“Okho” by Iannis Xenakis
Performed by the Peabody Percussion Trio
Tomasz Kowalczyk, Kei Maeda & Georgi Videnov
Mallet Selection for this Piece:
Tim Genis Signature (GEN1)Buy Now
Produces a beautiful roll quality without attack in the stroke. Felt core.
ABOUT THE PIECE:
As a person who was condemned to death for his part in the Greek Resistance, Iannis Xenakis maintained a distance from political activity later in life; his thoughts and convictions were instead reflected in his music. Still, it was surely no accident that for a piece intended to celebrate the French Bicentennial in 1989, he would choose to write for a distinctively African instrumentation.
Okho is scored for three djembés, resonant drums from West Africa. Rhythmically, the piece is a study in repetition and the different ways in which irregularity can be introduced. Built in mosaic fashion from six blocks of material, the sections are distinguished by tempo and rhythmic texture. The opening features a steady pulse; a three-plus-two pattern established at the outset is subjected to various permutations as the players enter one after another. A less concentrated rhythmic texture is interleaved with the first one until, after much shifting, they give way to a third element. Xenakis designates six “tones” for each djembé; in this passage, he introduces one of his favorite gestures, the glissando — here achieved by sliding one hand across the head of the drum while striking it with the other. A fourth, faster section builds up momentum and intensity until the pulsating patterns start to dissipate. As the texture thins, the tempo drops and the fifth section begins. Here, polyrhythms make an appearance, and the dense, intricate cross-patterns recall Xenakis’ stochastic “attack clouds.” This material, which carries through to the end, is twice interleaved with what is essentially a canonic texture, in which the three players drum the same patterns but at slightly different tempi; Xenakis, in fact, uses this technique in a number of ensemble and orchestral pieces. Here it underscores the rich, quasi-melodic character of the djembés and underscores Xenakis’ ability to incorporate new sonorities into his strikingly personal aesthetic.
That these colonial African drums could be so powerfully marshaled in a moment of fervent French nationalism could only have provided food for thought after the musical resonances had died away. Okho, in any case, lives on.
~ James Harley, Rovi
A note from the performers:
We were not the ones to come up with the arrangement – it has been done before mostly because classical trained percussionists do not have the hand drum technique and the ability to get all the different sounds of the djembe that Xenakis asks for. Also, the music resembles the material he uses in his percussion set-up piece Rebonds composed the same year. Through the use of different mallets (and even chop sticks!) we hope to bring a fresh and vigorous performance of this wonderful trio.