Xenakis's Transfer: The transdisciplinary compositional thinking as an inference-transfer process.


Xenakis's Transfer: The transdisciplinary compositional thinking as an inference-transfer process.
Colloque International : De Xenakis à nos jours : Le Continuum et son développement en musique et en architecture


In his book «Revealing Architectural Design: Methods, Frameworks and Tools”, Philip Plowright explains that every knowledge coming from an external discipline needs to be translated in order to be used as a designs principle in other discipline. This translation of knowledge process is called domain-to-domain transfer or inference transfer. Them, as it is known, architectural and musical composition are based on an internal syntax that incorporates its own knowledge, but they also infer external knowledge. So, in order to use external knowledge in architectural or in music syntaxes, it is necessary to translate these informations through an operation of domain-to-domain transfer. This is true not only for architecture and music, but for all disciplines.
Technically, in the inference transfer process, some selected content is brought forward from a source domain, mediated through a transfer frame, and then implied in the target domain. The validity, quality, and significance of the content in the target are dependent on the relevance of the relationship between itself and the content from the source. This activity can be frequently called an analogy, a metaphor, a homology, or a simile.

The primarily tool for thinking around an object, situation or application by the point of view of its potentially transfer principles is called first principles reduction. It is at the core of how information is moved between domains. The act of reduction begins to abstract an object or situation away from a particular disciplinary application to a more general statement. Once a general understanding of principles has been achieved, it is relatively easy to move those general principles across disciplines. The generic, generalized factors that are the result of a first principles reduction are not coded in any disciplinary language. They can be associated with a new domain and then expanded back to a particular application by applying deep discipline syntax.

As attested by Plowright, structure-mapping is a more intricate form of transfer through first principles reduction. In structure-mapping, the interest is in identifying strong relations between objects in a specific source domain in order to enrich the content of a target domain (architecture, music). A selected aspect of the source domain – which is a context, an event, or a situation – is ‘exploded’ into its component parts. This will include objects of the source domain, the attributes of those objects, and the relations between those objects. As explained by the author, the source frame holds content in its particular syntax, the transfer frame moves that content into general principles, and the target frame translates the general principles back to particular syntax but in a different domain of knowledge.

This paper proposes an analysis of the Xenakis compositional process through the inference-transfer methodology. In this aim we propose to analyze some works in which the composer has explicitly applied the transdisciplinarity between the musical and architectural domains in order to clarifies his process of thinking.


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Centre Iannis Xenakis
University of Cyprus
European University of Cyprus
Université de Rouen
École nationale supérieure d'architecture de Normandie (Darnétal, Seine-Maritime)


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Matos Rocha, Namur. Conférencier et University of Cyprus, “Xenakis's Transfer: The transdisciplinary compositional thinking as an inference-transfer process.,” Centre Iannis Xenakis., consulté le 19 juillet 2024, https://centre-iannis-xenakis.org/items/show/4098.