Henry Flynt

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Hillbilly minimalist fiddler and acculturated avant-savant who waged a multi-front war on culture.
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Beginning in the early '60s and continuing for the next two decades, Henry Flynt performed with some of the most famous avant-garde musicians and artists in the world. After his final performances in 1983, he gave up music for a career in philosophy. He is considered a visionary in both fields. A few years after he stopped performing, there was next to nothing in terms of available recordings by Flynt, and with the individual himself no longer pursuing a career in music, it might seem logical that Flynt's work would vanish completely, but as is the case with much unique, quality work in any field of the arts, a demand began to grow silently and steadily. As a result, by the new millennium there were several new CDs of Flynt recitals available and plans in the works for more to follow. And those interested in his philosophical works could spend hours perusing dozens of essays on the www.henryflynt.org website.

Not much information is available about the upbringing of this North Carolina native. He emerged in the avant-garde scene in New York City through a series of concerts at Yoko Ono's loft in February of 1961, and several years later, he was heard as an electric violinist with the equally famous Velvet Underground. He was also associated through the '60s with famous minimalist composer La Monte Young, who wrote and titled several pieces specifically for Flynt. Clearly these associations as well as his involvement with the Fluxus art movement provide plenty of big-name avant-garde cachet for Flynt, but in reality, it is for his high-quality musical performances, much of them solo, that he has achieved legendary status. He kept meticulous notes on all his performances, many of which have titles referencing hillbilly or old-time mountain music, such as "Hillbilly Jive," "Hoedown," "You Are My Everlovin'," "Cowboy Corroboree," "Hillbilly Electronic Music," and "Lonesome Train Dreams." His performances would include extended improvisations, sometimes with tape or electronic backgrounds. Flynt recorded and performed this music regularly up until his retirement, although most of the performances took place at small underground music venues, many of them in New York City. Although he did appear in La Monte Young's ensembles, among others, he mostly concentrated on his own projects. Besides the solo works, these included some ensembles such as the Dharma Warriors and a country-rock band he assembled for a studio recording.

His strong interest in philosophy was an important influence during his music career as well, adding an extra dimension to his work. Flynt is strongly inquisitive of many concepts of our society that people take for granted, including popular notions of what constitutes art and entertainment. In an article written in 1968, Flynt proposed replacing art with something he called "brend," which he described as an immediate, real subjective form of gratification. He was particularly influenced by music or musicians that had some form of ecstatic involvement with their work; for example, he regarded John Coltrane as completely unique in the history of jazz because of the intense energy he brought to his work. As a result of these feelings, the music of Coltrane was a strong influence on Flynt and the Coltrane style of saxophone exploration can be heard in Flynt's extended fiddle improvisations. The so-called hillbilly context of his music, or attempts to connect it with old-time music, might have some connection with his attempts to make avant-garde music a more direct experience for the audience. He was also involved in creating a variety of large-scale sonic installations, many of them dealing with themes of sonic ecstasy or total listener immersion.