Saturday, 2 August 2008

Richard Pinhas

OK mhuthnance, just for you, I found this on the excellent Asimov's Science Fiction website. There are a few factoids here I was previously unaware of, so I avoided dropping references to the other more familiar stuff regarding Eno and Klaus Schulze. In any case, it's certainly an excellent companion piece to the Simon Reynolds interview on a few years back. Enjoy!!

"Like many Asimov’s readers, my diet of literature consists of a great number of science fiction novels, short story anthologies, and magazines. It is not the only artistic pursuit I’m interested in, but it’s accurate to say that reading science fiction has had a profound influence on my own day-to-day life, my intellectual development as an adult, and the formation of my attitudes about our contemporary American culture and its place in the present and future world. The other great artistic love of my life is electronic music, a sonic genre as diverse, innovative, and without boundary as that of the best written science fiction. Though it may seem an oblique comparison, the wildly diverse sub-genres of electronic music have influenced and informed my intellectual development in as profound a manner as the classics of science fiction.

Since I first encountered electronic music in high school, it has operated as an unofficial soundtrack to the novels and stories I’ve read. For me, Aphex Twin’s stark and experimental timbres on Selected Ambient Works, Volume II will always evoke mental associations of Michael Moorcock’s A Cure for Cancer; Hans-Joachim Roedelius’s warm, pastoral Wenn der Sudwind Weht album conjures images of Walter Tevis’s Mockingbird; atmospheric guitarist Jeff Pearce’s Daylight Slowly takes me back to the lovely world of Asimov’s The Naked Sun—not to mention irrevocably reminding me of the beautiful Gladia—and on and on.

Because of these strong associations, when I read science fiction novels and stories, I’m always amused to see writers weaving tales of extremely futuristic milieus—dystopian cities, gender-bending cultures, post-Singularity ways of existence—all featuring extremely dated or “old-fashioned” musical choices. There is nothing that seems more incongruous, to me, than reading about blues rock bands jamming in a futuristic club setting, or android simulacrums with looks based upon Jim Morrison or Elvis. While these choices on the part of the writers are certainly valid, given the musicians’ influence and popularity, I have always thirsted for a more intentionally futuristic sounding music appearing in the science fiction I read. It seems to me that inexplicable alien cultures deserve music that is equally inexplicably alien!

Though there have been stories that have dealt with this theme masterfully, the musics chosen by authors for their novels and stories are largely quite traditional, and hardly ever daring, experimental, or conceptual from a modern listener’s viewpoint. Even from the perspective of a knowledgeable listener in the mid-1970s, as electronic music became more prominent, these limiting sound-choices seem to be as futuristic as a plastic shower curtain, or an electrical vacuum cleaner—innovations of their time, but, when integrated into futuristic modernity, a strange, though certainly romantic, anachronism.

This is not to say modern science fiction writers are all stuck in an eternal 1960s acid-rock or baroque musical future. As an example to the contrary, M. John Harrison’s recent novel Light contains an example of future-thinking in regard to musical styles of times to come: “Music was everywhere, transformation dub bruising the ear, you could hear its confrontational basslines twenty miles out to sea.” In our own world, dub music is an intriguing sub-genre of Jamaican reggae noted for innovative studio-production techniques and a bass-heavy, echoed, hypnotic vibe. Though the invented genre of “transformation dub” is never satisfactorily explained in Light, it instills thought-provoking associations I very much appreciated as I wondered, days after reading the novel, what the music might sound like, how it came about, and what collision of past musical influences might have been responsible for its creation.

Futuristic electronic sound and science fiction have often been associated with each other throughout their popular histories. Louis and Bebe Barron’s otherworldly soundtrack of “electronic tonalities” for the film Forbidden Planet comes immediately to mind as music constructed specifically to shade an otherworldly sci-fi odyssey.

Artists of electronic music have benefited greatly from the pollination of SFnal ideas. These intrepid purveyors of decidedly strange sounds are heavily influenced by both science fiction literature and cinema. Perhaps it is only a matter of time before the influence of these musicians is in turn felt by tomorrow’s SF writers and filmmakers.

