(photo credit: Jonathan Goulet)
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 the graphic score. 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 call for so-called non-traditional playing techniques (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 graphic scores—instrumental or performative—which have been interpreted in North America, Europe and Asia by ensembles and soloists such as HSO-Stuttgart Symphony Orchestra, SurPlus Ensemble, Nouvel Ensemble Moderne, Joseph Petric and Kasia Kadlubowska. Their first collection of poetry, son corps parlait pour ne pas mourir, as well as their first art book of graphic scores, voir dans le vent qui hurle les étoiles rire, et rire, were published in 2016 at Éditions de la Tournure. Their visual art work has been exhibited at Gham & Dafe, Livart, Maison de la culture du Plateau-Mont-Royal, Chapelle historique du Bon-Pasteur, and at the Palazzo Ducale di Lucca.
Their work voir dans le vent qui hurle les étoiles rire, et rire, a 40-minutes piece co-composed with Yannick Plamondon for the Orchestre Symphonique de Québec and marimbist Anne-Julie Caron, was performed in September 2016 to celebrate the inauguration of the new Lassonde pavilion of the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec. Symon is Génération2016 laureate and has taken part in the Ensemble contemporain de Montréal Canadian tour.
Symon is also an independent researcher: his writings have been published on many platforms, including the Revue Circuit, the Cahiers de la SQRM, the cetvilleetrange.org website and the Ecosystem 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. Sept. 2019)