Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Alvin Lucier - Bird and Person Dyning

Alvin Lucier was born in 1931 in Nashua, New Hampshire. He was educated in Nashua public and parochial schools, the Portsmouth Abbey School, Yale, and Brandeis and spent two years in Rome on a Fulbright Scholarship. From 1962 to 1970 he taught at Brandeis, where he conducted the Brandeis University Chamber Chorus which devoted much of its time to the performance of new music. Since 1970 he has taught at Wesleyan University where he is John Spencer Camp Professor of Music. Lucier has pioneered in many areas of music composition and performance, including the notation of performers' physical gestures, the use of brain waves in live performance, the generation of visual imagery by sound in vibrating media, and the evocation of room acoustics for musical purposes. His recent works include a series of sound installations and works for solo instruments, chamber ensembles, and orchestra in which, by means of close tunings with pure tones, sound waves are caused to spin through space.

Mr. Lucier performs, lectures and exhibits his sound installations extensively in the United States, Europe and Asia. He has visited Japan twice: in 1988 he performed at the Abiko Festival, Tokyo, and installed MUSIC ON A LONG THIN WIRE in Kyoto; in 1992 he toured with pianist Aki Takahashi, performing in Kawasaki, Yamaguchi and Yokohama. In 1990-91 he was a guest of the DAAD Kunstler Program in Berlin. In January 1992, he performed in Delhi, Madras, and Bombay, and during the summer of that year was guest composer at the Time of Music Festival in Vitaasari, Finland. He regularly contributes articles to books and periodicals. His own book, Chambers, written in collaboration with Douglas Simon, was published by the Wesleyan University Press. In addition, several of his works are available on Cramps (Italy), Disques Montaigne, Source, Mainstream, CBS Odyssey, Nonesuch, and Lovely Music Records.

In October, 1994, Wesleyan University honored Alvin Lucier with a five-day festival, ALVIN LUCIER: COLLABORATIONS, for which he composed twelve new works, including THEME, based on a poem by John Ashbery and SKIN, MEAT, BONE, a collaborative theater work with Robert Wilson. In April, 1997, Lucier presented a concert of his works on the MAKING MUSIC SERIES at Carnegie Hall and in October of the same year his most recent sound installation, EMPTY VESSELS, was exhibited at the Donaueschingen Music Festival in Germany. Recently, DIAMONDS for three orchestras was performed under the direction of Petr Kotik at the Prague Spring Festival, 1999.

During this performance a small electric bird chirps in the space and Alvin Lucier moves his head as if trying to locate it by listening to its song. He wears binaural microphones in his ears, and the sound picked up by these microphones is diffused through two loudspeakers. By amplifying the microphone input, feedback between the output of the loudspeakers and the input of the microphones is created. Since the pitch of the feedback is related to the distance between the microphone and loudspeaker and the reflections of the sound in the performance space, every movement of the head of the performer causes a change in feedback sound. At the same time, we also hear the bird amplified through the microphones in the ears of the performer and the sound of the bird interacts with the feedback sound. Therefore, not only the distance between the performer and the loudspeaker but also the distance between performer and bird shape the sound in this piece. Alvin Lucier makes movements that signify listening or, as he himself says, "do you know how robins turn their heads to listen?" (Alvin Lucier Reflections. Interviews, Scores, Writings 1965-1994 Cologne 2005). Listening is made an audible feature of the performance. This is an example of a performance that uses movements that have a specific cultural context and are therefore also connected with a certain expectation. Movements for listening remain mostly silent, but here Alvin Lucier adapts them for a new function and these movements become audible.

Monday, March 30, 2015


 Welcome to Tune Hear!

This is a weekly series to be hosted by Prepared Guitar. It is my hope that the following information would not only highlight the artist, their techniques, and their musical endeavors, but also cause others to reach for their own goals in a realistic way. It is my hope that this will be an international site where guitarists worldwide would not only have the opportunity to listen but also be motivated and inspired to follow their dreams.

