Tomorrow I will be giving a talk at the ‘Exploring Xenakis: Performance, Practice, Philosophy’ Symposium with colleague and critical theorist Michael D. Atkinson. Our talk discusses Xenakis, the Avant Garde, May ’68 and the legendary quote ‘Xenakis, not Gounod’ which was scrawled in graffiti during the protests in France.Below is an abstract of our talk:
May ’68 saw a time of political tension in France: the Situationist International signified a growing desire to move away from capitalism and the world of boredom and alienation it entails, and, likewise, young radicals wanted to free music from the shackles of reification that contradicted the notion of ‘avant garde’. People protested via music, vandalism, public broadcasts, sexuality, subversive behaviour, and vandalism. Graffiti was rife, with phrases such as ‘Commute, work, commute, sleep…’, ‘In a society that has abolished every kind of adventure the only adventure that remains is to abolish the society’, and ‘Art is dead, don’t consume its corpse.’ Upon the walls of the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris were graffitied the words ‘Xenakis, not Gounod’.
This focus on an avant-garde practice that exemplifies experimentation, chance, subversion, and the like was part of an effort to sublate art with everyday life, that is, to enact a revolution of everyday life. In this talk, we will explore the intertwining of such revolutionary desires with the avant-garde tendencies of the day, and, further, how the ageing, commodification, and subsequent reification of the Avant Garde is antithetical to the desires and ideology behind itself. We will focus in particular on how Xenakis and those like him became central to the revolutionary consciousness of the day, and what it is about Xenakis’ practice that paradoxically disavows such possibilities.