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Variations on UbuWeb Top Tens
September 2014
Selected by Florian Cramer



Top 7 of Ubuweb uncreative poetry from low-fi remediation

(1) Yves Klein, The Monotone Symphony (1949, rec. March 9, 1960)
The compression artifacts are so extreme that they turn the piece into something else: something truly monochrome.


(2) Toshi Ichyanagi, Opera "From The Works Of Tadanori Yokoo" (1969)
On this vinyl rip, only the left stereo channel survived, but is left with a constant low hum from the wrongly grounded record player. Ichyanagi's great piece, which combines post-war avant-garde electronics with traditional Japanese music, thus gains a minimal music drone as its third compositional element.


(3) Carolee Schneemann, Fuses (1965)
The mother of all alternative porn films loses its explicitness and gains mystery thanks to heavy video codec artifacts.


(4) La Monte Young, Drift Study
La Monte Young's experiment with the drifting pitches between two analog sine wave generators either defeats its purpose when frozen into digital zeros and one or preempts today's popular simulations of analog through digital technology.


(5) Nam June Paik, Zen for Film
The film consists of a reel of blank film looping in a 16mm projector, gradually acquiring its image through the dirt and dust ending up on the film strip. It is a film that is, by virtue of its concept, impossible to digitize. The UbuWeb version makes up for this by adding heavy digital dirt such as pixely resolution and codec artifacts.


(6) Marie Menken, Go! Go! Go!
In UbuWeb's version of this classical avant-garde film of New York, a low quality encoding makes the video codec constantly break down, adding a layer of abstraction to an otherwise photorealist film.


(7) Various artists, 500 locked grooves
500 locked vinyl grooves would normally create 500 infinite loops along with 500 necessities to manually advance the record player' s pick-up arm. Putting them into one linear mp3 file, UbuWeb effectively provides a digital cheat code for the gameplay of the LP. 


Top 10 of serendipity surprises when digging through UbuWeb

(1) Will Hindle,  Saint Flournoy Lobos-Logos and the Eastern Europe Fetus Taxing Japan Brides in West Coast Places Sucking Alabama Air (1970)  
An intense work of the visual genius and too-little-known 1960s underground filmmaker Will Hindle.


(2) Larry Wendt - Silicon Valley Ghost Town (1986)
A pre-net.art and pre-Post Internet visionary vocoder piece against Silicon Valley, made in the very area that it attacks.


(3) 101 Happy Collapse by Son of Spam, PhonoStatic 10, 1989

Another stunningly visionary piece, preempting Jared Diamond's book "Collapse" by several decades & created four years before the first spam message hit the Internet.


(4) Ancient Order flyers
No comment.


(5) Gutai, Japanese Performance Art
A great, extensive, historical documentary film about the pioneers of happening/event/durational/performance art. 


(6) Kurt Kren, Fenstergucker, Abfall, etc.
...and all other films by Kurt Kren, available in excellent video quality on UbuWeb. Kren is the real pioneer of structuralist experimental filmmaking. His collaboration with the Vienna actionists yielded a unique productive clash between radical formalism and radical expressionism. Kren's films are still better than the often joyless works of formalist and structuralist filmmakers in his time and later.


(7) Experiments in Disintegrating Language / Konkrete Canticle (1971) 
Like many projects in which Bob Cobbing had been involved, concrete poetry with a critical edge, critiquing the politics of language through its very medium, language. 


(8) Oskar Pastior - Krimgotische Gedichte (1987)
Speaking of politics of language: the Crimean Gothic poems of Romanian-German Oulipo member Oskar Pastior have the same significance today in 2014 as Zurich Dadaist sound poems during WWI a century ago.


(9) Ulises Carrión, Hamlet for two Voices (1977)
An early work of uncreative writing by the (still underrated) Mexican-Dutch philologist, bookworks/artists' books pioneer, Mail Artist and conceptual archivist Ulises Carrión, stripping Shakespeare's play to merely the names of the speaking characters. 


(10) Diether De La Motte, Mixed Music II: Tonbandkomposition unter Verwendung eines Textes von Konrad Bayer (1970) 
A mixture of contemporary classical music and experimental poetry, written in Berlin six years after Konrad Bayer's death, likely still under the impression of his legendary reading at Literarisches Colloquium Berlin in the early 1960s.


