A celebration of Bernard Heidsieck, 1928 – 2014


[In the aftermath of Bernard Heidsieck’s recent death, I can only look back on the years when I knew him well, at first in a series of international sound poetry events in the 1960s & 70s, in which I always felt myself as an outside but very happy participant.  In Paris Diane Rothenberg and I often visited with him & Françoise Janicot in their apartment on the Ile Saint Louis, but I also remember rendez-vous in New York & San Francisco, Glasgow & Verona, wherever those adventuresome & peripatetic times allowed us all to be together.  He was early into the new technologies as they related to poetry & performance, but it was his physical presence & the force of mind & body that made the most lasting impression: an awesome trembling & shaking as he read his words aloud & transmitted splintered waves of energy from him to us.  And with all of that he projected also a sense of calm & modesty that were integral to the poet’s charms & spels that held us all in thrall.  In his absence now I feel compelled to print or reprint a few short tributes by some of us who knew & learned from him.  His written works are hard to come by these days, but the performances, “torn from the page,” as he told us, continue to circulate by those electronic means he was so early to get into. (J.R.)]

A Commentary On Bernard Heidsieck
from Jerome Rothenberg & Pierre Joris, Poems for the Millennium, volume 2

... Action Poetry is born from the moment the poem is torn from the page.  B.H.


In the name of which his own work — writing & performance — offered a series of tensions & an ongoing consideration of the MEANS or “tools” by which “the conception, the very ‘fabrication’ of the poem, can and must be thoroughly shaken up, and transformed.”  His context was the resurgence, post-World War II, of what came to be called textsound or (by Heidsieck, Henri Chopin, & others) poésie sonore — not so much an extension of the older “sound poetry” (though concurrent with it) as the exploration of a new language art pursued through a rapidly developing electronic technology: from tape recorder to synthesizer & computer to CD-rom & what came after.  (Heidsieck’s alternative term, poésie action [action poetry], endowed the new poetry with the dynamics of his own brand of live-plus-recorded performance & with sound materials collaged from the real, surrounding world.)  Writes Steve McCaffery (also speaking as performance poet): “In addition to their value as social comment, Heidsieck sees his sound texts existing within the domain of ‘a ritual, ceremonial, or event’ that assumes an interrogative stance vis a vis our daily wordscapes.  The day to day is appropriated [as actual sound collage] and animated to make meaningful ‘our mechanical and technocratic age by recapturing mystery and breath.’“


About Bernard Heidsieck
by Steve McCaffery from
Sound Poetry: A Survey

Bernard Heidsieck commenced sound poetry in 1955 with his 'poem partitions' and, since 1966 on, a species he terms 'biopsies'. Both types are rooted in a direct relation to everyday life. Heidsieck sometimes refers to both the biopsies and poem-partitions as 'action' poems (not to be confused with the action poetry of either Steve McCaffery or Robert Filliou). 'Action' since the pieces incorporate the actuality of quotidian soundscapes: subways, streetcars, taxis. Texts utilized are often found and superimposed and involve complex variations in tape speed, volume and editorial juxtaposition. In addition to their value as social comment, Heidsieck sees his sound texts existing within the domain of 'a ritual, ceremonial or event' that assumes an interrogative stance vis a vis our daily wordscapes. The day to day is appropriated and animated to make meaningful 'our mechanical and technocratic age by recapturing mystery and breath'. Heidsieck incorporates the taped-text within the context of live performance and plays off his own live voice against his own voice recorded. It is a positive solipsism that frequently results in a rich textural fabric. Since 1969 Heidsieck has called his tape compositions 'passe-partout' viz. universal pass keys. The passe-partout marks a further development in Heidsieck's central interest: the use of everyday, incidental soundscapes to be isolated and presented in their intrinsic integrity and their electroacoustic modification.

In France today Bernard Heidsieck is the sound poet most directly influenced by the simultaneism (Orphism) of Henri-Martin Barzun. His "Poèmes-Partitions" is a poetry-action(= communication) which places it in direct contact with the reality of the world. The event is treated as in Godard's cinema-vérité. Though a friend of Dufrêne and Chopin, he does not reject the common language, quite the opposite. His problem is one of assembly, that is, of rhythm: assembly of the magnetic tape, superimposition or alternation to voices and sounds. The construction of his texts is based on the counterpoint between a continuous diction and an interrupted diction, the noises, used as punctuation, are established by a score which does not admit of improvisation. Progression (appearance fragment by fragment of phrases which are gradually completed), a circular process (evident in the works presented "Vaduz, passepartout No. 22"), abrupt breaks, rigid structure, contrast with the linear automatism of his friends. The fragmentation of speech, the increasing rhythm of interjections, disorientations and at the same time dramatize the discourse. Heidsieck's works can be described as radiophonic dramas.


It is interesting in this regard to read again the manifesto "La Radia" written by Marinetti and Pino Masnada, published in the "Gazzetta del Popolo" in 1933, in which a new art was proposed: "... Immensification of space.... scene universal and cosmic ... pure organism of radiophonic sensations ... synthesis of infinite simultaneous actions... battles of sounds and of different distances... to paint delimt and colour the infinite darkness of the radia... geometrical construction of silence".

In Heidsieck's texts what one wants to say becomes involved with a collection of commonplaces, of lyrical quotations, which contrast with the technical objectivity of the rhythm. The drama is formed between a will to communicate and the complex automatisim of the responses, between proposition and comment which generates the self-comment that comments on itself: a play of mirrors without exit, the essence of the drama is tautological. 

A Walk in Paris With Bernard Heidsieck                                                                             
by Charles Amirkhanian

I met Bernard Heidsieck in Paris in 1972, traveling with my wife Carol Law and interviewing for KPFA as many of the European sound poets as I could. Bernard Heidsieck was one of the greatest of these.

His work had an emotional and sociological depth that distinguished it from that of his peers, but he still reveled in the use of experimental vocalizing and writing that meant his words were more to be heard than just viewed on the page.


Heidsieck was drawn to Americans more than other French artists. A scion of the family that owned the prestigious and successful Charles Heidsieck Champagne winery in Reims, he was 16 when the U.S. army liberated France. He often shared fond recollections of American soldiers marching past his family's headquarters while he handed out glasses of champagne to the passing parade. And in the Fifties he rented a car on the East Coast and drove through the U.S. on a Kerouac-inspired road trip that left an indelible impression on the young writer. This occurred about 100 years after the 1852 trip by Charles-Camille Heidsieck, the founder of the family business, became the first champagne merchant in the world to take his wares to the U.S.


Bernard and his visual artist wife, [photographer] Françoise Janicot, were guests at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program when Carol and I served as co-directors in the Nineties, and Heidsieck produced a brilliant book of visual poems comprising various colored segments of reel-to-reel tape leader, arranged on rag paper in the shape of geometric forms, some reminiscent of Mondriaan.



His enthusiasm for experimental literature, and especially la poésie sonore, was infectious, and his dynamic performances of his own work were unforgettable.

You can hear Bernard Heidsieck in several programs on radiOM.org including:

A Walk in Paris with Bernard Heidsieck

Morning Concert: Bernard Heidsieck

Ode to Gravity: Three French Sound Poets