Date: Thu, 11 Apr 2002 17:42:44 -0400
Subject: RE: [idm] Dada / Intonarumori
For those who care about this Dada music thread:
I have a friend who specializes in Dada and Surrealist literature and here are some things he had to say about Dada music.
What I can recall are things not so much in the name of music as in the name of provocation, but as far as Picabia goes, his first wife (who had a strong influence on his ideas), Gabrielle Buffet, was a trained pianist, as was her sister, Mauguerite, who actually performed at a couple Dada performances in Paris. One piece she performed was Picabia's piece, an example of "Sodomist" music (I think that's what he called it, even though "sadist" would have made more sense), called something like "The Nanny" (or something with nanny in the title), which was essentially minimalism before its time: three notes played over and over and over. It was also her that played Georges Ribemont-Dessaignes' piece "No Curly Chicory!" at another performance, and I actually have a description of that, culled from the Dada Almanac: the piece "had been composed by choosing notes entirely at random and was played with stony-faced expertise by Marguerite Buffet, a professional concert performer. the composer was seated beside her turning the pages of his masterpiece and later recalled being swamped in an indescribable uproar in which music, the shouts, cries and whistles of the audience united into a discordant harmony like the smashing of glass: 'curiously effective,' he thought." That was March 1920. I can't find a reference to the Picabia piece right now.
Satie's "furniture music" could be conceivably fall under the Dada rubric, although it preceded his actual involvement with Picabia, and that would already be after Picabia had broken with the movement. But it is somewhat in the spirit, although its intentions were opposite. Also Varese, but you know more about him than I do: he lived with Picabia in NY for a summer, when Dada was just getting going, and Picabia referenced a piece he never actually wrote more than once: a piece written for the water faucet. There is also that Duchamp cd you probably know about, but in that case, I think it is a whole piece constructed around an idea to be found among his notes, so to describe him as contributing to a Dadaist music would be stretching things.
If you include Schwitters' sound poetry as music, then there is lots of that sort of thing, but I'm not sure I would label it all as music: Tzara experimented a lot with African songs, nonsense words, etc. And Scwitters' sound poetry was inspired by the output of Raoul Hausmann, who actually precedes him. There is another Ribemont-Dessaignes thing that had everybody on stage go "krii krii krii krii" (or something like that) over and (again) over and over again, which annoyed Breton so much that he had to leave the theater for a while. (He hated music, which is why there is no surrealist music).
And there was also an actual Dada-foxtrot, which was written by a Dadaist, and was actually something of a foxtrot, but they were amused by it and welcomed the publicity.
Music and dancing played a part in the early Zurich stuff/Cabaret Voltaire, but it was mostly standard music-hall stuff (although the costumes got wild): that was the background of Hugo Ball and Emmy Hennings (her singing drew a lot of the audience). Varese and Satie seem to come closest to a serious idea of Dada music, and Varese seems to have his foot equally in Futurism, and Satie was never really a Dadaist. There might also be something to look at with the Laban dancing troupe,who joined in with the Cabaret Voltaire sometimes. I don't know what they were doing in terms of accompanying music, or if they were even using any, but the fact that they probably made it subordinate to their movement would be relevant, but I haven't read up on them. The Zurich Dadaists were always trying to get the Laban dancers to go out with them. But on the whole, the Zurich stuff isn't even what people generally associate with Dada (in terms of negativity, confrontation, scandal, etc.).
There could have been more of a development at one point, but things went a different way: Marinetti came to Paris to give a lecture on new sounds and futurist music, etc., which by all accounts should have interested the Dadaists, except that he preceded his arrival with the statement that Dada was a development of Futurism, so all they had on their mind was sabotaging his lecture rather than paying any attention to what he was actually saying.
Date: Fri, 12 Apr 2002 01:01:14 -0400
From: Marc Lowenthal
To: Lukas Bergstrom
Subject: your email to Andrei
Andrei forwarded the email you sent to him, and it is of course fine by me if you felt like doing something with the info I sent him. My only qualm is that I had been typing off the top of my head, so, English and typos aside, I also didn't bother to back everything up with actual references, but that is probably obvious from the email itself. Scanning through it quickly, though, I see I had accidentally said that the Dadatrot was written by a Dadaist, when what I had meant to write was that it wasn't. My memory of the story behind that trot, though, is fuzzy. I believe it was a minor hit. There is a series of photographs existing of Gerhard Preiss, who went by the name of "Supermusicdada", doing the "Dadatrot" ^× he was a minor character in the movement, and is all but forgotten except for those pretty amusing photos, but he was a dancer and mime by trade, and did collaborate, and was a co-signatory for something.
I also looked up that Picabia piece: it was entitled "The American Nanny", and was indeed "sodomist" music; I don't have the original French title at hand, though, but memory tells me the word used for nanny was "nounou", which I mention only because one of the various "meanings" (or translations) of "Dada" is nanny (along with hobbyhorse, etc.).
And Marguerite would also accompany some of the readings of the manifestoes on the piano. But I guess that was kind of a standard thing back then (although it doesn't always get mentioned).