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The Russian Futurist Connection


The ZAUM Project














ACHAR LASKEWICZ, Theoretical Work

Paper presented at the Colloquium on Australian, American and British poetry set to music, Edith Cowan University, Perth Australia, July 17th 1992.

Rediscovery of language
through music-theatre performance

The primary purpose behind this paper is to discuss new ways of interpreting and utilising texts, and in particular to focus on rediscovering text and language in a musical context. Through my own research into the relationship between the development of written language and musical notation, and the complex ties between the text and music in Eastern forms of theatre, I have discovered alternative means and motives for the integration of language, music and performance, and this has expressed itself in two of my recent music-theatre compositions: "Songs of Incantation" and "Zaum." In both of these works, ancient texts and ancient forms of performance practice have been rediscovered in order to create a new type of music-theatre performance. This dual condition where the ancient past is rediscovered in order to open up entirely new artistic realms in contempory art is the primary common factor between my work and the work of the Russian futurists, and it is this point of connection which forms the basis for this paper.

In traditional forms of Western music-theatre, such as opera and musical-theatre (musicals), there are clearly defined distinctions between the different media employed. The texts are subordinated to strict referential meaning, and the music acts largely to accentuate this meaning, resulting in no exciting interplay between the forms. My own music-theatre rejects the use of language in its strict referential sense, brought about by a personal rejection of language as a permanent and secure means of communication. Through our life education we are taught that abstract vocal sounds are secure signifiers of a reality, that the word is solid, secure and safe. Words, however, only act as labels for what we perceive, and it is their interaction dictated by strict grammatical systems that most meaning is expressed. In this sense language holds certain restrictions and creates barriers of all kinds, and it is through my own work with music-theatre that I want to break down these barriers and explore different means of communication.

"Songs of Incantation," a music-theatre work for 8 performers and tape, involves the fragmentation and restructuring of Ancient Greek text. The use of Ancient Greek text frees the composition from the restrictions of rational, semantic interpretation. Text fragments taken from Ancient Greek documents are rediscovered in a number of ways, including emphasis on the onomatopoeic nature of the texts, and fragmentation of the individual words into their sound components which are then integrated as part of the musical development. In the context of performance, the words exist in a sound world where every vocalisation has equal importance; a whisper, a moan or a scream. As well as rethinking language, "Songs of Incantation" attempts to reinterpret other elements of theatre and performance, incorporating movements and gestures, lighting effects, staging and costumes. Although the work is highly 'theatrical' in nature, the structures underlying it are primarily 'musical', without narrative in the traditional sense of the word. The ancient texts, however, have an intimate dialogue with the musical structures, and the purpose of the work is to create a multilevelled matrix of experiential possibilities, creating deliberate ambiguities between the musical and the theatrical elements and using the text in a format that can communicate musical 'meaning' without actually having to register semantically.

The second music-theatre work "zaum" is my most recent creation. This composition is inspired by the Russian futurist poets whose work primarily took place in the first twenty years of the twentieth century. They demanded a radical reappraisal of language, and the name of my composition is taken from one of their primary theoretical innovations: Zaumnu Yazyk (abbreviated zaum ), meaning "trans-sense language." This is basically a form of poetic communication that was obstinately untranslatable because for the first time pure vocal sounds were used, vocal fragments totally unsubordinated to meaning that only sometimes alluded to interpretable language. According to the futurists, poetry using language restricted by strict referential meaning and grammatical structures was no longer a valid form of artistic communication, which certainly reflects my own attitude to the word. This fragmentation of language was associated with similar forms of deconstruction occurring in other artistic mediums, especially the graphic arts. Some theorists consider that the Russian futurists' splintering of words can be associated with developments taking place in the scientific world. According to Charlotte Douglas, as the Newtonian universe changed into the Einsteinian one, the idea that truth could be grasped simply by rigorous application of logic gradually disappeared, and science began to try and synchronise all information in an attempt to create new models and theories: All types of information seemed legitimate.[1] Because scientists were busy rearranging their visions of the universe, artists suddenly felt free to do the same, creating a sensibility which allowed for previously incongruous elements to exist in the same art work; media such as painting, poetry, theatre and music are used in conjunction, resulting in the first appearance of 'performance art.'

