richard pinhas reviews


Review: The Quiet Us

This one time on a daytrip to Filey, I paid to have my fortune read. The silver-demanding crone rubbed her nicotine-stained fingers across her crystal ball before giving me the disconcertingly specific premonition that I would never have my own semi-regular psychedelic rock column for an online music publication whose name nobody knows how to pronounce (let alone meet a tall dark stranger). She then had the cheek to advise that my time would be better spent training to be a professional indexer. WELL I ASK YOU, OH CLAIRVOYANT CHARLATAN WHO LOOKED WEIRDLY LIKE CHRISTOPHER WALKEN IN DRAG, WHO'S LAUGHING NOW? Richard Pinhas wasn't as lucky as I. Shortly after a friend gave him the worst possible reading on a pack of Tarot cards, Pinhas lost both his parents, broke up with his girlfriend and lost his flat. Pinhas' misfortune is his listeners gain because he managed to channel the emotional and physical upheaval of that time into this phenomenal new record that for a time its creator envisaged could be his last. Working closely with Oren Ambarchi and roping in other collaborators such as Masami Akita (aka Merzbow) whose analogue synth parts were recorded remotely in Tokyo, Pinhas has assembled the first truly cerebrum-melting release of 2017. Even the first time I listened to it, on horrible tinny laptop speakers that really shouldn't be used to hear anything except maybe the irritating ping of some unwarranted software notification, Reverse still had me pinned to the ceiling, writhing eel-like in lysergic ecstasy. When I finally braved it on serviceable headphones, its four utterly absorbing skitter-drummed cycles of abstract space drone had me clawing feverishly at the oscillating fibres of my iridescent corduroys and orally thanking the Lord that I've been blessed with more than my share of R. Pinhas. I was politely ejected from the library.

Review: Pitchfork

Save for a brief hiatus in the '80s when he became disillusioned with music, guitarist Richard Pinhas has spent the last five decades making records, both solo and with many groups including '70s French space-rock innovators Heldon. Lately he's been more productive, and collaborative, than ever: Reverse is his 14th release this decade, and like most of the others it features a fine supporting cast of accomplished players.

That cast began with Oren Ambarchi, a partner with Pinhas on their excellent 2014 album Tikkun. The pair recorded guitar drones in an initial session, stripped away the parts that they felt didn't work, and then added contributions from five collaborators including noise legend Merzbow, percussion master William Winant, and Pinhas's own son Duncan on synths. That's a lot of large personalities to fit into one space, but Reverse never feels crowded or dominated. Its expansive mix of sounds comes off as democratic.

In fact, if there is such a thing as a star of Reverse, it's one of its lesser-known participants, drummer Arthur Narcy. On three of the four tracks in an album-length suite called "Dronz," Narcy's playing creates a sturdy spine for his colleagues to wrap tones around, while also being agile enough to respond to their amorphous improvisations. In some spots, as during the gradual climb of "Dronz 2 - End," he starts with a steady beat and tweaks it into abnormal shapes to match the guitars' thickening clouds. He takes the opposite tack on opener "Dronz 1 - Ketter," coagulating jazzy sounds until they become metronomic.

The textures that Pinhas and company surround Narcy with are in constant motion, and are dense enough that something new is revealed with each listen. The sound the group conjures is too spacey to be called noise and too busy to be called drone. Its base is rock'n'roll, though there's little in the way of riffs or single, discrete notes. Reverse sounds more like rock music echoed out into the stratosphere, extracting the essence of guitar chords the way the shining light of a star distills the core of something long gone.

Pinhas has called making Reverse a healing process, coming as it did during a stressful period in his personal life, including the passing of both of his parents. There is a therapeutic aspect to the way the music continually opens up the world, suggesting that looking forward can help alleviate the past. That's true even in the album's only drum-less track, "Dronz 4 - V2," whose whirring treble feels more like a cathartic scream than a medicinal potion. In the sure hands of Pinhas and his comrades, Reverse is big enough to contain emotional multitudes.

Review: Freq

"Allons enfants de la Patrie, le jour de gloire est arrivé." When the musical "Marseillaise" is sung, there can surely be no more fitting embodiment of Gallic savoir faire than Richard Pinhas. Philosopher, guitarist, innovator, electronic music pioneer - his visage is perfectly placed to flutter aloft on the bloody banners raised above the barricades. For those au fait with the demi-monde of French avant rock, Christian Vander has seemingly always had more cachet, yet for my rosbif Pound Sterling, it is Pinhas who has the superior canon.

Having obtained a PhD from the Sorbonne in the late Sixties after studying philosophy under Gilles Deleuze - not to mention sneaking over la Manche to London regularly in order to hang out at the 100 Club and soak up the then cutting-edge guitar innovations of Jimi Hendrix and Peter Green - Pinhas went on to form the magnificent electronic rock outfit Heldon in 1974. Despite never achieving blockbuster levels of international acclaim or profile, then or (unlike his German contemporaries) since, Heldon nevertheless released seven quietly influential and genre-defining albums, including their chef d'oevure It's Always Rock and Roll, before a quiet dissolution at the tail end of the Seventies.

