from Xenakis to the present: the Continuum in music and architecture

Since the Classical era and the Middle Ages, and in particular since Plato’s Timeus, the concept of continuum has preoccupied thinkers. In the early 20th century, this notion was reactivated by the theory of relativity as well as other theories such as the uncertainty principle, changing our perception of the world, and consequently artistic discourse. Even if this upheaval corresponded to technological advances on the one hand and the collapse of the romantic model on the other hand, it was only around the middle of the 20th century that artists adopted these new physical and metaphysical concepts, prompting new creative tools, especially in music and architecture.

We propose to examine where we are today in terms of the concept of continuum, both in theory and in practice. An interdisciplinary approach will enable us to evaluate the relevancy of this notion, comparing and contrasting it with other methodologies, during this international conference organized in partnership with the European University of Cyprus (Cultural Studies and Contemporary Arts research laboratory (CSCA) and University of Cyprus (Architecture Dept.), the Centre Iannis Xenakis, the GRHIS (Université de Rouen), ENSA Normandie. Parallel to our interrogations, two concerts  will be hosted inspired by the sound continuum.

The continuum emerges as a new musical preoccupation at the beginning of the 20th century with string glissandi in Bartók’s music, Julián Carrillo’s extreme microtonality, Henry Cowell’s conception of continuous harmonic rhythm, in addition to Wyschnegradsky’s ultrachromaticism and pansonority. Beginning in the 1950s, the continuum theme manifests itself in Xenakis’s theoretical and technological research as well as in his compositions, in Ligeti’s polyphonic and polyrhythmic textures, in Nancarrow’s rhythm-sound alloys, as well as in Scelsi’s explorations of continual transitions within a single sound.

In architecture, Iannis Xenakis sought to make sound and light materials palpable both in their ability to create a receptacle as well as in their ability to occupy space. The developments of new materials, often hybrids, as well as the evolution of computer and digital technologies now enable one to pursue a projective critical practice, sculpting the sound space all while enhancing perception from different perspectives.

In 1958, the Philips Pavilion initiated what Xenakis called “electronic architecture” where its plastic continuum binds walls and ceilings in global envelope. Such architectural forms, thought of as uninterrupted volume, can be found at the time by certain architects – for example Pier Luigi Nervi or Félix Candela – and more recently others, in architectures designed using computer modeling and “layerings”.

Layering  of planes and spaces emerge in the work of well-known architects allowing a ‘journey’ through spaces and creating  spatial continuum. Transparency in architecture allows for two objects to co-exist in the same space and time. As such, transparency has often been described as a space-time condition of “betweeness” where interpenetration of figures and objects results in a simultaneous perception of different spatial locations where space  fluctuates in a continuous activity.

Spatial continuity between rooms either by omitting walls or by piercing them with wide openings  creates spatial continuities and articulates layered compositions. Adolf Loos for example states that his architecture is not conceived in plan, but rather in terms of spaces or cubes, hence the Raum–plan, which achieves a merging of spaces into a continuous space. Referring to the work of Le Corbusier, Giedion points to the notion of spatial interpenetration where boundaries are blurred and spatial continuum prevails.

Whether in a linear yet composite format, or in a layered deep configuration, whether involving sounds or visual assemblages, whether these are ‘found’ or ‘ designed’, we invite musicians, architects, artists, theorists and anyone who is interested to share with us their work related on the topic by submitting  an abstract.