NMSAT :: Networked Music & SoundArt Timeline

1924 __ Modest recording instruments
André Breton (1896-1966)
Comment : Surrealism's founder André Breton brought principles of recording into his own body as a form of psychotechnics, implanting a trope into the brain where actual technology could not go. He used the term "modest recording instruments" in the 1924 "Manifesto" to speak of, among other things, automatic writing, that quasi-scientific transcription, the faithful recording of the incessant murmuring of the unconscious. The term had been derived, through the autoanalysis of French Dynamic Psychiatry, from telecommunications practices in the late nineteenth century. [...] (Douglas Kahn)The interposition of a relatively new technological innovation -- the phonograph -- between the poet and his listener-reader and the emphasis on technologically mediated poetic language anticipate Breton's image of the "modest recording instruments". Desnos's phonograph, like Breton's "recording instruments", speaks not only for him but also to him, in a voice from his unconscious auditory imagination that is utterly familiar and yet strange enough to "sound like" that of a shy foreign warrior. Again like Breton's instrument, Desnos's phonograph requires interpretation in a manner similar to that of the words and images springing unbidden from the surrealist's mind during the automatic process. Desnos's image of the phonograph incorporates the surrealist preoccupation with machine aesthetics carried over from Dada. It represents a system of communication that functions in a way that symbolizes how automatic surrealist telepathy moves the desires of the buried self (in other words, the unconscious) through the barrier of the earth (the body) and into the visible, colorful grave (the poet's "tombeau" -- referring to his physical grave and to the traditional form of posthumous poetic homage called "tombeaux", for which Stéphane Mallarmé was well known) in order to find expression through the phonograph (the voice). Like a radio voice, the voice in his poem is disembodied. Deharme explicitly describes the radio "speaker" as someone who must become "a sort of phonograph". Morevoer, the radio voice resembles Breton's idea of the surrealist voice, which emerges similarly from the unconscious without any connection to an exterior, visible body and haunts the listener, insofar as it calls to mind something or someone else. (Katharine Conley)The Body as a Personal Sonic Instrument -- Surrealism's founder Andre Breton brought principles of recording into his own body as a form of psychotechnics, implanting a trope into his body where actual technology would not go. In his 1924 Manifesto, Breton referred to "modest recording instruments", as the "faithful recording of the incessant murmuring of the unconscious". Such a biological interaction perspective would allow the human body to act as the tangible receptor and producer of the physical/digital soundscape. The perception of the ear and reproduction of human voice would be augmented with sonic-memories held in various parts of the human body. Hence the hands may hold a memory of the sound of the last instrument or package that they held, the feet would remember the places they had recently been, and the belly - the cuisine last eaten? One may even literally place the voice of a loved one close to the heart. Hence one could spatially map the body as a structured representation of a dynamic soundscape. en literally place the voice of a loved one close to the heart. Hence one could spatially map the body as a structured representation of a dynamic soundscape. The Body-Net project at the Media Lab provides a means to digitally store and communicate messages on the human body. Such messages could be sound artifacts, hence creating a "sonic body". A less intrusive mechanism would allow spatial aspects of the body to be associated with sonic artifacts in an external memory. In such a scenario, the listener could place a spatially-sensitive microphone (which knows its spatial position via a device like Flock of Birds or an electronic tag) on any part of his/her body to induce reception (audio recording) or emission (audio playback) of sonic artifacts. Hence if the user moves the microphone around the body quickly, he would hear a quick preview of the sonic content in the body, yet a focused placement of the microphone on the body would reveal the complete audio stream