Catherine Christer Hennix, a Swedish polymath and pioneer of drone music, has died. She was 75 years old. The experimental music non-profit Blank Forms, a frequent distributor of Hennix’ music, announced her death on Friday (November 17). The New York Times reports Hennix’ cause of death as complications of an undisclosed illness. The artist had received treatment for cancer in the past.
Born to a jazz composer mother in Stockholm in 1946, Hennix began playing drums as a child and started taking formal lessons at thirteen, around the same time that she would hear John Coltrane and Miles Davis perform live for the first time. She started crafting compositions on the computers at Stockholm’s Electric Music Studio (ESM) in 1969, a pastime that fostered a passion for logic and mathematics, which she pursued to the graduate level. During her career, she also taught mathematics at SUNY New Paltz and served as a visiting Professor of Logic at MIT’s Artifical Intellegence Laboratory.
Hennix’s work with drones traces back to her immersion in New York’s downtown music scene in the late 1960s, which she sought out as a Coltrane- and Stockhausen-influenced Stockholm University linguistics graduate. She connected with minimalist composer La Monte Young, and later recalled in a 2010 interview that upon hearing Young’s music it only took her “about 60 seconds to decide that this was the sound.” While continuing to experiment with synthesizers, drones, and just intonation, an alternative to standard Western tuning, Hennix also composed poetry, drama, and equations. Her varied pursuits eventually led her to organize a ten day festival called Brouwer’s Lattice at Stockholm’s Moderna Museet in 1976, which showcased Hennix’s work alongside other minimalist artists.
It was at that festival that she performed “The Electric Harpsichord,” one of her most well-known compositions. Over a constant underlying drone, Hennix improvised on a Yamaha keyboard scaled to just intonation and fed the results through a tape delay. The recording of the performance runs 25 minutes, but Hennix envisioned the piece to have no ending, an example of her self-described infinitary composition. The artist Henry Flynt, who Hennix worked with often over the years, called the piece as a “life-changing revelation.”