Catherine Christer Hennix’s Kamigaku Ensemble
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Swedish artist, composer, poet, and mathematician Catherine Christer Hennix (b. 1948) and her just intonation Kamigaku Ensemble perform a new work in which precision-tuned and continuously sustained tones on trumpet and shō—a Japanese free-reed mouth organ—harmonically coalesce in a framework of intervallic modalities constituted in part by electronically enhanced combination tones. This arrangement of the ensemble will feature Marcus Pal on electronics and computer; Ellen Arkbro, Susana Santos Silva, and Amir ElSaffar on trumpet; and Hennix on shō.
Hennix developed the piece’s underlying principles in a body of work produced in the 1970’s with her Stockholm-based group The Deontic Miracle. She set these early compositions, inspired by Japanese court music and long-form modal jazz, in an instrumentation of renaissance oboes and sheng, the Chinese equivalent of the Japanese shō. Combining the use of sustained tones with the harmonic distortion that naturally occurs in analog sound processing systems, Hennix was able to intensify the effects of combination tone interactions produced by just intonation intervals and chords. Although similar explorations were underway in pieces such as the Theater of Eternal Music’s Pre-Tortoise Dream Music (1962), Hennix’s approach, which was inspired by her encounters with La Monte Young in New York in the late ’60s, was distinct in its transformation of the otherwise subtle effect of combination tones into the sound’s primary structuring principle. In Hennix’s characteristic style of combination tone harmony, acoustically produced tones and electronic combination tones fuse harmonically and give rise to a sound with a seemingly autonomous force. Performers navigate the subtle movements of tone through precision-controlled tuning, at once guided by and guiding the emergent process of harmonic structuring.
Hennix’s compositions for the Kamigaku Ensemble update and expand upon these investigations into the potentials of high-intensity combination tone harmony in just intonation, bringing the artist back to an earlier point of departure. In all of her sound work, Hennix focuses on the psychophysical effects of harmonic sound, effects which may ultimately restructure the dynamics of perception and prepare one for entering into the distinctionless state of being she refer to as divine equilibrium.
The Kamigaku Ensemble is a co-commission of Blank Forms, the Munch Museum, and Vassa Tassar.
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