“Music to Be Seen” by Eleni Michaelidi

Leonardo Abstract Services (LABS) 2010-2012
Music to Be Seen: The Diatope (1978) by Iannis Xenakis

This thesis revisits the automated audiovisual installation the Diatope by Iannis Xenakis (1922–2001) as a groundbreaking precursor to new media art. Although Xenakis’s pioneering cross-disciplinary and multimedia constructions and compositions have long been recognized in the fields of architecture and musicology, they have been largely ignored by media-art discourse. This thesis argues that the structural relationship of the Diatope’s audio and visual components proposes a holistic audiovisual aesthetic that essentially resides in the digital.

With the Polytopes, a series of large-scale audiovisual installations realized from 1968 to ’78, Xenakis articulated a coherent vision of a “synergy of art and technology” and realized his long-time pursuit of “composing with light.” The final realized Polytope project was the Diatope, which was presented in Paris, France (1978) and in Bonn, West Germany (1979), and then was afterwards dismantled and destroyed. Hence a primary aim of this thesis is to enhance our understanding of this ephemeral work in a monographic study. Today only fragmentary traces and documentation remain; the work itself, as a site-specific installation and a system of sound and visuals, has been lost. My research is therefore based on archival sources, including Xenakis’s own writings and interviews referring to his vision of a synthesis of the arts and of an art grounded in technology that develops in space and time.

Re-examining the Diatope as an installation consisting of music, light, and architecture in equal parts, this thesis analyzes the complex and innovative negotiation of its acoustic and visual spaces. Xenakis’s background in engineering and mathematics was central to his compositional method, in which musical and spatial design drew on mathematical models as transpositions of the same abstract paradigm in different disciplines. His holistic approach to composition is elaborated in his writings, where he pleads for interdisciplinary research into form. The audiovisual aesthetic of the Diatope thus offers many instructive parallels with contemporary digital artistic practices, and this thesis argues for its inscription in art-historical discourse as an early theoretical and historical paradigm.

Degree: MA
Year: 2011
Pages: 130
University: Donau Universität Krems, Austria
Supervisor: Ass. Prof Dimitris Charitos (National Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece)
Supervisor 2: Univ.-Prof. Dr.habil. Oliver Grau
Language: English (Abstract also in German)
Dept: Department for Arts and Image Science
Lang_author: English, French, German, Greek
Keywords: media art histories; media art; technology and culture; sound art; digital aesthetic

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