Iannis Xenakis

Iannis Xenakis

Persepolis Plus Remixes Vol. 1

Asphodel Ltd.

Remix albums are fast becoming electronica's equivalent of the tribute album: Too many bad bands, too few worthy subjects, and, well, just too much physical product cluttering up the cutout bins. Just listen to the travesty that was the Steve Reich remix project if you don't believe me, though you'd be much better advised not to: Reich needed DJ Spooky's weak beats grafted onto his precision minimalism like the world needed another Glass/Bowie collaboration. Surprisingly, then, this new Iannis Xenakis release--which combines the entire audio portion of Xenakis's legendary multimedia spectacle Persepolis with a companion remix CD--is an unexpected delight.

The album's historical context is provided by the somewhat grandiloquent liner notes, which inform us that Persepolis was originally commissioned for Iran's 1971 Shiraz arts festival by Muhammed Reza Shah, the former Iranian dictator. (It's unclear how exactly the Shah came to choose Xenakis, a half-blind, Corbusier-trained architect who was a widely respected figure in computer composition and new music. Either the Shah was a closet noise freak, or this was just a simple act of avant-garde patronage. Either way, it boggles the brain.) Xenakis responded with an elaborate 56-minute composition designed for 59 loudspeakers that were strategically hidden among the audience. As if that weren't overload enough, he provided visual accompaniment with lasers, bonfires, and a bizarre, ritualistic performance involving children and torches. Xenakis scholars point to the piece as a musical retelling of Persian history, but you don't really need to know that to enjoy the slowly escalating peals of bells and granular fragments that rise to a truly claustrophobic clamor of feedback. The piece is refreshing, like a blow to the skull.

The length and density of Persepolis make it fairly daunting. Each listen reveals previously unheard nuances and timbres, which makes the companion remix disc something of a necessity. Each remix artist teases out minute strains of Xenakis's work and probes them with infinite sonic detail, and the results, which are enjoyable in their own right, also gaze into Persepolis's depths. Japanese guitarist/turntablist Otomo Yoshihide leads with the most direct exploration of Xenakis's sound strategies, scattering scuffs and scratches over a fibrous drone in a kind of compact restatement of Persepolis's themes. But things quickly scatter further from the source. Ryoji Ikeda, best known for the sine-wave minimalism of +/-, here plies a thrilling brand of collage, splicing harsh densities of sound into an exhausting maelstrom of noise. Polish-born noise artist Zbigniew Karkowski responds in turn with a nervy jumpcut, like Xenakis on fast-forward. Later, things simmer a little with Francisco Lopez's slow-sizzling examination of space and silence, before Merzbow throws in his trademark wall of noise--packed, as always, with enough sonic detail to fill an entire album. Impressively, each track recasts Persepolis in new light. Even more impressive, absolutely none of the tracks suck. Vive le remix!