Listen to "025 :: TAMBURIUM" on Spreaker.


"Solo for Tamburium" by Catherine Christer Hennix, composed and performed for MaerzMuzik in 2017, and released by Blank Forms Editions in 2023. Listen / Buy direct


A constellation of notes slowly comes into view, filling up the night sky with light. From darkness comes illumination; from silence comes reverberation; from nothing comes, seemingly, everything – every pitch, every harmony, every resonance, all at once.

We are abruptly thrown into a swirling cosmos of sound, surrounded by an unfamiliar polyphony. We are momentarily lost in a foreign musical landscape, unmoored from the customary landmarks of melody, rhythm, and thematic development. And then, with time, we are gradually transformed, as this music works its magic upon us, bringing us into its mesmerizing world, inducting us into its greater mysteries, elevating us to its astral plane, and allowing us to come in contact with its musica universalis, the harmony of the spheres.

In the common parlance of musical typology, this piece would most commonly be labelled as "minimalist", for how it eschews music's conventional variety of timbres, textures, dynamics, and themes. But for all its minimalism, this piece feels like it contains everything within it and encompasses the totality of harmonic space. It would seem just as appropriate to label it "maximalist".

And fittingly, for all that this music feels utterly unique, it was not in fact fashioned ex nihilo. It speaks a new, distinctive vernacular, but it's a vernacular in conversation with other, well established traditions, like the Indian raga and the Arabic maqam. It is played on a new, synthetic instrument, but it's an instrument that was constructed entirely out of other, acoustic instruments, meticulously sampled so that they could be reworked, recombined, and replayed. It's like this music was already there, in potentia, in these other sounds, just waiting to be discovered, a shimmering universe hidden within.

The piece will go on like this for seventy-eight minutes, but seventy-eight minutes doesn't feel like its true length. It doesn't really have a beginning, middle, and end. It fades in at its start and fades out at its close, as if the piece in fact goes on forever, and we are just catching a glimpse as it passes us by, like a satellite crossing the heavens. And so it continues, slowly unspooling and imperceptibly changing, deepening and expanding but staying fundamentally the same.

The piece will go on like this for seventy-eight minutes, but what strikes me most about this music is how it seems in every instant to be self-contained, as if it doesn't need to play out over time at all, as if every moment holds within it the potentiality of every other moment, like a musical fractal geometry, infinitely repeating no matter how far you go in. It is music that is in time, but not of it; music without any essential duration; music that transcends the temporal dimension; and music that lifts us out of time as well, to share in its eternal present. It is music that recalls that line from William Blake, showing us what it's like to:

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand
And Eternity in an hour

The piece will go on like this for seventy-eight minutes, but by the time we finally reach that point that number will lose its meaning. It will feel like we've been listening for all of time and for no time at all. Because infinity cannot be contained in any length of time, and thus is equally imperfectly contained in all of them. We may never be able to truly comprehend this music; like infinity, it's too much for us finite beings to take in. But we can listen and allow ourselves to be in its presence, to let our sense of time dilate and our consciousness expand as everything else evaporates into the ether and only this music, in its limitless potential, remains.

Liner Notes

I was deeply saddened to learn that, mere days after I released this episode, Catherine Christer Hennix passed away, at the age of 75.

Blank Forms, the label / nonprofit that released Solo for Tamburium, includes liner notes of their own with the release, which are well worth the read, and which are my main source of information about this composition. Of special interest is their account of how this piece was composed and performed:

Hennix plays an instrument of her own creation, a keyboard interface controlling a suite of eighty-eight recordings of precision-tuned tambura, creating a sweeping and continuous flow of rich harmonic interplay.

I have failed to find any videos or photographs of Hennix's tamburium, but a tambura, if you're wondering, looks and sounds like this.

In addition to being a musician, Hennix was also, perhaps unsurprisingly, a mathematician, whose work, from what I can tell, focused, again perhaps unsurprisingly, on the concept of infinity.

And while I'm at it, "that line from William Blake" is from his poem "Auguries of Innocence".