Monday, May 04, 2009

the king of beards & concrete mixers: pierre henry

"... Everyone should try to attend a performance by Henry at least once. It's the kind of experience you emerge from believing you will never quite hear sounds in the same way again. Attendance should be mandatory for every every indie rock musician, just so they realise the utter futility of their existence."

(from this page at The Guardian. I thought of it tonight, when I was confronted by some Facebook spam: 'Ian Wadley would like you to become a fan of ian w'... sorry, but I'd honestly rather not. Instead, I hope that Ian enjoys a long hard listen to everything that Pierre Henry has ever recorded.)

I heard something like 40 concerts in Europe, & by a country-simple reckoning the 2 diffusions I caught from Pierre Henry were way-and-ahead the highlights (this includes a 4hr set by Kocani Orkestar in an old factory, 2000 wasted Croats & I dancing on a floor of broken glass - sufficiently so that a white line (salt!) around the legs of my jeans marked the extent of that night's saturated sweat...)

The Henry gigs were the centrepiece of the last 2 nights of a week honouring the memory of the French choreographer, Maurice Bejart, for whom Henry had been composing since the 1950s. The image above is Bejart & Michele Seigneuret dancing for Henry & Schaeffer's Symphonie pour un homme seul, in 1955 (colour stills below are from Louis Cluny's stunning film of the following year).

Each of the 6 Henry diffusions is a different 1hr set: a near-complete survey of his works that Bejart had adapted for dance. The earliest 50s pieces are convulsively dynamic - servomechanical sounds & brut-harsh edits, with audio principally generated on prepared piano. Pieces from later that decade suggest what was to follow in the 1960s: oscillator sweeps & sine waves enter the mix, as the pieces become more textural & less frenetic, making greater use of audio filters, albeit still punctuated by artful 'noises'. Beyond this span of years are a handful of more populist anomalies - Messe pour le temps present, the Rock electronique finale of La Reine verte, and the cartoon SFX-enhanced Tokyo 2002. (this last, by way of an unscheduled encore on the closing night, as a rejoinder to the capacity audience's rapturous applause).

Pierre Henry is on his way to his 82nd birthday; his age is starting to show. He gets about in a wheelchair, mostly, then discreetly shuffles his way to the mixing desk, front of stage, after the audience have taken their seats. Despite his years, he seems (in conversation with what I think was his daughter, Isabelle) completely lucid. As much as it must have pained him, he struggled to takes his bows after the show; clearly, he loves the attention of his audience. At the conclusion of the 5th evening, I figured these concerts to be a public swansong - but after witnessing him sympathetically bouncing in his seat to Psyche Rock the following night, I felt little doubt that Henry will be stalking concerthalls for as long as he's physically able. By the end of that piece, and the closing Tokyo 2002, all 24 faders had found their way to maximum volume.

(Henry working with the Bejart company in 1977: Machine Danse)
Opening performance each night was Futago for 2 dancers, choreographed by Bejart-veteran Emmanuele Huyn to Henry's Psyche Rock: absolutely ridiculous, I was desperately choking back laughter (& arrived sufficiently late on the final night to be able to miss it altogether). Far more convincing is the evening closer in Bejart's choreography for Variations pour une porte et un soupir, performed by the National Opera Ballet of the Rhine.

Bejart's choreography is informed by contemporaneous (1965) aleatory principles: each of the 7 dancers draws a numbered piece of paper from a glass box at the start of the evening's performance. That draw determines which dancers (or 'Rien', none, or 'Tous', all) will perform to each movement of the work.

The dancers perform physical improvisations from their repertoire; sometimes incorporating the chairs, or the supine bodies of non-performing colleagues, as props. Across the 2 nights, its possible to see both the range of individual gestures that the dancers are able to bring to Henry's composition, as well as the collaborative moves they test on each other (Respirations one night sees all 7 dancers united in an unwieldy spider-like huddle - a beast with 7 backs).

Interviews with Pierre Henry, here and here

Annotated biography listing his opus

more on this season (in French) can be found here, here and here. Contrary to advertised program, the diffusion of the 27 Avril soiree was Variance II, Coexistence, Signes, and Rock electronique (from La Riene verte), rather than Le Voyage.
Liberation also ran a pre-show piece

useful post

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