Auspicious Clouds and Blue Sea

More music from Catherine Christer Hennix, the Swedish composer whose impressive minimalist-inflected work from the 1970s is increasingly coming to light…Hennix first came our way with the double LP Selected Early Keyboard Works in 2018, a double LP which showcased four long-form works from 1976. Today’s record Selections from 100 Models of Hegikan Roku (EMPTY EDITIONS EE006 / BLANK FORMS BF-007) gives us the work of The Deontic Miracle, the name given to her performing ensemble who made these recordings live at Brouwer’s Lattice in Stockholm in 1976; I think the 2018 record was rehearsal tapes from the same event, though I’m not entirely sure.

The Deontic Miracle create a powerful and rich droning sound, yet they were only a trio: Catherine Christer Hennix, her brother Peter Hennix, and Hans Isgren. The music is a mix of electronic and acoustic instruments: sine wave generators, live electronics, and the Renaissance oboe, played by herself and brother Peter, amplified to give extra oomph to that unusual-sounding reedy and nasal tone. Add to that the amplified sarangi (an Asian bowed string instrument) played by Isgren. Already I’m getting a Tony Conrad vibe from this music…sine waves, bowed strings, exotic and unusual instruments (Conrad played the bowed cembalom for his friend Jack Smith in the early 1960s). The story is that the ensemble was planned to be much larger, including 12 jazz musicians whom she’d worked with before; this is entirely in keeping with Hennix’s love of free jazz, cultivated through seeing many major players appear at the Golden Circle in Stockholm. But it turns out that for all their skills in syncopation and improvisation, these Swedish jazzers couldn’t figure out how to play the music scored in Just Intonation. This had become a strong element in Hennix’s music by this time, since she’d studied with the notorious La Monte Young in New York. The jazz musicians were sent packing, and The Deontic Miracle became a trio.

This turns out to be a very wise decision. I still don’t really “get” Just Intonation, but I can sense these performances are all flowing very smoothly and without any hurdles, the trio forming a strong bond and moving together at all times, forming that “single-celled organism” which many free music and new music composers can only dream about. Even the much-vaunted Theater Of Eternal Music doesn’t have this simplicity, this elegance, in my view; there was always something too insistent about it, too assured of its own importance. Conversely, Hennix’s music just floats. Perhaps I’m taking a cue here from the “floaty” titles for these two long suites, which are ‘Music of Auspicious Clouds’ and ‘Waves of the Blue Sea’. If those words trigger associations for you of pretentious “new age” or pseudo-Zen music, check in your fears at the door.

This double vinyl set is a worthy addition to anyone’s collection if you’ve an interest in transcendent, holy minimalism, such as Terry Riley or Yoshi Wada. It’s wonderful that this music should be made available, although I note that the record has already sold out at source (we only got our copy in August 2019). It would be great if there were more undiscovered reels in the 1970s box, but I suspect this may be the end of the seam. From 12th August 2019.