Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971)

1. R.LQ.S. Varie en 3 Cascades (23:28)
Recorded May 25-26, 1966 by Henri Chopin

2. Phonemes (15:58)
Recorded in 1956 / 1957 by Henri Chopin

BBB (1918)
FMSBW (1918)
K PERIOUM (1918)
OFFEAH (1919)

3. Interview avec les Lettristes (7:06)
Recorded on 13 May 1959 by Bureau

4. Soundreel (4:18)
Recorded on 13 May 1959 by Bureau

5. Poème sans titres" (1919)

6. " b b b b et F m s b w" (1918), 0:50

7. Raoul Hausmann " b b b b et F m s b w" (1918), 1'09"

8. " K' perioum" (1918)

9. Chanson, Vali tali, baste" (1946)


Raoul Hausmann, born in 1886 in Vienna (Austria), lived in Berlin beginning in 1900, and deceased in Limoges (France) in 1971, is counted among the most important artists of the historical avant-garde of the 20th century.

He was one of hte founding members of Dada Berlin in 1918 together with Richard Hulsenbeck and Frantz Jung. During this period of intense activity he contributed to the review "Die Freie Strasse" and to the "Club Dada," a special issue of the same. He founded and ran, together with Joannes Baader and Richard Hulsenbeck, "Der Dada," the most celebrated review of the Berlin dadaists.

The Dada revolt demanded a fundamentally new art form and Hausmann turned towards new means of expression such as "phonetic poems" and photo-montages.

The process of the photomontage, of which Hausmann could be considered the father, was also to be taken up by Hanna Höch, Johannes Baader, John Heartfield, and Georges Grosz. Ye tfor Hausmann, Dada had implications well beyond the realm of the artistic, and one can see that he was more attracted to the anarchist Baader and the militant communists Grosz and Heartfield than to Tristan Tzara.

After the Dada movement, he undertook research in optophonetics, and in 1926 he began his autobiographical novel, "Hyle," which he finished around 1955 in Limoges. At the beginning of the 1930s, photography became his preferred means of expression, with views of the Baltic Sea, the island of Sylt, and numerous nudes on the beach.

In 1933 he took refuge in Ibiza. There he developed research, not so far from that of ethnography, on the traditional settlement.

From 1937-38, he lived in Czechoslovakia, where he began more research on photography. He began a study on that subject and hoped to publish his research on optophonetic works with Moholy-Nagy.

During the war he lived in a little village in France, near Limoges.

In 1944 he moved to Limoges and, thanks to a parcel of photographic paper sent by Moholoy-Nagy, he made his first photograms. Then he returned to work in photography, photomontage, and sound poetry.

From 1959 to 1964 painting became one of the most important aspects of his artistic production, which he later transformed into pictographic writing.

Raoul Hausmann
The Phonetic Poem / 1955
Published in Courrier Dada, Paris 1958.

If academies petrify a language, it will take refuge among children and mad poets.

I was somewhat astonished in 1920 to learn that Hugo Ball had composed his Lautgedichte (phonetic poems) in 1916. It would seem that both Tzara and Huelsenbeck failed to realise what Ball had done. They paid no attention and completely passed it by. Indeed, Huelsenbeck never even mentioned their existence when I developed a very similar form in May, 1918.

But in 1920, he published one of Ball's phonetic poems in his Dada Almanac. That was the first time I saw Ball's work. Up until then, I had sincerely believed I was the inventor. So let me say here and now that it was Ball.

However, Ball's phonetic system was founded on unknown words, whereas my poems were directly and exclusively based upon letters; they were letterist.

Phonetic poetry was such a necessary purification of poetic poetry, that I simply invented it a second time.

It was only in 1921, when on tour in Prague with my friend Kurt Schwitters, that the latter realised the importance of phonetic poetry, opening the door to an entirely new phonetic-musical domain.

Our Dada Manifesto demanded a new poetry. By 1919, 1 had already gained a clear idea of the principles behind this poetry and the means of achieving it. Poetry was then dominated by expressionist form, introduced by August Stramm. He had achieved a sort of ecstatic stammering effect by eliminating pronouns, conjugation and declension, and by reducing syntax to a bare minimum.