As any true artist will tell you, the sense of wonderment and the joy of discovery is part of the journey in the creative process. To refuse to rest on your laurels and to keep reaching for that which may seem unattainable, brings about an inner joy and satisfaction that helps to take you to that next level.

Rejyna is such an artist. By continuing to expand her sonic canvas, adding an array of colors, imagination and good ole’ fashioned hard work, she has created a world of sound that is engaging for herself and her listeners.

With that, let me introduce Rejyna, originally from Columbus, Ohio (but living in Southern California for the last couple of decades). Welcome to Tune Hear!

What’s your earliest memory of having a connection with music? 
My mom’s singing and her playing records.  I consider her a ‘professional listener.’  She played ukulele and piano when I was young and nowadays she is in choir and theatre.  Singing with her and watching her be so connected and inspired by music infected me from as far back as I can recall.  My first piggy bank funds were spent on 45s and soon after, I took on a paper route so I could buy a ‘component stereo’ and LPs from Three Dog Night, Grand Funk and Doobie Brothers.  It was TDN’s vocals that first hooked me, but the band of ‘Jimmy-Mike-Floyd-Joe’ made me deliriously excited.  Mom joined the mail-order record clubs and I was got to pick some too!  To this day, Mom and I are always turning each other onto music we discover.
What led you to choose the guitar for your own musical expression?
For years I focused on singing.  The elementary school wanted me to play sax or clarinet, they “already had drummers” - so I opted out of band.  In middle school, friends of mine started playing guitar so I spent my paper route savings on a $60 335 copy and a $15 amp.  As time went by, my friends all quit playing.  I didn’t quit – even though my guitar teacher told me after a half dozen lessons that she wouldn’t keep teaching me “if you don’t look at the sheet music,” I said “why would I look at the sheet music if I already have the song memorized?”  We then parted ways and I started writing songs even before I knew all the chords I was playing.  Autodidact is me. 
In hindsight, I am also equally attracted to playing drums, and if there had been a Hammond and Leslie around when I was growing up, I may never have left that mesmerizing magic machine for a stringed thingy.

Was there a particular guitarist, other musician, movie, art, sound, life event that caused you to hear music differently?
Prog.  After learning barre chords and single note melodies to Nugent, AC/DC, Kiss, Aerosmith and the like, I wanted less mindless repetition – I was getting bored.  Through friends and record store hunts, I discovered Kansas, Yes, Gentle Giant, UK, Jethro Tull, Al DiMeola, Pink Floyd, Shadowfax, Klattuu, Rush and Styx.  The boredom ceased then and never returned – I had been baptized by prog - and before it was commonly referred to as ‘prog.’  I saw nearly all of those bands in concert and my ears (and the space between) was permanently renovated.  I figured, either I could spend time learning to copy Howe, DiMeola, Lifeson, Holdsworth, Barre – or I could spend the same amount of time trying to come up with my own songs.  I started booking studio time and became hooked on recording.  Soon enough, I realized it would be more frugal if I bought a Teac 3340S with a loan co-signed by my parents.
What specifically about that appealed to you?

No 3 chords over and over, no endless chorus repeats.  The music had dynamics - fast-to-slow, soft-to-loud.  There is unconventional instrumentation, key changes and time signatures.  There were all kinds of special effects and sound colors, good vocals and harmonies, virtuosic playing.  Most of all there were lyrics that were as intelligently written as classic poetry.  Words weren’t wasted on worn-out clichés, the topics were contemporary and fresh – and socially allegorical.  It felt like art instead of commercial pop and it sounded AMAZING, especially in a good set of cans (Koss Pro4A) – at high volumes – over and over.  That ‘saturation’ kind of listening is ‘studying’ to me – and I still do that with many of those same bands. 
My first modes of self-expression were drawing and writing – specifically poetry.  When I discovered lyricists like Neil Peart, Kerry Livgren, Jon Anderson and Ian Anderson, I dreamt that there just might be a place for another wordsmith to peddle sonics and syllables.  I then abandoned plans to be an architect.

