January 3, 2016

101 Reel-to-Reel Tapes 115: Pierre Henry ~ Le Voyage

Pierre Henry ~ Le Voyage
reel-to-reel tape box detail

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I started the Vinyl LP series because I have a collection of over 20,000 vinyl record albums I am selling; each blog entry is about an album from my collection. The 101 Reel-to-Reel Tapes series is an extension of that collection. Inquire for information here.   

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Pierre Henry was born in Paris, France, on December 9, 1927. His experimentation with sounds produced by various objects began when he was 15 and he became absorbed with the integration of "noise" into music. He studied with Nadia Boulanger, Olivier Messiaen, pioneers in experimental music, and Félix Passerone at the Paris Conservatoire from 1938 to 1948.   

Pierre Henry at home - 2008
photographer unknown

Between 1949 and 1958, after World War II and before the use of magnetic tape (developed in Germany), Henry worked at the Club d'Essai studio at RTF, founded by Pierre Schaeffer in 1943. Schaeffer and Henry began recording sounds from the natural world onto phonograph discs, altering them through the primitive means available, and creating an alarming music that they dubbed Musique Concrète (pronounced: muzeek kon-kret), or concrete music. 

Unlike the earlier Futurist work of Luigi Russolo, Schaeffer wanted to remove the original meanings and definitions of his sounds and create a deeper psychological-emotional response. In works such as Etude aux Chemins de Fer (Etude on Railroads), Etude Pathetique (Etude on Pathos), and Etude aux Objets (Etude on Objects), the sounds were familiar, but rearranged into bizarre juxtapositions, in the surrealist style of the era. The techniques of speeding up, slowing down, reversing, editing, and looping were all used to create sonic "collages," as Schaeffer calls them, all before the advent of tape recorders.        

After recording their sounds, they went back into the studio and isolated them, re-recording them onto other disks with different manipulations, including what they called "the locked groove"; putting an intentional skip in the record so a sound would be repeated, not unlike a tape loop or sequencer. Schaeffer describes the recording process. "We would have seven or eight turntables playing together, but with only one sound playing on each. Then we would try different variations, montages with let's say, sound 'A' repeated twice, then a sound 'B' then 'C' repeated and so on. It was similar to an orchestra rehearsal where you would be trying different themes, different variations." This operation would be repeated fifty years later by The Flaming Lips with their album, Zaireeka (see link below).            
In 1950 Henry wrote the piece, Symphonie pour un homme seul, in cooperation with Schaeffer; he also composed the first musique concrète to appear in a commercial film, the 1952 twelve minute short film, Astrologie ou le miroir de la vie, directed by Jean Grémillon. Henry has scored numerous additional films as well as ballets.    

Le Voyage
photos by Styrous®

Pierre Henry ~ Le Voyage
reel-to-reel tape box cover

Le Voyage is one of the finest examples of Musique Concrète; the range of the compositions is filled with remarkable electronic experimentation. There are industrial and traffic noises, natural sounds and voices tape-recorded and altered by re-recording them backwards at different speeds and with different effects.

Schaeffer and Henry created audio portraits for the end of the machine age and the beginning of the electronic age that burst with mechanical noises, orchestral hits, trains, and text-sound babble. Doors open and close on indecipherable conversations; engines start, stop and transform into screams and moans; disembodied pianists jam with mouth noise rhythm sections. 

Pierre Henry ~ Le Voyage
reel-to-reel tape box back

Le Voyage evokes the moment of a person's final breath (opening track, Breath) through the three stages of reincarnation until their eventual rebirth (closing track, Breath II).   

The first piece, Breath, is seven minutes long with the sound a little like the air being released from a balloon somewhere in deep space. 

Pierre Henry ~ Le Voyage
reel-to-reel tape box detail

After Death and After Death II is filled with computer chatter dynamics typical of that heard in computer rooms everywhere in Corporate America in the mid sixties.     

Pierre Henry ~ Le Voyage
reel-to-reel tape box spine

Peaceful Deities is a forerunner to early Ambient House. The Coupling is a searing, aching, metal-on-metal beauty to a composition that is brilliantly absolute.   

Pierre Henry ~ Le Voyage

In 1969, Henry collaborated with the progressive UK rock band, Spooky Tooth on the album, Ceremony. The music takes the form of a church service and will be featured in a future article.   

Pierre Henry ~ Le Voyage
reel-to-reel tape label detail

Pierre Henry ‎– Le Voyage


A1 Breath 7:06
A2 After Death 1 9:39
A3 After Death 2 7:39
B1 Peaceful Deities 9:18
B2 Wrathful Deities 3:47
B3 Coupling 6:50
B4 Breath

Companies, etc.


Based on the Wheel of Life described in the Tibetan Book of The Dead.

Label: Limelight Records ‎– LLX 86049
Format: reel-to-reel, 3 ¾ ips, ¼", 4-Track Stereo, Stereo, 7" Cine Reel, Album
Country: US
Released: 1968
Genre: Electronic

Pierre Henry discography  

Le Voyage on YouTube:
      After Death 1      
      After Death 2      
      Peaceful Deities      
      Wrathful Deities      

Flaming Lips, Zaireeka   

The Pierre Henry ~ Le Voyage, reel-to-reel tape is for sale on eBay & Discogs.    

Styrous® ~ Sunday, January 3, 2016 

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