In Russian futurism the strongest relationship was between the graphic and written mediums. Futurists consistently and frequently tried to add the visual element to their poetry using different typefaces, introducing offbeat illustrations, and employing the author's handwriting. For these artists, modern painting was "not only a new vision of the world in all its sensuous magnificence and staggering variety, it was also a new philosophy of art which shattered all established canons and opened breathtaking perspectives."[2 ] Russian futurist poets found immediate expression for cubist principles taken from painting, where the principle of artistic distortion was grafted onto language by equating the stroke on the canvas with sounds or phonemes. Instead of lines, planes and colours, arranged in an unexpected order to present a fuller interpretation of reality, the words were 'dislocated' and ungrammatically repositioned. This was to see its extreme expression in 'zaum', where poetry was extended to include non-referential sounds that could nevertheless be enjoyed 'by themselves,' more closely associated with the condition of music. Much experimental work was done using the performance medium, in fact Kruchenykh, one of the primary theoreticians of zaum language, said that he saw zaum as the only possibility for use in the new theatre and cinema, and Matyushin, A Russian futurist artist and composer commenting upon an experimental futurist 'opera', said that "Through the disintegration of concepts and words, of old staging, and of musical harmony, they presented a new creation, free of old conventional experiences and complete in itself, using seemingly senseless words - picture sounds - new indications of the future that leads into eternity and gives a joyful feeling of strength."[3] Even Mayakovsky, who was the most conservative of all Russian futurists, said that "theatre should fuse elements of dance and zaum language: allowing the intonation of the speech that has no special meaning and the invented but rhythmically free movement of the human body to work together." Russian futurist theatre was taken to its extreme by Ilya Zdanevich, who was later to become part of the dada movement. He wrote a series of five plays entirely in nonsense language, and simultaneously extended the sound possibilities of the medium and broke the language barrier by writing them entirely in phonetics (even the title and the stage directions).

This 'multi-media' sensibility which is characteristic of the Russian futurist movement has immediate relevance to my own work in using music-theatre to redefine traditionally accepted mediums in order to create new possibilities in performance. A rediscovery of the Russian futurist sound poems in an entirely new context seemed a natural path for me to take considering my previous works experimenting with this fragmentation, the aim being to dynamically present through performance an array of gradually transforming musical, theatrical and visual elements; a collage of sound, movement and action that can be interpreted on a number of different levels. Also, the medium of experimental music-theatre offers many possibilities that would not have been available to the futurists, and their poetry will at last be able to find a dynamic means of expression. This poetry has been largely ignored by contemporary art historians and theoreticians, stemming from its untranslatability; through the medium of performance, however, they can not be brushed off so lightly, but rediscovered in an entirely new fashion. I am attempting to fuse the elements behind the initial poems with a new concept of music-theatre performance. This new performance evolves from a desire to totally bypass the Western classical heritage and has resulted in an exploration of ancient forms of performance practice, particularly Asian. This is a clear representation of ties between my work and the work of the Russian futurists.

I have been particularly influenced by those forms of theatre that have been passed through the generations in a largely unchanged form, such as Japanese Noh theatre, Balinese ritual performances and Indian Raslila plays. This is perhaps the most direct and arresting contact with something ancient that is possible to find in the contemporary world. There are two factors which I find particularly exciting about these theatre forms, elements that have been influential and have found expression in my work. The first is related to the use of vocal language, languages often so ancient that they can no longer be rationally interpreted by even the local audiences: Even though they may be familiar with the mythical or allegorical stories being represented, they are drawn to this theatre by a deeper and stronger force involved with the spiritual significance of the ritual performance. The fact that even audiences from alien cultures can still find this theatre deeply moving even though the actual spoken language used is not communicating semantically, suggests many possibilities for use in non-vocal theatre and other experimental forms of performance; they have undoubtedly changed the face of Western theatre. Antonin Artaud's famous Manifesto on the Theatre of Cruelty asks for the inclusion of Eastern concepts of expression. He wrote in 1930: "What the theatre can still take over from speech are its possibilities for extension beyond words." He calls for the incorporation of cries and onomatopoeia into the language of the stage and for the inclusion of oriental expression that changes "words into incantations." His theories also extended into incorporation of musical instruments into the set, indelibly integrating the music into the theatrical performance. The title of my composition Songs of Incantation alludes to this manifesto, and this work attempts to incorporate many of these elements.

