Henry Flynt - "C Tune" (Locust Music 2002, Locust no.3)
Henry Flynt - "Raga Electric: Experimental Music, 1963-1971" (Locust Music 2002, Locust no.6)
From Aural Innovations #22 (January 2003)
Henry Flynt is a somewhat enigmatic figure. He began working in music in the early 60ís, playing with many of the leading avant-garde artists of the time, right through till the early 80ís, when he gave up music to pursue philosophy. Although Flynt explored a lot of different styles of experimental music, being primarily a violin player, his main interests lay in ďexperimental hillbilly musicĒ and Eastern ragas.
C-Tune is in the Eastern raga tradition, being a 47-minute long meditation; an improvised duet between Flynt himself on violin and C.C. Hennix on tambura. I thought that after 47 minutes of droning and experimental violin playing, it could get kind of boring, but it is a strangely gripping piece. Admittedly, you have to be in the right frame of mind, I think. This would have been the perfect soundtrack to some groovy, incense scented 60ís mellow out party, but oddly enough, it was not recorded in the 60ís, but near the end of Flyntís musical career, in 1980. Not exactly being in the right frame of mind when first listening to it, I gave it the old fast forward on the CD player, and was quite surprised by what I heard as the music sped along at high speed. Flyntís playing took on a completely different characteristic, sometimes sounding Celtic, but often, sounding likeÖwell, hillbilly fiddle playing. Returning the recording to normal speed, it once again took on that kind of psychedelic, meditational tone of Eastern music. It struck me, that maybe what Flynt was exploring, whether intentionally or not, was the commonality to all musics. After all, like all our culture, music had to have some original origin. Perhaps Flynt was trying to get to the bottom of this.
On Raga Electric (subtitled Experimental Music, 1963-1971), Flynt gives one of the most extraordinary vocal performances you will ever heard on the title track. Believe me, you have heard nothing like this before. The sounds he wrenches from his vocal chords are almost inhuman (yet always strangely in tune with the background guitar playing another Eastern raga). It got me to wondering, was this something like the sound of the first human, or pre-human even, who tried to vocalize something that would eventually become music? Whatever Flyntís intentions were, they strike some primal chord, deep within the oldest part of the brain. Other tracks on Raga Electric include the lovely and haunting Marines Hymn, another meditation raga, this time with a much more human vocal, and a very spiritual feel to it. Flynt certainly doesnít limit himself to the raga style. He explores the possibilities of the human voice on 4 pieces recorded in 1963 in a tunnel in Central Park. Central Park Transverse Vocal Parts 1 through 4 is sometimes fascinating, sometimes funny. You gotta give Flynt credit for letting loose and trying just about anything. The album closes with Free Alto, where Flynt tortures some poor alto saxophone to within inches of its life for some 13 minutes.
Neither C Tune nor Raga Electric are for the faint of heart. They are very avant-garde and challenging, but worthwhile for those up to the challenge. I canít say they are likely to get a lot of spins on my CD player, but I did find them both a fascinating listen. C-Tune, of course, is the trippier of the two, for those into that kind of thing, and Raga Electric the more experimental one.
You can visit Henry Flyntís web site, and read some of his philosophy at: http://www.henryflynt.org.
The Locust Music web site is at: http://www.locustmusic.com.
Reviewed by Jeff Fitzgerald