Erratum Musical

Erratum Musical, 1913
by Ya-Ling Chen 

One can look at seeing; one can not hear hearing. -Marcel Duchamp, Green Box, 1934 "One way to study music: study Duchamp." An impressive line John Cage once mentioned. The friendship between these two creative minds reveals their mutual concern with the conventional perception both on the artistic creation and the spectator’s expectation. To Cage, for instance, silence was a compositional tool, a vivid explanation of what can be music. For Duchamp, however, making music meant going beyond the technical exploration of musical composition. Duchamp explored whether one is able to visualize sound and combine it with language by playing music in a random kind of order, in other words, to create something artistic by chance. click to enlarge A scene of Duchamp, Teeny, and Cage playing chess, 1968 A scene of Duchamp, Teeny, and Cage playing chess in a performance, Sightssoundsystems, a festival of art and technology in Toronto, 1968 Duchamp’s first musical work, Erratum Musical, is a score for three voices derived from the chance procedure. During a New Year’s visit in Rouen in 1913, he composed this vocal piece with his two sisters, Yvonne and Magdeleine, both musicians. They randomly picked up twenty-five notes from a hat ranging from F below middle C up to high F. The notes then were recorded in the score according to the sequence of the drawing. The three vocal parts of Erratum Musical are marked in sequence as "Yvonne," "Magdeleine" and "Marcel." (Duchamp replaced the highest notes with the lower ones in order to make the piece singable for a male voice.) The words that accompanied the music were from a dictionary’s definition of "imprimer" - Faire une empreinte; marquer des traits; une figure sur une surface; imprimer un scau sur cire (To make an imprint; mark with lines; a figure on a surface; impress a seal in wax). The title "Erratum Musical" can be translated as "musical misprint." Thus, the book or "text" and the title conjure a dialectic relation between seeing and hearing. Picked from a dictionary, the "text" itself is already a readymade. Through a random order, the meaning of the text/readymade is reproduced and transformed by the repetition of the text. click to enlarge Erratum Musical, 1934 Erratum Musical, 1934 Erratum Musical,From the Green Box, 1934 The final representation of this musical "visualizes" the process of hearing a scene of imaginative landscape, as if one is able to see the music through its vocal expression, through its performance or individual interpretation. In other words, the aesthetic experience of listening to a piece of music is transformed into an abstract experience of experiencing an abstract space. One seems to be able to sense the existence of a space in terms of the flow of the layering of the rhythms/voices. Furthermore -- and what is very intriguing -- this sense of space visualized by the sound/music seems analogous to an abstract experience of a sculptural space. In this case, Duchamp let chance be the creator and make the final decision. Erratum Musical was first performed publicly by the Dada artist Marguerite Buffet at the Manifestation of Dada on March 27, 1920. This earliest performance resulted with restless rustling, shouts and whistles from the audience. The version playing here was from the CD entitled "Marcel Duchamp / The Creative Act," 1994, No. 6 Erratum Musical (1:38), with Jean-Luc Plouvier as Marcel, Marianne Pousseur as Yvonne and Lucy Grauman as Magdeleine. They perform the three voices simultaneously in different tones. Through the combination of high/low, near/far of the singing, Erratum Musical is visualized/sculpturalized as though one can sense a space contained in its experimental musical landscape. Although Erratum Musical was created in the early 20th century, it is still fully functional to challenge the conventional experience and the musical connoisseurship of today’s general audience.

