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Pierre Henry at 80

Pierre HenryPierre Henry was the composer half of the innovative team, with radio engineer Pierre Schaeffer (1910-1995), who pioneered musique concrète in Paris just after the end of WWII. Henry is still very active as a composer and an artist, and as mentioned at Ionarts in 2005, he has been premiering some new works lately in semi-public auditions in his Paris apartment (pictured). This is almost a month late, but Henry celebrated his 80th birthday on December 9, and Bertrand Dicale wrote an article about it (Pour ses 80 ans, Pierre Henry surprend encore, December 10) in Le Figaro (my translation and links added):

"Ah, at the moment, I am working hard, it's true!" With an old wizard's beard, John Lennon glasses, and a kind uncle's smile, Pierre Henry is celebrating his 80th birthday with a profusion of events: a concert on Radio France, a new 3-CD set of unheard and mostly recent works called 8.0, the release of a CD called Compilation amoureuse in tribute to Maurice Béjart, the film Pierre Henry ou l’art des sons shown on Arte [Ionarts review forthcoming], the composition of Grand jeu (to be premiered in March at the Cité de la musique), and the deposit of all of his sound archives at the Bibliothèque nationale de France. "Eighty years old is a fateful date," he says, as if to excuse himself for this extended activity which would exhaust a young man.

He is a Commander of the Légion d’honneur, celebrated everywhere in the world, sells more recordings than his fellow contemporary composers, but does not stay in one place. In Histoire naturelle, one of the works he has just released a recording of, he makes use of bits of traditional music which, at times, seems to be a step toward a return to harmony, if not the "music of notes" from which he broke away in the 1940s. "It's a trend: I intend to go toward the agreement of sounds with one another. I make electronic music, but analogy is for me a law. I read a lot of analogical dictionaries, too. That's what interests me: the sponsorship of one sound by another sound, by its nature, its vibrations, its heights."
Pierre Henry:
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Messe pour le temps présent

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Voyage initiatique

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Intérieur Extérieur
Dominique Simonet reviewed Henry's 80th birthday concert in the Salle Olivier Messiaen, at La Maison de Radio France in Paris's 16th arrondissement (Pierre Henry, l'ingénieux du son, December 11), for La Libre Belgique (my translation):
Concert? Composition? In the world of electronic and computer music, these words have an unusual meaning: each time, the work has been generated in advance, with Pierre Henry happily mining his library of sounds containing some 50,000 files. On the stage, more than a hundred loudspeakers make up the orchestra, or acousmonium, used for the spatialization of sound. Etienne Bultingaire, sound engineer and musician, has been with Pierre Henry for 17 years: "Each loudspeaker has a sonic color. During the execution of the work on stage, a single sound can go through several different loudspeakers, rendering the music readable by different plans and counterplans. The attack can be found in one place, the body of the sound and its reverberation elsewhere." That is the entire interest of hearing it live as opposed to the work on disc.

The three compositions presented on Sunday night are very different. The first, Phrases de quatuor [Quartet phrases], refers to Franz Schubert, with whom Pierre Henry like to say he has those round metal glasses in common (and what about John Lennon?). It is not only an uncompleted quartet, but also the magnificent C major quintet, op. 163, which serve as the basis for this sonorous landscape both meditative and tormented. A big-engined car passes by, which is not the only mark of humor crossing the perception, because there is something poignant, if not overwhelming, in this organized chaos.
Although Pierre Henry might seem marginal and remote from a certain perspective, his work has been extremely influential because of collaborations with much more popular musicians. His most famous piece of music may be the 1967 song Psyché Rock, from a collaboration with the late Maurice Béjart called Les Jerks Electroniques. In 1997, Fatboy slim remixed that song, a version that was later recycled as the credit music for the American television show Futurama.

Psyché Rock by Pierre Henry

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