"Prisoners of drops of waters, we are but everlasting animals.
We run about the noiseless towns and the enchanted posters no longer touch us. "
The Unsilvered Glass, paragraph 1.
So many times I've noticed that whatever I’m reading at the time so informs my current listening. Right now I’m in the process of reading Les Champs Magnétiques (The Magnetic Fields) by André Breton & Philippe Soupault & man, has the 'musique' coming from Casa Nada been …shall I say…CRAZY!!! as of late.
Four years before Breton would issue his 1924 Manifeste du surréalisme, he & fellow surrealist Philippe Soupault used a process called 'automatic writing' to create the first truly surrealist literature. Automatic writing is used as a tool in Freudian psychology and in related "self knowledge" studies, where it is seen as a means of gaining insight into the mind of the automatic writer through their subconscious word choices.
The idea to attempt such an undertaking was Breton's. Following up on his medico-psychiatric training during World War I which was heavily influenced by Freudian theory, Breton posited that poetic creativity was really an attempt to capture the spoken thought in a way encouraged by analysts prompting their patients to utter rapid, spontaneous, unselfcritical monologues.
Surrealism is a movement best known for the surprise, unexpected juxtapositions of its visual artworks & writings. The movement has had a tremendous impact on all subsequent avant-garde painting, sculpture, theatre, film, poetry, & fiction. But there is really no surrealist genre in contemporary music, where the presence of surrealism is generally unrecognized or forgotten. A surrealist school of composition never developed, undoubtedly because of the hostile attitude toward music of André Breton, who believed that language had already subsumed & surpassed the possibilities of music.
However, as a result of the development of the tape recorder, a true surrealist music became possible in musique concrète—the art of "found" & manipulated sound. But tape recorders were not readily available until the late 1930s, coinciding with the decline of the surrealist movement.
So although none of the music here is actually "surrealist" music (except for some of the musique under the heading 'The Unsilvered Glass'), it is what I have been listening to as a soundtrack to the written word. So following the book's lead, I have broken this into ten sections, one for each 'chapter' of The Magnetic Fields. The links to each section are the chapter titles & as always, all decryption codes are in the comments.
Here are a few songs from the first wave of Surrealist music.
This first section is an early symphony from French Surrealist George Antheil who wrote that, "The Surrealist movement had, from the very beginning, been my friend. In one of its manifestos it had been declared that all music was unbearable—excepting, possibly, mine—a beautiful and appreciated condescension"
George Antheil - Symphony No.1 "Zingareska", 1923.
Vivo, alla zingaresco, poi "Ragtime"
Vivo, alla zingaresco, poi "Ragtime"
Renowned Surrealist artist René Magritte (whose painting "The Double Secret" opens this post), unlike many of his contemporary Surrealists, believed that music was an ally of surrealism. He maintained a lifelong interest in music. André Souris was one of his dear friends.
Included here is André Souris – L'Autre Voix from 1947.
By 1944, with the publication of his essay "Silence d'or" (Silence is Golden) Breton softened his stance on music, stating that music can be a powerful force for the achievement of "incandescence"; that music could reveal an inner music of poetic language. He recognized music as "independent of the social & moral obligations that limit spoken & written language". Much of this softening of Breton's anti-music position coincided with the development of the tape recorder (not really easily available until the late 30s). The resultant surrealist music directly connected to tape recording was musique concrete. At the fore of this new music movement was Pierre Schaeffer. Schaeffer worked with electronic & experimental music. He was the chief developer of a this unique form of avant-garde music.
I have included Pierre Schaeffer - Études de bruits from1948.
"The music is free, but you have to pay for the plastic, paper, ink, glue and stamps."
Thoroughly overcome by the French for a moment, let's zip over to Pasadena, California for illustrious Nurse With Wound list & Los Angeles Free Music Society alumnus Smegma. The band began in 1973 & had a revolving membership of crazy (& crazy-named) musicians. This release is from 1982.
