The fourth release in Blank Forms Editions's initiative to chart the ever-expanding musical practice of Catherine Christer Hennix, Solo for Tamburium captures the composer's most recent major work. Hennix plays an instrument of her own creation, a keyboard interface controlling a suite of eighty-eight recordings of precision-tuned tambura, creating a sweeping and continuous flow of rich harmonic interplay. This piece, documented in Berlin at MaerzMusik 2017, carefully draws upon the fundamental perceptual effects of sound, forming an exacting and cathartic electronic drone. Densely-layered timbral textures and continuous overtone collisions create a maze-like sonic landscape, thrusting the listener into what Hennix calls divine equilibrium or a distinctionless state of being.
Since the late 1960s, Hennix has created a massive and innovative body of work spanning minimal music, computer programming, poetry, sculpture, and light art—pushing the technical and conceptual boundaries of these media toward singular ends. She was part of the downtown music school in New York and has worked extensively with some of its key figures, including Henry Flynt and La Monte Young
. In the '70s, Hennix studied the nature and use of harmonic sound as a disciple of Pandit Pran Nath, a master of the Kirana tradition of classical Hindustani music. The exceptionally designed tamburas of Pran Nath were central to her intensive investigations, as was the devotional practice of carefully tuning and sounding the instruments in a continuous and even flow—both have guided her work with sound ever since.
In 1976, at Stockholm's Moderna Museet, Hennix presented a pair of groundbreaking works that came to define her ensuing practice. With the Deontic Miracle—a group composed of Hennix, her brother Peter, and the Swedish percussionist Hans Isgren—she performed a series of modal compositions for Renaissance oboes, sheng, and harmonic feedback distortion. On this same occasion she premiered an equally significant body of solo work for keyboard, including the only public presentation of The Electric Harpsichord
(1976), a piece that marks the beginning of Hennix's characteristic style of playing, where dense sonic textures gradually emerge from the multilayered interplay of harmonic construction and dissolution.
Solo for Tamburium
represents a pointed revisitation of her endeavor to map the non-gravitational harmonics of modal musics—among them raga, maqam, and the blues—onto a tuned keyboard. Since the debut of this piece in 2017 she has continued to develop the work, reshaping and presenting it in a variety of contexts, including at Blank Forms in New York and the Bourse de Commerce—Pinault Collection in Paris in 2022. For Hennix, to approach modality as a dynamic process is ultimately a contemplative practice. Through it, embodied attunement to harmonic vibration gives rise to epistemically transformative states, opening new ways of knowing and being.
Best known as a composer, Catherine Christer Hennix (1948, Stockholm – 2023, Istanbul) has, throughout her fifty-plus-year career, produced innovative work in the fields of not just minimal and computer music, but psychoanalytic theory, intuitionist mathematics, poetry, and prose as well. Hennix was steeped in music and culture from a young age. Introduced by her mother to many of the era's iconic jazz musicians, she saw luminaries including John Coltrane
, Cecil Taylor, and Eric Dolphy
during their stints in Sweden, and took lessons from trumpeter Idrees Sulieman. Hennix was an early member of the Elektronmusikstudion (EMS), where she composed works for large mainframe computers in between her studies of biochemistry, linguistics, and mathematical logic. In 1968 she traveled to New York and quickly became immersed in the city's downtown scene through Something Else Press's Dick Higgins
and Alison Knowles
, who introduced her to figures such as John Cage
and Walter De Maria
. But most influential was her 1969 encounter with La Monte Young
, whose approach to music would shape her artistic trajectory. In turn, Young introduced her to Pandit Pran Nath, of whom she became a disciple, and Henry Flynt, with whom she maintained a close collaboration with until her death. In the early '70s, she returned to Sweden to found her own group inspired by the Theatre of Eternal Music, hoping to demonstrate how Young's musical concepts were general enough to allow musicians to take many paths through them.
During the second half of the '70s, Hennix was prolific as a musician, artist, and writer, although she struggled to find public outlets for her work with a few exceptions. In 1976 alone she co-organized the ten-day festival Brouwer's Lattice
at Stockholm's Moderna Museet, where she showcased the American composers Young, Terry Riley, and Terry Jennings alongside her own compositions, and presented the solo exhibition Toposes & Adjoints: Survey of Abstract Concept Formations from Cantor to Lawvere
, while pursuing a degree in mathematical logic at Uppsala University, writing poetry, and producing her first abstract Nō drama. Throughout this period, Hennix traveled between New York, Boston, Stockholm, and San Francisco—where she had a chance encounter with Maryanne Amacher
, who subsequently introduced her to the mathematician, poet, and activist Alexander Yessenin-Volpin, a meeting that would prove significant. Taken by Yessenin-Volpin's deep interest in Brouwer, Hennix became his primary student and eventually his research partner.
Hennix relocated to New York in 1978 to serve as a professor of mathematics and computer science at SUNY New Paltz, and later became an affiliate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. While her position in upstate New York lasted for a single year, she collaborated with local artists and figures such as poet Charles Stein (who was leading informal seminars under the name The Rhinebeck Institute) and guitarist Arthur Rhames, and continued to be a key interlocutor to Flynt, recording with him as the Dharma Warriors. At the end of the '80s, she returned to Europe, first to Sweden and later to Amsterdam with her girlfriend, photographer Lena Tuzzolino, whom she met through participation in a group show at the Museum Fodor. While in the Netherlands, Hennix studied Lacanian psychoanalysis, and dedicated herself to creating visual arts, writing Nō works, playing drums, and conducting mathematics research at the University of Amsterdam's Institute for Logic, Language, and Computation. She was given the Centenary Prize Fellow Award by the Clay Mathematics Institute in 2000 for a paper coauthored with Yessenin-Volpin.
For much of her life, Hennix was an enigmatic figure in musical minimalism, primarily known for her "billowing cloud" study The Electronic Harpsichord
(1976). Her resurgence and later period of artistic activity can in many ways be credited to the advocacy of Henry Flynt, who would present the piece at tape concerts throughout the '70s and '80s and maintained a voluminous correspondence with her throughout. In 2003, Hennix returned to producing computer-generated sound works, initiating a productive two-decade run. After a long hiatus from leading ensembles, she formed the Chora(s)san Time-Court Mirage in 2005 after meeting the trombonist Hilary Jeffery, and later led the just intonation group the Kamigaku Ensemble. She toured internationally, released several archival recordings, circulated her poetic and theoretical writing, and exhibited her artwork in surveys such as Traversée du Fantasme
at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, and Thresholds of Perception
at Empty Gallery, Hong Kong, in 2018.
While a student of Pran Nath, Hennix was introduced to Sufism—first in the Chishti Order, and later taking hand with Sheikha Fariha in the Nur Ashki Jerrahi Order—and has been dedicated to its practice ever since, integrating the devotional dimensions of Islam and Sufism into all of her work with poetry and sound. Hennix formally converted to Islam before relocating to Istanbul, where she spent the final years of her life in a wondrous immersion in the call to prayer, the sound of the One.