The Music of Marcel Duchamp
by Petr Kotik

From the CD Music of Marcel Duchamp, Edition Block + Paula Cooper Gallery, 1991
 In the turbulent years from 1912 to 1915, Marcel Duchamp, one of the most important artists of this century, worked with musical ideas. He composed two works of music and a conceptual piece -- a note suggesting a musical happening. Of the two compositions, one is for three voices and the other combines a piece for a mechanical instrument with a description of the compositional system. Although Marcel Duchamp's musical oeuvre is sparse, these pieces represent a radical departure from anything done up until that time. Duchamp anticipated with his music something that then became apparent in the visual arts, especially in the Dada Movement: the arts are here for all to create, not just for skilled professionals. Duchamp's lack of musical training could have only enhanced his exploration in compositions. His pieces are completely independent of the prevailing musical scene around 1913. The pieces by Marcel Duchamp are all different. Two of them have been composed with chance operations, but in each case the method is different. The third piece is just a short note on a small, stray piece of paper. It is not possible to precisely date these pieces, but it is almost certain that they were all written in 1913. Erratum Musical is written for three voices, included in the Green Box, which Duchamp published in 1934. It is undated, but has always been ascribed as having been written in Rouen in 1913. It was probably written during one of Duchamp's visits to his family, as his parents and sisters lived there. Duchamp wrote the piece for his two sisters and himself--each part is inscribed with a name: Yvonne, Magdelaine, Marcel. The three voices are written out separately, and there is no indication by the author, whether they should be performed separately or together as a trio. In composing this piece, Duchamp the made three sets of 25 cards, one for each voice, with a single note per card. Each set of cards was mixed in a hat; he then drew out the cards from the hat one at a time and wrote down the series of notes indicated by the order in which they were drawn. The second piece, La Mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires même. Erratum Musical (The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even. Erratum Musical) belongs to the series of notes and projects that Duchamp started to collect in 1912 and which led to the Large Glass. It was neither published nor exhibited during Duchamp's life. There are many notes and projects, each dealing with a different task. They are difficult material to work with, as there are no comments or explanations by Duchamp to assist with interpretation. Like many of them The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even. Erratum Musicalis unfinished and leaves many questions unanswered. Even so, it provides enough information for a successful realization. There are two parts to the manuscript. One part contains the piece for a mechanical instrument. The piece is unfinished and is written using numbers instead of notes, but Duchamp very clearly explains the meaning of those numbers, which makes it very easy to transcribe them into notes. He also indicates the instrument(s) on which it should be performed: "player piano, mechanical organs or other new instruments for which the virtuoso intermediary is suppressed." the second part contains a description of the compositional system. Duchamp's title for the system is: An apparatus automatically recording fragmented musical periods. The apparatus composing the piece is comprised of three parts: a funnel, several open-end cars, and a set of numbered balls. Each number on a ball represents a note (pitch) -- Duchamp suggested 85 notes according to the standard range of a piano of that time; today, almost all pianos have 88 notes. The balls fall through the funnel into the cars passing underneath at various speeds. When the funnel is empty, a musical period is completed. The third piece Sculpture Musicale (Musical Sculpture) is is note on a small piece of paper, which Duchamp also included in the Green Box. According to Arturo Schwarz, the piece was written sometime during 1912 - 1920 /21, although 1913 is the most probable year. The Musical Sculpture is similar to the Fluxus pieces of the early 1960s. These works combine objects with performance, audio with visual, known and unknown factors, and elements explained and unexplained. A realization of such a piece can result in an event / happening, rather than a performance. Of Duchamp's three works of music, only two can be performed using the existing manuscripts: the Erratum Musical for three voices and the Musical Sculpture. The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even. Erratum Musical requires completion. During March-October 1974 I made a complete realization of the work. I transcribed the mechanical instrument piece into a notated score and realized it for a player piano. In 1976, a pianola music roll was produced at Q.R.S. Music Rolls in Buffalo, N.Y. This pianola roll can be used on any mechanical keyboard instrument (player piano, mechanical organ, etc.) which is made to the standard of the Chicago International Convention of 1912. I have also followed the compositional system in realizing a score for a group of instruments by reconstructing "the apparatus"-- a funnel, seven cars, and six sets of balls. Duchamp wrote the piece in numbers, explaining their meaning and suggesting the instrumentation. The piece has eight divisions (I-VIII) which Duchamp calls periods -- "When the vase (funnel) is empty: the period of 85 notes (as many as) cars is inscribed..." Except periods No. I, V and VI all have 85 numbers (notes). Period