One can look at seeing; one can not hear hearing.
-Marcel Duchamp, Green Box, 1934
way to study music: study Duchamp." An impressive line John Cage
once mentioned. The friendship between these two creative minds reveals
their mutual concern with the conventional perception both on the artistic
creation and the spectator’s expectation. To Cage, for instance, silence
was a compositional tool, a vivid explanation of what can be music.
For Duchamp, however, making music meant going beyond the technical
exploration of musical composition. Duchamp explored whether one is
able to visualize sound and combine it with language by playing music
in a random kind of order, in other words, to create something artistic
scene of Duchamp, Teeny, and Cage playing chess in a performance,
Sightssoundsystems, a festival of art and technology in Toronto,
Duchamp’s first musical
work, Erratum Musical, is a score for three voices derived from
the chance procedure. During a New Year’s visit in Rouen in 1913, he
composed this vocal piece with his two sisters, Yvonne and Magdeleine,
both musicians. They randomly picked up twenty-five notes from a hat
ranging from F below middle C up to high F. The notes then were recorded
in the score according to the sequence of the drawing. The three vocal
parts of Erratum Musical are marked in sequence as "Yvonne,"
"Magdeleine" and "Marcel." (Duchamp replaced the
highest notes with the lower ones in order to make the piece singable
for a male voice.) The words that accompanied the music were from a
dictionary’s definition of "imprimer" - Faire une
empreinte; marquer des traits; une figure sur une surface; imprimer
un scau sur cire (To make an imprint; mark with lines; a figure
on a surface; impress a seal in wax).
The title "Erratum
Musical" can be translated as "musical misprint." Thus,
the book or "text" and the title conjure a dialectic relation between
seeing and hearing. Picked from a dictionary, the "text" itself is already
a readymade. Through a random order, the meaning of the text/readymade
is reproduced and transformed by the repetition of the text.
Musical, From the Green Box, 1934
The final representation
of this musical "visualizes" the process of hearing a scene of imaginative
landscape, as if one is able to see the music through its vocal expression,
through its performance or individual interpretation. In other words,
the aesthetic experience of listening to a piece of music is transformed
into an abstract experience of experiencing an abstract space. One seems
to be able to sense the existence of a space in terms of the flow of
the layering of the rhythms/voices. Furthermore -- and what is very
intriguing -- this sense of space visualized by the sound/music seems
analogous to an abstract experience of a sculptural space. In this case,
Duchamp let chance be the creator and make the final decision.
was first performed publicly by the Dada artist Marguerite Buffet at
the Manifestation of Dada on March 27, 1920. This earliest performance
resulted with restless rustling, shouts and whistles from the audience.
The version playing here was from the CD entitled "Marcel Duchamp
/ The Creative Act," 1994, No. 6 ErratumMusical
(1:38), with Jean-Luc Plouvier as Marcel, Marianne Pousseur as Yvonne
and Lucy Grauman as Magdeleine. They perform the three voices simultaneously
in different tones. Through the combination of high/low, near/far of
the singing, Erratum Musical is visualized/sculpturalized as
though one can sense a space contained in its experimental musical landscape.
Although Erratum Musical was created in the early 20th century,
it is still fully functional to challenge the conventional experience
and the musical connoisseurship of today’s general audience.