Pierre Henry - Voyage Initiatique [Philips Classics - 2005]How many artists can say that they have been at the cutting edge of contemporary music over seven decades? Not many that’s for sure, one however is the musique concrete pioneer Pierre Henry. From his first work Symphonie Pour Un Homme Seul with Pierre Schaeffer to his more recent concrete orchestral work Dracula, Henry has consistently brought new things to what is still a marginal and highly challenging genre.
Voyage Initiatique is his most recent release and sees the composer bringing in large amounts of ethnic and tribal recordings to his patented atonal elements and prepared piano rhythms.
The first track is Premier Apprentissage and begins with a soundscape of tolling bells and curious synthetic tones and rhythms. The rhythms pan across as delays shift and the patterns of the sound slowly morph. At two and a half minutes this is broken up by what sounds like gravel being thrown at a wall before a deep drone overwhelms the piece. This continues up to five minutes until the drone subsides and dissonant rhythms are created by minimal atonal elements that sound like distorted water droplets and echoes. Other small mechanical and noise elements are thrown in over the rest of the tracks eleven minute duration before leading directly into the second piece Dualite. This is the first of several tracks to use primarily tribal or ethnic recordings. The piece is mainly a recording of what sounds like a festival or dance with many dissonant rhythms that are slightly manipulated by Henry and set against what sounds like flute or reed playing. There are also many chants or voices in the mix. It’s an interesting collage of sounds that continues up to the tracks midpoint, at which a similar soundscape to the one in the first track takes over. Again low drones, minimal acoustic and noise elements sequenced in a slightly mechanical or rhythmic way.
Tracks three and four run in a similar manner but with the addition of acoustic percussion and brass to the mix. All are reworked into hypnotic excursions in rhythm and have many more samples of the tribal sounding chants and music within. Track four Multiplicite has a long section in the middle of Henry on his highly prepared piano, drawing the strangest of sounds from this makeshift abstract percussion instrument. It also has an excellent section where female and child voices mix with tribal drums and electronic sequences in very unique sounding collage of old and new world sounds.
Track five Hypnose begins with the now familiar drone and minimal concrete soundscape before immersing itself in a more Asian sounding high pitched singing and almost ambient mix of drones over the top.
Track seven is a short industrial sounding collage of human and mechanical noise, breathy blasts and metallic rumblings. Nothing to write home about there. Unlike track eight Unification which see the best combination of Henrys off kilter acoustic percussion and tribal chants. Atmospheric and powerful this tracks use of modern technology serves to emphasise the unique power and sound pallet of the tribal chants. Other massed voices are places either side of the solo singer and other strange wooden bangs and scrapes. At about five minutes Henry comes in with his prepared piano and bells, creating a cacophonous wall of noise and chant. The final track Solarisation is almost a Lustmord style dark ambient piece where the elements of the dronescape are exploded and dragged out creating a haze of half heard sounds and static swells that recalls Henry‘s classic work Le Voyage. An excellent and unexpected end to an album that begins quietly but contains many moments of high drama and intrigue.Duncan Simpson