Henri Chopin (1922-2008)

An Interview with Henri Chopin (April 3, 1972)

An interview with Henri Chopin and his family, recorded by Charles Amirkhanian and Carol Law at Chopin’s home in Ingatestone, Essex, on April 3, 1972. Chopin’s English wife Jean assists in translating from French to English during this discussion about Chopin’s early work, influences, and recent publications. Also joining in the discussion is Chopin’s daughter Brigitte who is also an artist. Henri Chopin was an active member of the French avant-garde from at least 1950 until his death in 2008. Chopin was a pioneer in the field of musique concrète and sound poetry being one of the first to recognize the potential for such creations when the first tape recorders became available to consumers. Chopin also published a magazine called “OU”, the premiere publication for visual or concrete poetry, from his home in England. “OU” also often included a record of sound poetry with each issue. Chopin died in 2008.

Cantata for Two Farts & Co.

  1. Cantata For Two Farts And Juan Carlos I (11:48)

  2. Les Chuitantes Respirent (9:50)

  3. Throat Power (10:30)

  4. Vertigo Du Vertige (11:00)

Henri Chopin Cantata for Two Farts & Co. LP. Edition of 80 copies with new labels. Henri Chopin presents previously unreleased audiopoems as well as the reprint of two pieces from the Radiotaxi LP (the tracks taken from Radiotaxi are here presented for the first time mastered at the correct speed)

Les Mirifiques Tundras & Co.

  1. La Digestion (14:06)

  2. Les Pirouettes Vocales Pour Les Pirouettements Vocaux (5:41)

  3. Les Souffles Des Tempêtes (14:15)

Henri Chopin Les Mirifiques Tundras & Co.. Original pre-released edition of 80 copies on yellow vinyl, never offered before. Extreme voice sound manipulations. Somehow in the vein of Hodell Text-Sound composition, just more primitive and visceral.

Various Tracks

1. La civilisation du papier (1975), 7:07

2. Extrême Tension (1974), 4:30

3. Henri Chopin | Définition des Lettres Suivantes (1975), 5:33

4. Henri Chopin | Audiopoems, Part 1

5. Henri Chopin | Audiopoems, Part 2

1. Rouge (1956)
2. Dynamisme intégral (1973)
3. French Lesson (1974)
4. Double Extension (1970), Voice: HC, electronic composition: Sten Hanson
5. Hoppa Bock (1970)
6. Pêche de Nuit (1957)
7. Tête á Tête (1971-73), Sten Hanson and Henri Chopin
8. L'Agrippe des Droits (1980), for Christian Clozier
6. "L'énergie du sommeil" Audio-poème (1965)

7. "Indicatif 1" Audio-poème (1962)

8. "La Fusée Interplanétaire" Audio-poème (1963)

9. "Sol Air" (1961-64)

10. "Le Corps": 1st Part "Déchirure de l'air" (1966)

11. "Le Corps": 2nd Part "Brisure du Corps" (1966)

12. "Le Corps": 3rd Part "Chant du Corps" (1966)

13. "2500, les Grenouilles d'Aristophane" (1967), 4'29

14. "La Fusée Interplanétaire" Audio-poème (1963), 2'12" (dedicated to E. Alleyn, announcement by Jean Ratcliffe-Chopin)

15. "Le Rire est Debout" (1969), 8'00"

16. "Le Soleil est mécanique" Audio-poem (1972) (Voice: Denis Chopin, Audio H. Chopin), 5'06"

17. "Lè Ventre de Bertini" Audio-poème (1967), 3'24"

18. "Les Mandibules du Déjeuner sur l'Herbe" (1971) (For Mr. and Mrs. Kaplan) 5'23"

19. "Mes Bronches" (1968), 5'48"

20. "Vibrespace" Audio-poem (1963), 8'51"

21. Petit Livre Des Riches Heures Signistes Et Sonores D'Henri Chopin: La Cavalcade Echevelee

22. Petit Livre Des Riches Heures Signistes Et Sonores D'Henri Chopin: Dialogue Desourds

16-page book and 7" single released 1987 by Jacques Donguy, a Parisian art dealer specialized in avantgarde and sound poetry. Booklet includes 8 typewriter poems and liner notes by Middle Ages historian Paul Zumthor. The 2 tracks belong to the Audiopoems series, Chopin's version of sound poetry. Presented in collaboration with Continuo.

Tracks 1, 2 from the LP "Futura Poesia Sonora" (Cramps Records, Milan)

Track 3 from the LP "Fylkingen Sound Text Festival: 10 Years" (Fylkingen Records, Sweden)

Tracks 4, 5 from the CD "Audiopoems" (?, Records 05, 2001)

Track 6 from OU 23-24

Tracks 17, 8 from OU 26-27

Track 19 from OU 28-29

Tracks 10, 21, 12 from OU 30-31

Tracks 13-20 from OU Review

Tracks 21-22 presented in collaboration with Continuo.