No. 1 has not been recorded at all--the piece actually starts with period No. II. Periods No. V and VI have fewer than 85 notes (numbers): also the same numbers can be repeated in both wagons (No. V in J+K and No. VI in L+M). Whatever explanation one would use for this occurrence is not important--it can only be a guess. Naturally, one has to respect the piece as written by its author. Besides the pianola piece, I used the compositional system to create an altogether new composition. I decided on an ensemble piece, using those instruments which were most easily available in the S.E.M. Ensemble at the time. I reconstructed the "apparatus"-- a funnel, seven open top cars, and several sets of balls. For the ensemble piece, I needed more than one set of balls. I used one set each for alto flute, trombone, glockenspiel and marimbaphone and two sets for celesta (two hands -- hence two sets). Each set had as many numbered balls as there were notes in the range of the particular instrument (each number representing one note -- from the lowest to the highest one). Having a system that will produce all the notes of the piece and having the instrumentation, I had to decide how to place the notes in the score. It was clear that I had to find a formula for structuring the notes in the score rather than writing them down mechanically one after the other. Duchamp never mentioned anything about rhythm, and he did not use any rhythm in the two pieces he wrote out (the Erratum Musical and the instrument version of The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even. Erratum Musical). I came up with a method in which Duchamp's system actually generated the structuring of notes into the score. In other words, the system itself created the structure of special relationships between notes. The placing of notes (numbers) in the score was determined by the way in which the balls came through the funnel and were taken out of the cars. The composition progressed from one step to the next, as each ball appeared, identified with a particular set (instrument). Each set of numbers was distinguished by a different color. For example: if I found 3 balls of the same set, the piece progressed three steps ahead. If I found 3 balls each from different sets, the notes (numbers) were written vertically, underneath one another, creating a chord. The resulting score is ready to be performed, although markings for tempo, dynamics, etc. are missing. All these decisions can be made by the musicians themselves. How long to sustain each note, whether the piece should be performed "orderly" -- all parts to be coordinated vertically and horizontally -- or "freely" -- every performer performing independently, without respect to the other parts, all these aspects are determined by the performers. In the process of composing the piece, I intentionally avoided implementing my own musical ideas. Indeed, it was a realization rather than a composition. The composition itself was determined by Duchamp in his description of the system and his examples of music scoring. One could say that such composition will result only in a formal, completely dry piece, not something one associates with a "creative work of art." this objection may be correct, but so what? I have attempted to work as closely as possible to Duchamp's ideas and the spirit of his work during the period around 1913, as he remarked to James Johnson Sweeney in an interview in 1946: "that was the period when I changed completely from splashing paint on the canvas to an absolutely precise coordinate drawing, with no relation to arty handiwork... I wanted to go back to a completely dry drawing, a dry conception of art. I was beginning to appreciate the value of the exactness, of precision and the importance of chance. The result was that my work was no longer popular with amateurs..." --from the liner notes to Music of Marcel Duchamp, Edition Block + Paula Cooper Gallery, 1991

On The Record: Notes for the "Errata Erratum" Duchamp Remix Project at LA MOCA
By Paul D. Miller a.k.a. Dj Spooky that Subliminal Kid NYC 2002

 "In the chain of reactions accompanying the creative act, a link is missing. This gap, representing the inability of the artist to express fully his intention, this difference between what he intended to realize and did realize, is the personal "art coefficient' contained in the work. In other words, the personal 'art coefficient' is like an arithmetical relation between the unexpressed but intended and the unintentinally expressed..." Marcel Duchamp, "The Creative Act" 1957 When I first started dj'ing it was meant to be a hobby. It was an experiment with rhythm and clues, rhythm and cues: drop the needle on the record and see what happens when this sound is applied to this context, or when that sound crashes into that recording... you get the idea. The first impulses I had about dj culture were taken from that basic idea - play and irreverence towards the found objects that we use as consumers and a sense that something new was right in front of our oh so jaded eyes as we watched the computer screens at the cusp of the 21st century's beginnings. I wanted to breathe a little life into the passive relationship we have with the objects around us and to bring a sense of permanent uncertainty about the role of art in our lives. For me, as an artist, writer, and musician, it seemed that turntables were somehow imbued with the art of being memory permutation machines - they changed how I remembered sounds, and always made me think of a different experience with each listening. The "phonograph" in my artwork embodied what theorist Francis Yates would call "memory palaces" in contemporary context - trace the etymology of the word to "sound writing" a.k.a. "phono-graph" and think of the scenario