These powerful theatre forms have been equally important in influencing other forms of theatre, especially dance. Balinese and Indian dance performances are characterized by the complex systems of communication expressed through movement and gestures. Like the ancient vocal languages, these systems were developed to symbolically represent mythical stories, although the exact meanings behind the symbols remains largely unknown to a contemporary audience. The use of these seemingly abstract but highly symbolic gestures that engage the entire body is a powerful medium that can certainly connect with its audience on a deeper level than other forms of communication, and can be compared to the condition of music. It is through dance and music that we perhaps come closest to a "universal language." The text below is taken from an ancient Indian dance form - Bharata-Natyam, and is an incantory prayer to Shiva, the lord of dance. A series of gestures represent the abstract, unearthly concepts within the prayer. A translation of the text is as follows:

We bow to the satvika Shiva
Whose angika is the body
Whose vachika is the entire language
Whose aharya is the moon and the stars

This prayer engages principles of performance on four levels, the integration of angika, vachika, aharya and satvika. We are familiar with the first two levels: Angika is the use of the body to experience and communicate, and vachika is the use of the voice whether in dialogue or on musical instruments. However, aharya is the use of costumes and make-up and satvika is the use of feelings, intelligence and intellect, both suggesting an integration of extended concepts of communication through performance. This brings me to the second influential factor: The intricate relationship between all the media engaged in the performance. Western music-theatre is characterized by a separation of these elements, through creating strict divisions between certain roles: musician/actor, composer/director, music/libretto, even character/actor. These distinctions largely do not exist in these theatre forms where the musical instruments are on the stage, directly interacting with the performance, and the music itself is intimately related to the performance text. This intimate relationship goes deeper than many may think. In Indian and Balinese performances there is a strong numerical relationship between the performance texts and the music. This is particularly evident in Indian classical dance where the rhythmic nature of the language dictates both to the musicians and the dancers. A 'language' of rhythms has evolved in these forms so that a particular dance can be actually 'spoken' as well as danced and played. Overleaf is a rhythmic section from an Indian dance 'text'.

ta - ki-ta
dhay-khi-ta-thay tha-ki-ta
ta-ki-ta-too-na ta-thom-ta

It is clearly apparent, then, that the very nature of the language is multi-functionary. It is not only dictating musical structures to the performance, but in a sense 'becomes' the music, especially when an actual literal translation is either obscured by the passing of a great passage of time, or non-existent, and one is forced to appreciate it for its sound alone. Similarly, the music does not "support" the performance text in the traditional sense because it is intimately involved with creating and interacting with the structures in which the performance takes place.

Many of these attitudes to language can also be reflected in our own ancient musical heritage, where the written language developed at the same time and from the same source as musical notation. People that lived in the middle ages had a fundamental conception of melody as movement of the voice, and they had an understanding of a continuity between melody and speech. Essentially, this is strongly related to the musical theories of the ancient Greeks and Romans; the music itself was not distinguished from the texts - they were one and the same. In the medieval world, texts were primarily read aloud and this was especially important in the church services. Forms of notation were used to indicate to the reader as to when the voice was to be raised or lowered, and when pauses should be made, so that the articulation of clauses and sentences would help to clarify the sense of the text for listeners. This was in fact a form of punctuation, strongly related to the standard punctuation forms of written text we recognise today, and instructions for using these symbols in speech were handed down from ancient Roman grammarians. Certainly in the early days of notation, emphasis was not on pitch, but on vocal intonation and performance, and the notational symbols were the written syllables of speech: The notion that one could string out a whole series of musical notes under one syllable was conceptually foreign to the first notators of music, a syllable was undoubtedly considered a musical unit. Musical notation grew naturally from this early punctuation, and this notion of language as music continued throughout the middle ages even though the notation form itself became much more intricate. Today, written text as a form of musical notation is certainly an interesting concept, but quite logical considering all the extra vocal symbols that adjust the resultant sound, such as question marks, commas, and full stops.

