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Remembering Pierre Henry, A Composer Who Made The Everyday Extraordinary

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Remembering Pierre Henry, A Composer Who Made The Everyday Extraordinary

Music Articles

Remembering Pierre Henry, A Composer Who Made The Everyday Extraordinary

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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

A daring French composer died earlier this week - a colleague called Pierre Henry, the grandfather of all the DJs in the world. He was 89 years old when he died on the night of July 5. NPR's Anastasia Tsiolcas has this appreciation.

ANASTASIA TSIOULCAS, BYLINE: Pierre Henry was in love with noise. In a 2007 documentary about his work called "The Art Of Sounds," the composer goes out for a walk and stops to compliment a runner.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "THE ART OF SOUNDS")

PIERRE HENRY: (Through interpreter) The sound of your steps is very beautiful, sir.

TSIOULCAS: Pierre Henry was enchanted by everything he heard. In his early 20s, he helped usher in a musical revolution, a style called musique concrete - collages of prerecorded and manipulated sounds. In the 2007 film, Henry spoke about how deliberately he created those collages.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "THE ART OF SOUNDS")

HENRY: (Through interpreter) Concrete music is the art of decision. It's the art of choice. You select one sound over others, and that's where composing begins.

TSIOULCAS: Musique concrete was born just after World War II. As France rebuilt, the government created a public radio and television channel. It included a studio where composers could create experimental new work. And it was in that studio that Henry and his mentor, Pierre Schaeffer, wrote a piece with few discernible instruments, no singable melodies and a cacophony of whistles and groans. "Symphony For A Lone Man" became a legend among musicians.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIERRE HENRY'S "SYMPHONY FOR A LONE MAN")

TSIOULCAS: The style made its way into The Beatles' "Revolution 9."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "REVOLUTION 9")

BEATLES: Nine, number nine, nine, number nine, nine, number nine, nine, number nine.

TSIOULCAS: Pierre Henry's own compositions also found a home in pop culture. Here's his ballet "Mass For The Present Time" co-written with Michel Colombier.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIERRE HENRY AND MICHEL COLOMBIER'S "MASS FOR THE PRESENT TIME")

TSIOULCAS: Those clanging chimes and wailing electric guitars have turned up in decades of movie and TV scores both credited and not. You hear it in the score of Costa-Garvas' 1969 film, "Z"...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "Z")

TSIOULCAS: ...In the 2004 movie "Mean Girls"...

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "MEAN GIRLS")

LIZZY CAPLAN: (As Janis) JV jocks, Asian nerds.

TSIOULCAS: ...And in the theme music for the cartoon "Futurama."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FUTURAMA")

TSIOULCAS: But as modern as Henry's work sounded, he believed it was truly organic.

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "THE ART OF SOUNDS")

HENRY: (Through interpreter) I think that nature was my first influence. And the sounds I heard during my childhood, they remained a part of my inner life.

TSIOULCAS: Pierre Henry took those sounds from nature, combined them with his imagination and influenced generations of musicians. Anastasia Tsioulcas, NPR News, New York.

(SOUNDBITE OF PIERRE HENRY'S, "PSYCHE ROCK (FATBOY SLIM MALPASO MIX)")

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