Catherine Christer Hennix combined drones and minimalism with mathematics, logic, and spirituality. Hennix died earlier this week in her home in Istanbul, Turkey, at age 75.



MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Catherine Christer Hennix was an expansive musician, composer and artist, though even that description does not quite sum up what she did with her music, which combined drones and minimalism with mathematics, logic and spirituality. Hennix died last week in her home in Istanbul, Turkey. She was 75. NPR’s Andrew Limbong has this remembrance.

(SOUNDBITE OF CATHERINE CHRISTER HENNIX’S “SOLO FOR TAMBURIUM”)

ANDREW LIMBONG, BYLINE: The thing about Catherine Christer Hennix’s art was that we, as listeners, were just as crucial to making her art as Hennix was herself.

JOSHUA MINSOO KIM: The most important thing to understand about her work is that the sounds themselves aren’t as important insomuch as the way they condition your posture of listening.

LIMBONG: That’s Joshua Minsoo Kim, the editor-in-chief of Tone Glow, a publication that interviews experimental musicians.

KIM: For example, she has a new album out this year, “Solo for Tamburium.” And, you know, someone could listen to this – someone could listen to five seconds of it and be like, oh, this sounds like sparkly, new-age music or something.

(SOUNDBITE OF CATHERINE CHRISTER HENNIX’S “SOLO FOR TAMBURIUM”)

KIM: But when I spoke with her – when I interviewed her three years ago, the thing that kept coming to mind in our conversation was this notion that, you know, sound is God. And that’s not her romanticizing sound. She literally believes, like, sound is God. It has an eternal existence. Everything else is perishing. She consequently approached life with this belief all the time.

LIMBONG: Here’s how she put it at a talk at a museum in Amsterdam in 2018.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CATHERINE CHRISTER HENNIX: You are the artist. You are the performer. You happen to be a medium. But what is going on is basically a gift to everybody who are present.

LIMBONG: Hennix was born in 1948, in Stockholm. Her mother was a jazz composer, and she played drums as a kid. In Stockholm, she caught jazz luminaries such as Miles Davis and John Coltrane. She had a mathematical life, too. She eventually moved to the States, teaching at SUNY New Paltz and MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab. Of course, it wasn’t a separate life. Here’s Lawrence Kumpf, the artistic director of Blank Forms, which has released some of her music.

LAWRENCE KUMPF: Her interest in, you know, sort of, like, mathematics and physics, you know, was a sort of continuum throughout her career and, you know, informs the musical practice in various ways.

LIMBONG: Hennix worked with artists such as minimalist composer La Monte Young and Indian classical singer Pandit Pran Nath, who taught her that drones, particularly ones found in Indian classical music, could literally transport the listener places.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

KUMPF: The sort of act of seeing her work, engaging with her work, was really meant to, you know, take one to a sort of heightened experience.

LIMBONG: In Hennix’s ideal world, musicians would be playing music all day, every day, and artists wouldn’t be bound by schedules and set times.

KUMPF: She also used to say that, you know, you can judge a culture by how long it lets its musicians play.

(SOUNDBITE OF CATHERINE CHRISTER HENNIX, ET AL.’S “BLUES ALIF LAM MIM”)

LIMBONG: Is – the program’s only three minutes?

KUMPF: Yes, like 3 1/2, I think I have.

LIMBONG: So this is the antithesis of her…

KUMPF: Yes, absolutely.

LIMBONG: …Regular practice.

(LAUGHTER)

LIMBONG: Because to Hennix, music is God, and God is infinite.

Andrew Limbong, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF CATHERINE CHRISTER HENNIX, ET AL.’S “BLUES ALIF LAM MIM”)

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