“We were of course very impressed by Cage when we were in Darmstadt, but he has his house and I have mine.”
— Henning Christiansen
While countless pages of energy, words and print have been laid down concerning such alternative musical heroes as Sun Ra, Stockhausen, Miles Davis and John Cage to name but four, relatively little attention has been paid to the Danish Fluxus man who was a central figure of radical Danish performance for over 40 years. Henning Christiansen was a composer, musician and artist that sprung out of the overflowing well of mid 20th Century post-Cage Fluxus inspired activity. His friends and collaborators included Joseph Beuys, for whose performances he provided the sonic backdrop, along with Nam June Paik, Ben Patterson, Keith Rowe and Christophe Charles, as well as the bulk of radical Danish artists that emerged from this period of immense creativity and exploration. Henning predominantly worked within the context of visual art that likely contributes to his relative neglect in the experimental music media and community. The breadth of Henning Christiansen’s creative output is wildly far reaching, encapsulating a large variety of styles and techniques which touch upon many strands of 20th century creative practice, all with his unique fingerprint. It is not possible to summarise all facets of his career and artistic output in less than a lengthy book, so this piece is focused on his career in music. The different practices, stages and output, along with tracing the path he took (not an easy task given the plentiful forks, detours, stop/starts, u-turns etc) – suffice to say the heterogeneous nature of his output is overwhelming. Henning was a passionate man, an active man, a curious man and a great creative man.
The music of Henning Christiansen is an unusual proposition. It comes from the 20th Century avant garde but does not sit comfortably amongst any of the recognisable patterns within that field. It often incorporates a collage technique but is not strictly ‘musique concrete’; there are no chance based experiments but often within his work there appears what could be considered random gestures; and while improvisation is most certainly at hand, this is not do or die free improvisation. It came from (exists within?) the Fluxus paradigm but avoids willful piano destruction or flushing toilets (although he did partake in performances of such works by others). Christiansen’s recorded output can be conservative, radical, beautiful, unsettling, discreet, random, charming and hilarious. There is a human behind all this, one who prioritized the logic and chaos of nature over pure theory and the synthetic.