The roll call of talented, influential artists and musicians in the electronic genre is long, diverse, and already the topic of several books and countless articles in print and online publications. I could easily wax poetic on dozens of fascinating artists who are worthy of broad attention by music lovers everywhere. For the purpose of this article—and for the continued sanity of those who are curious about the electronic genre, but are unsure where to start listening—I will describe a choice few artists who are directly involved in, influenced by, or have had oblique dalliances with SF literature. Perhaps by exploring some of the following fine musicians and their recordings, your interest may be piqued enough to begin your own odyssey through the wild, strange, and beautiful world of electronically created sound.

One of the most fascinating figures in electronic music is French guitarist, synthesist, Sorbonne philosophy professor, and composer Richard Pinhas. His influence upon electronic music since the 1970s, an influence somewhat obscure until recently, has been far-reaching. Through his band Heldon (named after Norman Spinrad’s utopian city in The Iron Dream) he is credited, along with German innovators Tangerine Dream, as one of the first musicians to combine electronics and rock ’n’ roll into a startlingly progressive and original hybrid.

His guitar style—reminiscent of King Crimson guitarist Robert Fripp’s musical experiments with producer Brian Eno (Eno will be discussed later)—is provocative and emotional. Sometimes violent and aggressive, other times angelic and exuberant, Pinhas’s searing guitar marked the beginning of the electronic-punk sound.

Heldon’s 1975 album Allez Teia melds lovely tape-loop-derived guitar passages with the most modern analog synthesizers of the time. It’s also an overtly political album, with cover art depicting the Paris student riots of 1968. Though peaceful in mood, Allez Teia was quite revolutionary for presenting an album of idyllic soundscapes during a tumultuous and angry time in music. While punk expressed its rage with loud music and shambolic live concerts, Pinhas’s rage was focused toward painfully beautiful and melancholy music.

Pinhas, a political and philosophical radical, always managed to infuse his many albums, both solo and with Heldon, with the visionary literature and philosophy that influenced him: Gilles Deleuze, Philip K. Dick, Frank Herbert, and Norman Spinrad are frequently touched upon in song titles, album dedications, and, in some cases, guest appearances. Pinhas featured spoken-word recordings of Deleuze on some of his albums with Heldon and his later solo material. Pinhas’s albums Chronolyse and DWW are based on the SF works of Frank Herbert and Philip K. Dick, respectively (though DWW’s cover depicts a Fremen of Arrakis as interpreted by Heavy Metal magazine illustrator Philippe Druillet). Track titles like “Paul Atredies,” “Sur le Theme de Bene Gesserit,” “Ubik,” and “The Joe Chip Song” demonstrate Pinhas’s tireless creation of unofficial soundtracks for the great works of science fiction he loves. Norman Spinrad himself sings on Pinhas’s East/West album and the first album by Schitzotrope (a project between French science fiction writer Maurice Dantec and Pinhas featuring “French readings of Gilles Deleuze’s philosophy with metatronic music and vocal processors,” and, yes, it is as cool and weird as it sounds).

Pinhas’s most recent solo work, 2004’s Tranzition (reviewed in Asimov’s by Paul Di Filippo in a recent issue), even features an old tape fragment of Philip K. Dick speaking about his role as a writer. Tranzition is a fine work of interstellar musical ambiance, with masterful guitar playing and software-based musicianship, proving Pinhas is still as relevant in 2004 as he was in 1974. The revolutionary, experimental spirit infused in classic New Wave science fiction is embodied in Pinhas’s music sonically, with the same broad level of influence to successors in his genre. His work is an incendiary music of change, pointing the way to possible futures through advanced technology and thought systems".

EXPRESS: What do you think of today's electronic music scene?
» PINHAS I'm not specially interested in electronic music; more in post-rock, in noise groups like Wolf Eyes and some of the San Francisco scene. And, of course, classical music.

» EXPRESS: Are you still inspired by science fiction?
» PINHAS: I stay tuned in and am still very close to Norman Spinrad — the American writer — and Maurice Dante — the French sci-fi writer living in Montreal. But to be honest, I only read two or three new science fiction books each year.