as Walter Benjamin's "aura" become a sound wave of syncopated fragments dancing at memories edge, and you'll get the basic impression I want to convey here. Basically when I first started out I wanted to show complex stuff - how the "phonograph" was a memory game device translated into a kind of philosophical game of intentionality mixed with what John Cage would call "chance operations," or what Amiri Baraka would call "the changing same" - how the "turntable" had become a way of transforming culture into machinic improvisation... stuff like that. During the time that I spent researching for "Errata Erratum," I found so many examples of how dj culture intersected with some of the core tenets of the 20th century avant-garde, that it seems to have unconsciously absorbed them all. Composed in 1913, Duchamp's "Erratum Musical" is based on a whole schemata of mistakes, errors, and mis-steps in a family situation. And what therse days we'd simply call "glitches" in commmunication between programs, would be for him at that time a whole metaphysical critique of, as he put it so often, "how one can make a work of art that is not a work of art" - but back then at this point in his career it was simply a random card game between siblings. The basic scenario for "Erratum Musical" was this: Duchamp wrote out a series of "instructions" about the interaction of 3 sets of 25 cards for his sisters, and when they took a card from a hat passed around the room at the conception of the piece, they would each sing random phrases based on a loosely defined interpretation of the patterns on the cards. Three voices in a trialog would be the basis of the piece, and essentially the cards were nothing more than cues for the unconscious impulses of a quick glance at something held briefly and then put down. That was it! To get a better idea of what this must have been like, basically, you have to imagine a fun dinner party where people sing a Rorshach ink blotter tune, and you'd have a reasonable "picture" of what sounds the sisters came up with. It's not too Freudian of a leap to think of the abstract voices of familial roles played out in sound... but hey, that's kind of the point. When I think of dj'ing essentially you're dealing with extended kinship systems of rhythm - one beat matches or doesn't match a sound-flow, and it's the interpretation of the gestures that make up the mix that creates the atmosphere in a room. Think of my "Errata Erratum" remix as a 21st century update on the idea - but now, we move through dispersed networks of culture, and the cards we play are icons on a screen. A single note was assigned to each card - for the remix - you get sequences of sounds based on a different kind of card - a visual display of a roto-relief - an engraved card that Duchamp made throughout his career and gave away randomly to people. The song, as you can see, got alot more dispersed as Duchamp became a more well known artist, and by the end of his life, the card game became a signature that was profoundly paradoxcial. Like all of Duchamps work it was personal and impersonal - industrial culture's absorbtion of almost all "indviduality" into seamless expression of individual choice amongst the varied options left in a world of pre-fabricated identities and emotions. My "Errata Erratum" echoes documentation of four realizations of Duchamp's 1913 compositions that included "The Bride Stripped Bare By Her Bachelors,even, 1.3 voices: Erratum Musical" and the 'instruction' piece "Musical Sculpture". The resulting musical interpretations of compostions intended for voice, player piano, alto flute, celeste, trombone and glockenspiel are of a strikingly spare, slow and soft character that brings to mind the sound compositions of Erik Satie or Morton Feldman - but for my remix they were based on the interaction of viewers relationships to the rotorelief pieces that Duchamp so famously handed out over the years. In short, it's art you can download. Think of it as "downloadable anti-sublime" or something like that. I wanted to think of "Errata Erratum" as dj'ing "found objects" just like I would mix the records that normally comprise my sonic pallette. Essentially, "Errata..." is an experiment with sculpture and the interplay of memory as it is shaped by the technologies of communication that have come to form the core conditions of daily life in the industrialized world. In short, it was meant to be a fun thing, and in short order it became something alot more serious. Back the in the distant mid 90's dj'ing was still an underground phenomenon, and in a sense, today now that guitars are regularly outsold by turntables, the tables have literally turned - dj'ing is a mainstream phenomenon, and mixing beats and sounds is a commonplace thing on the internet for kids... "Errata Erratum" is a migration of those values into a playful critique of one of the first artists to engage that logic of irreverence towards the art object and to apply that logic to some of the works that he came up with to "flesh out" his ideas on the topic in "net culture." So when you see those circles moving, think of loops and repetition, cycles and flows, and think of how to translate one person's thoughts into anothers... and that's just the beginning. When the mix comes calling, you can't help but think of how many people are in it. This project is an attempt to bring together one of my favorite people in mix culture together with some variations on a certain theme - one that is as wide as the internet, and as wide as the people's thoughts moving through the fiber optic routing systems that hold our new version of the "digital sublime" together. Duchamp's piece "La MariÈe mise ý nu par ses cÈlibataires mÍme Erratum Musical (The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even. Erratum