RICHARD PINHAS press
Website: Sonic Circuits
Writer: Christopher Porter
TO UNDERSTAND RICHARD PINHAS, you need to immerse yourself in the philosophy of immanence, Friedrich Nietzsche's revival of eternal return, Gilles Deleuze's rhizome theory and metatronic consciousness. The former professor holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from the Sorbonne and he's not afraid to use it.
But to understand the dreamy music of this legendary French guitarist and electronica pioneer, just shut your eyes, open your ears and listen. Suddenly, all the philosophical thoughts that underpin Pinhas' songs become absorbed in your soul. You still might not understand the concepts intellectually, but you can certainly feel them deep in your gut.
Since forming the bands Schizo and Heldon - the latter named after Norman Spinrad's speculative fiction novel "The Iron Dream" - in the early '70s, and continuing as a solo artist, Pinhas' combination of intellectual rigor and psychedelic, electronics-soaked music is consistently captivating and mind expanding. His most recent dose of brainiac space drones and evocative oceanic soundwaves can be heard on the recent double CD "Metatronic," released on Silver Spring's own Cuneiform Records, which has championed Pinhas for years and has released or reissued much of his extensive recorded catalog. Pinhas called "Metatron" a "concept album around the notion of unification," based on the Hebrew phrase "tikkun olam" ("repairing the world").
Pinhas plays the Velvet Lounge on Thursday as part of his latest U.S. tour.
EXPRESS: What do you think of today's electronic music scene?
PINHAS: I'm not specially interested in electronic music; more in post-rock, in noise groups like Wolf Eyes and some of the San Francisco scene. And, of course, classical music.
EXPRESS: Are you still inspired by science fiction?
PINHAS: I stay tuned in and am still very close to Norman Spinrad - the American writer - and Maurice Dante - the French sci-fi writer living in Montreal. But to be honest, I only read two or three new science fiction books each year.
EXPRESS: How did Gilles Deleuze's philosophy and Friedrich Nietzsche's eternal return ideas influence your music?
PINHAS: With Deleuze, by truly living and sharing his philosophy; it's a whole, immanent philosophy. Plus, he was a very, very close friend and a great teacher. His main concepts were about time and repetition, process theory and about synchronicity and flux material. So there is a direct connection between repetitive music - my kind of music, metatronic - and his time theory and Nietzsche's eternal return concept. So eternal return and my way of processing are very connected, still in relationship. Music helps me understand some philosophical concepts just as concepts help me to make my music as a process of process - the immanent thing. Deus sive natura. [Literally, "God or nature," from philosopher Benedict Spinoza, but meaning "God is nature"]
EXPRESS: I understand you wrote a book about Friedrich Nietzsche and his relationship to music.
PINHAS: Yes, it was a book about Nietzsche, Deleuze and music. We know the admiration Nietzsche had for [Richard] Wagner - I also love "The Ring" that I saw four times in Bayreuth, Germany - and [Georges] Bizet as well as Peter Gast [aka Heinrich Koselitz], with whom he wrote many letters. Nietzsche talks a lot about music in his books, too. I have done a part of my philosophy Ph.D. on the problem of time and repetition. Probably all the musicians that work on repetitive music - like Philip Glass, Terry Riley, etc. - have directly or indirectly a straight relationship to the concept of time and repetition and to the concept of eternal return.
EXPRESS: You once said, "I think there is a straight connection between who I see as the three most important people in the history of modern music: Wagner, [Bela] Bartok and Robert Fripp. But Fripp is the most important composer." What is it about Wagner and Bartok that you love - and why is Fripp the most important?
PINHAS: To be honest, I don't remember ever saying that. It is close to that, but for classical music I am more involved in [Richard] Bach, Wagner. And for the moderns, of course, [Fripp's band] King Crimson is very important - very, very - but not more than Miles Davis or Jimi Hendrix. Fripp is important because hearing his music made my life different and helped me to decide to be definitively a composer and a musician - better than teaching at university.
EXPRESS: There's a particular theme that runs through "Metatron"'s titles. So, deep breath, here we go. First, Metatron is an angel in the Kabbalah. Then the song name "Tikkun" is taken from the Torah, and the video track "Tikkun (Part 4) " is subtitled "Gematria 52vs814" after the Kabbalah numerology system. And "Tikkun (Part 2): Tikkune Zohar" is named after the most important book of the Kabbalah. Plus, "Shaddai" is one of the Hebrew names for God, and you have two songs that mention that in the title. And you have a composition, "The Ari," named for the Kabbalist Isaac Luria. How did Jewish religion and mysticism influence these works?
PINHAS: So, it is a very long story. In brief, first I don't believe at all in God except if you say, as Spinoza, that "God is nature": Deus sive natura. I spent, lately in my life, five or six years on Spinoza. Fantastic time. Spinoza, directly or indirectly, was inspired by a certain way of the Kabbalah by Isaac Luria - this great genius - despite him saying that Kabbalah is "crap." [Pinhas goes on about a bunch of other deep philosophical things here that, frankly, we can't make heads or tails of, so let's just jump to the next bit.]
EXPRESS: OK, I have a massive brain cramp. You also have two song titles on "Metatron" whose inspirations escape me. Who is or what are Moumoune and Mietz as well as Tigroo and Leloo?
PINHAS: Moumoune was my female hamster that died two years ago. I had a pretty close relationship with her; a kind of empathy and love. She helped me pass a very depressive time in my life - true, even if it seems strange. Mietz was the cat of my psychoanalyst; Mietz died three months after Moumoune. So, it was a very sad story. But Tigroo was my beautiful girlfriend at this moment of creation and my nickname was Leloo - "The Wolf." She was half-French, half-Chinese. But life goes on. See the Talking Heads song "Once in a Lifetime."
EXPRESS: You left music for a period because, you said, you had "no musical statement to make." Have you ever felt like taking another break from music?
PINHAS: No, it just happened one time, between 1982 and 1988. During this time, I studied philosophy again. I spent my life in the French mountains, skiing and paragliding, except one day a week for the Deleuze course. It will never happen again. I just went off music - and a little bit off civilization.
EXPRESS: You've always been very open and honest about which albums of yours you've liked and which ones you don't. What do you think of "Metatron" and where does it rank?
PINHAS: Really, one of the best; surely a kind of achievement. I know that some Heldon CDs, like the second and the third, I don't like them really anymore. Same for the [Peter] Frohmader collaboration. But "Tranzition" and Heldon's "Interface" and "Un Reve" are, even today, very good and powerful albums.