ph 75

april 02, 2003.

"... day 14 ..."

As part of the celebrations to mark the 75th birthday of Pierre Henry(*), last weekend, on Saturday march 29th and Sunday 30th, the Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM) organized four concerts in the salle Olivier Messiaen of the Maison Radio France.

I missed Sunday's concerts (with 'Fragments pour Artaud' (1970), 'Faits divers 2003' (new work), 'Pierre réfléchies' (1982), 'Duo' (new work) and 'Prisme' (1973)), but I managed to be there on Saturday.

Mr. Henry himself was behind the controls, and did the mix ('direction sonore').
At 18h30 there was a rendition of Futuristie, Henry's 1975 hommage to Luigi Russolo, followed at 20h30 by the premiere of a new piece, commissioned by Radio France, entitled Labyrinthe !.
The stage was filled with tens of loudspeakers in many different sizes, and at the beginning of each of saturday's two concerts the gray-bearded sounds-man appeared from behind the salle's wonderful pipe-organ, halted a bit amidst all those boxes to receive the audience's applause, then stepped off of the stage and walked up to the controles of the mixing console.

The quality of the sound was breathtaking, and they were wonderful sounds, though in several parts I, somewhat to my own surprise, was not too keen on the music they made.

In large parts of these two pieces Pierre Henry transforms the (concrete) sounds he uses way beyond all possible recognition, thus working with electronically manipulated material, that is pretty much indistiguishable from electronically generated one. Now, really, I have nothing against electronics or against electronic music, but the force of 'concrete sounds', to me, is to a great extend their 'realness' ... which necessarily includes some degree of 'recognizability', some degree of 'hey, this sounds just like ...'
I guess PH will not agree?
My favourite part this saturday: a part of Labyrinthe !, in which classical symphonic music was peeping from behind, and often largely obscured by, [a sonic eauivalent to] metal-woven curtains (at the time I thought of it as the sound of 'chain saws'). If I'm not mistaken the classical music was [fragments taken from] the magnificent ocean-like waves of horn and string sound that constitute the prelude to Richard Wagner's 'Rheingold' - or otherwise Henry's sounds were brilliantly suggesting the Wagner piece to me, which in turn might just be induced by the fact that 'Rheingold' is a favorite piece of mine ...
Yes! These sorts of reflections, such 'chains of thought' ...

(In an interview with Iara Lee, from september 1997, he says: "[Musique concrète i]s a music that is connected to photography, to cinema, a little to literature [...]" Maybe part of the difference between our views can be pretty well characterized by the fact that I would most definitely have skipped the 'a little' in this phrase ... nay, I'd happily replace 'a little' by a lot ... [ which, mind you, does not imply that I consider musique concrète to be at its best when accompanied by play or recitation -- au contraire ! ... ] :-)

It is the music of memory.

(*)PH was born, just like me, on a 9th of december, though, dating back to 1927, he's been around quite a bit longer than I have. In the interview with Iara Lee, when asked whether, in the early days of 'inventing' with Pierre Schaeffer, musique concrète 'stood alone', Pierre Henry rather curiously answers: "We were isolated. [...] There was John Cage whom I didn't know. And Stockhausen was much younger." ... Stockhausen, as a matter of fact, was born in 1928... :-)

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