An encounter between visual arts and music presides over the approach of Egypto-québécois composer and sound artist Symon Henry. Leaving aside the conventional writing of notes attached to a staff, the Montrealer’s music is rather read and interpreted from a set of drawings forming what is known as graphic scores. Inhabited by the worlds of composers Cornelius Cardew, Jennifer Walshe and Cecil Taylor, by the sound world of Egyptian diva Oum Kalthoum, then by Cy Twombly’s flowing lines and drawn colours, Henry positions themself in a filiation of the score as a space of precision and freedom, as well as of ambiguity and mixing between canonical genres and influences.
Their works reflect an ever-renewed quest for the de-hierarchization of the composer’s authority in favour of working closely with the performers. Indeed, their scores require great precision from the musicians, but also an extended set of playing techniques (including breath control for wind instruments or exploration of friction for strings, for example) aimed at taking into account the performance personally and intimately. The basics of understanding the scores remain simple and intuitive: the horizontal axis indicates duration and the vertical axis indicates the pitch of a sound, while a dark line calls for a louder sound, a thinner and blurred line, a softer sound. It is therefore to a look in the form of listening, at once curious, generous and intuitive, that the composer invites us.
Symon Henry’s artistic practice is based on the interaction between three major axes in their creations, namely concert music, visual arts and poetry. This transdisciplinary approach is particularly reflected in their sound paintings—instrumental or performative graphic scores, interpreted here and there by musicians and artists with as sinuous a journey as possible.
Their first collection of poetry, son corps parlait pour ne pas mourir, as well as their first book of sound paintings, voir dans le vent qui hurle les étoiles rire, et rire, were published in 2016 at Éditions de la Tournure. The poetry and sound paintings collection L’amour des oiseaux moches (2020, finalist for the Governor General’s Literary Awards) represented an important culmination in their journey, having been the subject of a publication by Omri editions and a major production of the Ensemble contemporain de Montréal (ECM+).
Their visual art work has been exhibited at Gham & Dafe, at Livart, at the Maison de la culture du Plateau-Mont-Royal, at the Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur and at the Palazzo Ducale di Lucca. Symon is currently working on an opera based on Le désert mauve, a novel by Nicole Brossard, who supports them in this process.
voir dans le vent qui hurle les étoiles rire, et rire, a 40-minute work co-composed with Yannick Plamondon for the Orchestre symphonique de Québec and the marimbist Anne-Julie Caron, was presented to celebrate the inauguration of the Lassonde Pavilion of the National Museum of Fine Arts of Quebec (2016).
Symon is also an independent researcher: their writings have been published on many platforms, including the Revue Circuit, the Cahiers de la SQRM, the cettevilleetrange.org website and the Écosystème magazine of the Chambre Blanche. They are a frequent guest speaker, as a composer and researcher, including at McGill University, Simon Fraser University, Western University, Université de Montréal, Université du Québec à Montréal and at the various Conservatoires de musique in Québec.
(last rev. July 2020)