LISTS A Catalog of Catherine Christer Hennix’s Spiritual Drone By George Grella · February 20, 2024
Photo by Marissa Alper

Catherine Christer Hennix, who died this past November at the age of 75, was a mathematician, philosopher, poet, visual artist, and musician. There are many who can string together titles after their names, but Hennix, born in Sweden to a musical family, is the rare figure in history who was deeply, professionally accomplished in each field she worked in. She taught logic at MIT’s Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory and math at SUNY New Paltz, and was research partner for mathematician Alexander Esenin-Volpin, with whom she was named a Centenary Prize Fellow from the Clay Mathematics Institute. She published poetry and Noh dramasl studied Lacanian psychoanalysis; and exhibited her visual art at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

She also learned from and made music with Karlheinz Stockhausen, Indian classical singer Pandit Pran Nath, and drone musicians La Monte Young and Henry Flynt. For Hennix, music was a way to synthesize her many interests and turn philosophy and math and poetry into sound. Combining mathematical research, numerous tuning systems, musical traditions ranging from Sufism to the blues and improvisation, Hennix made music for herself and ensembles using keyboards, percussion, voice, brass and woodwinds; computer technology, electronics, and more. It is easy to call what she made drone, but the variety of ideas Hennix explored via the simplest kind of music making was remarkable. Before her death, her music was undergoing a renaissance, with reissues of earlier recordings and releases of recent compositions and performances. At the vanguard of this is the Blank Forms media imprint, which has a concentrated representation of this unique and powerful artist. Here are the recordings on Bandcamp that best capture the essence of her music.

Catherine Crister Hennix
Selected Early Keyboard Works

The keyboard was a fundamental tool of experimentation for Hennix. Her great early magnum opus was The Electric Harpsichord, and her ideas are preserved here on this collection of gripping studies. She uses different tunings, including a marimba in just intonation, and plays the music with quick, gliding, cyclical patterns similar to Charlemagne Palestine and Terry Riley. The result is music that billows forth in a saturated cloud of latticed notes, full of inner voices that the ear can follow down a rabbit hole. Writing in Artforum, Flynt said “My first reaction was that it did not sound like it came from planet Earth.”

The Deontic Miracle: Selections from 100 Models of Hegikan Roku

Merch for this release:
2 x Vinyl LP

This is a live recording from 1976 at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, Sweden. Hennix plays amplified renaissance oboe and uses electronics, her brother Peter plays both amplified oboe and amplified sarangi, and Hans Isgren also plays sarangi. In an immediate way, the music is in the model of La Monte Young’s Theatre of Eternal Music performances, with intense volume and a wall of sound that comes in constant waves; but where Young was searching for some meditative state, Hennix seems like she wants to use the music to transform the mind and the senses through a quasi-physical abrasion, like Sunn O))) avant la lettre.

Chora(s)san Time-Court Mirage
Blues Alif Lam Mim

Merch for this release:
2 x Vinyl LP

This is a large-scale work—one piece is close to 80 minutes—for Hennix’s large ensemble that, for this 2014 premiere performance, includes Hennix and other vocalists; a brass quintet; and two musicians manipulating electronics. The music is in just intonation and has both something of the blues and also a seamless fusion of Indian classical singing and Sufi vocalism, turning together into one enormous drone. Hennix described the music as multiple universes coming together, producing “a kaleidoscopic exfoliation of frequencies.”

Catherine Crister Hennix
Solo for Two Tamburas

The one Hennix recording on Bandcamp not on Blank Forms (it’s on the Berlin-based Care of Editions), this 2021 release is a performance by Hennix recorded by microtonal/alternate tuning composer Marc Sabat. The tambura is a string instrument from India, similar to a sitar, that is used to create the ambient drones fundamental to much Indian music. Hennix plucks the two in continuous, alternating cycles, and the vivid recording purrs and sways through complex waves of sound. Consider it the preliminary step to the masterpiece below.

Solo for Tamburium

Merch for this release:
2 x Vinyl LP, Compact Disc (CD)

The Tamburium is an instrument Hennix built off of the tambura. It’s a massive tambura sampler, a keyboard that plays 88 different precisely-tuned recordings of the stringed instrument. If the above album is Hennix exploring what the original instrument can do, she transforms it into a component of her complex philosophical and sound world on this album, released shortly before her death (her performance was recorded in 2017). There is a colorful and seemingly infinite weave of sound, as in an Oriental rug, a lattice of timbres and tunings crossing each other, drone not as monolith but an ongoing construction of elements.

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