While not often counted among his greatest works, Iannis Xenakis’ Persepolis deserves a prominent place in the history of electroacoustic music.
This relentlessly abrasive musique concrète composition was premiered in 1971, in celebration of the 2,500th anniversary of the ancient Persian city of Persepolis. Serving as a ceremonial capital for the Achaemenid Empire (the earliest remains from Persepolis have been dated to about 515 BC), it was sacked by Alexander the Great in 330 BC.
Xenakis’ work was first presented onsite in 1971, through 59 speakers scattered across the ruins. It was developed into a multimedia performance that included lights, lasers and torch-bearing children. Out of print until Berlin’s Karlrecords produced this re-release, a 1974 Japanese pressing is a highly sought-after collector’s piece.
If you own one of the subsequently released CD editions, check the timing. The 54-minute work has been presented in versions both too long (an incorrect sample rate, believe it or not) and too short.
This one is true to the original. Sound engineer Martin Wurmnest worked off of the original eight-track master tapes, which were remastered by Rashad Becker. The two worked together on Xenakis’ La Légende d’Eer for the label in 2016.
The Greek-French composer, born in Romania, was admired as a theorist as much as an artist. He applied mathematical models to his compositions, and emerged over time as a major influence on 20th century electronic musicians.
This work is unsparingly severe. Were it released today (not a difficult thing to imagine given how daring it still sounds), it might be classified as a noise composition. The work deserves a more precise description though. It swirls, blasts and shimmers. It never lets up, and in that sense recalls both the rich significance and violent destruction of the city it was written in tribute to.