Cecilia Arditto Delsoglio


Phitoprakta by Xenakis: The algorithmic elephant

When following the graphic score of Pithoprakta by Xenakis, along with the recording we can see that the piece is based on mathematical structures. In the graphical score, these structures looks very organic, as if the mathematical designs were drawn by hand. This is something very valuable when composing. If the strings were to enter one by one, orderly, we would see a straight line in the score (graphic or analog) bringing an extremely predictive musical behavior. It is important to break the straight lines of the design to achieve more organic shapes, and consequently a more organic listening. The score is still going to be schematic, but the structures will be as calculated as a tree can be, not a refrigerator. Pithoprakta is never reduced to ideal squared forms, which would be uninteresting for the ears.

The graphic notation that can be inferred from Pithoprakta is visually beautiful. The analog score has both musical and visual value.

When I “see” graphic scores by other composers, I experience different things:

  1. The score has nothing to do with the effect; it is randomly connected, usually in a very simplistic way. It seems to me that the performers do whatever they want. This could be worth doing. But usually not.
  2. The scores are very rigid, especially those that use graph paper. The music sounds like coming from a mechanical piano made from a roll inspired on a geometric delight without musical heart.
Pithoprakta –  Graphical score by Pierre Carré

Xenakis´music is organized and visceral at the same time. And quoting the Greek (sorry for the easy association!), Xenakis breaks the commonplace conception of Apollo as an opposite of Dionysus. The guts of Dionysus and the arrow of Apollo converse. The warmth of wine, the dance, the beast come together with the intellectual distance, the direction, and predetermination of the archer. Gabriel Valverde, my composition teacher, used to say when talking about Xenakis: “An elephant has passed.” An algorithmic elephant, I would say!

Xenakis, Pithoprakta score excerpt: The algorithmic elephant

As a composer I am interested in the mathematical construction of organic forms. Not rooted literally in the heart of mathematics, but in its concept. There are many contemporary composers who work with mathematical organic forms derived from nature, with sonic results that are generally highly schematic. Especially in our century, where organic forms are closely related to ecological concerns, the translation of data into music seems to be done by pushing a square button without guts and also without premeditation. Xenakis was overall a musician, who, guts and brain, ultimately assigns the parameters and decides what each algorithm means in the realm of music. A monster with two heads.

Following this line of thinking, there is, however,  a question about the mathematical structures in Xenakis’s music related to his approach to musical form. In Pithoprakta, the different scenes succeed each other in blocks. These blocks are in dialogue with each other, like successive blocks of concrete (or other more fragile materials, like “blocks of gas” or “blocks of fluids”). Block, massive or ethereal are also melting into one another. But they are solid, concrete, clearly defined blocks. In the manner of Stravinsky, Gubaidulina, Ustvolskaya, Nono in his string quartet, and many others, the discourse in blocks attempts to disrupt centuries of a Western linear narrative discourse. Urgent matters in the mid-20th century.

I borrow the question of organic forms previously discussed in Pithoprakta, but now, applied to the general form of a piece. And also, bringing the use of organic mathematical forms in other aspects of the composition like sound structure and orchestration. Also into overall rhythmic organization, a complete new extensive chapter.

Somehow in my mind, unconsciously, an as unaware I could be of the influences of such a composition monster,  I pay tribute to the beginning of Pithoprakta with my Música invisible for trombone, Water wonderfully played by Dalton Harris. In Water, I am using the rhythmical structures of water drops to create musical structures (listen with headphones please! the beginning is very soft).

I listen to Pithoprakta with nostalgia, like someone watching a Tarkovsky film. There is still so much to learn, but at the same time, it feels so far away, a blurry dot back then in the 20th century. Good old times.

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My recent piece Boxes belongs to a collection of pieces under the name  “Acoustics of everyday” focused on explicit issues related to classical acoustic: resonance boxes, strings, mutes, filters, microtonality, and other subjects to come.
I had a wonderful adventure with ensemble Modelo62, which included 3 concerts + a recording session, plus shared rehearsal time. In all those instances I could deepen my questions about this new chapter in my music.

Boxes is mainly focused on the subject of space. Different resonance boxes are in dialogue between themselves, but also, in dialogue with the big box around that is the room itself.

In a series of concentric layers, my first concern about space starts with the same architecture of the piece.

1. Composing different spaces within the piece by grouping instruments by color and/or behavior (orchestration).
2. Establishing the role of the instruments (solo, tutti, ensemble)
3. Composing their interaction in a combo music/space (soloist, duplications, hoquetus, etc)
4. Boxes ask what is sounding, when, and where at the same time.
5. Choosing the musical materials both in terms of time and space: repeated notes freeze the time, while ever looping scales move the time in circles; repeated notes made by one instrument “freeze the space” while the hoquetus form opens it.
6. Proposing the question of what sounds inside or outside.
7. Handles and metal appliances of the boxes were reacting to some frequencies of the guitar amps located inside. Finally, the boxes were singing on stage beyond being only resonance containers!


The music as a holistic unity brings together different purposes, perspectives, and a multiplicity of diverse energies into one and only one perceptual experience, into one logic.

