Thursday, January 24, 2019

Art Addiction, Burroughs, Bowie, Dadaism, Decoupage, Improvisation to Velvet Buzzsaw (Trailer)

As a songwriter (and weirdo) I am always looking for writing exercises that challenge me. I have been known to populate my Instagram with free-form song improvisations that I either develop further or just keep "as is" to release to the world. Artists and songwriters have forever used techniques to stimulate their artistic visions or try to tap into some level of the creative brain like diving into unknown waters of streams of consciousness. 

Notable iconic rock musicians and composers like David Bowie, Kurt Cobain and Thom Yorke have composed using classic avant garde cut and paste techniques in turn inspired by each other and predominantly by the famous and infamous American writer, visual artist and heroin addict William S. Burroughs. A prolific "creative" whose journey found him hanging with the likes of Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac all as influencers of the so called Beat Generation during the 1960's counter culture. Burrough's writings was a semi-autobiographical stew filtered through mysticism, the occult and his heroin addiction itself. Within this stew existed his cut and paste technique inspired by French decoupage art. Developed with artist Brion Gysin their "montage technique" involved words and phrases cut from magazines or newspapers like hostage takers notes but re-arranging the fragments in a free form random way. They applied this technique to audio recordings and film as well. David Bowie adopted this technique and it fit in perfectly with his Dadaistic approach to art and music but he twisted it his own way. Rather than borrow texts from magazines he would cut and paste his own writings, poetry and stories. 

Kurt Cobain who oddly enough met and collaborated with Burroughs said:  

“My lyrics are total cut-up. I take lines from different poems that I’ve written. I build on a theme if I can, but sometimes I can’t even come up with an idea of what the song is about.” 

Thom Yorke and Radiohead are one of my favorite musical artists and while Yorke fuses his own poetry and stream of consciousness styles (for the most part) he has supposedly used the cut and paste technique by drawing cut up phrases from a hat for much of the astounding Kid A album. The Pixies iconic songs that bridge tones of whimsy, vulgarity, esoteric dreams, and urban tales all dripping with a cool vibe stem from the fertile mind of  Black Francis. He calls some of his most famous songs weird ditties. Many songwriters emphasize words as sounds (as I do) and the importance of words sounding right together ringing true sonically as opposed to making sense of any sort may be (at least in my mind) truly artistic. 

All these techniques that are not hinged in reality or specific ideas but rather take an avant garde approach benefits from the fact that human are, in fact, apophenic beings. Apophenia is the tendency to (mistakenly) perceive connections and meanings between unrelated things. As humans we want to find meaning. If you were to take 40 decks of playing cards and cast them out (spread out on a huge gallery floor) there are many of us who, if we looked long enough, would find patterns in the shapes or in the numbers. In this same way we always seek to find patterns and meaning in whatever is put in front of us whether it is batches of colors or sounds or words. 

Poetically speaking artists sometimes pair and skewer reality with opposites or opposite ideas. When I heard about the upcoming Netflix movie - Velvet Buzzsaw, the opposing sensations of lushness and violence, softness and abrasiveness catch your ear immediately. It is the whole Led Zeppellin motif but somehow horrific. It means nothing but we want to make sense of it. 

I am also a huge Jake Gyllenhaal fan and an admirer of screenwriter and director Dan Gilroy. On first glance the movie trailer seems to literally skewer the excesses and pretentiousness of the art world. It also looks very art rockish and punk in tone. The trailer offered me a chance to dip into improvisation once again in a totally new way. The rules in my mind were simple. I would watch the trailer several times. I would allow myself up to 5 minutes to decide on tuning and find phrasings but could not write down any lyrical content at all. I decided on Drop D. I Turned on the Video camera, then the Movie Trailer and started playing and singing. 

In the end the execution is not as important to me as the doing and the realization that some of the melodies, chord progressions and tones might be cut and pasted up later and be re-realized. 

Robb Donker 

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