Brion Gysin (1916-1986)

Mektoub: Recordings 1960 - 1981
  1. I've Come To Free The Words [1:16]
  2. Vocal Cut-Up [6:14]
  3. Where's That Word [1:58]
  4. Thoughts On The BBC [2:50]
  5. I Am That I Am [4:35]
  6. Pistol Poem [1:29]
  7. Pistol Poem - Part 2 [0:39]
  8. Recalling All Active Agents [1:25]
  9. Thoughts On Censorship [1:53]
  10. No Poets Don't Own Words [1:01]
  11. Thoughts On Jean Genet [8:55]
  12. Readings At The October Gallery [5:36]
  13. Kick That Habit Man [1:08]
  14. Junk Is No Good Baby [2:04]
  15. Thoughts On Surrealists [5:27]
  16. Thoughts On Modern Art [2:29]
  17. Thoughts On The Dream Machine [4:19]
  18. Thoughts On The Value Of Art [2:29]
  19. Sound Poem [1:46]
  20. Duet [0:41]
  21. In The Beginning Was The Word [1:49]
  22. I Am This. . . [2:02]

""This unique documentary is the world's first comprehensive look into the works of Brion Gysin, one of the centuries greatest visual and audio artists. As a surrealist painter, poet, novelist and audio experimenter, Gysin, would influence the most creative minds of the 60's and 70's. This release contains audio cut-ups and permutation poems that still demonstrate their startling impact today as they did in 1960. Also included, are converstations in topics such as Modern Art, the Dream Machine, Jean Genet and others, allowing a rare glimpse into the mind of a fascinating artist." (Perdition Plastics, 1996.)

Poem of Poems (1958)
  1. Side A
  2. Side B
Recorded in 1958 at the Beat Hotel, rue Git le Coeur, Paris, on a UHER 4400 reel-to-reel recording machine, this record documents Brion Gysin's important experiments in cut-up and recording technique.

Gysin: "I made it to show Burroughs how, possibly, to use it. William did not yet have a tape recorder. Very soon after that, Burroughs was busy punching to death a series of cheap Japanese plastic tape recorders, to which he applied himself with such force that he could punch one of them to death inside a matter of weeks, days even."

The Pool K III (late 50s, early 60s)
  1. A (7:52)
  2. B (11:39)
  3. C (10:13)
  4. D (10:09)
  5. Wind (1:52)
  6. E (13:02)
  7. F (12:13)
  8. G (3:16)

Sounds from a swimming pool, composition by Brion Gysin with unidentified musicians. Recorded by Brion Gysin in the late 1950s or early 1960s.

Bruits du Beaubourg (June 13th, 1977)
  1. Side 1
  2. Side 2

A gift from Rammantcho Matta.

Self-Portrait Jumping (1993)
  1. Kick [4.05]
  2. Junk [3.23]
  3. Stop Smoking [4.52]
  4. Sham Pain [4.56]
  5. V.V.V. [1.42]
  6. Baboon [4.15]
  7. All Those Years [3.23]
  8. Dreamachine
          a. Dreamachine [0.29]
          b. Page 3 [4.06]
          c. Flies [13.02]
          d. I Am That I Am [3.56]
          e. Off the Ground [5.50]
          f. The Initiate [5.16]
  9. Somebody Special [2.41]
  10. The Door [7.08]

""Brion Gysin's songs, poems and stories, set to music by Ramuntcho Matta, [music] performed by Brion Gysin and Ramuntcho Matta with Don Cherry, Elli Medieros, Steve Lacy, Lizzy Mercier Descloux & Caroline Loeb, Abdoulaye Prosper Niang, Polo Lombardo, etc." Only the first half of the disc contains any significant musical accompaniment, the latter half is either minimally accompanied or backed by subtle music.

William S. Burroughs + Gysin + P.Orridge - Cold Spring Tape (1989)
  1. Side A
  2. Side B

Label: Cold Spring
Format: Cassette, Limited Edition, C90
Country: United Kingdom
Released: 1989
Genre: Non Music
Style: Interview, Spoken Word
Notes: Limited edition of 100 numbered copies



Language is an abominable misunderstanding which makes up a part of matter. The painters and the physicists have treated matter pretty well. The poets have hardly touched it. In March 1958, when I was living at the Beat Hotel, I proposed to Burroughs to at least make available to literature the means that painters have been using for fifty years. Cut words into pieces and scramble them. You'll hear someone draw a bow-string. Who runs may read, To read better, practice your running. Speed is entirely up to us, since machines have delivered us from the horse. Henceforth the question is to deliver us from that other so-called superior animal, man. It's not worth it to chase out the merchants: their temple is dedicated to the unsuitable lie of the value of the Unique. The crime of separation gave birth to the idea of the Unique which would not be separate. In painting, matter has seen everything: from sand to stuffed goats. Disfigured more and more, the image has been geometrically multiplied to a dizzying degree. A snow of advertising could fall from the sky, and only collector babies and the chimpanzees who make abstract paintings would bother to pick one up." -Brion Gysin, 1963


Recorded in 1958 at the Beat Hotel, rue Git le Coeur, Paris, on a UHER 4400 reel-to-reel recording machine.

