C.C. Hennix (Catherine Christer Hennix)

[NOTE: We have removed our copy of The Electric Harpsichord as DIE SCHACHTEL have released a beautiful copy at a good price. Please support them by purchasing it here.]

C.C. Hennix Dutch National Radio Broadcast (3:03'49) x

Radio show broadcast on Dutch National Radio station De Concertzender. Introduced by Mark van der Voort. A survey of the composer's work. Hennix's recordings taken from an eight day festival organized in Spring 1976 at the Museum of Modern Art in Stockholm, and other sources, selections by Hennix.

Broadcast date: June 6, 2005

Notes on Catherine Christer Hennix's The Electric Harpsichord

Marcus Boon

Although Catherine Christer Hennix once told me that "The Electric Harpsichord" should be listened to at a volume of 100 db in order to bring out the full range of overtones contained within the piece, and although she has said that the piece is in fact infinite and thus unsuited to the time-constrained formats of the recording industry, listening to the CD of "The Electric Harpsichord" on a home stereo remains an extraordinary experience.  An improvisation on the scale of Raga Multani, performed on Just Intonation tuned keyboards put through time lag accumulators similar to those used by Terry Riley, Hennix has produced one of the most remarkable pieces of music to emerge from the La Monte Young school of minimalism.  A Swedish born composer, who studied in the tradition of the Xenakis and Stockhausen in the 1960s, Hennix met La Monte Young and Hindustani raga master Pandit Pran Nath at the Nuits du Fondation Maeght festival in 1970, and pursued studies with both men during the 1970s.  While the use of the time lag in Riley's works such as "A Rainbow in Curved Air" results in an experience of blissful, focused, samadhi-like calm, Hennix's dronework has more in common with the chaotic fluxes of psychedelic experience or the mandalas of Tibetan Buddhism.  This is a moving eternity, pulsating, shifting-something like a raga perhaps, insofar as a raga is a specific deity invoked into sound, shifting, fluttering inside the matrix of the drone.  "The Electric Harpsichord" certainly reflects Hennix's study with Pandit Pran Nath-but there are none of the superficial trademarks of "ethnic music" here-what Hennix learnt from Pran Nath and from La Monte Young is a devotion to perfect pitch, and the ability to weave an improvisation through those glorious resonant tones and overtones.  Yet, the piece sounds entirely modern, contemporary, in the way that Young's Theater of Eternal Music pieces do.  At certain moments, the listener feels that the floor is melting beneath him, and that he is being thrown backward through time and space, while at the same time remaining mentally anchored in the constant of the drone.  It's an uncanny effect, and I am not being metaphorical when I describe it this way.  I have repeatedly experienced it in this way listening to this recording-and only this recording.  Was this just a fluke, a singularity captured on tape?  Or is it part of a system which we can go back to, repeat, come up with further experiments, variations, developments?  Hennix clearly believes the latter.  Recorded in the mid-1970s, and only now available to the public in 2003, "The Electric Harpsichord" points back to an incredibly fertile moment of musical exploration, in which the laws governing and ultimately trapping Western "art" music were finally overthrown in favor of an expansive, cosmically situated, perfectly tuned, improvisatory music.  It also points forward to a sonic future in which, as Hennix has stated, the ratio of the known to the unknown is one to infinity!"

From Catherine Christer Hennix on the Music of the Future, An Interview with Marcus Boon:

M: What are the implications of Just Intonation for the music of the future?  It opens up a vast territory that simply hasn't been looked up, but beyond saying that, I don't know what to ... expect ...

CCH: Are you familiar with the Notre Dame School and Leoninus?  If you go back and study that music, you will find that it was spectacular.  You must understand that these were the people that introduced the first drones in the Notre Dame Cathedral - the big organ ... that was the biggest sound ever heard in Europe.  They just played the pedal point, they didn't play melodies on the organ, it was pedal point!

M: So it was just one massive blasting drone ...

CCH: Yeah!  And in that big cathedral, right? ... And then they had people singing over it.  That was the biggest revolution in western music, that idea of a big sound.  But it was cut short because of the introduction of the keyboard which resulted in the need for re-tuning all the scales, and that just destroyed what they'd started to do ... and you only have it left in Gregorian chant today.

M: Were there heretic drone schools in the Middle Ages?

CCH: No, they weren't heretics at all - they were the masters.  But the keyboard just couldn't accommodate it ... if they had had the money they would have produced a keyboard for each scale.  But they were short on money, so they just had one, and they forced everybody else onto that keyboard.

M: And the music of the future will have that infinite number of keyboards ...

CCH: I would think so.  I mean the computer can certainly help here.  It makes it much cheaper to have all these keyboards around ...

M: And mathematics?

CCH: Yeah, and a little dose of mathematics will help too ...

M: To what degree is there a systematic exploration of the different ways of tuning in Just Intonation?  Is there a consensus as to what kind of tunings are the most potent or satisfying?

CCH: No, I don't think so.  Because first of all there's no a priori tuning which is the optimal.  You simply choose the tuning that is aligned with your way of thinking.  You have an infinite number of possibilities here and each composer should simply have her own concept of tuning.  That seems to me basically the future of music.  Instead of everyone using the same system of tuning, each composer works out her own system of tuning and makes music accordingly.

M: What governs your choice of tuning?

CCH: I think that's pretty subjective.  Again you have an infinite number of possibilities.  You have to have a discriminating mind to choose one which is attractive to more people than just yourself.

M: Will there be a holy grail-like search for some remarkable tuning method that exists somewhere in the infinity of possible tunings?

CCH: Yes, of course, that will always be the lure, the myth, so to speak of the composer's destiny.  Whether the composer will find it or not is an empirical question.

M: What is the ratio of the known to the unknown in this?

CCH: Oh, it is basically one to infinity! (laughs)

-- originally published in The Wire


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