associated with that region. A true Dadaist act would require that a part of the body be cut-off and placed in the environment to serve as a receptor of the sounds, and later be re-attached to retrieve the sonic memories recorded. This approach may seem disturbing but may serve as a alternative metaphor to capture and embody sonic memories. For example a tangible ear may be placed in the audio landscape for a period of time, and later attached to a part of the body as a post-it note. (Nick Sawhney , "Tangible Soundscapes", September 26, 1996)Breton begins by describing the artistic context of the 1910's and 1920's. Cubism, he writes, offered a monolithic facade of greatness and dubious scientific goals. Its real achievement was little more than to prepare the way for a "tidal wave which soon came and put an end to it, not without upsetting from base to summit, far and wide, the artistic and moral landscape." Breton notes that "it is particularly important . . . to consider attentively the pace where the very first characteristic vibrations of that phenomenon chose to be recorded" (Breton, "Lighthouse of the Bride," p. 6). Duchamp was at the head of that destructive change. In this introductory section, as in his 1922 Littérature essay, Breton characterizes Duchamp as an individual in opposition to an outdated system. And although Breton goes on to praise the intellectual aspects of Duchamp's work, he carefully contrasts Duchamp's intelligence with the plodding "purely mental adventure" of Cubism. Breton admires Duchamp as the "artist who has proven himself on this occasion to be the most sensitive recording instrument." Duchamp, more than any other artist, was sensitive to the "characteristic vibrations" of tradition giving way to new ideas. This image suggests a similar one from Breton's first "Manifesto of Surrealism" in 1924. There, he described the true Surrealists (including poets Phillipe Soupault, Roger Vitrac, and Robert Desnos) as "we . . . who in our works have made ourselves into simple receptacles of so many echoes, modest recording instruments . . . (emphasis Breton's) (Breton, "Manifesto of Surrealism," Manifestoes, pp. 27- 28). The similarity of the analogies of recording devices in the two essays is hardly accidental. As Jennifer Gibson has shown, the image of the "recording device" was common in Surrealism (Gibson, "Surrealism Before Freud," pp. 56-60). It often evoked Breton's fascination with a specifically French--and misleadingly incorrect--interpretation of Freud's idea of mental free association. Gibson shows that Breton used several variations of the phrase, which was common in both 19th century discussions of the activities of spiritualist mediums and in 19th century French "dynamic psychiatry," to describe individuals engaged in automatic speech or writing. The image of the "recording instrument," Gibson states, evoked for Breton the mediumistic trance state of simultaneous consciousness and unconsciousness.Both Breton and psychiatrist Pierre Janet had observed that the moments between sleep and waking could elicit automatic speech in normal individuals, a technique the Surrealists took advantage of (On Janet, see Gibson, p. 58-59. Breton discusses his own experiences in 1919 producing automatic writing in this near-asleep state in "Entrée des mediums," Littérature, new series, no. 6 (November 1922), trans. as "Entrance of the Mediums," in Marcel Jean, editor, The Autobiography of Surrealism (New York: Viking Press, 1980), p. 101). (Andrew Ottwell)
French comment : L’écriture automatique, dont le Manifeste assure la promotion, est la forme poétique de l’oisiveté revendiquée. Elle ne demande, en effet, aucun travail préalable. Il suffit, rappelle Breton, de se faire « les sourds réceptacles », « les modestes appareils enregistreurs » de l’inconscient (André Breton, Manifeste du surréalisme, Oeuvres complètes, 1988, p. 330). Curieusement, c’est quand Breton semble le plus éloigné du travail littéraire que celui-ci fait retour dans le Manifeste. Insidieusement peut-être, mais enfin il est là. Pastichant une recette de cuisine pour prouver la facilité de l’écriture automatique, Breton insiste sur plusieurs points : la disponibilité du sujet est certes importante ; mais elle n’est pas décisive ; d’autres « consignes » suivent, qui touchent à la ponctuation, au rythme, à l’invention et à la disposition et qui se terminent par cette remarque, ironique certes, mais qui sonne aussi comme un aveu : « C’est très difficile. » (André Breton, Manifeste du surréalisme, Oeuvres complètes, 1988, p. 332). Comme un aveu, parce que ce que Breton demande ici, et n’a d’ailleurs jamais cessé de demander, c’est une forme de rigueur et l’obéissance à une poétique (d’un genre nouveau pour l’époque, mais ce n’en est pas moins une façon de concevoir et d’agencer les matériaux textuels). (David Vrydaghs)
