Friday, June 3, 2016

"A Kind of Western Tarot": Cut-Ups / Découpé #1

That was what David Bowie called this unique literary technique, "a kind of Western tarot" that was originally conceived by the Dadaists of the 1920s, but was popularized in the 1950s and 1960s by William S. Burroughs who developed it with artist Brion Gysin.

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:

Testing, testing...

Découpé #1

I had so much fun doing this that I can't stop at Découpé #1. I won't stop ;).

                                                                         Découpé #2