Following the demise of Heldon, although Pinhas worked constantly either on his own music, or as a synthesiser-based session man on that of others, as the Eighties wore on, the spreading malaise that Pinhas felt was creeping into music saw him take a position of radical opposition, erecting an iron cordon sanitaire and withdrawing from the music industry completely:

...I stopped making music altogether in 82/83. I felt I didn't have much to say. This lasted six or seven years. Instead I went to the French Alps six months a year to parachute, paraglide, and read philosophy. At this time, it seemed music was in a depression. Eno didn't make anything very important then. Kraftwerk didn't make anything important in the '80s.

Despite being some distance removed from the territory in which Pinhas had traditionally operated, it is Nirvana whom he credits with re-energising both music in general and his interest around making it in particular:

And then came Nirvana. Wow! And they freed the music. For real, I don't joke. Nirvana was a really important thing. Then I came back to music. That was a miracle. Because normally when you stop, you're out. Out of the music, out of the market. It was a new revolution. When I came back I went directly to digital, and learned digital recording in Sound Designer. Pro Tools didn't exist yet. So, I learned everything.

Although hors de combat for the best part of a decade, Pinhas put his newly-acquired learning to immediate use, and some two decades later, he is busier than ever, touring (autumn 2016 saw him complete a successful tour of America with sold-out shows in New York, Houston and Austin), collaborating with the likes of Wolf Eyes and Masami Akita (otherwise known to the world by his chosen sobriquet Merzbow), and releasing a steady flow of low-key tours de force.

The latest of these, Reverse, sees Pinhas embarking upon a lengthy and highly personal instrumental entitled "Dronz", made in the wake of a troubled personal annus horriblis in which his parents died, his long-term relationship went up in flames and he even found himself temporarily homeless. The shadowy, dense textures of the music represent something of a musical exorcism of the evil hoodoo that precipitated it. Pinhas even contemplated an original title of @Last - signposting it as his final album - and so its revised title, therefore, signifies a subtle double entendre that is not immediately apparent. As Pinhas has put it recently: "It was a healing process for me to make this album. To get rid of all the negativity that occupied my brain. But that is all behind me now."

Constructed from an armature created by Pinhas and Oren Ambarchi, additional parts were subsequently layered in after an exhaustive search for the right contributors, one which eventually included Akita, Pinhas's son Duncan and the outstanding American percussionist William Winant (perhaps best known to 'rock' audiences for his contribution to Sonic Youth's monumental Goodbye 20th Century).

Divided out across four separate movements - "Ketter", "End", "Nefesh" and "V2" - the pieces fizz audibly with musical joie de vivre, Pinhas delivering a masterful blend of archaeology of his own musical past, modern digital possibilities du jour and sly Kabbalistic subtext. The end result feels like Pinhas in the rôle of learned, old mekubbal assembling the disjecta membra of his past in the service of creating something new, something shot through with the feeling of philosophical questing and spiritual renewal perhaps appropriate to an older self.

The highlight of the album is, perhaps, the third movement, "Nefesh". Erupting in a primordial soup of analogue synth whose chemical constituents are immediately recognisable as containing strong trace elements of Heldon, Arthur Narcy's insistent drumming propels us relentlessly forward through the cosmic soundspace. The epic "V2", with its understated nods towards both Thomas Pynchon and David Bowie (RIP), provides the denouement to the album, one which has been described as "music sounding like the aftermath of an enormous futuristic electrical malfunction still lingering over a vast cityscape."

Overall, Reverse is a deep, dark pool in which to swim; and the further out one ventures, imperceptibly, the deeper the waters become. It is an album that is slow to reveal its full expanse, but each listen discloses new swirls and eddies and provides the ear with things that may have been missed on previous excursions into its liquid environment. Not only has Pinhas managed to rid himself of some personal demons, he has - in the best alchemical tradition - moved from nigredo, reconciling opposites, taming the volatility of his components, and created rubedo, a successful and spiritually meaningful end to his great work.

And that can only be a good thing, n'est-ce pas?

1. Pinhas' dissertation was charmingly entitled Science-Fiction, Inconscient et Autres Machins, and concerned itself with the intersections of time, time manipulation, science fiction and analogue electronic music. Sacré bleu!

2. Pynchon's mammoth work Gravity's Rainbow features the proto-Apollo Vergeltungswaffe Zwei (V2) rocket as its McGuffin, the black and white monster also receiving a name-check in Bowie's tip o' the cap to Kraftwerk's Florian Schneider, "V-2 Schneider". Contrary to widely circulated opinion, Bowie was not off his nut on coke and making darkly-veiled allusions to the Nazis; V2 was Schneider's band nickname, his colleague Ralf Hütter being known as The Doktor.

Review: Vice

French guitarist and composer Richard Pinhas has worked in five different decades refining osmium-dense drones and outer space explorations, both under his own name and in collaboration with his band Heldon. His work is heavy, but ascendant, the sort of six-string manipulation that prizes both chaos and fragility, darkness and light, swallowing worlds in his torrents of abstracted noise.