Avant-garde canon Top 4

(1) Velimir Khlebnikov - Laughing Charm read by Roman Jakobson
This piece was as seminal for 20th century experimental poetry as Malevich's black square for 20th century visual art. Read by Roman Jakobson whose concept of the "poetic function" is hard to get without Khlebnikov.


(2) Gertrude Stein, If I Told Him
Gertrude Stein's verbal portrait of Picasso that translates the poetics of cubist painting into the grammar of spoken language.


(3) La Monte Young, Jackson Mac Low (editor), An Anthology (of Chance Operations), 1963 [PDF]
Simply a classic with which Fluxus (and everything that followed it) really began.


(4) Henry Flynt & The Insurrections, I Don't Wanna (1966)
The first ever punk song, and at the same time the thoroughly logical consequence of Flynt's radical analytical critique of art and politics. See also Henry Flynt, Art or Brend? and Cornelius Cardew's book Stockhausen Serves Imperialism  in which Cardew, founder of the Scratch Orchestra, attacked his former teacher Stockhausen for the same reasons as Henry Flynt and George Maciunas when they picketed a Stockhausen concert in 1964.


Mixed Feelings Top 8

(1) Music before Revolution
Perhaps the only concept album of 20th century avant-garde composer music, with music by John Cage, Morton Feldman, Earle Brown, Christian Wolff and Toshi Ichyanagi, produced in 1970s West Germany by Heinz-Klaus Metzger and Rainer Riehn in a crazy attempt to co-opt Cage for Maoism (to quote critic Diedrich Diederichsen). But Cage's soft-spoken American Zen that leaves no questions to be asked can be no less totalitarian.


(2)  Peter Gidal, Structural Film Anthology
This is an important work; but it also marks a time when experimental film became dogmatic and when "the optical printer was the death of underground film", to quote underground filmmaker Wilhelm Hein. 


(3) Dictionary of Moscow Conceptualism [PDF]
An important publication, and just one piece of evidence of Eastern European avant-garde concept art often having been better than Western conceptual art. Moscow conceptualism still is somewhat tainted by the way in which some of its protagonists and adepts went to become major art world players today.


(4) William S. Burroughs, The Electronic Revolution [PDF]
My favorite part is Burroughs' reported months-long psych-ops attack against a café in London where he had been served a piece of moldy cheese cake. It's hard to cut through radical ideas, intentional and unintentional humor, bullshit and redundancy in Burroughs' "avant-pulp" work. In the best cases, it's all at the same time. It still remains tainted by the dead-serious cult following it received since the 1980s.


(5) Tom Johnson, The Voice of New Music [PDF]
Likely the most important documents of the 1970s New York downtown music (and arts) scene, but significantly missing one key protagonist: Arthur Russell, who was both artistic director of avant-garde hub The Kitchen and running New York's most legendary disco club, The Loft. Just like 1970s structuralist film, Tom Johnson's work also marks the point where undogmatic avant-garde experimentation becomes formalist. 


(6) George Kuchar, The Kiss of Frankenstein [PDF]
Kuchar was a true king of camp and filmic folk art. Nevertheless, his work is never far away from something that could go from underground to fairly mainstream college humor comedy.


(7) Marcel Broodthaers, La Pluie (Projet pour un texte)
Like nearly all of Broodthaers' work, this one (showing a writer literally writing against the rain) needs no comment or explanation. It's also dangerously romantic and made to preserve the attribute "fine" in fine art. 


(8) Anton Webern, Fünf Sätze für Streichquartett Op. 5
An odd piece to find on Ubu Web since it is closer to late romanticism and Bach than to, for example, Futurist intonarumori noise. Uniquely beautiful in its complexity, at the same kitschy and late romanticist, misread by later serialist composers and avant-garde filmmakers as a construction blueprint for formalist work.


Florian Cramer, applied research professor and director of Creating 010, the research center affiliated to Willem de Kooning Academy and Piet Zwart Institute at the Rotterdam University of Applied Sciences, The Netherlands. He also works for WORM, a Rotterdam-based venue for DIY avant-garde culture. Last publications: Anti-Media, NAi010 Publishers, 2013, What Is Post-Digital?.