1997Arts and PhilosophyMusic
Iannis Xenakis photo

Iannis Xenakis

  • France / 1922-2001
  • Composer

A Composer Who Created a Totally New Music Using Computer-Aided Approach by Viewing Music Statistically as a Set of "Sound Elements"

Mr. Xenakis is considered a 20th century giant in the world of music, for his outstanding achievements. Viewing music as a physical acoustic phenomenon, he has established techniques for creating music mathematically. His compositions, consistently with the aid of computer science, from his first Metastasis through such representative works as Atrées, richly render a humanistic and spiritual cosmos liberated from the traditional European paradigm. Mr. Xenakis has unveiled a totally new dimension to the history of music.
*This category then was Category of Creative Arts and Moral Sciences.


Brief Biography

Born in Braila, Romania
Moved to Greece with parents
Studied architecture and mathematics at Athens Polytechnic. Greek resistance fighter, World War II
Escaped to Paris
Became architecture collaborator under Le Corbusier, Paris.
Also studied music composition under Honegger, Milhaud and Messiaen
Debuted as composer with "Metastasis" and became active in composition
Acquired French nationality
Founded the Equipe de Mathematique et d'Automatique Musicales (EMAMu). (Reorganized to CEMAMu in 1972)

Selected Awards and Honors

Founded the Equipe de Mathematique et d'Automatique Musicales (EMAMu). (Reorganized to CEMAMu in 1972)
Edison prize for the best record of contemporary music, Amsterdam
The fifth Order Merit with la Legion d'Honneur
National Order of Merit, Paris
The fourth Order of Merit with la Legion d'Honneur
Honorary Member, American Academy and Institute of Arts & Letters
Member, European Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters Paris
Professor Emeritus, Paris-Sorbonne University

Major Works








Nomos Gamma






Musiques formelles, 1963. (Formalized Music, Eng. trans., 1971.)


Musique-architecture, 1975.


A Composer Who Created a Totally New Music Using Computer-Aided Approach by Viewing Music Statistically as a Set of "Sound Elements"

Mr. Iannis Xenakis is a composer who views music mathematically as a physical, acoustic phenomenon and creates music with unique techniques using computers, unfolding an original world of music within the 20th century music scene.

Mr. Xenakis has studied music while at the same time specializing in architecture and mathematics. Since his defection to France, he has studied under Honegger, Milhand and Olivier Messiaen (the first Kyoto Prize laureate) and searched for a new mode of expression in music.

His debut piece, “Metastasis,” was created on the basis of a concept taken from architectural design, and features a dynamic development with an intertwining multitude of clusters of glissandos. Its premier performance at the Donaueschingen Festival was received enthusiastically. The following creation, “Pithoprakta,” adopted stochastic mathematical theory (probability calculus; ST).

Mr. Xenakis’ basic concept is that music is a process of transformation of cloud – like acoustic forms made up of elements called sound. The stochastic process involves mathematically determining the distribution of sound parameters when handling a large mass of sound. In many cases, formulae drawn from natural phenomena are used. A series of ST pieces for which computerized calculations were conducted,such as “Atrees” and “Morsima – Amorsima,” are considered pioneering achievements in this field. In 1965, Mr. Xenakis founded the Centre de l’Equipe de Mathematique et d’Automatique Musicules (CEMAMu), exploring new directions for music.

Mr. Xenakis is also a composer who developed the ideas of “musical space” as a physical space and “music of structure outside time” when the theory of musical time was the mainstream. It is said that the concept of structure outside time permits access to a world of music that is different from and more fertile than the in – time music tradition of European music.

In this sense, he has introduced a non – European philosophy into European music.

Founded on firm philosophical thought, Mr. Xenakis’ music has remained distinctly individual, without being obscured by various vogues of post – war avant – garde music and post – modernism and neo – romanticism that began in the mid – 1970s. His music is highly regarded for the rich, strong, compassionate impressions it gives, despite its mathematical methodology, and Mr. Xenakis’ warm personality is also widely admired.

