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Catherine Christer Hennix - The Electric Harpsichord

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Artist: Catherine Christer Hennix

Album: The Electric Harpsichord

Label: Die Schachtel

Review date: Oct. 7, 2010

Hyperbole and silence wrap around Catherine Christer Hennix’s music like the black and white of yin and yang. La Monte Young and Henry Flynt have praised her merger of music and mathematics for decades (well, initially his merger — Christer Hennix was born in 1948 and took the name Catherine when she adopted the female gender in 1990). Hennix hasn’t exactly promoted herself; while she’s lived and occasionally performed in Europe since the early ’90s, until now she hadn’t made any records. Until the release of this volume, the only way to hear Hennix was in person, on certain Henry Flynt records (C Tune, Purified By Fire, and Dharma Warriors) and via Ubuweb.

This release is an excerpt from a 1976 concert and is issued now in tribute to her late guru Pandit Pran Nath, the Kirana gharana singer who also taught Young, Terry Riley and Jon Hassell and died in 1996. Its swanky packaging signifies significance; the CD comes wrapped inside a 60-page booklet with two poems by Young, a lengthy historical-philosophical discussion of the work by Flynt, and an even longer (and decidedly over-my-head) mathematical discussion of the piece by Hennix. But the most meaningful part of the project is Hennix’s rather extraordinary music.

Hennix had been involved with music since her youth, when she got lessons from the American jazz musicians who stayed in her parents’ Stockholm home, and she’d begun working with primitive computer systems before she began associating with Young. After encountering Nath, she synthesized her analysis of tambura drones with the electronic sine tones that Young played in his house all day, every day. The outcome was a music mathematically calculated to induce altered states. The instrumental set-up on The Electric Harpsichord resembles Terry Riley’s time-lag accumulator — she plays an electric keyboard, in this case a Yamaha tuned in Just Intonation and fed into a tape delay system — but the results are quite different. Where Riley generated overlapping streams of notes, Hennix’s music rises and falls like ocean waves, with bright harmonics glinting atop a continuous sound like whitecaps. The harpsichord’s spindly key strokes accumulate into an undulating sonic mass that is neither harsh in the fashion of contemporary noisemakers nor bland. Instead, it’s rich in tones and overtones that seem to multiply in fractal cells that maintain their integrity as they increase in density. Put the CD on and putter about and it just sounds nice; give it your undivided attention and it sucks you right in and whips the alpha waves to the top of your brain pan like foam to the top of a cappuccino.

The effect is a slowing of experienced time, which may be a partial explanation for why it took Hennix so long to get this record out. But to stretch time is to stretch life, and what greater gift could you get from a five-inch shiny disc?

By Bill Meyer

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