Autumn 2001 A4 44 pages
PIIRPAUKE - 25 Years
photocopy original (last 12 copies)
Example article extract
I'm sure I can say (without any chance of contradiction) that Pierre Henry is amongst the most influential and innovative of new-music explorers from the 20th Century. In fact, for over half that Century Pierre had been constantly at the forefront of invention, and he's still making waves. The very nature of his musical exploration, the way he crosses genres, means he's always a source of surprising new inventions.
So, celebrating his genius and creativity, here I'll attempt to demystify his history and examine his back-catalogue of releases. This is no easy task, however, as his history is not that well documented in English, and his discography is complexly confused! I once tried to meet up with Pierre when in Paris, but (when talking to him on the phone) his English proved to be only as good as my French, and nothing came of it. So, excuse the vagaries of some of it, and revel at this man's invention!
What is Musique Concrète? Never heard of it before? Pierre Henry said that Musique Concrète is "sound created by man, turned into something else impossible for man to play" that it is "an art of architecture, of construction, of synthesis... the consciousness of the element, the sound object... the birth of a paradox" otherwise it is the art of sound, deconstructed and reconstructed, so that what started as one thing becomes something completely different.
However, it wasn't Pierre Henry that coined the term, but one Pierre Schaeffer, a sound technician at Radio-diffusion-Télévision Français (RTF), who had experimented (as early as 1948) with creating collages, loops and such-like, by recording directly onto vinyl records, with the Disque Souple recorder. Simple examples of Musique Concrète created like this are Schaeffer's "Etudes" (to quote Paul Griffiths) "Each of his pieces was based on sounds from a particular source, such as railway trains or the piano, and the recordings were transformed by his playing them at various speeds, forwards or in reverse, isolating fragments and superimposing one sound on another. It was Schaeffer's aim thus to free his material from its native associations, and he made the important discovery that this could be done by removing the opening instants of a sound... A bell stroke, for example, deprived of its beginning sounds more like an organ note."
After the broadcast of Schaeffer's "Concert of Noises" on RTF Radio, 5 October 1948, he was instantly the centre of attention amongst younger avant-gardists keen to learn these new techniques of sound creation. The most eager of all was Pierre Henry, who stayed to work permanently at the RTF with Schaeffer. For a while, the RTF became the place to work in this new medium, Olivier Messiaen created his "Timbres Durées" there in 1952, and others like Boulez, Stockhausen and Barrraqué produced their own "Studies". Apparently, however, most didn't get on with Schaeffer's approach with sound manipulation, nor his disregard of serial music form. Pierre Henry, however, saw it all as a field for new opportunities, and was a quick learner!
Historical timeline 1950-59...
1927 - 9 December: born, in Paris.
1934 - starts musical studies, aged 7.
1943 - graduates at the Conservatoire National de Musique de Paris, attending classes with Olivier Messiaen and other notorieties.
1944 - first instrumental compositions.
1945-51 - embarks on a career as an orchestra musician, playing primarily percussion and piano.
1950-51 - Pierre Henry starts working at the RTF. Most early works were made by manipulation of specially prepared records.
1950 - 5 January, first completed Pierre Henry recording "Bidule en Ut" made in collaboration with Pierre Schaeffer.
1950 - 18 March, debut Schaeffer/Henry: "Symphonie Pour Un Homme Seul" billed as first ever concert of Musique Concrète (composed as 22 mouvements, but reduced to 14) broadcast on RTF Radio, 17 July 1950.
1950 - 7 May-9 June, composition and creation of "Concerto des Ambiguités", broadcast on RTF Radio 7 August 1950.
1950 - 12/13 June, concerts: Florence, Paris.
1950 - July/August, realisation of "Musique sans Titre" broadcast on RTF Radio with presentation by Olivier Messiaen, 21 Sept. 1951.
1950 - 6 November, delivery of the first tape recorder at Studio d'Essai, debuting with the work "Tam Tam IV" in December 1950.
1951 - January-July, realisation of various drama/incidental music works for RTF's archive. "Tabou Clarion" broadcast by RTF Radio. Various other works completed, performances at concerts and festivals.
