Friday, August 7, 2009



the sound poem by Hugo Ball, one of the Zürich Dadaists.*

And a masterful interpretation of the poem:

A great interpretation; others, such as this one by Trio Exvoco of Switzerland are, by comparison, downright depressing. Among other things, they lack an important - and maybe the essential - dimension of Dada, and of the avant-garde in general: its youth. Youth, both in the sense of young persons, and also, and most importantly, as that age in a person's life that we call youth. The stirring and moving of young age itself... as it "clashes" with society, with the drab, meaningless decorations it puts on its buildings, with the absurd that is intertwined with the everyday life in that society etc.** And youth responds organically, irrationally, and, needless to say, emotionally - by defacing the statues, overturning the garbage bins, and dancing in the fountains on the main square, after leaving the café at 2 am (you can't go mad while hungry; not if you're sane and healthy).***

The above-posted video, however, is quite excellent, and I could note a few aspects of why I think it is so well-done. First, it follows intelligently and almost "puristically" the phonetic value of the words in the poem - in this sound (or phonetic) poem. Furthermore, being set to a tribal drumbeat, it is very much in tone with the (quite important) primitivist dimension of Dada. Third, it was made using technology (Adobe Flash, I guess), and mechanized algorithms for the movement of the visual appearance of the words; thus removing itself, to a significant degree, from the subjective, personal, human dimension, very much in tone with Dada's emphasis on accident, the mass-produced, collage, and modern technology (see Schwitter's Merz, or Duchamp's Fountain). And, finally, it certainly has the inventiveness and randomness and freshness of a movement of the youth. After all, the author is 24 years old.

I do not know if this author, loris10mi (according to his Youtube name), is necessarily aware of all these dimensions - and he does not have to be, of course, given what was discussed above; but he might be, as this seems to have been part of an academic project. In any case, as noted, this might be one of the best interpretations of a Dada poem I have encountered yet.


* Dada? You can listen to Richard Huelsenbeck and Tristan Tzara talking about its beginnings - after the fact, of course, and after having been caught (the two of them) in ersatz visions of the world and of art, i.e. ideologies.
** It is not by chance that Dada appeared within the context of World War I, which, like all wars, was a celebration and joyful manifestation of the absurd; WWI perhaps even more so than the rest, given its utter pointlessness and unnecessary quality.
*** The scene with Anita Ekberg and Marcello Mastroianni, at the Fontana di Trevi, in La Dolce Vita, is not all too far removed from this youthful rebellion; but it is much "later" compared to youth itself, and thus, much sadder. As evidence of the similarity, see the very entertaining reaction of this youth from 60's Hungary (which was then under the (imposed) burden of a Communist regime), when watching the same scene from The Sweet Life; this funny and intelligent depiction is from Csinibaba, by Péter Timár, a movie made in the '90s.


  1. If you don't know it, you might look at Malcolm Cowley's EXILE'S RETURN: An Odyssey of the 1920s. It's about the American expatriates in Paris after WWI, but he has a lot to say about art for art's sake, dada, surrealism, and other things. I've read it several times I liked it so much.

  2. That is a period I enjoy a lot, especially in its American-related dimension. That was also the time when Americans writers went to Europe for inspiration and, well, because that was where things were happening; nowadays it is the other way around, although I am not sure things are "happening" here. As for Dada etc., the Zurich group seems to me the most interesting and fresh; Berlin was politicized (already then), New York was somehow an after-thought... It has to do with the fact that Dada is a yell, out of the absurd of life as experienced then, when a whole civilization was coming to an end in a brutal, technological manner. It was harder to live - and then express - that absurd in a booming, young metropolis like New York. Maybe it became a secondary product there - something to do, rather than something lived that was so pressing, that it had to be screamed to the world around. For example, Kafka, after all, could only be Central European.