» EXPRESS: How did Gilles Deleuze's philosophy and Friedrich Nietzsche's eternal return ideas influence your music?
» PINHAS: With Deleuze, by truly living and sharing his philosophy; it's a whole, immanent philosophy. Plus, he was a very, very close friend and a great teacher. His main concepts were about time and repetition, process theory and about synchronicity and flux material. So there is a direct connection between repetitive music — my kind of music, metatronic — and his time theory and Nietzsche's eternal return concept. So eternal return and my way of processing are very connected, still in relationship. Music helps me understand some philosophical concepts just as concepts help me to make my music as a process of process — the immanent thing. Deus sive natura. [Literally, "God or nature," from philosopher Benedict Spinoza, but meaning "God is nature"]

» EXPRESS: I understand you wrote a book about Friedrich Nietzsche and his relationship to music.
» PINHAS: Yes, it was a book about Nietzsche, Deleuze and music. We know the admiration Nietzsche had for [Richard] Wagner — I also love "The Ring" that I saw four times in Bayreuth, Germany — and [Georges] Bizet as well as Peter Gast [aka Heinrich Koselitz], with whom he wrote many letters. Nietzsche talks a lot about music in his books, too. I have done a part of my philosophy Ph.D. on the problem of time and repetition. Probably all the musicians that work on repetitive music — like Philip Glass, Terry Riley, etc. — have directly or indirectly a straight relationship to the concept of time and repetition and to the concept of eternal return.

» EXPRESS: You once said, "I think there is a straight connection between who I see as the three most important people in the history of modern music: Wagner, [Bela] Bartok and Robert Fripp. But Fripp is the most important composer." What is it about Wagner and Bartok that you love — and why is Fripp the most important?
» PINHAS: To be honest, I don't remember ever saying that. It is close to that, but for classical music I am more involved in [Richard] Bach, Wagner. And for the moderns, of course, [Fripp's band] King Crimson is very important — very, very — but not more than Miles Davis or Jimi Hendrix. Fripp is important because hearing his music made my life different and helped me to decide to be definitively a composer and a musician — better than teaching at university.

Photo courtesy Cuneiform Records» EXPRESS: There's a particular theme that runs through "Metatron"'s titles. So, deep breath, here we go. First, Metatron is an angel in the Kabbalah. Then the song name "Tikkun" is taken from the Torah, and the video track "Tikkun (Part 4) " is subtitled "Gematria 52vs814" after the Kabbalah numerology system. And "Tikkun (Part 2): Tikkune Zohar" is named after the most important book of the Kabbalah. Plus, "Shaddai" is one of the Hebrew names for God, and you have two songs that mention that in the title. And you have a composition, "The Ari," named for the Kabbalist Isaac Luria. How did Jewish religion and mysticism influence these works?
» PINHAS: So, it is a very long story. In brief, first I don't believe at all in God except if you say, as Spinoza, that "God is nature": Deus sive natura. I spent, lately in my life, five or six years on Spinoza. Fantastic time. Spinoza, directly or indirectly, was inspired by a certain way of the Kabbalah by Isaac Luria — this great genius — despite him saying that Kabbalah is "crap." [Pinhas goes on about a bunch of other deep philosophical things here that, frankly, we can't make heads or tails of, so let's just jump to the next bit.]

» EXPRESS OK, I have a massive brain cramp. You also have two song titles on "Metatron" whose inspirations escape me. Who is or what are Moumoune and Mietz as well as Tigroo and Leloo?
» PINHAS: Moumoune was my female hamster that died two years ago. I had a pretty close relationship with her; a kind of empathy and love. She helped me pass a very depressive time in my life — true, even if it seems strange. Mietz was the cat of my psychoanalyst; Mietz died three months after Moumoune. So, it was a very sad story. But Tigroo was my beautiful girlfriend at this moment of creation and my nickname was Leloo — "The Wolf." She was half-French, half-Chinese. But life goes on. See the Talking Heads song "Once in a Lifetime."

» EXPRESS You left music for a period because, you said, you had "no musical statement to make." Have you ever felt like taking another break from music?
» PINHAS: No, it just happened one time, between 1982 and 1988. During this time, I studied philosophy again. I spent my life in the French mountains, skiing and paragliding, except one day a week for the Deleuze course. It will never happen again. I just went off music — and a little bit off civilization.

» EXPRESS You've always been very open and honest about which albums of yours you've liked and which ones you don't. What do you think of "Metatron" and where does it rank?
» PINHAS: Really, one of the best; surely a kind of achievement. I know that some Heldon CDs, like the second and the third, I don't like them really anymore. Same for the [Peter] Frohmader collaboration. But "Tranzition" and Heldon's "Interface" and "Un Reve" are, even today, very good and powerful albums.

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