Vocal Waves

Since the end of the 50's, Henri Chopin, an explorer in the new recorded sound poetry field, has never ceased, through his own work as well as through his publishing activities (the magazine Cinquième Saison from 1959 to 1963, then the magazine with record OU from 1964 to 1974) to defend the electronic explorations of the voice and the body, the grain of the voice, the vocal texture, the vibrations of the larynx, the labial snaps, and the hiss; first with the aid of the tape recorder, then, starting from the early 70's, by working in the best electronic music studios in Europe (Atelier de création of Radio France, the Fylkingen Studio in Stockholm, the WDR Studio in Cologne, and recently in Australia ... ). A path extending from the exploration of the resonance of words, in 1956, to the new sound form of 1994, in collaboration with a cybernetic musician at Ircam, Marc Battier.

Henri Chopin opens new ways by going beyond the separation between music and language, and he discovers the infinite chant, the fantastic yard of the mouth and the corporal noises with the aid of new electronic machines: a new conscience of space thanks to astro-physicians and biologists. A new, as of yet unknown culture, is born with the aid of the new means. Varèse had long before foreseen this exploration, defining it as necessary. An explorer of a terra incognita, of an infro- and ultra-poetry of pure energy that goes beyond language, Henri Chopin introduces the primary poetry, in the sense of Novalis, that is poetry as energy, the primary planetary poetry of the corporal space. At the some time as his research into sonority, he gives letters another form through his typewriter poems, which find their best expression in the recent, wonderful work titled Les riches heures de l'alphabet, put together in collaboration with his friend Paul Zumthor, an expert in the Middle Age period.

Michel Giroud

(text published in Revue et Corrigée n. 23, Grenoble, March 1995)

(translation: Andrea Cernotto)



Le Corpsbis & Co

The title given to this collection of sound poems of Henri Chopin is quite representative of its contents. All these audio-poems, composed between 1983 and 1992, propose a much wider and more formal definition of poetry than the traditional one. They also represent the apex of Chopin's activities spanning over a period of forty years. He has made researches in several fields voice recording techniques, sound spatialisation and publishing, with the magazines Cinquième Saison and OU, which for more than ten years, since 1963, was the only publication to report the current developments of sound poetry and to include phonograph records featuring previously unpublished works by Burroughs, Gysin, Novalk, de Vree, Heidsieck, Dufrêne and all the other poets devoting themselves to this new art form.

Issue nr. 26/27 of the magazine featured, among others, Raoul Hausmann, a leading figure of the Berlin Dada movement who, in 1918 produced some phonetic poems as spoken translations of his own poems affiches, which were composed exclusively of letters from the alphabet. It is not surprising that Chopin had an interest in the negation of the traditional patterns proposed by Hausmann's phonetic poetry and he acknowledges

Dadaism's decisive role in taking to its limits the objectivity of the individual, as started by the Romantic Movement and developed by the Symbolists.

Though Chopin is far from Dadaism's paralyzing nothing because his poetry is a research on man's existential problems, an investigation on the relations between body, sound and space and not just an expression of one's subconscious, as it deals with the several levels of the poetic process in which intellect and emotion are no more separated.

The dynamics of the kinetic qualities, of primitive and pre-verbal language as a human communication system elaborated through the subtlety of vocal intonation in complex artistic forms as in daily life make us think that such forms have functions which are not fully provided by verbal language. Schwitters had already sensed that when, in 1923, he wrote on Richter's G magazine that -the only logic sound poetry is the one that cannot be written. Even though Chopin accepts the importance of the destruction of the word, at the some time he understands the limits of Dadaism's utilization of the letters of the alphabet, as there exist innumerable sonorous subtleties we use when we communicate which our alphabet cannot express.

In 1952 Chopin attended the showing of Isidore Isou's film Traité de Bave at d'Eternité with a soundtrack by Dufrêne using his voice without saying words. Founder of the Ultralettrist poetic movement, Dufrêne , referring to Artaud, announces the advent of pre-linguistic poetry through the emission of noises produced by his throat, lips and tongue. It was a strong expression of vitality, but at the beginning of the 50's the technical knowledge of the voice was still poor and the words were still the bases of the poetic process (Chopin says: -we were not allowed yet to hear the great voice of the religious ways.).

In this period Chopin begins his experimentations with tape recorders and his voice. Hausmann had already been a forerunner with his interest in the power of electronic means, as in 1927 he invented the Optophone, a machine transforming mosses of colours into music and vice versa. Though there are strong differences between the two artists: Chopin uses a creative method whose results are only partially subjected to voluntary control as opposed to Hausmann's rational partiality expressed by his choice of value parameters to be associated with sound-colour transformations.

