Photo by Richard Dumas
These days, Richard Pinhas looks back with finality and forward with contingency. He is constantly busy on his social media accounts sharing artifacts from his 50+ years as an artist, to ensure his memories survive him. Every forthcoming Heldon album is “probably his last”, as is every continental tour.
He looks back gratefully. “I will soon be 71 years old and I realize that I have lived, for the first time in Western Europe, 70 years without war. And I saw the beginning of rock & roll – I even saw the Beatles in 1963 when my father took me – and maybe the end. These 70 years have been incredible in music, and in philosophy too, thanks to Deleuze, Foucault, Lacan.
Her own life is a story of decision-making and commitment. When Muff Winwood offered to sign Heldon to Island but wanted to wait a year before releasing the debut album, Richard made the tumultuous decision to strike out on his own and create France’s first DIY label. , Disjuncta, controlling all aspects from recording to distribution, years ahead of the DIY culture pioneered by Spiral Scratch in the UK. When he was no longer ready to record and perform, he disappeared into the Alps for a decade, mostly devoted to winter sports. And, more recently, he moved to Nantes because he wanted to play with the two young Nantes musicians who now play with him in Heldon, Florian Tatard and Arthur Narcy.
It is impossible to say how much of this decision comes from his participation in the French quasi-revolution of May 1968, when workers and students nearly overthrew the state. He was on the barricades, celebrating his seventeenth birthday there. There has often been a political dimension to his almost entirely instrumental work, raising funds to ensure prisoners of the Red Army faction receive a fair trial and explicitly using Disjuncta to undermine the existing exchange economy. . But, more than anything, he’s driven by a love for what he shamelessly calls rock & roll, as his Baker’s Dozen makes clear. His recordings from 1973, whether with Heldon or solo, are often scathing or seductive attacks on musical convention, but his earliest performances had been in a band doing blues covers, and his earliest recordings – as Schizo – are blues-psych excursions. For him, it’s the same thing, as the title of Heldon’s third album clearly says: It’s Always Rock & Roll.
If you read the list of his chosen thirteen, you won’t notice his dual obsessions with science fiction and philosophy, but they’re never far from the surface when he speaks. He became friends with some of those who taught him, in particular the famous philosopher Gilles Deleuze, with whom he studied at the Sorbonne, and worked with and met many science fiction writers: Norman Spinrad (who gave his name to Heldon), Maurice Dantec and Philip K Dick to begin with. And for him, these two deep sources of inspiration are linked: his doctoral thesis was on “Science fiction, the unconscious and other machines”.
His Baker’s Dozen reflects his love for guitars and guitarists. This is what first led him to take an interest in music – he talks about the impact of having heard “Telstar” in his childhood in the same way that Éliane Radigue talks about hearing “Etude Schaeffer’s Aux Chemins De Fer on the radio – and shaped his life. What is much less present are the synthesizers he also used so distinctly both in Heldon and in his solo work.
What about his own work now that it is coming to an end? Pinhas watchers will have noticed his penchant for bashing a few of his previous albums, but he has very recently come to terms with them. “Twenty years ago, I would say there were one or two Heldon albums that I didn’t like very much. But people tell me now that you loved it when you did it. And of course I did. If I hadn’t been satisfied, I wouldn’t have released them. By the time you finish an album, you’re 95% satisfied; it’s great, it never reaches 100%. So now I accept that I don’t have to choose. It’s up to the people to choose. »
The positive reaction to the recent reissue of his 1979 solo Iceland, both dark and meditative, encouraged him. And now there’s Heldon’s latest album Antelast, who manages to hold the line for almost 50 years: there are guitar bands that use electronics and electronic bands that use guitars, but Heldon, perhaps uniquely, is truly both. . This time, drummer Narcy gives the album the same percussive flow he gave Richard’s solo in 2017 Reverse, adding dimension to the Heldon sound heard on only a few tracks of their classic 1974-79 album series. Fans have often distinguished between Pinhas’ solo releases and Heldon’s efforts, ranking the former as more contemplative and the latter as more thought-provoking and experimental. To the extent that this has always been true, it is no longer. The two almost parallel lines have converged, welcoming the horizon.
To start reading Baker’s Dozen by Richard Pinhas, click on the portrait below