In the Middle ages, musical notation in fact encompassed an entire performance practice. From the end of the ninth century we have very clear confirmation that the manner of performance was regarded as integral to the chant melodies, and was encoded in the oldest notations. The emphasis, over and above the notation of pitch, was on the signification of the performance aspects that, as much as pitch patterns, characterised chant types.[4 ] In Songs of Incantation I was seeking a form of notation that could encompass a broader performance practice, rather than a standard execution of set pitches. In this composition, a form of symbolic representation is adopted where time progresses in a forward direction across the page (similar to most forms of musical notation), and the time line running above the score is used to divide the score into specific time intervals in which the individual sounds and actions are notated. The ancient Greek texts used were fragmented into their individual components, and through the development of a simple phonetic system that encompassed the sound possibilities of the language, these syllabic units became the primary musical units. The texts are integrated into the musical structure, and in fact become the music. This example clearly demonstrates the use of these syllabic units, and that the emphasis is taken off pitch: Specific vocal pitches are not notated, although the performers are instructed as to how long a note should last and whether it is to be a high pitch, a mid-range pitch or a low pitch. This notation also provides the possibility for the inclusion of other performance elements, particularly performer movement: When particular gestures are performed, when the performers remove their masks, or when performers move to a new position on stage.

As well as the connection with medieval music notation, Songs of Incantation has elements directly comparable to ancient performance practice. The texts used in Songs of Incantation are very important to the structure of the work, relating both to their thematic importance and the actual sound of the words. These texts are primarily taken from the Agamemnon, the first play in the Oresteia (a trilogy of plays by Aeschylus). I was interested in rediscovering these texts because of the way the ancient Greeks treated language, with particular emphasis on its musicality; the words chosen by the playwrights reflected more than their literal meaning through their sound. They even wrote words into their works that were untranslatable into any language because they were written purely as vocal sounds, usually expressing states of extreme emotion. The two examples of texts used in the composition that I am about to discuss demonstrate the dual interest of the Ancient Greek writers:

The holy lord of Heaven longs to fertilise the land,
and longing for this marriage has seized the earth.
Rain, tumbling from the passionate heaven,
has kissed the earth, and she brings forth for mortals grass for
their herds and grain for their bread, and trees, watered by this
marriage, bearing fruit in season; and I attend upon this birth.

This text was chosen because it is a typical Ancient Greek 'pastoral' text, and was thought to be by Aeschylus himself. It is used as a spoken recitation on prerecorded tape and is also set to music in a more traditional form because of the pleasant lilting effect of the words and phrasing. The next example is certainly a striking contrast:

So it was that he gave up his life as he fell,
and gasping out a harsh gout of blood
he struck me with a black spray of gore,
and I rejoiced in it no less than the bursting bud
rejoices in the god-given rain.

This is another of the the important texts clearly recited in the tape part, and is taken from the Agamemnon. It was at first chosen because of the images presented in an English translation, containing explicitly violent language. It was even more exciting to find that the original Ancient Greek reflected this violence in the sounds of the words, where harsh and guttural syllables combined with strong and violent rhythms to create a powerful passage. It also seemed to have poetic relevance because this fragment was thought to parody pastoral poetry exemplified in the first example: Clytaemnestra mockingly compares the feeling of Agamemnon's blood on her skin to the rain fertilizing the earth.

A number of other text fragments are also integrated into the composition. The tape part consists of nine female vocal parts, and the six lower voices in the score represent the mythical figure of the Furies who play an important role in the Oresteia. They are "cthonic" gods of the earth who are filled with rage and pain; female gods who exact retribution from Orestes for killing his mother. During the climax of the tape part, the abstracted ancient Greek vocal fragments are combined with marginal vocal sounds to provide a powerful musical-dramatic conclusion.