As you were trying to find your way, were there particular sounds, tones, or techniques that helped you to achieve your sound?
My first love is acoustic steel 12-string, I wrote many of the songs my band Citadel recorded using an Alvarez 12-string box.  When it came to my hard rock songs, the only guitar that felt right was a 335, as I didn’t much enjoy playing solid body guitars.  Initially, I played thru an MXR Distortion+ but soon enough switched to a Boss Super Distortion Feedbacker and Morely volume pedal into a stereo pair of combo amps.  Back then I shied away from things that felt like gimmicks: whammy bars, tapping, sweep picking, etc. – I just liked to flatpick chords and licks – no flashy tricks.  Instead of building an array of single effect stompboxes, I eventually added a Yamaha E1010, SPX90, and DeltaLab Effectron rack units – mostly for delay and chorus effects, and an occasional harmonizer patch.
Can you give an example of your work where it (pedal or technique) is being utilized?
It can pretty much all be summed up in the first two songs of our biggest selling LP, ‘The Citadel of Cynosure and Other Tales.’  The first two pieces, ‘The Dream Ends/Dungeons of War‘ and ‘Escaping Nepthon/Sneak-Break-Kick’ feature those very attributes I described above:  soft-then-loud, slow-then-fast, time and key changes, allegorical ‘storyline’ lyrics, clean and then distorted and lots of volume pedal ‘swells.’  We sold nearly 40,000 units of that release without a major label – and before ‘being indie’ or the ‘internet’ existed in most folks’ minds.


My obligatory self-indulgent extended guitar solo song, Savior, from that CD is:

And my crunch chords math-prog instrumental ‘showpiece’ is Mid-Winter’s Night Dream: 

How have you been able to build upon those early experiences to what you’re doing now?
Citadel still releases music every 5 years or so, the band members change depending on who has the time to put in and who needs to be ‘gettin' proggy wit it’ – but doing live Citadel shows isn’t feasible at this time.  A few years ago, my mom and two hometown music promoters encouraged me to try some solo acoustic sets.  I was certain I would be bored without a band.  Then the idea of using a looper was mentioned although I was pretty sure I’d never get the hang of it.  Well, I did get the hang of it.  I began adapting my songs to the limitations of looping with various approaches to song construction.  It may seem that looping would just be ‘boring repetitions’ to this ADD proghead but therein is my challenge.  I endeavor to use looping to create pieces that are anything but boring or simple repetitions.  I am now addicted to looping and tell all my students it is the first thing to buy after picking a guitar – even before buying your amp.  A looper is a practice tool (think ‘symphonic metronome’) and it is a writing tool and a performing tool.
Can you describe your current setup?
I started with one looper, now I have six.  I exclusively use DigiTech JamMan XT loopers for many reasons (explained here ), but mostly because they are sync-able, they store loops up to 10 min. each as native .wavs in 200 patch locations, the external footswitch allows stop plus patch up and down, and I modified them all so that I can ‘save’ a loop with my foot while it is playing back.  These are things no other loopers currently on the market are capable of at the price points of the JamMan. 
My rig is modular and expandable. In its largest incarnation, each instrument has its own looper slaved to the master looper.  I sing thru a harmonizer into a looper, I play midi guitar with the midi pickup having its own looper and the guitar-only pup having its own looper, I play electronic drums thru its own looper, I have a mando-on-a-stick that has its own looper – and all those then go to the board which also has its own looper via the mixer fx i/o.