I was also aware of Marinetti's essays on making poetry more dynamic through the use of letters (typefaces) and through bruitist onomatopoeia. Simultaneous poems, as for example the one in Cabaret Voltaire (19 16), promulgated by Tzara and Huelsenbeck following pioneering work by Barzun, in my opinion were too far removed from pure poetry where language is concerned with itself. A poem for me is the rhythm of its sounds. So why have words? Poetry is produced by rhythmic sequences of consonants and diphthongs set against a counterpoint of associated vowels and it should be simultaneously phonetic and visual. Poetry is a fusion of dissonance and onomatopoeia. Poems emerge from the poet's inner vision and ear, materializing as the power of sound, noise and tonal form, anchored in the very act of language itself. Spiritual vision, spatial form and material sound form are not poetry in themselves but they all make up the poem.

It was then that I wrote my first purely abstract poem. I had realised Huelsenbeck was mistaken in his allegiance to static poetry. A poem is an act which associates respiration with audition, linked inseparably to the passage of time. Phonetic poetry divides the time-space continuum into pre-logical number values which guide visual perception through the power of the written notation of letters. Each value in such a poem expresses itself individually and, by higher or lower declamation, of letters, sounds, vowel-consonant agglomerations, each sound unit is given its value. In order to communicate this typographically, I chose letters of different sizes and of different densities, treating them as a form of musical score.

Optophonetic and phonetic poetry represent the first step towards poetry that is perfectly non-objective and abstract.

N M' pernounnurn
bpretiberrerrebee onooooooooh gplanpouk
kommpout perikoul
rreeeeeEEErreeeee A
oapderree ringlepadonou nntnou

This is where I differ from Ball. His poems created new words, sounds and above all musically arranged onomatopoeia; mine are based on letters, therefore excluding all possibility for creating language with a meaning or with coordinated movement.

The semantic revolution demonstrates that art can never be placed in the shopping bag of history.

Classification is worthless. Ideas emerge here and there, are pursued and perfected elsewhere; these leaps forward might sometimes outrage yet are never outrageous.

This is language wreaking revenge on poets!

And the birth of pure phonism.


Raoul Hausmann

Around the world, the sounds of music are recognised according to certain vibrations and wavelengths. Sounds are coloured by secondary vibrations and by various timbres that can be ringing or muffled, rounded or jarring, husky or shrill. Drums make no "musical" sound, but just beat out a rhythmic noise. They provide a framework for the overall mixture of colours. A purely phonetic poem not only relies on a series of contradictory vowel and consonant sounds, equivalent to a drumbeat, but also possesses phonemes that can be clear, shrill, sonorous or sighing. It may therefore be considered as a hybrid between music as it is commonly understood in European, Occidental terms and in an Oriental, Asian or African sense.

The phonetic poem may be compared with a drum that can play half and quarter tones, as for example in Arabic or Chinese music, where these notes lend their timbres at different pitches to the general melody, changing intonation and thus altering the sense of words pronounced. A similar process occurs in phonetic poetry through architectural arrangement of contradictory groups of vowels and consonants as well as other non-linguistic noises; snoring, humming, croaking and so on.

Thus phonetic poetry employs hybrid sounds of language drawn from the depths of the mega-mneme (Translator's Note. Mega-mneme "great memory" is Hausmann's term for an idea similar to the collective subconscious though here it specifically relates to subconscious awareness of primitive language roots.) whilst simultaneously seeking to open up possibilities for a language of the future. This language of phonetic poems is made visible through typographical layout.



Take any sentence and print it backwards!
sdrawkcab ti tnirp dna ecnetnes yna ekat !

Now redistribute the sentence on different lines
ti tnirp dna
ecnetnes yna
ekat !

and that's how to write a phonetic poem!

I've always been interested in turning words around and repeating simple sentences. This probably comes from hearing my father sing nonsense songs from his native village of Stcheleeves near Prague, where his family settled in the wake of Napoleon's Russian campaign. Stcheleeves means O'Bourg du Chardonneret' [i.e. Goldfinch Town] and that was something I was unlikely to forget.

When I first devised phonetic poetry, I happened to be living in the town of Steglitz-Stieglitz-Chardonneret, near Berlin.