At the climax of the tape part, two shorter text fragments are used. The first short fragment ("Ot ot ot toi popoi da") was chosen because it was written into the Agamemnon purely for its sound value, and was basically untranslatable into any language. It is meant to represent a bloodcurdling cry of terror. In the composition, this is screamed by one of the furies and then echoed maniacally by two of the other voices. The second climactic fragment was chosen because of the onomatopoeic sound value inherent within the words. Also taken from the Agamemnon, it is a gruesome piece of text that is screamed by Cassandra as she has prophetic visions of a horrific past and her own impending slaughter. It is shouted with fear and hatred by one of the fury voices at the climax

The gods have been hated! This place clutches
its secrets: wicked murder of kindred has
spattered the ground with the blood of butchery!

Another important aspect of the composition is the inclusion of movement into the notated composition and the use of symbolic gestures by the performers, presenting a dual interest in both visual and musical perspectives. For instance, the unveiling of the instruments was included to form part of the musical development as well as to present an act of ritual significance. Of the eight performers used in the live performance of Songs of Incantation, performer one plays the most important role in relation to the discussed category, and is required to perform a series of 5 multi-functionary gestures (demonstrated overleaf). At the beginning of the work, the performers proceed slowly onto the stage in a procession, holding candles and wearing masks. The group proceeds to circle the stage and one by one take a position in a semi-circle. Performer one is positioned centre stage nearest to the audience and begins the work by scattering a handful of rice into the centre of the performance space. This gesture acts symbolically, perhaps representing a cycle of death and renewal (through the scattering of seeds, the growth and the eventual harvesting), and also as a cue for the other performers to start chanting a vocal refrain in ancient Greek taken from the Agamemnon text. While the ensemble is chanting, performer one continues with four more ritualistic gestures, which act as cues for the chant to speed up and gradually fragment: Forced syllabic sounds begin to impose, and the text loses its rhythmic nature, transforming into abstract vocal sound. Just as the Ancient Greek chant transforms into detached musical gestures, the five theatrical gestures are repeated by performer one a number of times, acting purely as musical cues, and are therefore stooped of ritualistic and theatrical meaning - forming instead part of the musical development. The gestures then gradually transform into a more traditional form of conducting, and while the chant is totally dissolving into a pool of vocal sound, instruments are revealed from beneath black sheets forming shapes on the stage, which the performers incorporate into the performance. One by one the performers remove their masks, and are ready for the second half of the introductory section playing instruments notated in a traditional Western format. The composition has just passed through a liminal zone, where the live theatrical opening has gradually transformed into a musical performance, creating points of ambiguity between the forms. Further levels of ambiguity are presented when the performance moves into darkness and the sibilant sound of the furies on tape gradually imposes.

"Songs of Incantation" is a 'complete' performance piece that attempts to integrate many different elements of performance and ways of dealing with text and language in order to create a work that can communicate on a number of different levels. Ambiguity is deliberately included in the composition to highlight the alternative experiential possibilities available through the music-theatre medium. The conceptual starting point was the Ancient Greek work itself, where the challenge was to represent the broader thematic structure of the Oresteia into the form of music-theatre. Inspiration grew from the archetypal nature of the horrific themes and events presented in these plays; powerful events that, even though they may have occurred in a distant mythical past, have repercussions on the way we think about things in contemporary Western society. This underlies all the musical and theatrical elements within the work, for example the inclusion of the fury voices, the texts chosen and they ways they are dealt with, and the broad cyclical musical structure representing the inevitable nature of history. Music-theatre is a natural form in which to represent these issues, using a combination of multi-referential means and media in an attempt to go beyond discursive interpretation where the meaning is dictated through the standard use of word combinations. When the sources for this new communicative form are taken from the fragmentation of ancient history, we can connect again with the Russian futurists.

