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17.1.12

Pierre Henry, 'Paroxysms'

As mentioned in Sunday's link round-up, French composer Pierre Henry, pioneer of musique concrète, has premiered a new work, Paroxysms. The concert happened in Tasmania, at the Mona Foma Festival in Hobart on Sunday, but Henry, now 84 years old, was not able to make the trip to Australia. With the help of Medici.tv, he would direct the concert by video hookup from his house, in the 12e arrondissement of Paris. People in the neighborhood were used to people visiting Henry's house, because he invites the public there to hear concerts of his music, so it was not surprising to see a large film crew there. In return, Medici.tv has made the concert and the footage of Henry available as a free online video stream. As the hour approached for the concert, Henry seemed unlikely to be able to participate, suffering from fever and breathing difficulty after several days with severe bronchitis. Pierre Gervasoni wrote about what happened in an article (Dans l'antre de Pierre Henry au moment de cuisiner, January 17) for Le Monde (my translation):
The festival's artistic director (Brian Ritchie, formerly the bassist of the underground group Violent Femmes and a long-time admirer of the music of Pierre Henry) let it be known that nothing was wrong with the audience in Australia waiting a bit for the start of the concert. Even as night fell (at 10 pm, local time), the weather was beautiful, and the thousands of young people gathered in the boathouse where a giant screen had been installed seemed (on webcam) as relaxed as the clothes they were wearing.

At ten minutes past noon, Pierre Henry caught his breath and managed to say, "Let's do it!" The kitchen emptied so that there was around Henry only a cameraman (who had to move around the composer like a pet on a leash) and yours truly, seated in a corner under an imposing Pee-Pod robotic camera. Pierre Henry leaned over his control board. That touch was going to give him little by little the energy that neither medicine or herbal concoctions had been able to provide. Guided by his infallible ear, the body of the performer came tolife. Something surprised him on his left: Pierre Henry turned suddenly toward a speaker that he pierced with a look like that of an orchestra conductor hearing a player making a mistake! He navigated his way through an ocean of unexpected sounds, including some notes of the shakuachi, a Japanese flute, sent to the composer by Brian Ritchie.
After sixty minutes, controlling the various sound levels, he set all the faders to zero and rested his hands on the control board. Gervasoni adds, "With his white beard and his wavy hair, he reminded me without question of Johannes Brahms." You can watch the video for yourself, at Medici.tv's Web site.

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