Over the last decade, he's been especially prolific, turning out over a dozen releases that push the boundaries of his six-stringed experimentation. But his latest LP Reverse-out today on Bureau B-might be his most intense yet, a stunningly complex collection of four pieces that heave and flex under his monolithic guitar lines. Aided by Oren Ambarchi, Masami Akita (best known as Merzbow), the drummer Arthur Narcy, and a host of other players, Pinhas was able to channel the gravity of a period of his life marked by confusion and loss into something remarkably uplifting. The cloudy, complex pieces on Reverse acknowledge the unimaginable grief and disarray that comes when you lose people that you love, but there's a lightness to them too, with room for recovery amidst the darkness.

THUMP: You've said that this album has been influenced by changes in your life, could you go into a bit more detail about what that means?

Richard Pinhas: Yes, I have been in a very troubling period. I lost my two parents in four months while on tour. In between, [I split with] with my girlfriend and lost my flat. But with this album and the help of a few very close musicians, I had quite a healing period that made me optimistic. At least for a little while. I will be back to my old demons and my dark obsessions for sure. So it is like an intermezzo.

THUMP: Do you feel drawn to create in those periods of disarray, or was this something that came after? But either way, why pay tribute to such a period with an album, instead of just trying to forget?

RP: It's impossible to forget anything, we are human beings. Can you forget the Laogai or Gulag? You have to remember it, even if you prefer not to.

When I am in a down period, I don't play, record or perform. Just because it's impossible. But then I'm very productive again, I think, and full of inventions and strength. In the last 18 months, I recorded four to six albums, and played 43 gigs in two months-across Europe, the US, and Japan. I am a workaholic, when I am not in too bad of a psychological condition.

Reverse was part of the healing process, of figuring out that in life there is some light possible and maybe another world too. I do not want to forget the bad times-and I had a lot, believe me-but I always turn to the light. But the future seems dark It is just what I see, as an observer of what happens.

THUMP: How do you feel that period is reflected on the record, is it in darkness or in uplift or both? The record doesn't really present only one feeling or path.

RP: All the moments of my life-and probably of all lives of men and women-are bright and dark at the same time. When it is a dark time you feel dark 99%, but when it is a good time you always remember that dark times exist. They are in the past and also upcoming. But when I am recording or on tour it is always a matter of light and happiness. I can't play without it. When the black sun comes I stop, cancel, procrastinate. At the same time there is a general plan: make music, give and receive love.

THUMP: Do you see music like the stuff you make, which often moves slowly and contemplatively, as having a functional purpose. Especially in times when the world outside is chaotic, do you use it to slow down for yourself?

RP: No, I am naturally very fast (when I am not down or depressive) and have a lot of power to work. I am not contemplative. But my music has, I think, a political function: chaos. And it is of course also a message about love and creation. But things change: 40 years ago around the three last Heldon records everybody said, "you can't sell this kind of music and you can't dance on it." But now: young people get this music, generations of people get this music in their hearts, and at concerts there are people from 18 to 80. Last tour, a lot of young people danced. So in these rare moments I am happy.

THUMP:Tell me a bit about the cast of players on this record. Over the course of your career you've worked with so many people-why work with the people you did for this one, especially on something that's being released under your name?

RP: I do love to play solo sets, but as a musician i love even more to play and record with other musicians. Choice comes from possibilities and will. For the album Welcome in the Void, it was obvious that Yoshida Tatsuya was the one for recording a more than one-hour track. It was the same thing for the drumming on Reverse, these tracks were made for Arthur Narcy. And with Oren [Ambarchi] it was a kind of brotherhood. There was also a small part of recording from Masami Akita, William Winant, and Duncan Nilsson-Pinhas, my beloved son. I love to play with my friends from the USA, Japan and Australia.

I can have a very simple way of recording or a very complex ones. Reverse is very complex, recorded in many different studios across different countries. More important: Oren Ambarchi is co-composer for half of the tracks. Without him this album would not even exist. There is a 5th track, the best and longest one, that will come as "Dronz - Bonus" on the next Bureau B vinyl release.

THUMP: You mention in the press release that this record was initially conceived of as your final release, why was that and what eventually changed your mind?

RP: My very last album will be named At Last or @ last, but we are not yet at that point. For two main reasons: I have to finish the depressive tryptique. And there is an upcoming Heldon album. And some live collaboration with people like Yoshida Tatsuya. And Yoshida and I recorded as a trio with Makoto Kawabata, last november in France. And there's an album with William Winant recorded in a famous studio in Oakland. And so on and so on. Then at the end of the end you will get @last, maybe soon, maybe in ten years. Second reason: I have a three album contract-minimum-with Bureau B. And I keep my words... or I try to. You is an important matter. And doing albums is a question of love.

Back to Reverse

latest releases

released january 2017
bureau b

Process And Reality
process and reality (w/tatsuya yosihda & masami akitra)
released september 2016
cuneiform records

mu (w/barry cleveland)
released september 2016
cuneiform records