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“Pleiades” (1979) by Iannis Xenakis


“Pleiades (1979)” by Iannis Xenakis

Performed by So Percussion and the Meehan/Perkins Duo

Mallet Selection for this Piece:


Terry Gibbs Signature (M31)

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Tim Genis Signature (TG02)

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Wooden Timpani Mallet (T5)

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World Premier: Mulhouse, 3 May 1979 with the Ballet du Rhin
Duration: 43’40
Composed: 1979
Commissioned by: City of Strasbourg
Dedicated to: Percussions de Strasbourg

The term the Pleiades normally refers to the cluster of sparkling stars in the right shoulder of the Taurus constellation. In the Northern Hemisphere, the Pleiades are visible only in winter. With a telescope dozens of stars can be seen, of which only six can be picked out by the naked eye as well as a slight milky mist in the same area. According to Greek mythology, this cluster of stars represents the seven sisters or Pleiades, servants of Artemis, Goddess of the Moon. One of the sisters, Electra, was said to have disappeared in the form of a comet, tormented with sorrow after the siege and destruction of the city of Troy built by her son Dardanus, victim of the famous ruse of the Wooden Horse of Troy. The whiteness and the mist in which the Pleiades appear is said to be the result of the tears wept by the six sisters abandoned by Electra.

Iannis Xenakis (born in 1922) composed “Pléïades” over the years 1978 -79 on a commission from the City of Strasbourg. This piece was played for the first time by the Percussions de Strasbourg at a concert with the Ballet du Rhin on 3 May 1979. The title Pléïades refers to the six members of the Percussions de Strasbourg. But for Xenakis, the reference to the multiplicity of existence seems to be more important. The very essence of this piece rests on the fact that it cannot be limited to one simple definition.

“Pléïades” is already full of very rich sounds. The instruments used range from keyboards to various percussion instruments including the “sixxen” – a percussion instrument specially created for this composition. The piece is divided into four parts whose titles refer to the materials from which the instruments are made and to the sounds that the latter produce. Listening to the sixxen immediately makes us think of the Indonesian gamelan, in particular those from Bali, and of the instruments used in festive music in Japan, of Mediterranean church bells and Alpine cowbells. The richness of the sixxen’s timbre is in a way the expression of the different types of life led by Man and of which the metals are an integral part. Whilst giving absolute freedom to the concept of a multiplicity of existence, Xenakis has succeeded in imposing a rule of diversity and unity in the temporal structure of his quest for the creation of a single, unique composition.

The only source of these polyrythmics is the idea of periodicity, repetition, duplication, recurrence, faithful, pseudo-faithful and unfaithful copying.


Iannis Xenakis (May 29, 1922 – February 4, 2001) was an ethnic Greek, naturalized French composer, music theorist, and architect-engineer. He is commonly recognized as one of the most important post-war avant-garde composers.Xenakis pioneered the use of mathematical models such as applications of set theory, varied use of stochastic processes, game theory, etc., in music, and was also an important influence on the development of electronic music.

Among his most important works are Metastaseis (1953–4) for orchestra, which introduced independent parts for every musician of the orchestra; percussion works such as Psappha (1975) and Pléïades (1979); compositions that introduced spatialization by dispersing musicians among the audience, such as Terretektorh (1966); electronic works created using Xenakis’s UPIC system; and the massive multimedia performances Xenakis called polytopes. Among the numerous theoretical writings he authored, the book Formalized Music: Thought and Mathematics in Composition(1971) is regarded as one of his most important. As an architect, Xenakis is primarily known for his early work under Le Corbusier: the Sainte Marie de La Tourette, on which the two architects collaborated, and the Philips Pavilion at Expo 58, which Xenakis designed alone.


So is: Eric Beach, Josh Quillen, Adam Sliwinski, and Jason Treuting

For over a decade, So Percussion has redefined the modern percussion ensemble as a flexible, omnivorous entity, pushing its voice to the forefront of American musical culture. Praised by the New Yorker for their “exhilarating blend of precision and anarchy, rigor and bedlam,” So’s adventurous spirit is written into the DNA passed down from composers like John Cage and Steve Reich, as well as from pioneering ensembles like the Kronos Quartet and Nexus Percussion. So Percussion’s career now encompasses 13 albums, touring throughout the USA and around the world, a dizzying array of collaborative projects, several ambitious educational programs, and a steady output of their own music.

When the founding members of So Percussion convened as graduate students at the Yale School of Music, their initial goal was to present an exciting repertoire of pieces by 20th century luminaries such as Cage, Reich, and Iannis Xenakis. An encounter with David Lang, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer and co-founder of New York’s Bang on a Can organization, yielded their first commissioned piece: the 36 minute, three movement the so-called laws of nature. Since that first major new work, So has commissioned some of the greatest American composers of our time to build a new repertoire, including Steve Reich, Steve Mackey, Paul Lansky, Martin Bresnick, and many others.

