Over the last few years, the Paris based imprint, Transversales Disques, has set a remarkable standard for archival releases, bringing us a treasure trove of previously unreleased recordings by Bernard Parmegiani, Pharoah Sanders, Luc Ferrari, Igor Wakhevitch, Philip Glass, Ariel Kalma, François Bayle, Ennio Morricone, and numerous others. While by no means the limit of their focus, the imprint has offered special attention to works by French pioneers of electronic music, particularly those associated with Groupe de Recherches de Musique Concrète (GRMC) and Groupe de Recherches Musicales (GRM). This incredible initiative now extends to one of the most important composers of them all, Pierre Henry, with the stunning LP, Un Monde Lacéré.
Comprising a previously unreleased, long-form composition dedicated to the life and work of the artist Jacques Villeglé, Un Monde Lacéré is an absolutely stunning example of the heights of the late period in Henry’s visionary career. Transversales Disques has done it again, bringing forth an incredible body of sounds that doubles as a fascinating illumination of historical discourses between visual and auditory language in among the 20th and 21st century avant-garde.
Electronic music sprang from utopian dreams. Its creators deployed new technologies in an attempt to liberate composers and audiences from the cultural, economic, and educational limitations that had haunted the music of the past. For a great many artists, this all began with musique concrète / tape music, a musical idiom, first theorized by Pierre Schaeffer during the early 1940s, that deploys pre-recorded sounds - sourced from virtually anywhere - as its raw materiality. Truly revolutionary in every way, perhaps more than any other avant-garde form, musique concrète radically expanded the notions of what music is perceived to be, what it is comprised of, and by whom and how it is made. There’s a strong argument that it was so radical and ahead of its time, that we’ve yet catch up. Among the idiom’s pioneers, few were as important, influential, or forward thinking as Pierre Henry.
Henry was among the earliest adopters of musique concrète in France, joining Pierre Schaeffer at Club d'Essai studio at RTF in 1949, leading to a fruitful period of collaboration between the pair, and the subsequent founding of The Groupe de Recherches de Musique Concrète, as well as the first purpose-built electroacoustic music studio in 1951. A true maverick who deployed an intuitive and energetic attitude to the idiom, unlike many of his peers who increasingly veered toward the use of synthesis, Henry remained deeply dedicated to tape music until his death in 2017, often pointing to a relationship between the sound objects of music and those of spoken and written language. This was a notion echoed by many visual artists of his day, notably Jacques Villeglé, widely regarded as a pioneer of college and decollages, as well as for his alphabet of symbolic letters.
Born only a year apart, while working in different mediums, Henry and Villeglé belonged to similar creative zeitgeists and mindsets. Each embraced a decidedly avant-garde philosophy, while deploying ‘found” materials to create new, democratic languages. The common ground and mutual respect shared between these visionaries of collage led to several meetings over the years, as well as a number of shared exhibitions. The first, taking place in Poitiers at at "Le Confort Moderne" during 1999, produced the only widely available document of this creative connection, Henry’s album Apparitions Concertées, paired in its release with a catalog of Villeglé's ‘sound posters’.
Composed and recorded by Henry in 2008, Un Monde Lacéré is a long-form work - stretching across both full sides of the LP - paying homage to the life and work of Jacques Villeglé. Divided into 8 sections, the mastery of the composer’s craft is impossible to escape. Immersive abstractions comprised of intricate detail unfold within Henry’s controlled fury of energy. Sounds captured from a vast range sources - instrumental and non-instrumental - collide in fields of rhythm, tone, texture, and ambience, appearing at moments to be far closer to acoustic, real-time free improvisation than most recognizable forms of electronic music. If it were not for the diversity of the sounds themselves and the composer’s manipulation of the tape, the ear could be easily led to believe that it was witnessing an artifact of one of the wildest bands it had ever heard.
Filled with life, astounding energy, and remarkably forward-thinking creative attack, even at the age of 81, Pierre Henry, across the length of Un Monde Lacéré proves to have been one of the most vital forces in contemporary experimental music, all the while still bearing the utopian torch lit at the outset of avant-garde electronic music and musique concrète into his final years. Once again, Transversales Disques has raised the bar for the field of archival releases. A truly astounding piece of work that can, at long last, be heard.