Nude Descending a Staircase (1913) by Marcel Duchamp
"Dada is a state of mind... Dada is artistic free thinking... Dada gives itself to nothing... ." So is Dada defined by André Breton. This is not to say that Dada is definable, for it was one of the primary goals of Dada to avoid the labeling and legitimizing of the establishment. Early on in the development of the trend, Hugo Ball made it quite clear, "How can one get rid of everything that smacks of journalism, worms, everything nice and right, blinkered, moralistic, Europeanized, enervated? By saying Dada..." The principles of Dada had existed before in the schools of Expressionism, Cubism, and Futurism, but the principles had a change in language. The formation of these ideas are worth further examination.
The origins of the Dada movement can be traced to the opening of the Cabaret Voltaire by Hugo Ball in Zurich in 1916. Ball openend the cabaret and in a matter of days, he had assembled the core of the Dadaist movement. In a matter of days, Hugo Ball, Emily Hennings, Tristan Tzara, Marcel and Georges Janco, Jean Arp, and Richard Heulsenbeck had all become part of the Dadaist movement. Although a major point of Dada is that is a not supposed to be a movement, several of the artists released manifestos, the most signification being The First Dada Manifesto by Hugo Ball released on July 14, 1916. In his manifesto, Ball professes the philosophy of Dada which consists of three major points, "1. Dada is international in perspective and seeks to bridge differences, 2. Dada is antagonistic toward established society in the modern avant-garde, Bohemian tradition of the épater-le-bourgeios posture, and 3. Dada is a new tendency in art that seeks to change conventional attitudes and practices in aesthetics, society, and morality." The Dadaists's first performances were immediately after the opening of the cabaret and consisted of a collection of artwork and poetry. From there, the movment began to take on a life of its own.
Jean Arp introduced Germany to the movment of Dadaism. Arp created several collages that incorpoated various colored fragments. These collages were created based on the laws of chance and were aptly named, for example, Elementary Construction "According to the Laws of Chance"(1916) and Arrangement According to the Law of Chance(1916-1917). Arp developed a relationship with Max Ernst, who became oone of the foremost spokespersons for the Dada movement. Ernst employed elements of Freud's psychology and philosophy into his art. His creative philosophy stemmed from many of the Freudian concepts in sexuality. Ernst or "Dadamax" as he was often called, created collages instead of other formats because it was his belief that paintings required to much time to construct. Ernst created art works such as The Hat makes the Man (1920) and The Swan is Very Peacful (1920). His best known work, however, is L'elephant celebes (1921) which was created using exclusively previously printed materials.
Marcel Duchamp, a French immigrant who settled in America, had created a scandal with the painting Nude Decnding a Starcase (1913) and was looking for new philosophies of art to embrace. He travelled to Paris in 1914, and purchased a bottle-rack which he converted into a work of art, which he called a ready-made, becoming the first Dadaist to use the term. He completed other paitings, such as Chocolate Grinder and other found objects. These art-works all culminated in the monumental work of art, The Large Glass or The Bride Stripped Bare by her Batchelors. (1917-1923) After that work, Duchamp decided to leave the art community and concentrate on learning to play chess. Another artist who created a few significant work in America was Man Ray. The American school of Dadaist brought many elements to the arts that would not have previously existed otherwise.
Perhaps some of the most interesting developments of the Dada movement were accomplished by the sound poets of the Dada movement, Hugo Ball, Tristan Tzara, and particularly Kurt Schwitters. Kurt Schwitters was the originator of Merz art, a type of poetry performance that performed variations upon a limited range of materials. Schwitters developed a kind of poetry known as sound poetry and in 1922, debuted a poem entitled "Wand" ("Wall"). The poems is constructed of thirty seven repetitions of the word "wand" or its plural. There is also an introduction where the reader counts from one to five. An analysis of Schwitters' poem reveals the structure.
The subtle variations of the poem are the most important aspect of the piece. Through these variations, one is able to find form and symbolism. Schwitters explains that the most important aspect of the poetry is the performance. In his works, the entire space of the facility became the stage. This space adds formalism to all actions and speeches. Perhaps the most significant element of this type of performance, known as Merz performance, is the philosophy that any sound or text can be incorporated as material into a performance. this concept is the same to the visual one of "found objects".
A thorough description of Schwitters's philosophies add an understanding. "In '"Aus der Welt Merz," a dialogue with interventions of the public,' (1923) Schwitters describes an example of his performance art. Performing are artists (poets, painter, sculptors, musicians, actors) the public, and the stage. Each of these elements is described as materials of the performance and produces by itself forces and tensions that all become destructive if not controlled by a leader - the so-called 'Merzer,' who takes all these forces and reaction into account and creates an art performance.