Over time, an appetite for boundless creativity lead the group to branch out beyond the composer/interpreter paradigm. Since 2006 with group member Jason Treuting’s amid the noise, the members of So Percussion have been composing in their own right within the group and for others. In 2012 their third evening-length work Where (we) Live premieres at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, travelling to the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s 30th Next Wave Festival and the Myrna Loy Center in Helena, MT. Where (we) Live follows on the heels of 2009’s Imaginary City, a fully staged sonic meditation on urban soundscapes. In 2011, So was commissioned by Shen Wei Dance Arts to compose Undivided Divided, a 30-minute work conceived for Manhattan’s massive Park Avenue Armory.

So Percussion’s artistic circle extends beyond their contemporary classical roots. They first expanded this boundary with the prolific duo Matmos, whom The New York Times called “ideal collaborators” on their 2010 combined album Treasure State. Further projects and appearances with Wham City shaman Dan Deacon, legendary drummer Bobby Previte, jam band kings Medeski, Martin, and Wood, and Wilco’s Glenn Kotche drew the circle even wider. In 2011, the rock band The National invited So to open one of their sold-out shows at New York’s Beacon Theater.

So’s recording of the so-called laws of nature became the cornerstone of their self-titled debut album on Cantaloupe Music (the record label from the founders of Bang on a Can) in 2004. In subsequent years, this relationship blossomed into a growing catalogue of exciting records. In 2011, So released six new albums, ranging from their definitive recording of Steve Reich’s Mallet Quartet – composed for them in 2009 – on Nonesuch Records, to Steve Mackey’s epic quartet It Is Time on Cantaloupe, to their collaborative album Bad Mango with jazz trumpeter Dave Douglas on Greenleaf Music. The BBC raved of So’s performance of Mallet Quartet that they “have it nailed, finding both the inner glow and the outer edge, and never letting the tapestry lapse into the flat or routine.”

So Percussion is heavily involved in mentoring young musicians. Its members are Co-Directors of a new percussion department at the Bard College-Conservatory of Music. This top-flight undergraduate program enrolls each student in a double-degree (Bachelor of Music and Bachelor of Arts) course in the Conservatory and Bard College, equipping them with elite conservatory training and a broad liberal arts education. In 2009, they created the annual So Percussion Summer Institute on the campus of Princeton University. The Institute is an intensive two-week chamber music seminar for college-age percussionists featuring the four members of So as faculty in rehearsal, performance, and discussion of contemporary music for students from around the world. During the 2011-2012 academic year, So was an ensemble-in-residence at Princeton University, teaching seminars and collaborating extensively with talented student composers.

So has been featured at many of the major venues in the United States, including Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center, the Brooklyn Academy of Music, Stanford Lively Arts, Texas Performing Arts, and many others. In addition, a recent residency at London’s Barbican Centre, as well as tours to Western Europe, South America, Russia, and Australia have brought them international acclaim.

So would like to thank Pearl/Adams Instruments, Zildjian cymbals, Vic Firth drumsticks, Remo drumheads, Black Swamp Accessories, and Estey organs for their sponsorship.


Since its founding in 2006, the Meehan/ Perkins Duo (Todd Meehan and Doug Perkins) has redefined the American percussion duo through its diverse commissions and engaging performances. The Duo has been called “superb young players” by the New Yorker and “gifted percussionists” by the Wall Street Journal. Dedicated to creating a new body of work for the percussion duo genre, to date the Duo has collaborated with composers David Lang, Paul Lansky, Nathan Davis, John Supko, and Matt McBane to expand the repertoire and produce eclectic new acoustic and electro-acoustic works for percussion. The Duo has shared this music with audiences throughout the country and abroad, including performances at Weill Recital Hall, the Ojai Music Festival, Monadnock Music, the Yellow Barn Festival, the International Festival-Institute at Round Top, the Stone, the Percussive Arts Society International Convention, and at dozens of universities and conservatories. In December 2010 the Duo performed and taught in St. Petersburg and Petrozavodsk, Russia.

The Duo is currently undertaking its largest commissioning project to date, engaging composer Jonathan Leshnoff for a Concerto for Percussion Duo and Orchestra. The work will be premiered in the 2011-2012 season with orchestras throughout the country. Leshnoff, whose music has been lauded by the Kansas City Star as “a diaphanous orchestral fabric of beautiful transparency,” is considered one of America’s most gifted young composers.

February 2011 marks the release a groundbreaking recording of largely unknown percussion music from the 1930s on New World Records. The project is a collaboration between the MPDuo and the Baylor Percussion Group and features the complete percussion works of Johanna Beyer along with works by John J. Becker, Henry Cowell, Harold Davidson, Gerald Strang, Ray Green, and Doris Humphrey. The Duo’s second recording will be released in the fall of 2011 on Bridge Records and will feature works written for the Duo by David Lang and Paul Lansky, as well as electro-acoustic works by Nathan Davis and Tristan Perich.

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