Here Smegma features (among others): Harry Cess Poole – guitar & vocals; Ju Suk Reet Meate – guitar, bass, trumpet, percussion, & vocal effects; Lee Rocky – violin, flute, & percussion; Jackie Stewart – vocals & effects; Edy Williams, Virginia, & Dr. Odd Pi – vocals; Dr. Id – tape effects; Amazon Bambi – violin, bass, & vocals; Ace of Spades – mandolin; Mr. Mike – bass & percussion; D.K. – guitar & percussion; MXKing – drums; Cheez-it-Ritz – drums, feedback, & vocals with Dick Knudsen – cello; Craig Magyorody playing several varieties of drinking straws; Modesto Duran – tape skips; & featuring Bub Tutmark.
Smegma – Pigs for Lepers Pigface Records 007, 1982.
Side A –
In the Murder Room
Adena Archives Presents: Part One of the Birth of Bubs
Side B –
Dying Cows with Putrid not Praiseworthy Predation
Dickensmeglee Part 35
Mr. Potatohead's Flotation Excersises
bonus track (from the 2006 UK re-release)
Pigs for Lepers
Insane man walking with a limp.
On this, their second release (A Little of the Bandit Spirit), Aksak Maboul are somehow known as Aqsak Maboul. Here AM are joined by Henry Cow teammates Fred Frith & Chris Cutler. While co-founder Marc Hollander is busy here, the other co, Vincent Kenis, is absent other than the arrangement of two songs.
Aqsak Maboul: Marc Hollander – organ, piano, clarinet, bass clarinet, drum machine, alto saxophone, soprano saxophone, xylophone, & samples; Frank Wuyts – drums, recorder, piano, synthesizer, & percussion; Michel Berckmans – bassoon & oboe; Denis van Hecke – electric & acoustic cellos, rhythm guitar, & vocals; Catherine Jauniaux – pinball flippers & vocals with Fred Frith – guitar, violin, viola, & bass; & Chris Cutler – drums, percussion, & radio.
Aqsak Maboul - Un Peu de L'Ame des Bandits, Crammed Discs ATEM-CRAMMED 002, 1980.
Side One (five dances) –
Bo Diddley / Modern Lesson
Trio (Nuits d’Argentine) -Tango / Palmiers en Pots
Rondo / Geistige Nacht
Truc Turc / I Viaggi Formano la Gioventù
Pogo / Inoculating Rabies
Side Two (over) –
Knokke / Cinema
a. Ce Qu' On Peut Voir Avec Un Bon Microscope
c. Azinou Crapules
d. Age Route Brra! (Radio Sofia)
Eleven dances for fighting migrane.
This chapter is giving me a headache. It was supposed to feature Deux Filles or Broadcast & the Focus Group or Art Zoyd, but Space & Time & Investigate Witch Cults of the Radio Age & Generation Sans Futur are all currently in re-release (those are the three I’ve been listening to here…you can search them out for yourselves if you are interested) so I’ve opted to substitute Cerberus Shoal here.
Cerberus Shoal has gone through numerous personnel changes accompanied by stylistic variances. Their earliest sound was a kind of psychedelic punk style which morphed over time to prog rock to soundtrack to atmospheric P Floyd/Popol V style which then added Eastern European instrumentation to avant-garde world folk to 2005s The Land We All Believe In’s surrealistic sway.
For The Land We All Believe In, Cerberus Shoal are: Calen Mulkerin - guitar; Chriss Sutherland - bass; Colleen Kinsella accordion & vocals; Erin Davidson – bass, ukulele, & vocals; & Tom Rogers – drums with Karl Greenwald & Tim Morin.
Cerberus Shoal – The Land We All Believe In, North East Indie nei38, 2005.
The World We All Believe In
Pie for the President
The Ghosts are Greedy
Taking Out the Enemy
Jaan Patterson is a very interesting man. He runs the German Surrism-Phonoethics netlabel. He creates Surrealist inspired experimental music & spoken word projects under the names Undress Béton, André Pissoir, Crawl Max, Dusk Euphoria & Reve Steich to name a few. Since this post is based on The Magnetic Fields, I have chosen his Undress Béton personae.
Undress Béton – Tarentaliogy Defloration, Surrism Phonethics 82305, 2008.
Steve’s Handsome Bite
Son of Doing
Prudentia of Null
Menda is Back
Cluster of Grapes
Here we find Vicar Vittorio Demarin, sitting in his workshop, the Gomma, working on his Surrealist films & their accompanying non-musical non-soundtracks. He has worked with Reverend Freddie Murphy & Chiara Lee of Father Murphy, an Italian noise rock group in the past, providing drums & percussion. Here he is simply left to his own devices to forge this "rubbery piece of Surrealist Italian slapstick".