My mini ‘busking’ rig is a guitar, a headset mic, two loopers and a vocal harmonizer thru a Cube Street amp.
My guitars are an 80’s Ovation Super Shallow Balladeer, a Yamaha APX500II and my main axe is a Godin Spectrum semi-hollowbody synth guitar – which is the most ultimate sounding and playing guitar I’ve ever owned, more than making up for the 335’s I sold when times got lean.  I use Yamaha mixers and drums.  My only guitar fx is a vintage Boss GT3 multi-effect.  My synth guitar module is a Roland GR-20.  I use AudioTechnica mics and IEM’s and I play thru a PA.  I sing thru a DigiTech Vocalist Live Pro (or the Live 3 for the mini rig).  I no longer use my vintage guitar amps unless I’m playing in a band/session situation.  I use Jim Dunlop glass slides, capos, straplocks and exclusively use their 1mm Black Nylon plectrums.  I am allergic to nickel so I can only play bronze and steel strings, and I never acquired affinity for the neck width nor limited upper fret access on nylon-stringed guitars.

Let’s take a moment to highlight some of your current work.
My current solo work includes the live CD I released in 2011, when I first started using one looper and a small vocal harmonizer.  This CD includes the first song I wrote for looping, the instrumental ‘Happy Hands.’  First, I play the chords of the song, then I layer in a lead part as an overdub, then I layer in a harmony lead part, then I layer in the bass part – and recently, I layer in drums. Here’s me doing it without the drums: 

and click here for an even faster tempo with drums on last years’ Loopfest Tour.

My new solo CD, IDIO, was created spontaneously using multiple memory slots on a single JamMan Solo, before I had my six-looper setup.  In the liner notes, I go into a very detailed description of the process that brought this 16-cut album ‘out of me’ during the tiny ‘noodling’ spaces between songs during rehearsals.  The songs cover many styles and my prog-rock and symphonic-metal influences surface every now and again during pop, folk, latin, rock and world-music flavored songs.  The liner notes are online here: https://www.facebook.com/notes/784486724927989/ and you can sample the songs on SoundCloud here: https://soundcloud.com/rejyna/sets/idio-selected-cuts
The videos for my new songs ‘Looking For You’ and ‘Common Voice’ show me with my multiple-synced-looper setup:

Is there a sound you’re still trying to achieve or are you satisfied with where you are now sonically?

I’m always looking for new colors for my ‘crayon box’, so in that sense, I’m never ‘satisfied.’  But in reality, I’m very happy with the sound I’m getting and the songs that are coming out of me.  I’ve never played with so much passion and emotion.  My litmus test for contentment is when I look at the clock and realize that I’ve been playing for hours…and sometimes that can happen with just a guitar and one looper thru headphones.  But unless I’m only doing scales, I never pick up an instrument unless there is a recording device at hand because I cannot stop writing and I don’t want to waste a single idea.  That concept started when I was young and kept a cassette recorder under my bed because all my good song ideas used to come to me right before falling to sleep, like the chorus line in ‘Escaping Nepthon’.

What can we expect to hear from you in the future?
Initially as a soloist, I was adapting Citadel songs for solo looping.  Then IDIO came out of me, written entirely on a looper.  I’d like to keep those two elements involved in my live shows while bringing in some improv and fusion energies.  I’ve recently made a mod to my rig that will allow multi-phrase pieces so I can integrate more proggy pieces too.  My favorite styles of music to watch others play are jazz, classical, prog and symphonic metal – and I freely snatch influences wherever they tickle or taunt.

And in reality, I miss playing with other musicians.  So, I’m hoping the future will bring some collaboration and maybe some band outings.  There are four to six more Citadel songs nearly ready for release and it would be fun to take those on stage too. 
I’d love to make some conceptual, story-type videos, and I really enjoy showing others how to use gear to express themselves.  I also work in live-theatre and film and I’m interested in sound design for those types of projects. 

If readers are interested in checking out your work further, where can we direct them?
I’m easy to find online if one spells my name correctly.  My portfolio site at rejyna.com contains my music, film, video, art, lyrics and photography work from the past decade or so but it is sorely in need of an update.  For the most current content, peruse the following places:

Thank you very much for your time and participation in Tune Hear.

In closing, one final fun question:

If you had an opportunity to ask any guitarist or musician a question, who would it be and what would you ask?

Ian Anderson, would you please produce my next CD?

