Mar 14, 2012

Patricide Four: The Sound of Surrealism

Many surrealists have written about music and sound in the last several decades, most notably LaDonna Smith, Davey Williams, Johannes Bergmark, Franklin Rosemont, Paul Garon, Ted Joans, Hal Rammel, Ron Sakolsky, Michael Vandelaar, Eric Bragg and otheors. Patricide Four is following in a similar vein, but doesn't include or reference all these authors in its tentative examination of surrealism and music. The book is one contribution to the study of this enjoyable subject and makes no claim to completeness. The limited edition publication also includes a 42 track CD.

The most interesting material concerns surrealists and interested others engaged in music, noise, and sound collage pursuits. There are a series of questions presumably put together by editor Neil Coombs which are answered to various degrees by Bergmark, Bragg, James Nice, and Matthias Schuster. All who replied share some common ground in that they value chance, improvisation and the subconscious, and all feel that surrealism has directly or indirectly influenced the work of 20th century musicians, although Nice gives more credit to Futurism and Dada. Nice seems to have a biased view which relates more to past rather than present surrealism. The question regarding the aural medium and surrealism is posed to him with surrealism being situated in the past tense which I find curious. His interview also contains several factual errors, but I’m intrigued by the compilation Surrealism Reviewed CD he released in 2002.

Among the responses to Coombs’ questions, there is agreement that a kind of magic or alchemy is involved in music making, although these phrases are described in poetic metaphorical terms rather than in a mystical context. When speaking of sound collage, Bragg makes an analogy with alchemy because the assembled fragments or basic materials when subjected to transformation, produce a new whole. Also of interest are the answers to the question regarding the difference between surrealism and avant-garde sound. Bergmark and Nice said there is no difference, with the former placing emphasis on the creators’ self-identification and intention, while Schuster said there was, because to him avant-garde sound is more cerebral than surrealist sound which comes from different angles. I tend to agree more with Schuster here because conceptual sound works seem to come from, or speak to different levels of cognitive process than surrealism might. I agree there are parallels and overlaps.

There is a section entitled ‘Writing on Sound by Various Artists’ which contains Ron Sakolsky’s account of the aborted/postponed book project on surrealism and sound with Franklin Rosemont who died in 2009 as well as his own topical musings. There’s an excerpt from Breton’s Silence is Golden essay which originally appeared in English in 1946 as well as in Franklin Rosemont’s What Is Surrealism compilation of Breton’s texts in the late 1970’s, which proves Nice wrong that Breton wasn’t interested in music. Breton’s comments about unifying hearing and sight through awareness of inner poetry and inner music which are inseparable offer many points of departure. Edgard Varese who mingled with surrealists in the 1950’s chimes in along with W.E.B. Dubois, Humphrey Jennings, E.L.T. Mesens and Erik Satie. Horace Mayer Kallen writes on swing, Michael Vandelaar on black music, and there’s an excerpt from my noise article which appeared in Hydrolith. There’s also a dialogue between several people from a 1947 Possibilities magazine.

Other contents include Bill Howe’s automatic texts written in response to the sounds of Charles Mingus and Johannes Bergmark, Richard Misiano-Genovese on sonic awareness and sleep deprivation, Kevin Logan on sounds of destruction, Adrian Dannatt on Welsh concrete sound poetry, my prepared guitar piece, and two Bergmark articles related to Christopher Small, the latter of which is a response to a critic of his first article written for Swedish music circles. There are various points of interest and things I disagree with within these articles as well as a handful of more literary pieces, but it’s hard for me to take much of an interest in the latter because of my desire to return again and again to the writings on sound.

The audio CD contains more than an hour of sounds from contributors. Of the most interest are the 18 sonic exquisite corpses which editor Coombs has compiled from loosely themed 30 second segments sent by different musicians and sound artists; these tracks were then randomly edited and layered together. I find the dense subtleties of these tracks rather engaging. There are also a few remixes of these audio corpses by people other than Coombs. While I generally enjoyed the music, it seems worth it to ask what is it that makes some of these sounds necessarily surrealist? There are a lot of electronic and ambient tracks and very little from the jazz, blues minimal improv, or urban/field music end of things for example. I’m not saying this is the editors' fault, and nor do I want to prioritize traditional musical forms in a surrealist oriented compilation, but it would have been nice to hear more diversity to round out the CD.

See for ordering information or write to Dark Windows Press, 72 Llandudno Rd, Rhos-on-Sea, Conwy, UK.