part of a research towards a construction of a genealogy of compositions. Sieve Theory has been suggested by the composer as a tool for creating or analyzing outside-time musical structures that exhibit internal symmetries. Unlike the initial intention of the theory, sieves of the later period disregard the highly formalized procedures of the theory and introduce, instead, other aesthetic criteria that are strongly related to the way sieves are actually employed in the music. Analytical work on this level will contribute to unveil the numerous possibilities of composing with sieves that would eventually form part of Xenakis’s inheritance to composers and music theorists of the new generation.

Item Type:

Conference or Workshop Item (Paper)

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Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Music > Contemporary Music Research Unit


8 June 2006["eprint_fieldopt_dates_date_type_shown" not defined]

Event Location:

University of Guelph/Fields Institute/Perimeter Institute, Canada

Date range:

8-10 June 2006

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

01 Mar 2016 11:07

Last Modified:

30 Jun 2017 09:37


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