Father of invention
Renowned French experimental musician Richard Pinhas gets philosophical
For 40 years, French guitarist Richard Pinhas has been revered worldwide as a musical innovator, most famously with his 1970s-era band Heldon, and also as a pioneer in the use of electronics in rock music. After an early fascination with Jimi Hendrix and, later, Robert Fripp—especially the latter’s 1973 album with Brian Eno, (No Pussyfooting)—Pinhas developed a singular style in rock, jazz and, more recently, the experimental sounds on his latest record, Desolation Row. Here, Pinhas finds himself in the company of some of music’s most cutting-edge electronic and noise artists, including Oren Ambarchi and Noël Akchoté.
He is also well-regarded as a philosopher, author and lecturer. Pinhas, who took part in the 1968 student uprisings at France’s Paris Sorbonne University, holds a doctorate in philosophy and once studied under noted French philosopher Gilles Deleuze.
Pinhas, who performs Wednesday, September 18, at Bows & Arrows with Bay Area guitarist Barry Cleveland, recently answered questions via email for SN&R to wax philosophical on sci-fi, musical connections and improvisation.
How is the tour going? Met any future collaborators or heard opening acts that you’ve enjoyed?
Depends on which tour you are talking about. Last June, I finished a series of great gigs in Japan with Merzbow, Yoshida Tatsuya and Keiji Haino, then [played] Spain’s [Sónar Festival] with the Pascal Comelade [b]and. After the [United States tour], I will play at [an electronic festival] in Portugal and then probably play in Paris with Oren Ambarchi and Stephen O’Malley.
You’ve interviewed and collaborated musically with the science-fiction writer Norman Spinrad, whose books often present a vision of a dystopian future. He’s considered a huge influence on you—the name Heldon comes from a Spinrad novel: Is your music an extension of that?
Spinrad is a very old friend. He introduced me to Philip K. Dick, whom I met in [Los Angeles] in 1974. Norman has played or “sung” on Heldon albums and my solo albums from the ’80s—I treated his voice via my Vocoder! At the beginning of Heldon, I was very involved in science fiction books, and in philosophy and literature in general. So Dick and Spinrad’s ideas influenced me a lot in the way of my comprehension of the world, ideas and nature. My music is not an extension of science fiction, but was once upon a time very connected to a kind of sci-fi—let’s say the political [themes] that Dick and Spinrad wrote about.
What do you look for in a collaborator?
I always think that music is a connection between brains, souls and the feelings of people (musicians). I do solo recordings but I am a lot more involved with live musicians and ensembles. I navigate between encounters and feelings that can be very different at this or that period of my life. I mainly want to change not only the music, but also the relationship between musicians.
Your upcoming show in Sacramento will be played as a duo with the equally adventurous guitarist Barry Cleveland. Will it be improvised, and what can people expect to hear from Richard Pinhas in 2013 that’s different from what you did 20 years ago?
Well, I don’t know yet! I am very pleased and very aware of what can happen with Barry and it will be a complete experience because we’ve never [played] a duet together and I will like this a lot, I have a great respect for Barry and hope that we will do something like one plus one equals “x”—but not “two” … I believe in invention and in spontaneity.