Gomma Workshop - Almanacco Moderno Sul Linguaggio Dei Gatti, Madcap Collective MDCP015, 2004.
Ernesto Sapphire Lost Tapes
500 Metri di Torte
My Heart is a Spoon
Nuovi Algoritmi Sovietici
Peter Sellers in the Swamp
Named after a Japanese biker documentary film, Godspeed You Black Emperor! or more correctly (since 2002) Godspeed You! Black Emperor play a moody mélange of mostly instrumental music (with occasional spoken word samples). Eschewing the usual synthesizers of most other similar bands for three guitars, upright bass, violin, & cello, their music is very organic & quite darkly beautiful.
This Kranky re-issue of the F♯ A♯ ∞ LP has been remastered & changed significantly, with both added & deleted material. The J.L.H. outro is not listed in the booklet tracklist but is named on the band’s website (I cut out the "untitled" track of dead air between "string loop" & the outro).
On Infinity, GYBE! are: Efrim Menuck – guitar; Mike Moya – guitar & vocals; Dave Bryant – guitar & tape effects; Mauro Pezzente – bass; Thierry Amar – bass, double bass, & violin; Sophie Trudeau – violin; Jessica Moss – violin; Norsola Johnson – cello; Thea Pratt – French horn; Bruce Cawdron – drums & percussion along with a vast cast of others.
Godspeed You Black Emperor! - F♯ A♯ ∞, Kranky krank027, 1998.
the dead flag blues
a. the dead flag blues (intro)
b. slow moving trains
c. the cowboy…
a. nothing’s alrite in our life / dead flag blues (reprise)
b. the sad mafioso…
c. drugs in tokyo / black helicopter
a. divorce & fever…
b. dead metheny
c. kicking horse on brokenhill
d. string loop manufactured during downpour…
Having nothing really to do with Surrealism, I still had to listen to some The Magnetic Fields. This is basically indie pop from the fertile mind of the group’s songwriter, multi-instrumentalist, & vocalist Stephin Merritt with the constant help of friend, pianist, drummer, & vocalist Claudia Gonson. I’ll just share their first release. At that time Merritt had not yet taken over vocal duties. Vocals are by Susan Anway.
The Magnetic Fields – Distant Plastic Trees, Red Flame RFCD3, 1991.
You Love to Fail
Babies Falling (The Wild Stares cover)
Living in an Abandoned Firehouse with You
Falling in Love with the Wolfboy
Plant White Roses
The Hermit-Crab sez that neither this nor the previous music is Surrealist, but pay homage to the original starting point of this post, The Magnetic Fields & André Breton.
Roman Pappak – lead vocals & guitar began making music with Adam Ainger – drums in 2007. The two are film-makers with cutting-edge video & sound design work under their belts. In 2010 Breton coalesced with the addition of Ian Patterson – beats & Daniel McIlvenny – bass. Their live shows finds them shrouded in black hoods manipulating guitars, bass, synths, drums, & laptops to create a truly original melee incorporating hip-hop, electronica, & cinematic soundscapes, lit only by the glow of their emphatic self-shot visuals, cut & edited live, in real-time by their touring fifth member Ryan McClarnon. If comparisons must be made, they seem kinda like Hot Chip on Juice.
Breton – 15 Minutes compilation, 2016.
Get Well Soon
Envy (Gramme remix)
December (Funkineven remix)
302 Watch Towers
15 Minutes (Toys remix)
Edward the Confessor
Titan (DYD remix)
Envy (Orchestral remix)
15 Minutes (Rone remix)
Surrealist as hell, what a way to wrap this up. I may have posted this before, but it is the most Surrealist of the surreal theory-of-obscurity Residents. I’ll say no more
The Residents – Not Available, Ralph Records RR1174, 1978.
Side A –
Part One: Edweena
Part Two: The Making of a Soul
Side B –
Part Three: Ship’s a’ Going Down
Part Four: Never Known Questions
"The nocturnes of dead musicians lull the cities sunk in endless slumber. What are we waiting for? A woman? Two trees? Three flags? What are we waiting for? Nothing. "