Space is experienced as an unconscious unity rather than as a collection of recognizably separable processes.
Spaces speak, are you listening?
B. Blesser and L.R. Salter

Post-concert questions.

  • How concrete is the space of the piece in terms of composition? And how is the dialogue with the architectonic space of the concert hall?
  • How aware are the listeners of space? Is it possible to design a space that is moving instead of sound events traveling in it? Therefore: how to differentiate the movement of the events rather than the movement of the space itself?
  • How much should be seen? The visual aspect of a concert is always very influential. In previous works, I used the visual aspects of a concert as part of the music (music to see). But in Boxes, on the other hand, I was longing for a concert hall in the shadows.

To be continued.


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Vive l’amour

[gtranslate]Vive l’amour es una hermosa película del director taiwanés Tsai Ming-Liang. Sus composiciones visuales están allí, esperando ser pobladas por los personajes.
Planos transversales de ángulos cortados, puertas entornadas, pasillos, corredores, escaleras, barandas, todos ellos constituyen espacios entre medio. Los espacios de circulación, como una escalera o un pasillo -cuya función es llevar a la persona a otra parte- quedan congelados, imprimen en la escena la sensación de transitoriedad. Los espacios incompletos, como aquellos que se ven a través de puertas entornadas, convierten al espectador en un espía.

Me divertí un rato sacándole fotos a la pantalla de la computadora. La foto de la foto, el enmarque del marco.

amores entornados
en gama de blancos
claroscuro hecho en casa
tacos altos
la vida es tránsito
laberinto de amor
in between
la luz al final
poesía urbana


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La sortija

[gtranslate]Encontré una partitura circular que creo es de Ockeghem (no estoy segura de que sea de él). La obra es un canon que como un mecanismo de relojería, va encastrando las distintas voces en sucesivas entradas. La armonía del canon es simple, conforma una textura base modal, con un color estático, sin más movimiento que las entradas sucesivas de las voces.

Basada en esta idea quiero escribir una obra donde la partitura sea literal. El circulo-partitura esta proyectado con linternas mágicas en la pared. La imagen central gira, y se va encastrando con otros círculos  menores que a su vez giran. La proyección en movimiento  simula un reloj, mientras el clarinete, también en vivo, toca. La parte genera la música a tocar, pero me gusta pensar que la parte se genera a sí misma. Aunque parezca una combinación casual, los círculos se encastran en los lugares precisos: está todo calculado. Se calculan las probabilidades y como los eventos ocurren en una línea de tiempo gracias a su mecanismo. Elegí también, como  Ockeghem, una armonía planchada, en mi caso cromática, tipo wall-paper.

A Ockeghem le gustaba el enigma, plantear acertijos que hasta el dia de hoy no se han dilucidado. A mi me gusta lo sobre-explícito, la típica persona que te dice que hay en el regalo antes de que lo abras (¡sólo en la música, en los cumpleaños noooo!).
Creo que la sobreexposición no deja de ser también una forma de confusión. Cuando está todo (todo) sobre la mesa lo simple se vuelve complejo, lo explícito borroso.

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[gtranslate]Ockeghem utiliza un procedimiento de composición llamado parafraseo que consiste en reformular materiales musicales existentes una y otra vez.

En el Kyrie de su misa Pro defunctis o Réquiem, utiliza el canto gregoriano como base de la composición. Esta vez no lo utiliza en el bajo sino en la voz superior reformulandolo nueve veces seguidas, una a continuación de otra. Hay cambios de distinta índole: en la línea melódica, en la armonización con respecto a las otras voces, en la textura vocal -cantidad de voces utilizadas-, etc.

El concepto de paráfrasis es diferente al concepto de variación. La variación en música implica un original que va mutando sucesivamente, que asume un punto de partida y a partir de él, una sucesión progresiva de cambios. Las variaciones pueden no seguir un orden entre si, pero hay claramente un material originario.

La paráfrasis es un procedimiento distinto a la variación, ya que se basa en la reformulación de lo mismo (en este caso el canto gregoriano) una y otra vez, yendo y viniendo de un original que en definitiva puede ser cualquiera de las versiones.

En la música de Ockeghem el concepto de imitación entre las voces no existe, algo difícil de pensar para nosotros, ni tampoco la idea de desarrollo donde una cosa lleva a la otra. Los elementos de repetición que le van dando cohesión al discurso musical funcionan a un nivel más estructural, originados por el mismo procedimiento, pero con una lógica descentralizada, menos lineal.

Una versión espectacular del Réquiem de Ockeghem es la del ensamble Organum bajo la dirección de Marcel Peres (¡¡que manera creativa de hacer música antigua!!) En esta versión el Réquiem esta transpuesto a un registro más grave que el habitual, lo que hace de la armonía (todas las voces son masculinas) una experiencia tímbrica y textural diferente.

Inspirada en Ockeghem, compongo Spiegeltjes, piezas para clarinete, cinta y linternas mágicas.



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Da capo al fine

[gtranslate]La idea de la recapitulación textual en la música es una manera orgánica de redondear. Se vuelve al comienzo después de la deriva de la obra. El clásico final feliz.
Me gusta más cuando los elementos vuelven a aparecer en forma más discontinua y errática. Los flashes del pasado surgen en un presente que no es lineal y que es siempre distinto.


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