Greek composer Iannis Xenakis had a very colorful background before devoting himself to music, and his works are filled with the same drama and often agonized emotions that ruled his life. He fought the Nazis with the Greek resistance (which left him blind in one eye), collaborated as an architect with innovator Le Corbusier and was a fervent pioneer of computer use in music composition until his death in 2001.
Xenakis built his compositions on mathematical principles like chance and determinism, including Persepolis, an electro-acoustic piece for eight-track tape commissioned by the Shah of Iran in 1971 and reissued here in a two-disc set. Iran was celebrating its 2,500th anniversary, and Xenakis' sprawling, 56-minute piece of densely layered tones and rattling metallic percussion was broadcast in an outlandish ceremony with thousands of costume-wearing citizens parading through the ancient ruins of the Persian capital. This ritualistic event honored secular modern Iran, while Khomeini and the Shi'ite Muslim clerics were pushing the impending fundamentalist Islamic revolution.
The second disc contains contemporary remixes of Xenakis' original work, many of the world's best experimental artists bending and shaping the musique concrete into new forms. Japan is well-represented with Ryoji Ikeda's beautiful channel-shifting binary language interpretation, Otomo Yoshihide's volume dynamics, and a fantastic, splintered track from noise superstar Merzbow. Polish artist Zbigniew Karkowski offers a great reading that sends Xenakis' shimmering tones hurtling at light speed, like raindrops through a jet engine, while Spanish composer Francisco Lopez donates a deeply developed work, with subtle movements and compact arrangements.
For an anti-fascist like Xenakis to have a dictator as a patron shows the difficulty modern composers face in finding much-needed financial support, which often leads to compromise. This reissue/remix treatment gives a wholly new context to his work, and adds to his ever-increasing legacy and sphere of influence.