Pierre Henry – Variations for a door and a sigh (1963)

from a post on the WFMU’s Beware of the Blog

Listening this morning to “Variations pour Une Porte et Un Soupir” (“Variations for a Door and a Sigh”) absolutely reaffirmed for me Henry’s place as one of the greatest sculptors of sound. The idea of “sculpting” sound is a critical aspect Henry’s “approach” to composition. In 1981, Henry himself said, “The origin of this music is also found in the interest in ‘plastifying’ music, of rendering it plastic like sculpture.”

Probably best known for pieces like “Psyche Rock” (which, in turn, is probably best known because of its reworking into the Futurama theme song), Henry shines when his work is at its most stripped down. Henry, in “Variations,” orchestrates a perfect series of pieces, in which the relationship between the few sound sources is radically transformed from track to track. From a track that sounds like the most killer free improv jazz trio, to piece with so much hissing it sounds like Henry was recording from a snake den, to a bell-like, dreamy piece seemingly comprised of bells and gongs, Henry makes full use of every single sort of sound that can be drawn from his voice, a warbling saw, and a creaky door.

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Released in 1968 by Limelight (originally in 1963 in France though), “Variations for a Door and a Sigh” is pretty much exclusively comprised of the sounds of, you guessed it, vocal sighs and the creaking and slamming of a door, with the addition of a musical saw and some tape manipulation. “Variations” is absolutely astounding. The few source sounds Henry uses create such a wide range of dynamics, textures, and structures that it’s easy to forget that each one of the compositions was created and then realized by Henry alone. “Variations” is a testament to how incredible our physical world really is, challenging the sphere of finely tuned orchestral instruments and the ensembles employing them to match the engrossing beauty that Henry creates with a saw, a door, and the human voice.

You can listen to one entire side of the record here:

Side A
“Slumber,” “Hesitation,” “Song 1,” “Awakening,” “Song 2,” “Stretching,” “Gestures,” “Reckoning,” “Fever 1,” “Yawning,” “Song 3,” “Wrath,” “Hesitation 2,” and “Breathing”

 

Side B
“Fever 2,” “Gymnastics,” “Song 4,” “Wailing,” “Waves,” “Song 5,” “Trance,” “Death-Rattle,” “Snoring,” “Song 6,” and “Death”

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