Chopin listens to an improvised recording he has made as many times and tries to memorize it, transforming it into a mental score that is the basis for subsequent over-dubs: in this way he creates a dense texture in which the relations among the sounds are free from the forgery caused by man's inclination to give the aspect of a conscious intuition to the prelinguistic message.

Towards the mid-60's body language and linguistic micro-particles become the main ingredients of the poetic construction, and it was Chopin who made Hausmann aware of the possibilities of the tape recorder when they met in May 1966.

The recording machine is for Chopin a voice expander that allows us to hear those sounds which cue an expression of the vitality of the body and it offers the poetical material which is -imbued with the weight and the electricity of the texture of the particles that created it; he refuses to filter and modulate the sounds, a process which would make them mechanical and sterile.

The recording machine materializes the voice, the breath, which is often used as noise and which is part of our life since birth.

I do not agree with those who consider Chopin an artists representing the contemporary creative challenges just because he makes use of advanced technologies; his poetical action is much closer to the basis of existence. The introduction of the microphone in the oral cavity allows us to hear four or more sounds simultaneously and it is as ritualistic as the multi-tonal chants of the people of Tibet and Siberia. Moreover, it makes possible an investigation on those noises which are normally difficult to hear. underlining the reality of the creature which is often overlooked and whose infinite differences we can now understand. thanks to amplification.

The poem is a liquid fluxus, a microscopic biological reality, rise and decadence of cellular structures, a pulp, a <<voice from the whole body transformed into audible space>>, as Zumthor noted; all this at once with excursions in the third dimension through the spatialization of sound, in collaboration with the most advanced experimental music studios which started in the 70's; the unity and consistency of Chopin's works is achieved through the recording and manipulation of the sonorous realities of the body and through the sound which becomes a physical action brought to life by its movement in the space.

His several experiences include also visual researches with his dactylopoèmes which, as his poems, have a corporeality; through the visual vibration produced by the superimposition of several textures of letters, show the architectural skeleton and the pure form of the word.

The dactylopoèmes which were created specifically for this publication are presented here for the first time together with a brief introduction by Michel Giroud, a theoretical essay titled The New Media as well as a short description of his working methods written by Chopin himself and finally, a poem by Raoul Hausmann dedicated to him,

Emanuele Carcano December 1995 (translation: Andrea Cernotto)



The New Media

By Henri Chopin

For as long as can be remembered the major languages have presaged the grand designs of technical evolution. They have sided with it, have known how to adopt to it and have been able to develop it further, thereby augmenting the number of languages itself, This has been the case with the poésie electronique, that almost never confined itself to pre-existing languages, and also with the Futurists and the Dada.

These continuous mutations of the languages can never cease, and what is said in them today will be surpassed tomorrow... with and through the new media, the different techniques, the periods and vectors that are in progress, proceeding day after day.

These major languages I have been talking about are, of course, all written languages, but also those belonging to the infinitely mysterious Oral that has for some time now been regaining its strength with the advent of electronic recording. They make their appearance mainly in the realm of forms and visions, as dactylopoèmes , electroacoustic scores, or computer time structures.

These languages have discovered unknown powers: our signs, our alphabets, that ore continually growing - and will continue to grow towards infinity, an infinity we cannot conceive of today.

These major languages are above all the ones that form our senses, begin with those of hearing that offer us poetry and music and decline to make those retrograde steps that would take us back to Renaissance polyphony - a grandiose evolution we cannot experience anymore - back to ancient, self-effacing typography, something that my generation may sometimes regret.

Through these major languages we ore no more bound to our roots, our States, our mother tongues. All these are now to be found within the voice which, far from being a mere instrument of utterance, becomes a sonorous reality inscribing its intonations. One might say, the voice, in leaving the womb, rids itself from water in order to learn how to breath on the earth, the famous gasp that, with some help from our machines, sets us free in air.

Thus we are aerial beings, having come from water and then from earth.... And these aerial beings, having studied since birth the Les riches heures de l'alphabet, now discover the bone structure of the word, the alphabet, that lurks in the verbal spaces. Thus the alphabets solidifies a word that is in itself spatial. On the far side of the alphabet, no more hidden behind script, we encounter the voice, its grain, its ruggedness, its prosodies- where the computer gets entangled in the asperities of the prosodies.. Where -new resonances are born... An entire landscape. as Marc Battier remarked while reconstructing my voice solely from timbres, having shed all verbal connotations - including letters and signs - in order to highlight its sonorous properties. For the word is no more flesh: the vocal breath is flesh.

If I have previously invoked the infinity of language, I did certainly not intend it to be confined within the limit of our own lives. On the contrary - we can recall several millennia of oral tradition, as opposed to some centuries devoted to writing and just a few decades of recordings.

