Cut-ups (called découpé in French) is where a text is cut up and re-arranged into a new text. Mr. Burroughs himself (with that hypnotic voice of his) has explained to us in remarkable detail how this "montage technique" is done, not only with words/writing, but even with the human voice too:
It's far from surprising that David was inspired by Burroughs to try the cut-ups technique with his songwriting. David went on to explain how he did it in the 1975 BBC documentary, Cracked Actor:
He also talked about it again in a later interview, during his Earthling era:
In another interview, around 2008, he explained in even more detail how it's done:
“You write down a paragraph or two describing different subjects, creating a kind of ‘story ingredients’ list, I suppose, and then cut the sentences into four or five-word sections, mix ‘em up and reconnect them.”
For songwriters, he felt that it helped them to “get some pretty interesting idea combinations,” even if they “have a craven need not to lose control.”
Cut-ups have also been used by Kurt Cobain, who was also inspired by Burroughs. Kurt said:
“My lyrics are total cut-up. I take lines from different poems that I’ve written. I build on a theme if I can, but sometimes I can’t even come up with an idea of what the song is about.”
And Thom Yorke of Radiohead was also a fan of cut-ups. He drew cut-up phrases from a hat to write the lyrics for their groundbreaking Kid A album. Reportedly, Thom did his cut-ups by writing single lines, putting them in a hat, and drawing them at random as the band rehearsed the songs.
As a compositional tool and a means of finding inspiration, the cut-ups technique also encourages the writer of poetry or song to let only chance take the lead. It also opens the vault to another world: of spontaneity, because you'll never, ever have any idea where that cut-up will take you. If anything is for certain, with cut-ups, you'll always be in for a creative surprise, journeying through this unknown.
I'm no Burroughs, Bowie, Cobain, or Yorke, but here's my first-ever attempt at doing a cut-up:
I had so much fun doing this that I can't stop at Découpé #1. I won't stop ;).