questions, questions...

answered by Johannes Bergmark

answers to an inquiry in Patricide 4 (The Sound of Surrealism) Book & CD, 2011.

How important do you think the aural medium is to surrealism?

Just as important as any other. I think the question is not so much how important something is to surrealism but how important anything is in general, like how important is sound and how important is surrealism? Surrealism in general doesn't need any specific medium more than any other but is interested in anything that enhances the poetic spirit and the spirit of revolt. Sound is as good as any means, depending on the circumstance, so there's no leveling between the means.

To what extent is there a kind of alchemy or magic in making music?

That depends very much on the definition of these concepts. I am very skeptical of these concepts if they are understood in a supernatural sense but accept them, however critically, as poetic concepts, which means that they take advantage of the modern development of the scientific understanding of the mind as opposed to having an archaic-as-opposed-to-modern opinion of the mind. Neuroscience actually teaches us that the separation between the mind and the body is totally outdated and useless so it's definitely time to get rid of these dualistic concepts. Patricide 4 book & cd So if these concepts are of any use at all, they have to be understood in accordance with modern knowledge. In that sense it might be possible to talk about alchemy, magic, trance, possession in the sense of the involvement of the human organism as a totality, where there is no (or at least less) separation of the perception of a body or spirit, past and present, consciousness and the unconscious.

Do you feel there is a distinctly surrealist approach to music that distinguishes the sounds of surrealism from the sounds of the avant-garde?

No. Surrealism is not in or out of the avant-garde, it's not a cultural movement at all but an attitude or a set of critical methods by which the “avant-garde” or any other cultural movement or phenomenon can be judged, used or distinguished from whenever necessary. There's no limit which sounds can be used by surrealism, nor by the avant-garde – the distinction is by selfidentification and not by sounds.

How important are chance, improvisation and the subconscious to your methods of working?

Very important. In my case, improvisation is central, and chance and the unconscious enter through and in improvisation. It's important to distinguish improvisation from chance, though. Just as the evolution of the species is sometimes mistaken for chance, so is improvisation. Although chance enters a lot, it's not a guiding principle. The important thing is what improvisation as a method (or indeed evolution as a function) does with it and what use it makes of it. Improvisation also does not equal the unconscious, although different methods of improvisation gives more or less space to the unconscious, by conscious decisions and a conscious attitude (the same could be said about chance). An improvisation can be very consciously formed, aesthetically, technically or otherwise, or could be very spontaneous, chaotic, in a trance etc.

To what extent do you think surrealism has influenced the work of 20th century musicians?

Very little, if you by “surrealism” mean the surrealist movement and its activities, those people can probably be counted easily. On the other hand, for those who have been influenced, I think the influence can be very strong. There has never been any musical style associated with surrealism, and I think this can be a lucky thing, since we don't have to get into the boring discussion about what distinguishes “surrealist music” from other genres. There are only surrealists that do (or not) music with (or maybe without) a surrealist attitude.

Do you see a relationship between surrealist ideas and the development of electronic and electroacoustic music?

I think there can be certain links between the surrealist attitude and the possibilities within “Concrete Music” (music made on tape, or other recordable means), the idea to take a (any) sound out of context and manipulate with dimensions, time, space and relations otherwise impossible in acoustic reality, but it all depends on the perspective of the musician. A technical (and partly conceptual) method such as this does not equal that the music is “surrealist”. If the only purpose is to make music, there is little difference between a Concrete musician and any other. But this might be too easy to say, on the other hand. There are two different historical perspectives that apply: first, the introduction of a new expressive means can signify the possibility of a new sensibility at a certain time and place. This doesn't only concern history at large but also the history of an individual person or a small group of people, where a phenomenon that is otherwise quite uninteresting, can have a great impact on the creativity or expansion of thought. Second, on the other hand, surrealism doesn't concern itself with changing art history. It concerns itself with changing human history, and above all revolting against the repression of the human spirit. If surrealism had impact on the history of poetry and art is of little importance compared to the fate of human freedom at large. Having said this, I still think that there is great poetic potential in concrete music as well as in newer developments such as electronic noise music and similar phenomena such as the DIY improv- and electronic music circles. But this is just a potential for cultural subversion and has to be connected to a subversion of consciousness and of social relations in order to fulfill this potental.

To broaden the perspective a bit, there is also surrealist potential in many other forms of music, not only obvious ones such as free improv and jazz but also in passionate subversions in/of other genres including popular ones.

In what ways do you think that 21st century musicians and sound artists will continue to engage with surrealist thought?

I have no idea and I don't really care in what ways they do it or not, more than if other artists, workers, unemployed, pensioners, teenagers, illegal immigrants etc do it. As long as surrealism will still be officially nonexisting in music, musicians will probably never connect their activity to surrealism unless they begin to understand what surrealism is about, at which point they might have a crisis and change their attitude to what they do. This will probably also mean that they change their methods, but since the possibilities are endless even in a limited field such as music, there's no point in speculating where this will go, hardly even about myself. The point is not to change music but to change consciousness and the way of life. In order to do that, it might be good to forget about the fate of music sometimes and just play, with all available means.

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