George Melly’s Memoirs of a Self-Confessed Surrealist

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It’s a short step from Dada to Surrealism, and George Melly provides a brief skate through the philosophies of both in this 25-minute BBC film from 1978. Melly, like JG Ballard, was struck by Surrealism at an impressionable age, and the love affair was a lasting one. Both Melly and Ballard championed Surrealism during periods when it was deeply unfashionable, an oppositional stance that Ballard at least often seemed to relish.

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Melly’s enthusiasm was so well-known that he was often called upon as a token advocate of Surrealism whenever one was required by the TV channels, hence this film whose title implies an admission of something disreputable. A major exhibition of Surrealist art was taking place 1978 at the Hayward Gallery in London, and it’s to this exhibition that Melly journeys, explaining (and demonstrating) what it means to be a Surrealist along the way. I saw this when it was first broadcast, and the absurd phone calls to strangers inspired myself and a few school-friends to similar activities; teenage pranks seemed less frivolous with an artistic justification. There’s a slight connection to yesterday’s post in Melly’s recounting of an anecdote from the 1950s when he was spared a night-time beating by his reciting of Kurt Schwitters’ Ursonate to a group of belligerent youths. Elsewhere you get to see punk band The Stranglers scowling at the camera—Melly suggests that the punks might be inheritors of the Dadaist attitude—and director Alan Yentob standing at a urinal.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Secret Life of Edward James
René Magritte by David Wheatley

Wyatting

These are people after my own heart as this is something I’ve been doing for years with jukeboxes. Usually the challenge was to find the weirdest thing in the whole selection of records which would often be a B-side of some sort. “Wyatting” seems a rather unfair name for something that’s annoying people (although if it’s going to be named something it may as well be after the wonderful Robert). If it’s irritation you want then “Merzbowing” (see below) would seem more apt, not least because of its relation to the Dada works of Kurt Schwitters.

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Wyatting (vb): when jukeboxes go mad by Ned Beauman

Just as the best way to judge an adult is by his or her record collection, the best way to judge a pub is by the albums on its jukebox. Or it was, until the 21st-century caught up with the noisy machine in the corner. There are now nearly 2,000 internet-connected jukeboxes in the UK, each of which can access as many as 2m tracks – and with them has come Wyatting, which is either a fearless act of situationist cultural warfare or a nauseatingly snobbish prank, depending on who you ask.

The phenomenon was first identified in the New York Times by Wendy McClure. She was in a grimy rock bar when someone pulled up Brian Eno’s Thursday Afternoon, which consists of a single distant piano phrase repeated for more than an hour, and found herself too mesmerised to leave. “Imagine replacing the brass cylinder in a music box with a Möbius strip made from nerve endings,” she wrote. The rest of the bar’s patrons , however, were soon in revolt.

This wasn’t to be an isolated incident. After music critic Simon Reynolds linked to McClure’s article on his weblog, several of his readers wrote in to confess that this is a game they regularly play. Carl Neville, a 36-year-old English teacher from London, coined the term “Wyatting” because sticking on Dondestan, the 1991 avant-garde jazz-rock LP by ex-Soft Machine singer Robert Wyatt, is the perfect way to disrupt a busy Friday night in a high street pub. Other favourites are free-jazz clarinetist Evan Parker and surrealist Japanese noise producer Merzbow. In theoretical terms, Wyatting has been explained as enacting the theories of Adorno, who believed that subverting pop music would help to bring down capitalism. Alternatively, if you listen to Neville, it’s simply “childish, futile, but finally hilarious”. (More.)

Dada at MoMA

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(left) “Mechanical Head (Spirit of Our Age)” by Raoul Hausmann.

‘Dada’ at MoMA: The Moment When Artists Took Over the Asylum

By MICHAEL KIMMELMAN
Published: June 16, 2006

NOW is as good a time as any for a big museum to take another crack at Dada, which arose in the poisoned climate of World War I, when governments were lying, and soldiers were dying, and society looked like it was going bananas. Not unreasonably the Dadaists figured that art’s only sane option, in its impotence, was to go nuts too.

“Total pandemonium” was how the sculptor Hans Arp reported the situation in 1916 at the great Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, where Dada was born. “Tzara is wiggling his behind like the belly of an Oriental dancer. Janco is playing an invisible violin and bowing and scraping. Madame Hennings, with a Madonna face, is doing the splits. Huelsenbeck is banging away nonstop on the great drum, with Ball accompanying him on the piano, pale as a chalky ghost.”

I’m sure you had to be there.

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