Send US your PROJECTS, and let us accompany your dreams.
We look forward to an international partnership where music, especially guitar oriented, is shared and enjoyed by a wider audience.
So TUNE HEAR for your sonic journey!!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Joileah Concepcion 13 Questions

Joileah Concepcion is a guitarist and vocalist based in San Diego and Zurich. She plays in Gletscher, Sleeping People, Die Schmelze and Victoria Concepcion.

She played trombone as a little kid and switched to guitar when she was a teenager.
Her first band was Sleeping People formed in San Diego in 2002. They were a trio when they first started: just two strings and drums, Joileah Concepcion (guitar), Kasey Boekholt (guitar) and Brandon Relf (drums). Somewhere along the way, Rob Crow became a fan of their music and introduced them to Pinback’s then-keyboard player Kenseth Thibideau, who eventually joined the band on bass. SP has released two full-length albums and one EP on Temporary Residence Ltd. They have done US tours, a handful of west-coast tours, Europe (Germany, Switzerland, Italy, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Luxembourg), and Japan. These days they very rarely play shows, but who knows what the future might be now that she lives in San Diego again, from last December. The style of instrumental rock they play is sometimes referred to as math rock, which is characterized by complex, atypical rhythmic structures, stop/start dynamics and angular, dissonant riffs.

In 2009, she moved to Zurich, Switzerland. Joileah started the band Gletscher, which she sing and play guitar in along with drummer Raphael Peter. Gletscher is a project that she write most of the music for and have friends and guest musicians play on the recordings and perform live. They have self-released two full-length albums, toured Switzerland and played in San Diego. Glescher recorded the new record Die Einöde at SDRL with Pall Jenkins as engineer. It features guest musicians Paul D’Amour (Tool, Lesser Key), Pall Jenkins (The Black Heart Procession, Three Mile Pilot), Kenseth Thibideau (Sleeping People), and Brad Lee (The Album Leaf, Mr. Tube and The Flying Objects). The next Swiss tour is in April 2015, and they’re planning some west-coast shows this summer.

During her last year in Zurich, Joielah worked on her solo project, Victoria Concepcion. She had received a grant from the City of Zurich to make a record, so she flew Pall Jenkins out to Zurich to engineer. She wrote, played every instrument, and sang on every song, except for where Pall Jenkins plays saw and sings backup vocals. The album Demons was released in November 2014, which was followed by an Italy tour. She's working now in get a full band based in San Diego to continue playing shows in the US. She'll play in the next San Diego Experimental guitar Show.

What do you remember about your first guitar?

It’s a DeArmond by Guild guitar.

Which was the first and the last record you bought with your own money?

MC Hammer Please Hammer, Don’t Hurt ‘Em was my first. Tin Hat The Rain is a Handsome Animal was my latest.

How's your musical routine practice?

I don’t really have a routine practice. Sometimes I go into my studio in the early morning or late evening and try to write music while the rest of my household is asleep. Sometimes I practice for hours for many days straight; and then sometimes I hardly touch my guitar and sit in my garden in silence.

What’s the difference between a good instrument and a bad one?

The person playing it.

What is your idea of perfect musical happiness?

I don’t think there is such a thing. Moods and feelings can change and completely alter one’s perspective. Often times, silence is perfect happiness for me.

Joileah Concepcion, Marc Ysenschmid, Michel R.

Can you describe a sound experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a musician?

When I was a young teenager, I purchased a copy of Gidon Kremer Hommage à Piazzolla. I listened to it incessantly.

Dream about your perfect instrument.

It’s lightweight, highly-portable, and can sound like a harpsichord making love with trumpet violin.

What is your relationship with other disciplines such as painting, literature, dance, theater …?

Besides playing music, I enjoy drawing and calligraphy.

What quality do you most empathise with in a musician?


What are the challenges and benefits of today's digital music scene?

The benefit is that everyone can do it. I guess that’s the challenge as well.

How do you feel listening to your own music?

Depends on what mood I’m in.

Live@Blah Blah, Torino (Italy), October 11, 2014

Depict the sound you're still looking for.

