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Jean Dubuffet: “Prospère, Prolifère”

From the album Expériences Musicales de Jean Dubuffet

Best known as a visual artist whose bold, childlike images are among the most striking and identifiable works of the mid-twentieth century, the French painter and sculptor Jean Dubuffet (1901-1985) was also one of the most fascinating outsider musicians of recent times. His musical output consists solely of a number of recordings made in 1960-61 with the Danish painter Asger Jorn, after which Dubuffet abandoned music in order to devote himself fully to visual art.

Dubuffet’s music was composed through a process of edited improvisation: first he played freely on a number of instruments, both conventional and otherwise, then he listened to the recordings and removed the parts that he found unsatisfactory. Like Pierre Schaeffer, for whom the concept of musique concrète referred less to the nature of the sounds employed than to the starting point of “concrete” sound material which was “composed” only after it had been captured on tape, Dubuffet declares that “all written music is a false music,” and replaces the inscription of musical notation with that of the recording mechanism: “It is impossible to write true music except with a stylus on wax.”

I believe that our western music is an avatar among all the possibilities that were offered to music. Now, by an optical error, one imagines that this is the only music possible, while, in reality, it is only a very specious music among millions of possibilities that were available and, without doubt, will be available tomorrow… In my music I wanted to place myself in the position of a man of fifty thousand years ago, a man who ignores everything about western music and invents a music for himself without any reference, without any discipline, without anything that would prevent him from expressing himself freely and for his own good pleasure.

Jean Dubuffet: Virtual Virtue (1963)

Jean Dubuffet: Virtual Virtue (1963)

Dubuffet makes a provocative distinction between two kinds of music, both of which he attempts to capture by turns in his own work: first, there is the “music we make,” a kind of “permanent music” expressive of basic human moods and actions and derived from the sonorous environment of everyday life. Second, there is the “music we hear,” a music “completely foreign to us and our natural tendencies,” which “could lead us to hear (or imagine) sounds which would be produced by the elements themselves, independent of human intervention”: 

[These sounds] would be as strange as what we might hear if we were to put our ear to some opening leading to a world other than our own or if we were to suddenly develop a new form of hearing with which we would become aware of a strange tumult that our senses had been unable to pick up and which might come from elements which were supposedly involved in silent action, such as humus decomposing, grass growing or minerals undergoing transformation.

Whatever the nature of his musical material, Dubuffet finds himself drawn to “composite sounds which appear to be formed by a great number of voices calling to mind distant murmurs, communities, hustle and bustle and hives of activity.” He seeks a “music without variations, not structured according to a particular system but unchanging, almost formless, as though the pieces had no beginning and no end but were simply extracts taken haphazardly from a ceaseless and ever-flowing score.”

The title of this album, Expériences Musicales, could be translated either as “Musical Experiences” or “Musical Experiments.” Along with a 1971 record of Dubuffet’s music entitled Musique Brut, it can be downloaded from the ever-resourceful UbuWeb.

Jean Dubuffet in his musical studio

Dubuffet in his musical studio


Played 203 time(s).

June 23, 2011, 3:57pm

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