The Electric Harpsichord CD/BOOK (DSART 010CD)

Hennix is indebted to the idea of an Eternal Music, something which composers can tap into if they have the requisite skills and knowledge ... she displays all that and more.

Catherine Christer Hennix (listed as CC Hennix on the Henry Flynt recordings on which she appears) is an enigmatic figure and a composer whose work is mentioned more often than it is heard. In fact, this CD, recorded in Stockholm in 1976, is the first graspable evidence of Hennix’s ouevre, apart from one track on a Swedish Radio comp of Text-Sound Compositions (credited to Christer Hennix Lille).

This CD is a deluxe job, packed in a booklet featuring two poems by La Monte Young (fuckin’ rhymin’ poems at that… who knew?), an excellent contextualizing essay by Flynt, and a theoretically-explanatory essay by Hennix that is so dense, I started to cry while I was trying to read it. Hennix, it transpires, has spent the bulk of her career (both before and after a transgender shift in the early ‘90s) as a high-level theoretical mathematician, associated with the Artificial Intelligence Lab at MIT, among other institutions. At its further reaches, mathematics begins to blend with logic and philosophy in a mystical way far beyond the ken of mere humans. And this is an operating theater in which Hennix is clearly comfortable. The piece itself is performed on a tunable Yamaha keyboard using the harpsichord stop, abetted by custom sine wave generators. And the 25-minute slice offered here – all there is of it, in documented terms – is only a few moments of an “infinitary composition” that is essentially endless. Like her friend and collaborator, La Monte Young, Hennix is indebted to the idea of an Eternal Music, something which composers can tap into if they have the requisite skills and knowledge. With The Electric Harpsichord (a legendary piece in certain circles), she displays all that and more.

The title of the piece is misleading. Although the harpsichord stop is employed, the actual attack has nothing to do with harpsichordian sonics. The music moves in waves with long tones layered over each other, breathing in and out with an organic, rhythmic underlayer. There are several small event clusters behind this, but they function as highlights to the droning essence of the work, rather than distractions from it. In his essay, Flynt writes about Hennix’s ephiphanic hearing of Young and then Pandit Pran Nath (to whose memory this recording is dedicated), and it seems certain that her music would have evolved in very different directions without their inspiration.

What remains mysterious (although I guess the October 2010 issue of The Wire has a piece on Hennix which hopefully fills in some blanks) is why this piece was only performed once, and why it has remained out of the public (apart from occasional presentations by Flynt) for so long. Flynt obliquely refers to problems with the Swedish music establishment, but the concept of music-in-opposition is certainly nothing new, and many composers like Flynt, Tony Conrad, Terry Riley and others have had much wider access to record labels over the past decade or so. How is it that this beautiful, semi-legendary piece has languished in the shadows until now? Beats the shit outta me. One can only hope that someone will begin a systematic survey of Hennix’s work in the very near future. This first taste is a total killer.

--Byron Coley, October 2010