ChopinTypewriterPoem1984 Musician, composer, and musique concrete artist Henri Chopin has died, writes Seth:

he has been and remains a figure whose sound work is very important to me, so i thought i’d share it with you all.

he was a sound poet who used reel-to-reel tape as his paper, performance instrument, and collaborator.

Chopin is lesser-known than some artists even in the concrete world, so if you don’t know his work, there’s no time like the present to discover it — quite a lot is available online.

Videos and comments at WFMU Beware of the Blog

Lots and Lots of Sound Files at UbuWeb

His work spanned more than just experiments with audio tape, as a graphic and visual artist and even a typographer. His poems took striking shape as visual art, like the dagger formed with a typewriter, at right (via the dbqp blog, below). As a magazine publisher, he brought together works by characters from William S. Burroughs to the Fluxus gang. I have to admit, much as I love some of the power of the blog world, I don’t think we have anything approaching the insane avant-garde magazines of the 20th Century. (But, then, maybe we’re just waiting for the 21st Century’s Erik Satie. Or maybe we need to spend more time learning from the likes of Chopin — Henri Chopin, that is.)

So far, I see these obituaries; please feel free as always to add other comments, memories, reflections, or links. Via Harriet, we learn that Chopin died peacefully at home with his family in England at age 85:

Henri Chopin (1922-2008) [obituary by Kenneth Goldsmith, Harriet blog (Poetry Foundation)]

Tribute to Henri Chopin [Soul Sphincter]

When Sound Ends, Vision Endures [words, images, and more following his death, from dbqp: visualizing poetics]

And you think you can do strange things on a mic? Watch this:

  • Damon

    As a person who suffers mental illness, I know what I am seeing with this guy. Yes, there was something to what he does, but from where I sit, he was a bit of a novelty.

    You can see he would wire the "sonic demons" of his mind from the tape recorder to his own present "thoughts," which would generate a thunder of suicidal and murderous "spirit sounds (and feelings)" which were more disturbing and, dare I say, pathetic, than creative.

    This is where the extreme avant-garde performance set hits the bottom of the creative barrel. I would compare this to that scene in that movie "The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years" where that sad drunk guy was pouring booze over himself in a swimming pool, while saying "watch this." This is exactly the same thing I see with this "sound poet," he is just too "gone" to know it is more broken than brilliant.

    And then you get fans of this kind of stuff, who are really thinking "my parents would find this disturbing" so I can be sure it is brilliant in some fashion. "This will surly offend people I resent, so I choose to define it as revelational."

    And to mix and/or sample some sort of easy metaphor – What exactly IS the sound of someone falling off a log?

    Well, there it is…

  • Ha!

    Well, I'll leave it at, there's a reason he's obscure. He's definitely at the edge. But then, if the avant-garde isn't a little avant-garde… you make of it what you make of it, you know?

  • Damon

    I see what you are saying, but to me it is like taking 1 effect, such as a phaser or something, and just spinning that sound. Do you put pepper on your food, or make an entire noise that is nothing more than a bowl of pepper? But I see your point.

    On the defend it side, he is one of those guys that challenges the standards and boundaries of art in general, but to me, he is one of those guys who represents "too far gone." But this regards him more as a "lesson" than what it is I personally regard as something "creative." "Learn from his mistakes, or those who may have mistakenly over emphasized his quality as an artist. Then again, I have not heard everything he has done, so I am relegated to that 1 howling wolf sound bite.

    I should note, that I feel Andy Worhol and Jackson Pollock were genuinely brilliant and revelational artists, where the question of "what it was" becomes an exciting accessory to that. And if I may "go there," were you to see that guy standing on a street corner begging for coins, how would you regard him? You would think, he is just a damaged minded person. And if you saw the same guy on a street corner making those sounds while begging for coins, how would you regard him? You would probably regard it as very sad, but the fact that he is defined as a "sound poet (lets not walk too close to my handle, there, HA!), invites the listener to conclude there is "something there" that you "must have the ear" to perceive. In other words, were he not formally defined as a "sound poet" no one would probably take hims seriously. Which also begs the question, if someone has accomplished something that is definitively "genius" does everything he does then qualify as such?

    Then again, I have not heard everything he has done, so I am a bit out of that loop. Though, I do like how he created pictures in poetry. But to each his own self promotion.

