XENAKIS vs. PATERAS
Synergy Percussion, Part 1 – 22 April 2014, Carriageworks, Sydney
Pléïades, written for six percussionists (and some surprise extras) in the late 1970s by Greek composer Iannis Xenakis, is the epitome of modernist, ordered chaos. Synergy Percussion originally performed this piece in 2011 but for their 40th birthday celebrations treated their audience to a performance in the round in the cavernous Bay 17. The six performers were each on their own island of percussion, including the newly commissioned sixxens, micro-tonal metal instruments with 19 bars like the keys of a piano, built to Xenakis’ specifications. The name is a portmanteau of ‘six’ and ‘xen’ from Xenakis. I really liked their clunky strong sound!
This piece is incredibly difficult and a feat of strength and concentration for the percussionists. The six performers were quite spread out in the performance space, so I’m not exactly sure how they were communicating, either telepathically or by earpiece/computer, but there was never a moment that they appeared to not be in control.
The piece was structured in four distinct movements, three written for specific groupings of instruments. The movements can be played in any order—Xenakis suggested two versions but there are recordings with different orders.
Synergy played the piece in this order:
- Métaux (metals) involving the wonderful sixxens
- Claviers (keyboards) involving vibraphones, marimbas, xylophones and xylorimbas
- Peaux (skins) involving all the drums
- Mélanges (mix) was a mix of all the instruments.
Métaux was organised yet chaotic, loud with a constantly changing beat. It took the standing audience a little while to realise they could move around the room and change their aural perspective, moving in and out from the noisy sixxens. Claviers sounded spooky and reminded me of the sounds of the gamelan. This movement was less chaotic and more patterned, and was a relief on the ears after the noisy sixxens. Peaux was tribal and slower, the adagio movement of this very modern piece, and somewhat distant sounding, preparing us for the explosion of sound in the fourth movement. Mélanges surprised us with an extra percussionist joining each of the six percussion islands, creating a very spiky, loud, high energy virtuosic blast of noise! The audience were enraptured and couldn’t keep still. I was waiting for some of the excited viewers to break out some interpretative dance moves. It was very hard not to move to the many beats.
Happy 40th birthday to Synergy Percussion—what a fantastic performance you gave, and to quote a crowd member, “you can expect the unexpected with Synergy”!