As is only natural for a country in relative isolation, Russian futurism has a totally contrasting set of influences to other movements in art. These influences reflect a dichotomy: A vision for the future, and an interest in ancient history. This expressed itself through their highly innovative ways of rethinking language. The Russians possibly went further than any movement in art in exploring the possibilities of extension of the word into other media, although their work to this day is largely unrecognised and ignored. The dominant figure remains the Italian futurists whose obsession with war, speed and the city makes them easier to classify under their chosen title. Marinetti's "Parolé in Liberta" (words in liberty) is certainly tame when compared to the Russian zaum, which goes far beyond representational onomatopoeia. There is no doubt that the Italian futurists reflected their dislike for the rigid conventions of its society in the break-up of grammar, words, and the pictorial image, which irrecoverably changed the face of aesthetic values, and this deconstruction is one of the factors common with Russian futurism. However, the Russian futurist vision took these notions further, using the deconstruction of different mediums to create something new, vital and exciting for the changing world. The Russians certainly recognized this contrast, in fact they rejected the Italians and felt that they had surpassed them even before the press had labelled them with the name "futurists." These artists also adopted Eastern philosophies and called for a total rejection of Western Europe. Benedict Livshits, an important Russian futurists poet and theoretician described the West and the East as completely different systems of aesthetic vision, and said that they should recognise themselves as Asians and rid themselves of their European yoke.

The Russian futurists were fascinated by the sound of their own language, which contains an interesting array of vocal sounds. The words themselves were fragmented by these artists into their constituent particles, creating material for experimental work with neologisms and later - zaum. Osip Brik, a supporter of futurism and later a literary critic, discussed the fragmentary nature of the Russian language and the exciting potential for creating new words and meanings from "sewing together" the fragments.[5 ] In my rediscovery of the work of the Russian futurists, I have integrated the work of three of the leading Russian futurist poets who were the primary supporters of zaum: Velemir Khlebnikov, Alexei Kruchenykh and Vasily Kamensky. Each had their own individual attitude to the use of zaum, presenting contrasting but equally valid concepts which resulted in the production of a number of contrasting poetic styles.

In the composition, the initial broader structural emphasis is on a gradual transferal from 'meaningless' to 'meaningful' texts. Starting with the integration of texts that could not be interpreted semantically, pure zaum, then moving to texts containing words that alluded to Russian language or were formed from the fragmentation of this language, to zaum works that used neologisms and interesting word play that could be interpreted semantically, but did not actually make logical sense. My attitude to these structures changed a little after I discovered that there are many contrasting ways of finding 'meaning' in the supposedly nonsense poetry of the futurists, although this structural element still plays an important role.

"Zaum" is written for two viola players, a 'cellist, a pianist and a single actor, although the role of these instrumentalists is extended because of the complex visual and musical choreography within the work. Although I was invited to write for an ensemble of this size, the scaling down of the performance from the large scale dimensions of opera to the smaller scale of a chamber ensemble interested me a great deal because of the potential potency of working with the chamber medium in music-theatre. This interest reflects a further similarity with the futurists, although this time with the Italians who in their 'synthetic' theatre felt that the only way to truly express the nature of the contemporary world was through very brief small scale fragmented performances that were often non-referential or ambiguous. Using the music-theatre medium also reveals an area of aesthetic concern shared by both the Russian and Italian futurists. While these artists were looking for untrained actors to take part in their performances, I am forcing classically trained musicians who are probably the most restricted of performance artists, to extend their role through movement and vocal sound. This type of situation often produces an aesthetic reaction from an audience because not only does it question traditionally accepted notions of musical performance, but it questions notions of 'quality' in performance because musicians are not necessarily professional standard actors or dancers. I reject the notion that this in any way invalidates the performance or suggests that it is not worthy of experiencing just because the performers don't live up to restricting standards we put upon them.