Schwitters's successes in these sound poems encouraged him to write a great many of them. He wrote a Sound Sonata, inspired by the poem fmsbw by Raoul Hausmann. He also attempted to develop a Merz stage, a stage using various three dimensional objects. Schwitters incorporated barbed wire, liquids and gases, and manyother elements to construct this Merz stage upon which his performances happen. Scwitters also composed a long sound poem called Ursonata. This poem was Schwitters's most widely recognized and best received of all his works.
So-called Negro chants also began to become integrated into the performances of Dada art, particularly theater and dance. The artists chose to use these chants to allow themselves freedom from fixed pitch and the tempered system and freedom from inhibition to ensure expressionism. Because the design of the group of artists was to find new methods of art to shock the public, the musique nègre, as it was called, became immensely popular and was used frequently by Ball, Huelsenbeck, and Tzara, among others. Although the other artists used these chants, it was Hugo Ball who claimed to have discovered the inherent possibilities of the primitive Negro chant as a means of providing chaos and disorder.
Because the order and structure of the chants had no form that was apparent to the Dadaist artists, they believed that they were developing a new music. The poems were accompanied with a large drum and the performers wore black-face. The Dadaist artists saw these poems to be raw and visceral expressions, and listed Negro chant as part of programs entitled "Assault Night" and "New Art Night". The audience had never experienced this sort of music and could not quite distinguish between the Dada sound poems and the Negro chants. This was also hindered by the inability of the artists to formulate a coherent response regarding this art-form, most likely due to their lack of a common point of reference.
Musicians who labeled themselves as Dadaists were difficult to find for several reasons: the movement incorporated the music of composers with very different styles, none of whom was directly involved in the Dada movement, composers and musicians were extremely reluctant to identify themselves with a particular artistic movement, and for some unapparent reason, the Dada movement only seemed to attract visual artists and writers, and no dancers and musicians. That is not to say, however, that the Dada movement was devoid of musicians who labeled themselves Dadaist or at least associated themselves with the party. There was a limited number of musicians who did identify themselves with or were associated with the Dadaist movement.
A composer whose association with the Dadaist movement is clear as he was listed as a Dadaist resident composer is Hans Heusser, a Swiss composer who studied at the Schola Cantorum in Paris with Vincent d'Indy. His compositions, such as Mund über Wasser, Burlesques turques, and Cortege exotique, which adhered to the style of the salon compositions of the nineteenth century. His pieces received several performances from 1916 to 1919. these performances consisted of mainly piano works with such names as Adagio, Die Wanderer, Danse Orientale, and Fragmente aus Buhnenkomposition: "Der gelbe Klang (von W. Kandinsky). It is interesting to note that Heusser also wrote some pieces for harmonium that were performed as part of these concerts. After his final performance in April of 1919, Hans Heusser's name was no longer included on the Dada programs.
Another composer associated with the Dadaist movement was Albert Savinio. The magazine 291 described Savinio's music as disharmonious. "His music is not harmonious or even harmonize, but disharmonious. Its structure is based on drawing. His musical drawings are, most of them very rapid and dasants, and belong to the most discordant styles, for this composer thinks that a sincere and truthful musical work must have in its formation the greater variety of music - ALL THAT WHICH ONE HEARS - all of that which the ear imagines or remembers. He does not invent, he discovers the significance of all sorts of sounds and uses them to create an emotional source." These descriptions are on music written before the years of Dada, and there is no record of his involvement with the movement after its inception. Duchamp confirmed that Savinio was occasionally involved in the activities of the Dadaists, but never elaborated on this statement. Savinio eventually renounced the movement of Dada, as did many other artists associated with the movement.
There were other composers who had periferral involvement with the Dada movement. The composer who formed the music of Les Six were the most involved of any well-known composers, although their participation was mainly via the inspiration they received and provided. Erik Satie became one of the most important members of the movement and served as musical adivosr informally, but never composed directly or assumed a role as active Dadaist composer. Auris, Honegger, Milhaud, and Poulenc of Les Six did not compose music specifically for the Dadaist movement either, but often wrote music that reflected Dada philosophy and on several occassions had pieces played at Dada concerts.
Contributions of Dada movment is fairly clear. The inclusion of sound in art, the incorporation of found objects in a work of art, and the concept of improvision as a performance options were all substantially important to not only the development of music, but more specifically the development of electronic music. Although Pierre Schaeffer claimed no knowledge of the Dada school. It is quite apprent that he was familiar with these philosophyies as he developed musique concrète. The idea of found objects in Dada art is remarkably similar to the sound objects of musique concrete and it is more than just coincidence that Schaeffer uses such a similar element. The ideas of improvision in the art, was a tremendous influence on the work of John Cage, which he would freely admit. It is apparent that although it was mostly a movement of the visual arts, the influences of Dadaism go far beyond merely visual art. It reaches theater, philosophy, and music, particularly electronic music.