Pierre Henry

Studio d’essai

october 1949 - march 1958

Pierre Schaeffer devant le phonogène chromatique du Studio d’essai, Paris, 1952 © Serge Lido/INA-GRM Pierre Henry au phonogène chromatique, Paris, 1952 © Serge Lido/INA-GRM
Pierre Schaeffer in front of the chromatic "phonogène" at the Studio d’essai, 1952 © Serge Lido / INA-GRM
Pierre Henry working on the chromatic "phonogène" at the Studio d’essai, 1952 © Serge Lido / INA-GRM

Under the impetus of Pierre Schaeffer and the poet Jean Tardieu, musicians, writers and technicians explore new sounds.

This was the era of the first works of 'musique concrète' - including the 'symphonie de bruits’ (‘Symphony of Noises’) the Symphonie pour un homme seul (‘Symphony for One Man Alone’) premiered at the École normale de musique de Paris on 18 March 1950 – it used 8 record players (6 readers and 2 burners), and the collaboration of Claude-Hélène Valabrègue and Michèle Thierry.

The studio was gradually equipped with chromatic and slide ‘phonogène', a tripist tape recorder (from 1952), the spatialisation bay invented by Jacques Poullin, and Francis Coupigny's cybernetic system. From 1956 onwards, microphones, loudspeakers, a reverberation tape recorder, a morphophone, a melochord and other frequency generators were added.

'I created my house in this Studio d'essai. I set up my studio within the studio: the state within the state’ (*). Promoted to head of works in 1951, Pierre Henry saw the Club d'essai, which had become the ‘Groupe de recherche de musique concrète’ or GRMC (meaning ‘research group for musique concrète', later renamed to GRM), open up to guest composers. In December 1954, he collaborated with Edgar Varèse on the tape parts of Déserts, a work programmed between Mozart and Tchaikovsky, which scandalised the public at its premiere in December 1954. Fired by the RTF administration in April 1958 for differences of opinion, Pierre Henry was denied access to his catalogue of sounds developed since 1949.

(*) Pierre Henry – Entretiens bucoliques et itinérants avec Isabelle Warnier – n° 1, 2010, Paris, Archives Pierre Henry, p. 26.
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Studio d’essai - blueprint of the main studio, 1955 - Luc Verrier © Son/Ré
Studio d’essai - another studio, 1955 © Francis Coupigny
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Pierre Henry playing the chromatic "phonogène", 1952 © BBC
Pierre Henry at the Studio d’essai, Paris, 1950 © photos Kicia

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