American artist Jasper Johns delivered these instructions as a formula for creating Dada art: "1) Take something. 2) Do something to it. 3) Do something else to it."
Appropriately enough, it seems easier to identify the objects of Dada, than it is to pin down the ideas behind it. Think of the Mona Lisa with a moustache, a teacup lined with fur or a urinal presented in a museum. Or, perhaps less familiar, imagine airplane propellers used as musical instruments, and a piano with nuts and bolts crammed between its strings. They're all examples of art that came from the Dada revolution in the early 20th century. And this Saturday, several of them will be presented at The Met as part of the contemporary chamber ensemble Zephyr's "Dada Zephyr" evening concert.
The idea of the Dada movement was to shake up the art world and encourage artists and audiences to change the established values that they felt had been responsible for the First World War. But it was a Dadaist work, rather than an attraction to the philosophy, that drew Zephyr's artistic director Kendall Feeney to the idea of presenting the themed concert in the first place. That work was the 1924 film Ballet Mecanique, and its musical score by American composer George Antheil.
"Like a lot of my programs, I find a piece and create a theme from that piece," explains Feeney. "And in this case, it really came from that film. And then I found out that there was a piece of music with the same name. So we're presenting them together -- a live performance of the music while the film is shown. And they were originally intended to be done that way."
The film itself was made by the artist Fernand Leger, along with the American photographer and artist Man Ray, and another American named Dudley Murphy. "It's an abstract film," says Spokane Public Radio film critic Bob Glatzer. "It is built on images of primarily machines and metals and objects both working and still, shot whole and shot in bits and pieces and parts. And then put together in a non-linear way. There isn't really a beginning, and a middle and an end. When you see this film, you have to be prepared to just kind of sit back and enjoy the sound and the fury and the pleasure and the image -- all of which are going to be presented. It should be very exciting."
The images of the film will be mirrored live onstage, as Feeney, joined by three other pianists and almost a dozen percussionists, performs the cacophonous score that caused a near riot when it received its American premiere at Carnegie Hall in 1927. Featuring airplane propellers, sirens and 10 pianos, the work earned Antheil the nickname "the bad boy of music." He revised the score, early in the 1950s, for a smaller ensemble and recorded sound effects, and that is the version that Zephyr will be performing at The Met.
The experience has been a unique one for Feeney. "It's become extremely fun to play. Rhythmically, it's become an electric charge, and it goes great with the film. This is a first, and I definitely want to do more. We have to find more films that have chamber music accompaniment for Zephyr."
On a more intimate note, the concert also features several selections from American composer/artist/philosopher John Cage's "Sonatas and Interludes" for prepared piano. Widely considered a masterpiece of the 20th century, the music comes from a grand piano that has been "prepared" according to Cage's instructions, with bolts, screws, rubber and pieces of plastic inserted between the strings. The noises made by the modified instrument are haunting -- ranging from hollow sounding gongs to high-pitched raps. The contrast of such a violated instrument with the delicate sounds fulfills the Dadaist idea of art perfectly.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Zephyr concert without some representation of visual and spoken art. Actor Ron Varela will read from Dadaist Kurt Schwitters' sound poem "Ursonate." The work, which is made from nonsense sounds and words, is performed with some audience participation. And Feeney mentions one of Dada's most famous artists -- Marcel Duchamp, of the urinal and Mona Lisa fame -- as an inspiration for the look of the concert. "He was known for his 'Ready Mades,' so we'll have something, maybe not the urinal, but something else on stage. As for the costumes, it's sort of a free for all."
For the Dadaistically unsure, that means break out your paper suits and bubble-wrap dresses.
& & & lt;i & "Dada Zephyr" is at The Met on Saturday, Jan. 20, at 8 pm. Tickets: $10-$17. Call: 325-SEAT. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &
& & & lt;i & Editor's Note: In addition to writing this story for The Inlander, Marty Demarest was instrumental in the fabrication of the "dada-fied" grand piano mentioned in the article. & lt;/i & & lt;/center &