Pierre Henry

Composer, Pioneer

Pierre Henry (Photo: Serge Lido, courtesy of Decca Records France)

Pierre Georges Albert François Henry (9 December 1927 – 5 July 2017) was a French composer and pioneer of musique concrète. Aged 15 he began experimenting with sounds originating from various objects. He became fascinated with the integration of noise into music. He studied with N. Boulanger, O. Messiaen, and F. Passerone at the Conservatoire de Paris from 1938 to 1948. 

Between 1949 and 1958, Henry worked at the Club d'Essai studio at RTF, which had been founded by Pierre Schaeffer in 1943. During this period, he wrote the piece Symphonie pour un homme seul, in cooperation with Schaeffer. It is an important early example of musique concrète. Henry also composed the first musique concrète track to appear in a commercial film: the short film Astrologie ou le miroir de la vie by Jean Grémillon. Henry also scored numerous additional films and ballets. Two years after leaving the RTF, he co-founded, the first private electronic music studio in France together with Jean Baronnet: Studio Apsone-Cabasse.

Among Henry's works is the 1967 ballet Messe pour le temps présent, a collaboration with composer Michel Colombier and choreographer Maurice Béjart that debuted in Avignon. In 1970 Henry collaborated with British rock band Spooky Tooth on the album Ceremony.

In 1997, a Métamorphose: Messe pour le temps présent compilation recording was released. It contained remixes of various compositions by Henry remixed by electronic artists Fatboy Slim, Coldcut, Saint Germain, The Mighty Bop and Dimitri From Paris. Composer Christopher Tyng was heavily inspired by Henry's Psyché Rock when writing the theme to the popular animated cartoon show Futurama. The theme is so reminiscent of Psyché Rock that it is considered a variation of the original which is a piece by Henry and Michel Colombier released in 1967. The track consists of bells, flutes, brass and rock ensemble (guitar, bass, drums) and electronic music. It is strongly inspired by The Troggs song Wild Thing (written by Chip Taylor) and Louie Louie, written by Richard Berry and first popularized by The Kingsmen.


Labyrinthe !

Performed in Circuit Fantôme S1 Ep5:

First performance commissioned by Radio France
An expedition in sound in 10 sequences/movements: 
- Deep sink
- Circular abyss
- Secret core
- Weightlessness
- Entrails
- Solar furnace
- Scission
- Inland sea
- Eruption
- Ascension

Daniel Teruggi introducing Pierre Henry and his composition Labyrinthe !

Labyrinthe! The light of darkness. The perfect reversal. Intertwining of difference and repetition. Crossed sounds. Crossed lines. Lines which open. Blocked lines. Lines which close. The parallelism between writing and the ways of reality. A language which constantly raises sounds and things. Mental gold. Perpetual births. A wonderful toolbox of noises where certain GRM sounds hit the windows of a ghost train. A spiral in an imaginary crucible made of bone. Clamours, a breathing on an immense scale. A secret ceremony of the great circle in the depths of the earth. A magnetic lift in a way.
For the first time during my journey and ventures into the world of creation, I dreamt of a breath of fresh air deriving from the electronic realm.
Labyrinthe emerged as the result.
All in all, a collaborative work achieverd overcoming the distance between its sources.
The sound cuts from GRM reached me as set of reflections, like “cadavre exquis”. Fragments in any order, all on CD, sent by post, 7 composers, 7 colleagues sent me 58 tracks of varying lengths in various keys.
This continuity inspired me to create a maze-like musical form, in concentric volumes, all thoroughly intertwining with each other. Above all, my contribution is intended to be harmonic. I take great care in attending to any drifting effects occurring with other sounds.
A smooth descent for all, in their order of entry into the subterranean: Donato, Geslin, Gayou, Losa, Zanési, Teruggi, Dao.

Pierre Henry

Pierre Henry would like to thank the composers Philppe Dao, François Donato, Evelyne Gayou, Yann Geslin, Diego Losa, Daniel Teruggi and Christian Zanési for having given him, in tribute, the sounds and musical objects of the current GRM, specially produced for his birthday. Pierre Henry has included these sounds in his Labyrinthe!