Pierre Henry - Variations pour une porte et un soupir / La Reine Verte

Variations pour une porte et un soupir (Variations for a door and a sigh) is a unique work that does exactly what is says on the CD cover. It is 24 movements created using variation of sound created from a door and yes you guessed it a sigh. This 1963 work by Henry polarises many people, even those familiar with Musique Concrete and Henryís work. For some it is dull repetitive and at times quite silly, but for others itís represents a classic realisation of true musique concrete. The truth is that Henry has managed to get an awful lot of variation out of this door and sigh, so that each track has itís own unique sound and rhythm. Each movement being given titles like Breathing, Death, Chant, Gymnastique etc. So the sounds produced by the elements act to give a semi narrative feel to the whole piece, acting out some bizarre life cycle in a door and a sigh. The first movement Sommeil doesnít include the door only the sigh which is morphed into weird and wild shapes that pan and shoot across the senses. Movement two Balancement has the door seemingly balancing on a high wire creaking back and forth.

The six chant movements only contain sounds from the sigh which in each variation is shown to chant and a different way, these are unfortunately some of the dull movements on offer here. Movements that really stand out are the ones where many door and sigh sounds are layered onto each other and the rhythm in more lively. Eveil, Etirement and particularly Mort are three such tracks. I think it would be fair to say that this work is for Musique Concrete enthusiasts and is not really a work that would be a good entry point to the genre. It is more than a little difficult than Henryís other pieces and due to the lack of variation in the sound material itís perhaps more of academic interest than purely musical one. One final note about Variations for a door and a sigh is that the dancer Maurice Bejart for whom Henry composed many works used a variation of this piece for one of his ballets in 1964.

The other composition on this disk is La Reine Verte (The Green Queen) also composed in 1963 this half hour piece was also composed for a Maurice Bejart ballet. La Reine Verte couldnít be further removed from Variations for a door and a sigh in that it is composed of a wide range of elements ranging from pure electronic noise to mechanical percussion and tinkering an warped distortions of classical music. It begins with high pitched electronic sounds over much mechanical banging and clattering but before long the piece moves into more ethereal territory with a rather sci-fi theme being build upon by warped classical music and a very sweet female voice. However after about six minutes this ethereal quality is replaced by a jazzy beat, clapping, drums and more strange electronics. The female voice and sci-fi theme do keep popping up again and again though. This is yet another Henry work where itís influence can be heard in the modern work of the likes of Coil, Current 93, H.N.A.S. et al.

After a brief section where prepared piano and other percussion like instruments are employed a dense haze of electronics take over which dominate the mid section of the piece. There is a continual shifting from purely electronic to acoustic musique concrete and back again for the remainder of the piece. It ends with the sounds of the sea breaking over some far away beach.