I just don’t know what that is yet.

Sleeping People Fripp for Girls
What projects are you working on now and what does the future hold?

I just released a new album with my band Gletscher, titled Die Einöde. The album was recorded at SDRL in San Diego with Pall Jenkins as engineer. It’s a special record because every song features  guest musicians, that include Kenseth Thibideau (Sleeping People), Paul D’Amour (Tool, Lesser Key), Brad Lee (The Album Leaf), and Pall Jenkins (The Black Heart Procession, Three Mile Pilot). Gletscher will tour Switzerland in April. Beyond that, I really don’t know what the future holds.

Selected Discography

GletscherDie Einöde. April 2015

Victoria ConcepcionDemons. November 2014.

GletscherDevout. 2014

Die Schmelze. 2014.

Sleeping PeopleNotruf. Released 2012

Sleeping PeopleGrowing. 2007

Sleeping PeopleSleeping People. 2005

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Roberto Pianca 13 Questions

Photo Nicolas Masson

Born 1984, guitarist/composer Roberto Pianca studied music at the Amsterdam Conservatory (NL). He has played and worked with a variety of notable artists including Joey Baron, Russ Lossing, John O’Gallagher, Mark Ferber, Johannes Weidenmüller, Rafael Schilt, Christoph Irniger, Stefano Senni, Ben Syversen, Flin Van Hemmen, Jake Saslow, Colin Stranahan, Greg Ruggiero, Sienna Dahlen, Louise Dam Eckardt Jensen, Dan Kinzelman, and Savina Yannatou a.o.

Photo Igor Ponti

Beside performing internationally with his own group and other different projects, he’s co-leading Third Reel, a mutual collaboration with saxophonist Nicolas Masson and drummer/pianist Emanuele Maniscalco (the band joined prestigious and legendary german label ECM’s catalogue in 2013), and Rocky Wood, a five-piece critically acclaimed pop/folk band. Played venues and festivals in Switzerland, Italy, Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Greece, USA and Canada.

Photo Marcel Meier

What do you remember about your first guitar?

I remember receiving a classical guitar from my parents when I was a kid, right after that an Eko stratocaster-like electric guitar I bought for 200 swiss francs.

Roberto Pianca - guitar, Pearson Constantino - guitar/piano/laptop

Can you describe a sound experience that you believe contributed to your becoming a musician?

Probably listening to Jimi Hendrix's solo on "All Along The Watchtower" and a Wes Montgomery Trio record, both heard when I was a teenager.

Which was the first and the last record you bought with your own money?

I don't remember the first one, but I recently bought For Django by Joe Pass.

How is your work routine?

If I'm not on the road or busy with rehearsals and other things, I wake up and sit in front of my computer to deal with emails, booking and all that stuff, then I pass to some practicing in the afternoon, sometimes I do it the other way around.

Nicolas Masson - tenor sax, Roberto Pianca - guitar, Emanuele Maniscalco - drums

What’s the difference between a good instrument and a bad one?

Bad instruments make you feel depressed after a gig.

What's the relevance of technique in music, in your opinion?

Many people think that technique is really just about being able to play fast and/or complicated stuff, to me, technique has to do with a lot more than that, a good use of concepts such as rhythm feel, hearing, aesthetics, dynamics and sound, are way more important. But if you are a virtuoso, many things seem easier to play, so if your able to wisely combine all of these aspects to make music, the result might end up being really spectacular.

Roberto Pianca, guitar, Dan Kinzelmann, sax, Stefano Senni, double bass, Alex Huber, drums

What's your best musical experience?
Although I've had a few really great experiences so far, I hope my best ones are yet to come.

Dan Kinzelman - Saxophone, Roberto Pianca - Guitar, Stefano Senni - Bass, Alex Huber - drums

What’s your craziest project about?

I play the bass in a cover band with my uncle Luca (Pianca), we play soul and rock tunes from the '60, I don't know if that's crazy but it's a lot of fun.

