Sunday, August 31, 2008

Kraftwerk and William S. Burroughs/Brion Gysin

Actually a real, if only ideological, connection between the seminal electronic band and the cut up method used by Burroughs and developed with Gysin. The cut up method uses semi-random juxtapositions of text to create new meanings, but Burroughs extended the concept to audio and film by pointing out that if you substitute any soundtrack, any song, any band, any genre, even some other film soundtrack, for the soundtrack that normally goes with a film you'll find that your mind processes some correspondences between the sounds and the images as if there was an intentional meaning put there. The new audio becomes a comment on the video, and suggests new meanings to the story. In fact, anything put together in sequence that's not too obviously jarring will read as if it was intended to be a film looking like that or, if it's just audio, a recording sounding like that. It's the way our minds tend to process things. Now what does this have to do with Kraftwerk?

In the biography of the band authored by Pascal Bussy, one of the ex-band members comments that what they sometimes used to do was to set up the machines and have them sing to one another. I wondered what this meant, sounded strange, but it sort of hit me that what he was talking about was having drum machines set to certain patterns combine their sounds with keyboard sequencers, both repeating chunks of sound. The result would be different types of polyrhythms depending on what the timing was between the two machines and what the original sounds were. In other words, a new track would be formed just by letting the machines interact with each other operating on the principle that Burroughs outlined, which is that if things are combined or put in juxtaposition to each other it doesn't matter whether it was intentional or not, our minds will read the resulting product as being complete in itself.

*on edit: some similar ideas are also contained in early film maker Sergei Eisenstein's writings about montage and the conveying of meaning through a film's structure, for instance Film Form.

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