Pierre Hébert is one of those unclassified moving image artists, right out there on the boundaries. The work of the Canadian artist is wide ranging in form and technique. His 20 plus film career, the majority within the walls of the National Film Board of Canada, reveal an atypical creator who developed a hybrid of styles and techniques.
His first film, ‘Histoire Verte’, came into creation in 1963, scratched directly onto bleached film, the results mirroring earlier work of his predecessors, Norman McLaren and Len Lye. Etching directly upon the medium became an important technique for him and is recurrent throughout his career. Earlier experiments use simple graphic forms or blocks of colour that play with the viewers perception. Later works develop a more figurative approach to animation incorporating various techniques such as paper cut out, lettering, live action as well as more illustrative work.
An interesting aspect of Hébert’s films is the connection with sound. Hébert played with the abstract qualities of sound; his first film mixes raw recordings of scrubbing and scratching noises most probably taken from the etching process itself. ‘Opus 3’, 1967 and ‘Around Perception’, 1968 were part of a series of more formalistic experiments with sound and image. These films all played with the concept of retinal persistance, the intermittent flashing of basic graphic forms, overlaying to create new forms and new combinations. The visuals are crude however the quality of abstraction is effectively expressed. With all these early experiments, it is the music that acts as a narrative structure.
In later films, he begins to work with more musical compositions albeit within the free framework of improvisation. Many of the projections for Hébert’s work found their place within live performances, musicans improvising along with the film. For ‘Technology of Tears’, 2004, the music was performed by Fred Frith and John Zorn. It was created for a live dance performance the moving images becoming an integral part of the mise-en-scène. He even had Ornette Coleman score one of his more figurative and political works, ‘Population Explosion’, 1967, and this relationship with improvised music shaped many of his notions about how to animate and cut his films to such an extent that he went on to scratch directly onto film in live perfomance with the musicians.