""What to do with this all? Paste it to the wall with some photos and see what it looks like. Wait, paste these two pages together and cut in the middle. Paste it all together, end to end, and send it out like a big piano-roll. After all, it's not but matter. There's nothing sacred about words."


Brion Gysin lived an extraordinary life, constantly searching for the hidden. As painter, poet, novelist, inventor, historian, performer and catalyst, Gysin used simple techniques to enchant his works toward revealing unnoticed plaes of experinece within. Most often an art work would fuse two or more elements from his repertoire of acquired disciplines.

His necessity for experimentation with an overwhelming passion to "free the word" led to the invention of the cut-up method of writing. By treating segmented pages of text as collage material, the new arrangements created limitless possibilities of preose. A second seminal technique pursued by Gysin was of a more focused and elegant nature: the permutation. By taking a single phrase and running through all existing possibilities of order, whole realms of implied meanings became apparent.

From working on canvas and paper, Gysin took the obvious continuation of his ideas to audio tape. With the help of mathemetician Ian Sommerville, cut-up and permutated recordings demonstrated the true potential of those theories. Audio cut-ups presented the startling impact of linking words, sounds and time through juxtaposition. The development of the audio permutiation poem added variablility through spacing and inflection which provided characteristics that were impossible on the printed page.

In 1960, Gysin was asked to present sound works for broadcast on the BBC. Among those recorded for the event were "iam that i am," "recalling all active agents," and the "pistol poem" which differed by permutating recordings of a gun firing at varying distances.

Being consistently misunderstood throughout his career, Brion Gysin's Dream Machine went largely unnoticed. This spinning, flickering cylinder was designed to affect the alpha rhythms of the human brain, allowing access to one's inner visual capacities. The first object-kinetic sclpture to be viewed with your eyes closed. Gysin spoke of flashes of memory and 360 degree visions with the clarity of projected film after extended use.


Permutation is a technique commonly used by avant-gardes and above all, and systematically, by the American writer Gertrude Stein. It is possible to permute sentences, words within a sentence, syllables and phonemes within a word. Permutation is a typically modern device and considerable use was made of it in the plastic arts by the constructivists. In fact it permits the complete exhaustion of all the possible combinations within a given choice of material, without limit of number. The Englishman Brion Gysin, one of the founders of the beatnik movement and inventor of such new formulas as the collage-novel, has composed his phonic texts on this principle. "I am" is a classic of the genre. Composed exclusively of permutations of the biblical words "I am that I am", with ever more marked accelerations, he succeeds in rendering, from the initial nucleus, a crowd of "I am"s, the creation of the world in geometrical progression until it fades away in the sidereal silence. "Pistol-Poem" (1960), ermutation for voice and pistol shots, is based on a number of pistol shots fired one, two, three, four, five times simultaneously, while the author, in the typical tone of a sergeant-major, orders the shots as if on parade. "No, poets don't own words" and "Junk is no good baby", both composed in 1962, follow the same principle.


Minutes to Go, with William S. Burroughs, Gregory Corso and Sinclair Belles (Paris: Two Cities Editions, 1960; San Francisco: Beach Books, 1968); The Exterminator, with William Burroughs (San Francisco: Auerhahn Press/Dave Haselwood Books, 1960, 1967); The Process, (New York: Doubleday, 1969; London: Jonathan Cape, 1970); Oeuvre Croisee (The Third Mind), with William S. Burroughs (Paris: Flammarion, 1976; New York: Viking Press, 1978; London: John Calder, 1979).

Brion Gysin is regarded as one of the most influential and visionary of living poets and painters. In 1958, a chance encounter with William Burroughs on the Place St. Michel in Paris resulted in him moving into the famous Beat Hotel at no. 9 rue Git le Coeur in the Latin Quarter. He confided to Burroughs his inventions, the Cut-ups and Permutations, and thus began the most important collaboration in modern literature.

A naturalized US citizen of Swiss extraction, Gysin was born in Taplow House, Taplow, Bucks, UK. After the loss of his father when he was nine months old, his mother took him to New York to stay with one of her sisters and then to Kansas City, Mo., to stay with another. He finished high school at the age of fifteen in Edmonton, Alberta, and ws sent for two years to the prestigious English public school, Downside. While there, Gysin began publishing his poetry before he went on to the Sorbonne. In Paris, he met everybody in the literary and artistic worlds. When he was nineteen, he exhibited his drawings with the Surrealist group, which included Picasso on that occasion.

Gysin is an entirely self-taught painter who acquired an enviable technique without putting foot in an art school or academy. At the age of twenty-three he had his first one-man show in a prestigious Paris gallery just off the Champs Elysees. It was a glittering social and financial (even a critical) success, with an article in Poetry World signed by Calas. But it was May, 1939. World War II caught Gysin in Switzerland with an overnight bag. When he got to New York, everybody asked: "How long you been back?"

Brion Gysin - Dreammachine Plans [PDF, 6.2mb]
William Burroughs - The Cut-Up Method of Brion Gysin
Terry Wilson - Interview with Brion Gysin
John Savage - Brion Gysin Interviewed in Paris