1951 - 13
September, Pierre Schaeffer proudly establishes the...
1952 - the development of special studio tape machines like the "Phonogène" a loop player with 12-16 recording/playback heads, operable with a manual keyboard!
1952 - February, realisation of "Timbres-Durée" by Olivier Messiaen.
1952 - 21/23/25 May, performances at the "Concert pour l'Oeuvre du XXe Siècle" presided by Igor Stravinsky.
1953 - March, creation of the soundtrack to "Astrologie", a film by Jean Grémillon.
1954 - 14 June, debut concert in London at the Adelburgh Festival.
1954 - October, Pierre collaborates with Edgar Varèse on the realisation of his electroacoustic work "Désert".
1955 - 12 May, first dance performance by Maurice Béjart with Musique Concrète.
1955 - 26 July, first choreographed performance of: "Symphonie Pour Un Homme Seul" with Maurice Béjart.
1956 - April, Pierre does his first serious experiments in 12 voice polyphony using the "Phonogène".
1956 - Summer, composition & performance of "Haut Voltage".
1957 - September- November, tour with Maurice Béjart's ballet troupe: Germany, Ireland, Switzerland and Belgium.
1958 - Summer, composition and performance of "Orphée" ballet with Maurice Béjart.
1958 - November-December, tour with Maurice Béjart's ballet troupe: Germany, Switzerland, France and Belgium.
From the very beginning, a free thinker, Pierre Henry was proposing concepts such as music that was the "harmony of the spheres" and suggested the concept of "cosmic music" in his 1950 lecture on new-music at the Conservatoire in Paris. Though, it took him a lot of research and development of technique to get towards this goal.
Much of Pierre Henry’s early work was pretty crude. Such explorative works involved sounds created by abusing the innards of a piano, percussion (drums, gongs, snares, sound sculptures) and vocal expressions, sometimes focusing on one sound object, and on other works (especially the major ones) building up a whole palette of perplexingly strange sounds. Other elements also play their part: bizarre humour in "Vocalises", jazz music in "Tabou Clairon", and some of it is purely what we'd call Dada. I recall, after buying the album ELEKTRONICKA HUDBA, playing the "Le voile d'Orphee" extracts to Nurse With Wound's Steve Stapleton, he was awed at the similarity to some of his own work, so wild, freaky and eccentric. Pierre had been at it long before Steve was born!
Virtually all Pierre Henry's completed works from this period were collated and issued as the 3CD set DES ANNÉS 50, which amounts to an extraordinary listening experience, almost 3½ hours worth! It was a great revelation, to be able to hear all these early works complete, only Schaeffer/Henry's "Symphonie Pour Un Homme Seul" had been on CD already, and the MICROPHONE BIEN TEMPÉRÉ LP had eluded us. Talking of the latter, these recordings amount to the basest elements of Musique Concrète, as percussion and piano recordings altered with only minimal manipulation, and aptly titled as the "Well tempered Microphone" they amount to Pierre Henry's equivalents to Schaeffer's "Studie" series. It's all remarkable stuff though, especially so "Voile d'Orphee" (a sound poem of real depth, invention and underlying humour), "Kesquidi" (purely eccentric and really twisted), "Spatiodynamisme" (the first serious step towards cosmic music), and the extraordinary "Haut-Voltage" - these are all remarkably fresh, even today. Some of the other earlier works are purely base studies, the roots of ideas he would develop more later, and even those are interesting historically.
Considering the constraints of working in a national radio & TV studio (sound effects and editing were his official duties, I gather) it's amazing that Pierre managed to create so much during the 50's, especially considering how costly recording media would have been at the time. In America, the only person to gain so much freedom was Tod Dockstader (he worked as a soundman at Warner Bros). The equivalent in Britain was the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, yet no one there was allowed to spend the licence payer's money on their own projects. Pierre was indeed fortunate!
But, after numerous years of working in the normal academic field, along
with Pierre Schaeffer (and his "official teachings" of
Article by Alan Freeman
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