How would you define music?

Maybe one of the highest forms of expression that was ever invented by humans.

What would you enjoy most in an art work?

Honesty and/or craftsmanship.

Rafael Schilt, tenor sax, Roberto Pianca, guitar, Roberto Bordiga, bass, Emanuele Maniscalco, drums

Which living or dead artist would you like to collaborate with?

Many I guess, but Lester Young is one of my favourites.

What do you like the most about being a musician?

Free meals at gigs. Well, also the feeling that, for a split second, everything it's in the right place while playing. Traveling with funny musicians too.

Rafael Schilt, tenor saxophone, Roberto Pianca, guitar, Roberto Bordiga, bass, Emanuele Maniscalco, drums

What projects are you working on now and what does the future hold?

I'm working on my own band, trying to finally find the time (and money) to go into the studio and record a bunch of tunes I wrote in the last couple years. Other than that, my second ECM album with collaborative group Third Reel, coming out in May and paired with a tour with bassist Thomas Morgan. Pop/folk band Rocky Wood, and some touring with great saxophone player John O'Gallagher.

Third Reel – Many More Days (ECM 2015 release date tba)
Rafael Schilt Quartet – A Sound (WideEar 2015)

Needle (duo with Pearson Constantino)

Rocky Wood – Shimmer 
(Sangue Disken 2014)

Charlie Roe – Pomegrenades Attack 
(EP/Mammut Project 2013)

D.Kinzelman/R.Pianca/S.Senni/A.Huber – Why Don’t You Go Outside? 
(WideEar 2013)

N.Masson/R.Pianca/E.Maniscalco – Third Reel 
(ECM 2013)

Webpage | Facebook | MySpace | Soundcloud| Rocky Wood  

Friday, March 27, 2015

Archivo Nacho Barcia: Surreal Frequencies

surrealist manifesto  André Bretón 1/4


So strong is the belief in life, in what is most fragile in life – real life, I mean – that in the end this belief is lost. Man, that inveterate dreamer, daily more discontent with his destiny, has trouble assessing the objects he has been led to use, objects that his nonchalance has brought his way, or that he has earned through his own efforts, almost always through his own efforts, for he has agreed to work, at least he has not refused to try his luck (or what he calls his luck!). At this point he feels extremely modest: he knows what women he has had, what silly affairs he has been involved in; he is unimpressed by his wealth or his poverty, in this respect he is still a newborn babe and, as for the approval of his conscience, I confess that he does very nicely without it. If he still retains a certain lucidity, all he can do is turn back toward his childhood which, however his guides and mentors may have botched it, still strikes him as somehow charming. There, the absence of any known restrictions allows him the perspective of several lives lived at once; this illusion becomes firmly rooted within him; now he is only interested in the fleeting, the extreme facility of everything. Children set off each day without a worry in the world. Everything is near at hand, the worst material conditions are fine. The woods are white or black, one will never sleep.

But it is true that we would not dare venture so far, it is not merely a question of distance. Threat is piled upon threat, one yields, abandons a portion of the terrain to be conquered. This imagination which knows no bounds is henceforth allowed to be exercised only in strict accordance with the laws of an arbitrary utility; it is incapable of assuming this inferior role for very long and, in the vicinity of the twentieth year, generally prefers to abandon man to his lusterless fate.

Though he may later try to pull himself together on occasion, having felt that he is losing by slow degrees all reason for living, incapable as he has become of being able to rise to some exceptional situation such as love, he will hardly succeed. This is because he henceforth belongs body and soul to an imperative practical necessity which demands his constant attention. None of his gestures will be expansive, none of his ideas generous or far-reaching. In his mind’s eye, events real or imagined will be seen only as they relate to a welter of similar events, events in which he has not participated, abortive events. What am I saying: he will judge them in relationship to one of these events whose consequences are more reassuring than the others. On no account will he view them as his salvation.
Beloved imagination, what I most like in you is your unsparing quality.