  • audioworld


    sorry, but I could not disagree more. if you ever had the chance to experience henri chopin person-to-person, and grasp the immediate power of his performance in the real world, you would not come to such conclusions. he was one of the most non-pathetic persons you can imagine, and in my opinion one can never "go too far" in radical aesthetic expression.

  • So, uhm, this guy was a pioneer of ascii art and breathing into microphones?

    Maybe I'm just and idiot, but I don't "get it".

    When I was 9, my family got a reel to reel. My younger brother and I plugged in a microphone to it, and the first things we did were

    1) yawn into it

    2) screem into it

    3) make breathing sounds

    4) speed up and slow down the tape.

    It's sad that the guy died. That's always awful, and a loss to humanity for sure.

    But as far as the art goes (at least from what I can see here) I'd have to say it's "Captain Obvious on the 1s and 2s"

  • i forgot something important:

    thank you, peter, for writing about such an "offbeat" artist on your website, for your carefully chosen words, and your attention to the basics of the electronic music history in the pre-plugin aera. much appreciated!

  • plurgid,

    you are definitely not an idiot, it just seems that such audio art simply "touches something" in some people, and sounds like garbage to others. this does not make one person more intelligent or valuable than the other, its just a personal experience.

    if you are unsure about chopins artistic, intellectual and emotional skills, please read this:
    or listen to this:

    best regards, karl.

  • audioworld,

    ok, I listened to the MP3.

    I will upgrade from "childish and lame" to "interesting long form mouth noises".

    As far as the dissertation goes. Well ok. At least he had a well thought out defense/explanation for his hours and hours of mouth noises.

  • Well, I'm never a big fan of talking about "Art" with a capital A, anyway. I respect that there are people that do what you did when you were 9, plurgid, and make that their creative output, if that's what's meaningful to them and — well, someone else somewhere. But likewise, I understand moving on if that's not where your art takes you. (My work doesn't sound like this, certainly.) So I don't think you have to justify why you *don't* like this any more than someone else has to justify why they do.

    Of course, I do have some obligation to defend what I'm talking about as a writer — that is important. But I guess I'd say, the range of expression we have with recording now partly comes from that spirit of being able to make funny vocal sounds into a mic. Maybe presenting that raw is not what you want to do, personally. But I'd be pretty sad about my own work if, somewhere in it, I didn't still have the ability to be child-like with a mic.

  • Well I think one of the main purposes of art is to provoke a response in the observer, which this definitely has. So in that respect, it definitely gets the Art with a capital A.

    Oh and I left something off my list.

    5) fart sounds

    I WAS 9 after all.

  • audioworld


    thanks for taking the time to read+listen to the extended material. your "upgrade" certainly qualifies you as an educated individual;-)

    and (with respect to peter):

    "recording fart sounds" definitely counts as an "ability to be child-like with a mic";-)

  • Yeah, I can't make fart sounds academic. Actually… it's all about playing with social taboo, about letting the interior become exterior, freeing the most personal and essentially physical. By recording the act, you place it in a frame — it comments on the act of recording and impermanence, and reverses the cultural valuation of recording as art by making it intentionally vulgar. It's self-sampling.

    Don't worry. I AM kidding.

  • Georg Nikodym

    Best. Artistic debate. Ever.


  • audioworld


    one of our radio art projects back in 1993 really was based on sampling, mixing and manipulating human body sounds of all genres… the title "body sounds & body music" speaks for itself.

    yes, that included — and no, I am NOT kidding

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  • listen to some of the audio, not just the video performances, it's not just 'fart sounds'.

    sorry to be a little late chiming in, but the relationship between the avant garde and pop-music could elucidate the urgency of this issue more clearly. stockhausen's work with 4 track tape and cage's indeterminate practices in part made sgt. pepper's possible (they are both on the cover in the collage). the theremin in the beach boys, paul lansky in radiohead, and more. chopin's iconoclastic experimentation still leaves a jaw-dropped wonder in my mind, thinking, he only had a mono tape deck, a four-track deck, and a microphone, and he was able to create that complex a soundworld, those subtle shifts in timbre, that rhythmic variation. matmos springs to mind. sometimes it take someone putting technological development on pause, staying with what they know in order for real progress to be made with technologically produced art. in my mind, it's precisely that we can't hear the nuance in something like chopin's vibraspace — it's the problem with the facile ease with which we can make sounds with broad strokes in the digital domain. i'm not saying bring back the tape and razor blade, but there's something to be said for really meaning an edit, you only have one chance to cut.