We know our archives cover only recent timespans. but still they allows us to suppose truly oral civilizations unknown to us for lack of any means to conserve them.

This reminds us that in modern times we know of two successive archives, both of them technical: the printing-press and its fonts - and then the electronics, from computers up to the present-day compact-discs.

On the one hand this evolution sets us apart from our written fictions, on the other hand it invents audio archives which, in my view, will enrich millennia with their manuscripts - and thus will re-establish the priority of the spoken word lot times to come. Beyond literary manifestoes, and beyond philosophical and ideological systems.

It is this shared understanding of the major languages that formed the basis for the fruitful dialogue, already spanning a decade, between myself and Paul Zumthor, the medievalist. This has been a complicity even more enriching then these with the sound poets I published for their sonorous properties. For none of them except Brion Gysin, has ever been aware of this grand theatre of language.

This vision took form rather through these multilinguals, Gysin and Zumthof, and through my wife, Jean Ratcliffe, and her feeling for the theatre of the word. It led Zumthor and myself to achieve Les riches heures de l'alphabet (1), a work that found its apogee in the exposition of its manuscripts in the Cabinet des Etampes at the Bibliothéque Nationale. This book, moreover, is being translated into German and Arabic - and is waiting for its translation into English.

The above statements show that the voice by itself is a complex and rich personality and that its imprints can create music (2) as well as itself.

<<Sound poetry... and music comes afterwards>>. (3), a somewhat insolent declaration I published in 1973. Marc Battier, a composer studying vocal values, has now taken up this remark.

We are therefore in another world, one that records its pure values, its multiple images, its unheard-of compositions with materials that could not be handled before the electronic revolution (4) and which not even James Joyce, that great researcher of language, could have discovered in his time, he who had nothing but writing.

This other world has now been under way for nearly half a century, it has become irreversible, with its voyages across the continents and up in the air .... These we find indescribable spaces, unidentifiable by the old writings or by our old semantic values, knowing that the written word itself tons out into -words generated by the machine. (5). This machine that only exists because it modifies itself day after day.

These dizzying appeals make sound poetry extend its reflections towards the millennia of oral tradition. And by way of these reflections we give back to poetry its proper futures when it need no more slumber in confidential booklets - where the poet alone can recognize himself.

Henri Chopin

April 1995

(translation: Sandeep Bhagwati)


(1) Edition Traversiére, Paris, 1992, visual composition by the editor Martine Saillard - photo composition - technique beyond lipography.

(2) CD by Marc Battler and Henri Chopin, titled Transparence, after the audio-poéme La cavalcade échevelée, edition Bond Age, Paris, under the direction of Ramuntcho Matta in 1995.

(3) <<Sound poetry... and music comes afterwards>>, sentence taken from the magazine Opus International n. 40/41, 1973, titled Poésie an Question.

(4) The electronic revolution, by Wiliam S. Burroughs, first bilingual edition in Ingatestone, Essex, in 1972. French translation by Jean Ratcliffe. Burroughs and Brion Gysin have always supported sound poetry.

(5) A sentence taken from the book Machine Vertige by Claude Maillard, edition Le Temps du Non, Paris, 1993


Short extract about my working method using my voice, without any words or letters; only my voice and of course my mouth are used:

To make an example that I know well, since it is about my work, it is now thirty years that I do not write any scores before assembling an audio-poem. It is just by heart and using only my memory that I conceive the expressions of my body. basically through my mouth with its breathing etc., which become my only solid score. There, I discover a world without limits, from prattles to phonic lacerations. All this happens on, and with the help of, a Revox tape machine, with the addition of sound effects like echoes, changes of speed, larsen effects, until the final editing through sound collages.

In this way, what for someone was nothing but an absurd form of avant-garde with no way out is no more reduced to a mere research of vocal perspectives, but it becomes an experimentation with the voice considered as a new musical instrument with its boundless variations.... The composer Marc Battier understood this very well and, without betraying my first works, he is going to expand them, reaching territories that were unknown to me. Thus my researches with no aprioristic result enriched the voice and the body on one side, and on the other they discovered both voice and music.

With Marc my work reached a new meaning and I am happy about that, as I have abandoned the idea of a poet as messenger. I have used the pompous leaders of the avant-garde movements as Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Tristan Tzara, Andre Breton, and a few others as models beyond their grandiloquent roles, in order to achieve a real form of poetry, a poetry of spaces: written, audio and visual works which I discovered and freely considered as starting points, nothing more and nothing less.

Henri Chopin

(text published in Les cahiers de I' Ircam- Recherche et musique, n. 6, Centre Georges Pompidou Paris, 1994)

(translation: Andrea Cernotto)

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