Sound/ Surrealism: The January—February Sessions of the Surrealism and Psychoanalysis Research Group
“There were times when the intensity of the acoustic impressions crowded out all the others.” — Walter Benjamin, “Über Haschisch”
What is surrealism and what is music and what is one when there are two? Is there a such thing as surrealist music? In terms of media and materials, Surrealism proper was an unusually heterogeneous movement. Its main circle included poets, painters, sculptors, dancers, photographers, film-makers, and other kinds of artists. In this way, surrealism prefigured the crisis of the medium and the so-called “post-medium condition” that was theorized in the 1960’s. Even so, the main surrealists were notoriously silent on music — to a degree that Breton even wrote an essay aptly entitled, “Silence is Golden,” denouncing the medium.
Insofar as surrealism is not so much a delimited historical movement as, in Maurice Blanchot’s phrase, a “pure practice of existence,” the question of music remains open. Certainly there are composers and musicians who were explicitly inspired by surrealism; but are there instances of “surrealist music” that are mediated not on the level of intention but on the level of device, of technique, of spirit? For example, is the surrealist hankering for ‘desublimatory’ gestures audible in compositions and musical styles in the past century? Can surrealism’s anti-aesthetic rejection of the past be seen in the contemporaneous decomposition and recomposition of tonal and notational systems? What, if anything, does musical improvisation have to do with surrealist automatism? How far can the surrealistic “image” — the illuminating juxtaposition of distant realities — or the surrealist fascination with found objects, be extended into musical phenomena like musique concrète and sampling? An experience, a practice, an example — What, if it exists, is musical surreality?
Our sessions will examine the question of surrealism and music by listening to pieces sourced from a wide range of composers and traditions, some with direct relations to the surrealist movement, others with more conjectural or mediated ties. We will also read a handful of texts from surrealists, philosophers, and composers that reflect on the possibility of musical surrealism.
Work from these sessions will be used for inspiring a performance program, Sound Surrealism, including original compositions, experimental performances, and readings from surrealist texts at a venue in either Philadelphia or New York in Fall, 2016.
materials: contact firstname.lastname@example.org for pdfs and additional files (All of the pieces listed below will be up for discussion at the sessions. Drake has additionally selected one or two specific pieces to discuss in detail for each session.)
Session I (January 31)
- Adorno, “Types of Musical Conduct”
- Breton, “Silence is Golden”
Music: Varèse, Ameriques
Session II (February 14)
- Anne LeBaron: “Reflections of Surrealism in Post-Modern Music”
Music: Robert Ashley, selections from Atalanta —