Archive for October 13th, 2022

Symbols and Sounds

Hugo Ball Reading His Poem Karawane

Hugo Ball Reading His Poem Karawane

The symbolic view of things is a consequence of long absorption in images. Is sign language the real language of Paradise?

–Hugo Ball, Flight out of Time: A Dada Diary (1927)

I read the words above and wondered if Hugo Ball, one of the founders of the Dada movement of the 1920’s, was referring to the meaning found in the universal language of symbols and icons or actually meant sign language, such as ASL,  American Sign Language. Either might make sense.

I finally found an online copy of Ball’s book, Flight out of Time: A Dada Diary, and found the complete passage. Turns out he was referring to the imagery of the painter.

The painter as administrator of the vita contemplativa [contemplative life]. As herald of the supernatural sign language. That has an effect on poets’ imagery too. The symbolic view of things is a consequence of long absorption in images. Is sign language the real language of paradise? Personal paradises- maybe they are errors, but they will give new color to the idea of paradise, the archetype.

Mystery solved. Okay, it wasn’t much of a mystery and probably doesn’t hold much meaning for most folks.

But there is something to be said about the power of symbology as a language. I can certainly reach out to more people in a variety of cultures much easier with my images than with my words.

The main elements in my work have highly symbolic meaning. The Red Tree, Red Roofed Houses, Red Chairs, the sun/moon balls in the sky– all translate easily without words. And if I have done my job well enough, the nuance of meaning that I see in these symbols translates as well. In a best-case scenario, an image could translate equally to anyone anywhere with any level of education.

This is not meant to put visual imagery or the shape and symbology found in music over the written or spoken word. There is no better way to transmit thoughts with intricate nuance and meaning than well written words.

But even the language of words has its own shapes. Going back to Hugo Ball, we find that he was an innovator in sound poetry, which would be poetry that discards all meaning and creates rhythm and shape with nonsensical word-like sounds. One of his sound poems, Gadji beri bimba, was adapted to the song I Zimbra on the 1979 Talking Heads album Fear of Music. Its lyrics were as such:

Gadji beri bimba clandridi
Lauli lonni cadori gadjam
A bim beri glassala glandride
E glassala tuffm I zimbra

I know this post hasn’t really delved into any great depth on these subjects and a lot can be debated. I am just throwing it out there as I come across it early this morning. Maybe it was just a pretense to play I Zimbra. The performance of the song below is from an appearance touting David Byrne’s American Utopia Broadway show and features an intro that better explains this blog.

I am also including a reading of the Hugo Ball poem Karawane from the top of the page. This is read by Marie Osmond. Yes, Marie Osmond is now a Dada artist…

Plus, I think I will throw in one more song this morning that is based on the shapes of sounds more than meaning of words.

It’s a 1973 song from Italian singer Adriano Celentano who set out to prove that any song that even sounded like it was sung in English could become a hit in Italy. He created a song comprised of pure nonsense that sounds vaguely like words spoken in English called– buckle up for this title– Prisencolinensinainciusol. As he had predicted, the song became a hit in Italy though I think it has as much to do with its thumping rhythm as its nonsense words.

You be the judge.

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