Having already unearthed three collections of archival '70s recordings by Catherine Christer Hennix, Blank Forms continues our annual illumination of the visionary Swedish composer’s music by turning to more recent work with this first-time vinyl edition of Hennix’s “Blues Alif Lam Mim in the Mode of Rag Infinity/Rag Cosmosis,” a 2014 piece first released as a CD in 2016.
The double album captures the April 22, 2014 premiere of Hennix's composition by the Chora(s)san Time-Court Mirage, her expanded just intonation ensemble, featuring a brass section of Amir ElSaffar, Paul Schwingenschlögl, Hilary Jeffery, Elena Kakaliagou, and Robin Hayward; live electronics by Stefan Tiedje and Marcus Pal; and voice by Amirtha Kidambi, Imam Ahmet Muhsin Tüzer, and Hennix herself. Intended to reveal the blues’ origins in the eastern musical traditions of raga and makam, “Blues Alif Lam Mim in the Mode of Rag Infinity/Rag Cosmosis” has its roots in Hennix’s 2013 realization of an “Illuminatory Sound Environment,” a concept developed in 1978 by anti-artist Henry Flynt on the basis of Hennix’s own “The Electric Harpsichord.”
As Hennix explains in Other Matters, Blank Forms’ 2019 collection of her writings:
“Rag Infinity/Rag Cosmosis presents fragments of 'raga-like’ frequency constellations following distinct cycles and permuting their order, creating a simultaneity of ‘multi-universes.’ When two such ‘universes’ come in proximity of each other and begin unfolding simultaneously along distinct cycles, there is a kaleidoscopic exfoliation of frequencies as one universe is becoming two, but not separated—the effect of cosmosis is entrained, binding two or more frequency universes into proximity where their modal properties interact and blend, creating in the process entirely new microtonal constellations in an omnidirectional simultaneous cosmic order with phenomenologically ‘transfinite’ Poincaré cycles (cyclic returns to initial conditions).”
As with Hennix’s best work, the organic unfolding of this quivering drone belies a precision that opens onto the infinitesimal. Upon its mesmerizing ebb and flow, the vocalists incant a devotional poem written in Arabic by Hennix and featuring quotations from the Quran in praise of Allah. Also reproduced on the album’s gatefold jacket, Hennix’s reduction of the sacred text to its most elegant formulation invites the contemplator to bring their inner knowledge to the composition for use as a prompt for meditation. Yet the piece offers depth to even the most secular listener willing to immerse themselves in music brimming with such serene intensity.
Catherine Christer Hennix (b. 1948) started her creative life playing drums with her older brother Peter, growing up in Sweden where she heard jazz luminaries, such as John Coltrane, Eric Dolphy, Dexter Gordon, Archie Shepp, and Cecil Taylor perform from 1960 to 1967. Directly after high school, Hennix went to work at Stockholm’s pioneering Elektronmusikstudion (EMS), where she developed early tape music, incorporating computer generated speech done at the Royal Technological University (KTH), where she was an undergraduate student. After traveling to New York In 1968, she met artists Dick Higgins and Alison Knowles who invited her to stay at the Something Else Press Town House where she had the opportunity to meet, among others, composers John Cage, James Tenney, and Phil Corner. During the following years she developed fruitful collaborative relationships with many composers in the burgeoning American avant-garde, including, most significantly, Henry Flynt and La Monte Young. Young introduced Hennix to Hindustani raga master Pandit Pran Nath and she would later study intensively under him as his first European disciple. While Hennix continued to make music performing alongside Arthur Russell, Marc Johnson, Henry Flynt, and Arthur Rhames, she also served as a professor of Mathematics and Computer Science at SUNY New Paltz and as a visiting Professor of Logic (at Marvin Minsky’s invitation) at MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. In recent years Hennix has led the just-intonation ensemble the Chora(s)san Time-Court Mirage, which has featured musicians Amelia Cuni, Amirtha Kidambi, Chiyoku Szlavnics, Hilary Jeffrey, Amir El-Saffar, Benjamin Duboc and Rozemarie Heggen. She currently resides in Istanbul, Turkey pursuing studies in classical Arabic and Turkish makam.