For these reasons, The Inamori Foundation is pleased to bestow upon Mr. Iannis Xenakis the 1997 Kyoto Prize in Creative Arts and Moral Sciences.


Abstract of the Lecture


(1) Brief hommage to Japan

Its cities, its people, its traditional and contemporary cultures

(2) Personal “mosaic of questions”

How my artistic itinerary was determined, creating a hierarchy of coherencies
Definition criteria leading to activity and knowledge:
Arts: partially inferential
Math and Sciences: entirely inferential
Verification through experimentation while never neglecting the problem of aesthetics

(3) Personal background

Specific stages in my intellectual and artistic development:
Childhood in boarding schools in Greece
Discovery of ancient Greek authors and astronomy
The Civil War in Greece
Studies at the Polytechnic School in Athens
World War II
Communist Party and street demonstrations
Fleeing Greece for France
Collaboration with Le Corbusier

(4) Greek music and the European avant-garde

First compositional attempts at reconciling traditional Greek music with contemporary European avant-garde currents
Comprehension of music, any or all musics, as sound signals, messages

(5) Stochastic Music

Development of the concept of stochastic music and the use of probability calculations in composition (Metastasis: 1953-1954; Pithoprakta: 1954-1955)
Development of combinatory calculus to escape from a limitative linear polyphony in order to develop more generalized probabilities including sound masses on both a micro-and macro-compositional level (Achorripsos: 1956-1957)
Development and realization of first computer program, “ST” (ST10: 1956-1962)

(6) Formalized Music

Formalization of these practices into theories with the publication in 1963 of my book, “Formalized Music,” later updated, revised and augmented in 1992
Distinguishing structures “in-time” and “outside-time,” defining, in fact, what is “Time”
Developments of Group Theory (Nomos Alpha: 1965-1966)

(7) Polytopes

During the 1970s, development of new avenues, combining musical as well as architectural experiences (Cluny, etc.)

(8) Aborescences

Parallel to yet independent from these preoccupations, intuitive development of the concept of Aborescences in music (Erikuthon: 1974)

(9) UPIC

Beginning in the mid-1970s, development of the UPIC system at CEMAMu and continued investigation of micro sound synthesis (Myceenes Alpha: 1978), eventually leading to the relatively recent GENDYN program for dynamic stochastic synthesis

(10) Sieve Theory

Late-1970s, concentration on developing a solution to the problem of scale in all musical parameters, resulting in my Sieve Theory (Jonchaies: 1977; Pleiades: 1978)

(11) Recent realizations

Recent realizations are admittedly based on no new or specific theory: what a tremendous freedom for renewed originality!

[Read More]
Full Text(PDF)


Workshop: Xenakis in Kyoto

Wednesday, November 12, 1997
Kyoto International Conference Center
Koji Sano, Professor, Toho Gakuen School of Music (Member of the Prize Screening Committee)


Opening Koji Sano
Greetings Toyomi Inamori
Managing Director, the Inamori Foundation
Achievement of Xenakis Koji Sano
Introduction of the Laureate Yuji Takahashi
"Lessons from Xenakis"
Commemorative Lecture Iannis Xenakis, Laureate
"Music and Architecture"
Symposium Xenakis in the 20th Century
Chairperson:Akimichi Takeda, Professor, Musashino Academia Musicae (Member of the Prize Screening Committee) Panelists:
Toshi Ichiyanagi, Composer/Pianist (Member of the Prize Screening Committee)
Kazuoki Fujii, Lecturer, Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music (Member of the Prize Screening Committee)
Takahasi Funayama, Professor, Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music (Member of the Prize Screening Committee)
Concert [St/4] for string quartet (1956-1962)
[Mists] for piano solo (1981)
[Tetra] for string quartet (1990)
[Psappha] for percussion solo (1975)
Percussion - Sumire Yoshihara
Piano - Tomoko Yazawa
Arbelli String Quartet - Tozawa Tetsuo (Vn), Tomoyuki Hayashi (Vn), Yoichi Yoshitsuru (Va), (Vc)
Closing Koji Sano