The first stage of the work contains texts by Velemir Khlebnikov. Khlebnikov was a dreamer and had a truly unusual vision; his poetry deals with language as an infinitely redefinable medium, and historical fact on a constantly occurring time continuum. In his poetry, he yearns for the past and antiquity, and is almost religiously devoted to the east. For Khlebnikov, poetry was not an end in itself or a 'realistic' description of reality, but a means of exploration and discovery of language and new forms: "He showed us aspects of language whose existence we did not even suspect."[6 ] The first text used reflects khlebnikov's interest in language "molecules" (speech sounds, especially consonants). Knowing the power of the word as manifested in charms and incantations, Khlebnikov dreamed of taming this power and of turning transrational language into a rational one, but with a difference. Unlike the languages we use, this one would be a universal language of pure concepts clearly expressed by speech sounds. The text excerpt below is taken from a poem called "Zangezi" where Khlebnikov was undoubtedly realizing these concepts. In this section, he improvises on the Russian word "um" meaning mind, adding to it both conventional and unconventional prefixes. The resulting sound was most likely intended to represent a ritual chant:

Quiet! Quiet! He will speak!
Zangezi: Ring the glad tidings of the mind! All the different shades of the brain will pass before you in a review of all the kinds of reason. Now! Everyone sing after me!

Soum of me
And of those I don't know
Bam![7] [8]

This is integrated by using the chanted text as a structural basis for the musical development. The actor begins chanting the text, and the other performers react to these vocal cues with sounds and a series of simple gestures that are performed very slowly. The performers one by one arrive in performance positions where music stands have been set up, and the chanted text is gradually augmented by the sound of long notes on the string instruments. When the piano player starts intruding on this placid texture with atonal fragments, the second section has begun.
In stage two, I have used the zaum poetry of Alexei Kruchenykh. Kruchenykh and Khlebnikov were the first poets to adopt zaum as a creative medium, and they shared a close working relationship and friendship. Kruchenykh undoubtedly listened with fascination to Khlebnikov's utopian projects, one of which was the primitive way of life, including an idea of a primitive language. Kruchenykh was to become the primary supporter and theoretician of zaum, which he saw as a leading mode of expression because he believed that trans-sense language was demanded by the confused character of contemporary life and served as an antidote to the paralysis of common language.[9 ] The absurdity of Kruchenykh's most experimental works was a very specific behaviour; it was different from the seemingly absurd with a hidden message, different even from the surreal type of subconscious associations. This absurdity was a pointless, mindless, stubbornly senseless, irresolvable condition meant only to reveal new and previously invisible realms of the psyche.[10 ] The first of Kruchenykh's texts employed in the composition is a particularly meaningless one that employs Slavic vocal sounds and therefore distantly alludes to the Russian language, and it is used to structure the musical 'conversation' that begins the second stage. This example also demonstrates the integration of the text into a graphic format, where the words are almost indistinguishable from the other designs.

cyenyal ock
alik a lebamax
le le lyoub byoul

Although Kruchenykh's zaum seems to be taking an extremist stance on language deconstruction, on closer examination an interesting duality is presented: Kornei Chukovsky, a literary critic, commented on the primeval nature of this poetry. He said that trans-sense language was not a 'language', but a "pre-language, pre-cultural, pre-historical, when there was no discourse, conversation, only cries and screams." The strange irony of the situation was that in their passion for the future, the futurists had "selected for their poetry the most ancient of the very ancient languages."[11] The second stage of the composition goes on to use another untranslatable text by Kruchenykh that uses these primitive vocal sounds. They are expressed in the music by violent vocal outbursts that are echoed by sudden instrumental flurries that resolve in silence.

dyr bul shchyl
vy so bu
r l éz [12]

The third stage of the composition uses texts by Vasily Kamensky, who through his use of zaum presented an alternative emphasis: After postulating the 'musical' orientation of the word, Kamensky asserted the poet's right to his own unique understanding and vision of poetic beauty so as to discover new poetic paths. A Russian futurist critic wrote that "perhaps none has felt the sound as an aim in itself, as a unique joy as Vasily Kamensky."[13] The structure of the third stage is based both on the vocal rhythms in one of his sound poems, and the musical structures of Indonesian gamelan. These structures are intimately combined so that the musical development results in the formation of the text.



