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23.3.05

New Work by Pierre Henry

For whatever reason, the name of Pierre Henry (b. 1927) is usually mentioned second, or not at all, after that of Pierre Schaeffer (1910–1995) in discussions of the development of what they called musique concrète. Schaeffer was a radio engineer, but Henry was the trained musician (including formal study with Messiaen and Nadia Boulanger) who collaborated with him in the organization they founded together, the Groupe de recherches musicales (GRM). They broke new ground in electronic music, by remixing found sounds, in their Symphonie pour un homme seul (1949-50) and other works.

Pierre Henry at home, 2005, photo by Patrick MessinaWell, Pierre Henry is now in his 70s and is still going strong. (See Ios Smolders, Interview with Pierre Henry [Vital Magazine, issue 44, 1995], for more information.) In fact, he is premiering his new piece, Voyage initiatique, at his home in Paris until March 27 (this Sunday, which happens to be Easter). (When you order a ticket online, they will tell you where to go: it's in the Picpus neighborhood, and that's all I know.) This is the third such home concert for Henry, after Intérieur/Extérieur (1996) and Dracula (2002).

The first review I read was by Pierre Gervasoni (Pierre Henry, musique d'intérieur, March 17) for Le Monde. He says that about 50 people are allowed into the apartment building for a half-hour. They are allowed to walk freely about the building and choose a room to hear the new piece, with a break about halfway through if they want to switch rooms. The composer himself remains in his ground-floor studio, where the audience is not allowed to enter. Henry's assemblage pieces (he is also an artist) are displayed on the walls, including one described by Gervasoni:

These systematic assemblages of various objects (screws, magnetic tape spools, transistor circuits, copper wires) recall the work of Arman, sometimes with a musical theme, like the collage of Wagner portraits accented with kitchen knifes and the warning "Sonnez SVP, chien méchant!" [Please ring the bell: beware of dog!]
Bertrand Dicale also wrote an article (Pierre Henry: La musique concrète à la maison, March 14) for RFI:
Pierre Henry does not speak of notes. He speaks only of sounds. These days, he is premiering Voyage initiatique in his extravagant house in the 12th arrondissement of Paris. "I wanted my sounds to be closer to the heart and soul and less close to the body. With Voyage initiatique, I'm looking for truly happy music, truly calm, a music that has to do with the thoughts of Marc Aurèle, with Zen meditation, and with a personal peace that I am learning little by little—by necessity, since my sixty years of music are going to lead me inexorably toward death, at least to physical death. Voyage initiatique is a way to comfort myself." To the ears, we recognize a sanza, sounds of pygmy polyphony, traditional drum sounds, which seem to come from Far East devotional chant, fragments of ethnic or religious music from Africa and Asia. Plus there are cracking sounds, clicking, whistling, fluids sounds, croaking, the usual stuff, one might say, in the music of Pierre Henry, the most famous composer of musique concrète.
There are two other articles about the new piece: Bertrand Dicale, Pierre Henry, en complicité (Le Figaro, March 10); and Eric Dahan, Pierre Henry se patine sans lâcher les platines (Libération, March 14). The CD of Voyage initiatique is already available from Amazon.fr. On April 3, Pierre Henry will present another new work, Comme une symphonie at the Amiens Jazz Festival, as part of the celebrations for the Jules Verne Year (he died in 1905), being celebrated in Amiens and Nantes.

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