In the hazy world of music genres, ‘experimental’ often feels all-encompassing but it is a highly useful one. A word rooted in science, described as a procedure undertaken to make a discovery, to test a hypothesis or demonstrate a known fact. Perhaps, from this definition, the part that’s the most interesting from the perspective of this site is – music that attempts to make a discovery.
Music that boldly steps off the grid into the unknown and using some form of strategy, attempts the wrestle some weird knot of the cosmos into something worthwhile. And in the true spirit of experimentalism, it’s not easily achieved – nor is there any guarantee that it works at all. The butterfly sometimes flaps its wings, and nothing happens…
The work of Catherine Christer Hennix has long held a fascination for me, primarily as her name cropped up as a collaborator with La Monte Young and Henry Flynt and a student of Prandit Pran Nath. Her small but impressive collection of recorded work reflects this background as well as channelling her work as a prize-winning professor in mathematics and computer science.
Works like The Electric Harpischord and Blues Alif Lam Mim In the Mode of Rag Infinity/Rag Cosmosis are wonderfully extended drone works that illustrate the immersive subtlety and physicality of her work. A sense of the avant garde but sumptuously blended up with traces of Indian and Arabic forms, giving the music a deeply lysergic quality. The work straddles the cold void of maths and the organic universe of human experience.
Selected Early Keyboard Works is truly a landmark release. Spotlighting rehearsal tapes of Hennix’s ensemble The Deontic Miracle, made in preparation for a performance in Stockholm in 1976. Co-released by Blank Forms and Empty Editions, this double LP is truly a wonderful insight into a slightly less well documented aspect of Hennix’s work.
Side 1 and 2 are filled with a vast tumbling 43 minutes of Mode nouvelle des modalites (I and II). The piece is devised for well-tuned just intonation Fender Rhodes and sine wave drone. It plots a series of fragmented twists and turns that transport the listener into exhilarating electric jazz from the other side of the black hole. The clustered notes appear like the mutated glyphs that appear on the sleeve, a vocabulary in alien forms and combinations. The sine wave sits like not much more than the reverberation of the keys initially, but builds around 9 minutes in, giving the sense of an odd extended dreamlike ambience. The second part features a more persistent tumbling around the same drone as the sine wave gently rises and falls, creating spectacularly subtle trippy whirlpools.
After the spectacular subtlety of the first disc, the third side immediately confirms itself at the very heart of this release. The Well-Tuned Marimba in an instant goes straight into the top 10 most awesomely weird tracks ever. 18 minutes of intergalactic joy for well-tuned Yamaha, sheng, sine wave, and live electronics. The sound tumbles around in a way that is reminiscent of Terry Riley’s Shri Camel but somehow even more crystalized and fractalated. It drones and reflects in a way that’s truly and breathtakingly multi-dimensional.
The final side is given to Equal Temperament Fender Mix which uses the Fender Rhodes keyboard with a tape delay system. A dense, self-generating mandala of sound that grows ever denser by the second.
Much of the music created in this field, and a chunk of music spotlighted on OBLADADA has been constructed using strategies, technology and music way beyond my understanding. As a non-musician I’ve toiled beyond the basics of just intonation and various other terms. Music like this confirms my long-held view that you just need curious ears and don’t worry about having no map. The result is a joined-up genre-hopping journey. Selected Early Keyboard Works is a wonderful example of music growing out of avant garde and ending up as some obliquely jazz, electronic or psychedelically infused treasure trove.
This stunning album puts into action several experiments, and I have no idea if – 42 years later – they worked or not. Music that simultaneously goes nowhere and everywhere. Like an academic paper, this recording serves as a document that the research occurred, and formulae exercised. However, the undoubted intelligence at the very heart of this music outlines the simplest discovery – the heaving joy of human enquiry.
Deep, powerful and truly amazing stuff.
Selected Early Keyboard Works is co released Blank Form Editions and Empty Editions
Its released on 2xLP on 7th September and is available to pre order here