There remains madness, "the madness that one locks up," as it has aptly been described. That madness or another…. We all know, in fact, that the insane owe their incarceration to a tiny number of legally reprehensible acts and that, were it not for these acts their freedom (or what we see as their freedom) would not be threatened. I am willing to admit that they are, to some degree, victims of their imagination, in that it induces them not to pay attention to certain rules – outside of which the species feels threatened – which we are all supposed to know and respect. But their profound indifference to the way in which we judge them, and even to the various punishments meted out to them, allows us to suppose that they derive a great deal of comfort and consolation from their imagination, that they enjoy their madness sufficiently to endure the thought that its validity does not extend beyond themselves. And, indeed, hallucinations, illusions, etc., are not a source of trifling pleasure. The best controlled sensuality partakes of it, and I know that there are many evenings when I would gladly that pretty hand which, during the last pages of Taine’s L’Intelligence, indulges in some curious misdeeds. I could spend my whole life prying loose the secrets of the insane. These people are honest to a fault, and their naiveté has no peer but my own. Christopher Columbus should have set out to discover America with a boatload of madmen. And note how this madness has taken shape, and endured.


It is not the fear of madness which will oblige us to leave the flag of imagination furled.
The case against the realistic attitude demands to be examined, following the case against the materialistic attitude. The latter, more poetic in fact than the former, admittedly implies on the part of man a kind of monstrous pride which, admittedly, is monstrous, but not a new and more complete decay. It should above all be viewed as a welcome reaction against certain ridiculous tendencies of spiritualism. Finally, it is not incompatible with a certain nobility of thought.


By contrast, the realistic attitude, inspired by positivism, from Saint Thomas Aquinas to Anatole France, clearly seems to me to be hostile to any intellectual or moral advancement. I loathe it, for it is made up of mediocrity, hate, and dull conceit. It is this attitude which today gives birth to these ridiculous books, these insulting plays. It constantly feeds on and derives strength from the newspapers and stultifies both science and art by assiduously flattering the lowest of tastes; clarity bordering on stupidity, a dog’s life. The activity of the best minds feels the effects of it; the law of the lowest common denominator finally prevails upon them as it does upon the others. An amusing result of this state of affairs, in literature for example, is the generous supply of novels. Each person adds his personal little "observation" to the whole. As a cleansing antidote to all this, M. Paul Valéry recently suggested that an anthology be compiled in which the largest possible number of opening passages from novels be offered; the resulting insanity, he predicted, would be a source of considerable edification. The most famous authors would be included. Such a though reflects great credit on Paul Valéry who, some time ago, speaking of novels, assured me that, so far as he was concerned, he would continue to refrain from writing: "The Marquise went out at five." But has he kept his word?

If the purely informative style, of which the sentence just quoted is a prime example, is virtually the rule rather than the exception in the novel form, it is because, in all fairness, the author’s ambition is severely circumscribed. The circumstantial, needlessly specific nature of each of their notations leads me to believe that they are perpetrating a joke at my expense. I am spared not even one of the character’s slightest vacillations: will he be fairhaired? what will his name be? will we first meet him during the summer? So many questions resolved once and for all, as chance directs; the only discretionary power left me is to close the book, which I am careful to do somewhere in the vicinity of the first page. And the descriptions! There is nothing to which their vacuity can be compared; they are nothing but so many superimposed images taken from some stock catalogue, which the author utilizes more and more whenever he chooses; he seizes the opportunity to slip me his postcards, he tries to make me agree with him about the clichés:


The small room into which the young man was shown was covered with yellow wallpaper: there were geraniums in the windows, which were covered with muslin curtains; the setting sun cast a harsh light over the entire setting…. There was nothing special about the room. The furniture, of yellow wood, was all very old. A sofa with a tall back turned down, an oval table opposite the sofa, a dressing table and a mirror set against the pierglass, some chairs along the walls, two or three etchings of no value portraying some German girls with birds in their hands – such were the furnishings. (Dostoevski, Crime and Punishment)

André Breton