Chin-drax-tam-dzzz [14]

Stage three results in all the performers moving to form a line in front of the audience, reciting the developed text and performing the simple series of choreographed gestures introduced in the first stage, but this time in a further developed form, structured according to the rhythms of the poem. Another interesting text gradually imposes, a poem by Vasily Kamensky that deconstructs a word fragment by fragment. The fact that the removal of every syllable or letter produces a new word demonstrates the Russian language's natural tendency for fragmentation:

Izluchistaya Radiant
Luchistaja Beaming
Chistaya Pure
Istaya Melting
Staya Flock
Taya Concealing
Aya Groaning
Ya [15 ] I [16 ]

The united philosophy underlying zaum poetry is a rational forward step for the development of my experimentation with music-theatre, although the work also acts as a celebration of the Russian futurist poets who so radically redefined language. Although their work was often involved with deconstructing traditionally accepted media, the absurdity created was never anarchic. For Khlebnikov, that purpose was connected with an intimate understanding of words and sounds and an obsession with new ways of harnessing language as a means of communication. Kruchenykh wanted to connect on a level that went beyond rational processes and deep into the subconscious. Kamensky was interested in a musical rediscovery of language. All these artists were united in their vision of a future, creating exciting new possibilities for experiencing art, and these attitudes can be reflected in my work. Although not utopian like the futurists themselves, my own aesthetic is not one of anarchy and fragmentation, but rather a more positive rediscovery and integration of these texts in a new and dynamic form; a constantly transforming collage of music and visual images, creating interesting textures and presenting new ways of performing texts through music and movement. Although we have contrasting aesthetic motives, certain primary points of connection can be defined:

(i) The breaking down of forms and genres in art, and through this the questioning of contemporary aesthetic values.

(ii) The breaking down of language and its rediscovering in a musical format.

(iii) Combination of all these fragments of language and genre and the presentation of an alternative art that offers new forms of perception and appreciation.

For the Russian futurists this attitude to art, language and performance was "an appeal to a higher sense, one that is implicit only in the form of the work itself. The spatial-temporal universe is one that is destroyed for the sake of a simultaneous universe, one that is stable and pervasive."[17] This interpretation of Russian futurism as a transcendent movement is comparable to Zen Buddhism, which treats alogical language as the key to enlightenment and a complete understanding of the world. This is totally fitting considering the Russian futurists' link with Asia, and seems to have almost poetic significance considering my own interest in Asian theatre and music. Now that Eastern philosophy and culture plays such an important role in contemporary art, and we are attempting to integrate elements taken from the past in order to discover new forms of meaning and experience, perhaps Russian futurism will finally take its place as the most important and revolutionary art movement in the twentieth century.

"It is not new objects which should be used in art, but a new and fantastic light should be thrown upon the old ones."

[1] Charlotte Douglas, "Views from the New World," The Ardis Anthology of Russian Futurism
[2] Vladimir Markov, Russian Futurism (MacGibbon and Kee Ltd, 1968): Introduction
[3] Susan B. Compton, The World Backwards (British Museum Publications 1978).
[4] Leo Treitler, "Reading and Singing: On the Genesis of Occidental music-writing" Early Music History 4.
[5] Osip Brik, "On Khlebnikov", The Ardis anthology of Russian Futurism (Ardis Lakeland Press 1980)
[6] ibid.
[7] Khlebnikov, "Zangezi," The Ardis Anthology of Russian Futurism (Ardis Lakeland Press 1980).
[8] Khlebnikov, Tvoreniya (Sovyetski Pisatel' Moscow 1986).
[9] Vahan d. Barooshian, Russian Cubo-futurism (mouton Paris 1976): Chapter 4.
[10] Charlotte Douglas, "Views from the New World," Ardis Anthology of Russian Futurism (Ardis Lakeland Press 1980).
[11] Kornej Chokovsky, Futuristy (Peterburg 1922)
[12] Marjorie Perloff, The Futurist Moment (The University of Chicago Press, 1986).
[13] Vahan D. Barooshian, Russian Cubo-Futurism (Mouton Paris 1976): Chapter 5.
[14] Vasily Kamensky, Sto poetov (Moscow, 1923).
[15] Futurist:Roaring Parnassus, (Moscow 1914).
[16] Translation by Michael O'Toole, Murdoch University Department of Humanities.
[17] Charlotte Douglas, "Views from the New World," Ardis Anthology of Russian Futurism (Ardis Lakeland Press 1980).

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