Musical)" follows the same logic and it leads us to the series of notes and projects that Duchamp started to collect in 1912 and which culminated in his infamous "Large Glass" piece. It wasn't published or exhibited during Duchamp's life, but the implications are clear - he wanted to invoke a sense of convergence between art and the random processes, the "generative syntaxes," of the imagination as it speaks to a world made of industrial processes. "The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even. Erratum Musical" manuscript was unfinished and leaves many questions unanswered - and it leads us to a precipice of our own making because, like my "Errata Erratum" remix, it works within a framework of chance operations, and that is it's unique signature in an arts context. It's a milieu where each "musical scultpure" is unique yet completely dependent on the system that created the context. It's that old Duchamp paradox come back to haunt us, uncannily, on the internet. Duchamp said in his famous "Creative Act" lecture of 1957 (the recording of which comprises the "dub version" hip-hop track for my "Errata Erratum" remix) "all in all, the creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by decipering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act." Think of that as you hear Duchamp rhyming over a hip-hip dub rhythm I made specially for this project - I guess you could call him "M.C. Duchamp" because, by hip-hop standards, he has good "flow" - and at this point in the track, his voice is seperated from the recording to become part of the musical sculpture, and like the original "Erratum Musical" we're seeing someone's voice placed in a system of chance operations - rhythm becomes the context for the performance, and the artist becomes part of the sonic palette he describes. There are two parts to the manuscript notes that Duchamp wrote to describe the "Erratum Musical" compositions. One part contains the piece for a "mechanical instrument." The piece is unfinished and is written using numbers instead of notes, but Duchamp explains the meaning of those numbers, which made it easy to transcribe them into music notes - I tried to balance that sense of uncertainty by assigning sounds to discs that can change speed and pitch - because turntables allow for that kind of variation. For "Errata Erratum" I wanted to streamline that process and give people a sense of improvisation - like Duchamp, the pieces also indicate the instruments on which it should be performed - but they are icons made of digital code. Where he would write "player piano, mechanical organs or other new instruments for which the virtuoso intermediary is suppressed" we can click on a screen. Anyway, you get the idea. The second part of his notes contained a description of the compositional system - the title for the "system" is: "An apparatus automatically recording fragmented musical periods." Here, again, we're left with the ability to make our own interpretation of a given framework, and are invited to run with it as a kind of game "system." The "apparatus" that let''s you make the composition in his original notes is comprised of three parts: a funnel, several open-end cars, and a set of numbered balls. Think of all of them as being flattened out on your screen, and that's what the Errata Erratum remix is about. In the original piece each number on a ball represented a note (pitch) -- Duchamp suggested 85 notes according to the standard range of a piano of that time; today, almost all pianos have 88 notes, and most computers have about 77 keys if they're based on the classic "QWERTY" system. In short, you have some kind of device to interpret your finger movements, so I thought it'd be cool to have that aspect made into a function based on how you play with the rotation of the "roto-reliefs." In the original piece, the balls fall through the funnel into the cars passing underneath at various speeds. When the funnel was empty, a musical period was completed. When things get digital, we can assign all of those aspects to gestures made with a mouse or touch pad, and basically that's what makes this fun. Think of the screen as a blank canvas and that's just the beginning. It's generally noted that Duchamp went through a "musical phase" between 1912 and 1915 - "Errata Erratum" incorporates aspects of almost all of the pieces he wrote during that time, and makes them become digital vectors of the same intentions, but updated, 21st century style. One of the last pieces he wrote, "Sculpture Musicale (Musical Sculpture)," is notated on a small piece of paper, which Duchamp also included in his infamous "Green Box" piece. The "Musical Sculpture" piece is similar to the Fluxus pieces of the early 1960s, and even more so to the abstract software driven music of contemporary digital culture where fragments of sounds are constantly combined to make "tracks" in dj culture. Duchamps works combine objects with performance, audio with visual, known and unknown factors, and elements explained and unexplained. Of his three works of music, only two can be performed using manuscripts or some kind of system of "rules": the Erratum Musical for three voices and the Musical Sculpture. "The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even. Erratum Musical" was incomplete. So to give context here is important: there were no "finished" pieces and everything in "Errata Erratum" is about that gap between execution and intent in a world of uncertainty. Whatever mix you make of it, it can only be a guess - you have to make your own version, and that's kind of the point. With that in mind, I ask that you think of this as a mix lab - an "open system" where any voice can be you. The only limits are the game you play and how you play it.