Original excerpt 1 : « [...] I would like to stress this point : they are not always Surrealists, in that I discern in each of them a certain number of preconceived ideas to which -- very naively! -- they hold. They hold to them because they had not "heard the Surrealist voice", the one that continues to preach on the eve of death and above the storms, because they did not want to serve simply to orchestrate the marvelous score. They were instruments too full of pride, and this is why they have not always produced a harmonious sound. But we, who have made no effort whatsoever to filter, who in our works have made ourselves into simple receptacles of so many echoes, modest "recording instruments" who are not mesmerized by the drawings we are making, perhaps we serve an even nobler cause. Thus do we render with integrity the "talent" which has been lent to us. You might as well speak of the talent of this platinum ruler, this mirror, this door, and of the sky, if you like. [...] »
Original excerpt 2 : « [...] J’y insiste, ils ne sont pas toujours surréalistes, en ce sens que je démêle chez chacun d’eux un certain nombre d’idées préconçues auxquelles.très naïvement !.ils tenaient. Ils y tenaient parce qu’ils n’avaient pas entendu la voix surréaliste, celle qui continue à prêcher à la veille de la mort et au-dessus des orages, parce qu’ils ne voulaient pas servir seulement à orchestrer la merveilleuse partition. C’étaient des instruments trop fiers, c’est pourquoi ils n’ont pas toujours rendu un son harmonieux. Mais nous, qui ne nous sommes livrés à aucun travail de filtration, qui nous sommes faits dans nos œuvres les sourds réceptacles de tant d’échos, les modestes appareils enregistreurs qui ne s’hypnotisent pas sur le dessin qu’ils tracent nous servons peut-être encore une plus noble cause. Aussi rendons-nous avec probité le « talent » qu’on nous prête. Parlez-moi du talent de ce mètre en platine, de ce miroir, de cette porte, et du ciel si vous voulez. [...] »
Source : Breton, André (1924), "Manifeste du Surréalisme (1924), In "Manifestes du Surréalisme", Jean-Jacques Pauvert, Idées NRF / Gallimard, 1969, pp. 39-40.
Source : Breton, André (1924), "Manifesto of Surrealism (1924)", In "Manifestoes of Surrealism", trans. Richard Seaver and Helen Lane, Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 1969, pp. 27-28.
Source : Kahn, Douglas (2004), “Art and Sound”, In “Hearing History: a reader”, Edited by Mark Michael Smith, Athens, University of Georgia Press, pp. 36-48; Abridged from "Introduction: Histories of Sound Once Removed", in Douglas Kahn and Gregory Whitehead (Eds), "Wireless Imagination : Sound, Radio, and the Avant-Garde", Cambridge, Mass : The MIT Press, 1992, pp. 1-29.
Source : Lomas, David (2004), "'MODEST RECORDING INSTRUMENTS': SCIENCE, SURREALISM AND VISUALITY", In Art History, Volume 27, Issue 4, Sep 2004, pp. 627-650.
Source : Conley, Katharine (2003), "Robert Desnos, Surrealism, and the Marvelous on Everyday Life", University of Nebraska Press, p. 102.
Source : Gullette, Alan (1979), "The Theory and Techniques of Surrealist Poetry"
Source : Otwell, Andrew (1997), "André Breton and the 'Lighthouse of the Bride': Duchamp and Surrealism in 1945", In "View Magazine's Marcel Duchamp Special Issue, March 1945", Master's Thesis, Department of Art History, University of Texas, Austin, 1997.
Source : Vrydaghs, David (2009), "Les surréalistes face au travail. Ambiguïtés et ambivalences d’une condamnation", In "Études littéraires", "De la pioche à la plume", Volume 40, numéro 2, été 2009, Département des littératures de l'Université Laval, Québec, p. 127-140.
Urls : http://web.media.mit.edu/~nitin/classes/tangible/soundscapes.html (last visited ) http://alangullette.com/essays/lit/surreal.htm (last visited ) http://www.heyotwell.com/work/arthistory/thesis/chapter1.html (last visited ) http://wikilivres.info/wiki/Manifeste_du_surréalisme (last visited ) http://srrlsm.maneatingseas.com/manifesto/ (last visited )

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