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Pierre Henry obituary

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    Posted: 12 Jul 2017 at 11:23am
Composer whose inventive work in the musique concrète genre saw him hailed as the grandfather of techno 

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Pierre Henry, who has died aged 89, was a key figure in the 1950s glory days of electroacoustic music, a term he may have invented. The tape recorder, newly developed at that time, opened the way to composing with any sound that could be recorded and thereafter transformed. It also changed the way composers could work, no longer creating music for others to perform but testing possibilities as they went and producing a finished composition within their own studios. The result was an art as different from concert music as film is from stage drama, and Henry took to it immediately.

Though he had a full classical training as a musician, he devoted himself wholeheartedly to electroacoustic work through a creative life of six and a half decades. He also realised that this new art needed new means of presentation: radio, albums (he released dozens) and public events.

Henry was born in Paris – his father, Georges, was a doctor, and his mother a pharmacist – and entered the Paris Conservatoire when he was nine, but was removed at the time of the German occupation. He returned in 1945 to study harmony with Olivier Messiaen, then percussion with Félix Passeronne. Percussion instruments appealed to him for their variety of sound, but in that respect they could hardly compete with the technology he discovered on joining Pierre Schaeffer’s studio at French radio in 1949.

Schaeffer, a recording engineer by training, had produced some short compositions with recorded sounds the year before. Henry, who had been working in the same direction himself, found his metier.

Seventeen years apart in age, the two men were poles apart in temperament, Schaeffer precise and dogmatic, Henry hands-on and ready for anything. They made a good team, though, and together created the first classics of what they called musique concrète – music that was “concrete” because it involved working directly with the sound material. This would come from recordings made in the studio (of voices, musical instruments and assorted objects) or found in the radio authority’s capacious library. Symphonie pour un Homme Seul (1950-51), their first big endeavour, is a sequence of short episodes, including “Valse” (with bursts from a music-hall orchestra) and “Erotica” (featuring a female voice). Techniques included playing tapes at different speeds, backwards or as loops.

The effect is at once alienated and intimately human, and it gave Henry his aesthetic for life. His sonic landscapes proceed as dreams, often in several layers placed at different distances from the listener, with events that behave perversely and characters who remain unseen. These landscapes offered sympathetic environments for the choreography of Maurice Béjart, with whom Henry worked many times, first on Batterie fugace (1954), then on a new version of Symphonie pour un homme seul the next year.

Schaeffer and Henry went on to produce Orphée 51, but Henry was already by far the more abundant creator, and in 1958 he left to form his own studio, APSOME (Applications de Procédés Sonores en Musique Électroacoustique). One point of difference with Schaeffer concerned sources, which for the senior man had to be sound recordings. Henry also recognised the importance of sounds synthesised in the studio by purely electronic means – an importance demonstrated by Stockhausen and others. He made the point in one of the first works he composed at his new, independent facility, Coexistence.

Messe pour le Temps Présent (1967), again composed for Béjart, in collaboration with a younger composer, Michel Colombier, brought Henry a whole new swath of admirers for its section Psyché Rock, which led to a record he made with the rock band Spooky ToothCeremony (1969). Three decades and more later came remixes of tracks from the Messe by Fatboy SlimMat Ducasse and William Orbit, and Dimitri from Paris. Henry became revered as the grandfather of techno, not entirely to his satisfaction.

Much more of his work, however, had to do with the immersive sound and aura of ritual he had found for Le Voyage (1962), drawing on the Tibetan Book of the Dead. In 1968 came L’Apocalypse de Jean, first presented within a 26-hour continuous all-Henry concert.

Henceforth his works were generally close to an hour or more in length; there were also two-hour pieces devised for staging, beginning with Kyldex I, presented at the Hamburg State Opera in 1973 with onstage cybernetic structures by Nicolas Schöffer and choreography by Alwin Nikolais.

Radio, however, continued to offer a more congenial home to an artist whose forte was drama for the ears and the imagination. There were big radio works based on Proust (Christal/Mémoire, 1988) and Lautréamont (Maldoror/Feuilleton, 1992) within a later output that included startling remixes (La Dixième Symphonie de Beethoven), concert works for venues ranging from Dijon churches (Lumières, 2003) to the Centre Pompidou (Un monde lacéré, 2008), and, in 2006, jingles for the new tram system in Mulhouse.

He is survived by his partner, Isabelle Warnier.

Pierre Georges Henry, composer, born 9 December 1927; died 5 July 2017

from www.theguardian.com

Edited by snobb - 12 Jul 2017 at 11:25am
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote js Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Jul 2017 at 11:51am
I had no idea he was still alive, very much a groundbreaking artist.
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