Permutation is a technique
commonly used by avant-gardes and above all, and systematically, by the American
writer Gertrude Stein. It is possible to permute sentences, words within a sentence,
syllables and phonemes within a word. Permutation is a typically modern device
and considerable use was made of it in the plastic arts by the constructivists.
In fact it permits the complete exhaustion of all the possible combinations within
a given choice of material, without limit of number. The Englishman Brion Gysin,
one of the founders of the beatnik movement and inventor of such new formulas
as the collage-novel, has composed his phonic texts on this principle. "I am"
is a classic of the genre. Composed exclusively of permutations of the biblical
words "I am that I am", with ever more marked accelerations, he succeeds in rendering,
from the initial nucleus, a crowd of "I am"s, the creation of the world in geometrical
progression until it fades away in the sidereal silence. "Pistol-Poem" (1960),
ermutation for voice and pistol shots, is based on a number of pistol shots fired
one, two, three, four, five times simultaneously, while the author, in the typical
tone of a sergeant-major, orders the shots as if on parade. "No, poets don't own
words" and "Junk is no good baby", both composed in 1962, follow the same principle.
Brion Gysin lived an extraordinary life, constantly searching for the hidden. As painter, poet, novelist, inventor, historian, performer and catalyst, Gysin used simple techniques to enchant his works toward revealing unnoticed plaes of experinece within. Most often an art work would fuse two or more elements from his repertoire of acquired disciplines.
His necessity for experimentation with an overwhelming passion to "free the word" led to the invention of the cut-up method of writing. By treating segmented pages of text as collage material, the new arrangements created limitless possibilities of preose. A second seminal technique pursued by Gysin was of a more focused and elegant nature: the permutation. By taking a single phrase and running through all existing possibilities of order, whole realms of implied meanings became apparent.
Pistol Poem (1960) (3:40)
Produced by the BBC in 1960
Junk is No Good Baby (1962) (2:03)
From working on canvas and paper, Gysin took the obvious continuation of his ideas to audio tape. With the help of mathemetician Ian Sommerville, cut-up and permutated recordings demonstrated the true potential of those theories. Audio cut-ups presented the startling impact of linking words, sounds and time through juxtaposition. The development of the audio permutiation poem added variablility through spacing and inflection which provided characteristics that were impossible on the printed page.
In 1960, Gysin was asked to present sound works for broadcast on the BBC. Among those recorded for the event were "iam that i am," "recalling all active agents," and the "pistol poem" which differed by permutating recordings of a gun firing at varying distances.
Being consistently misunderstood throughout his career, Brion Gysin's Dream Machine went largely unnoticed. This spinning, flickering cylinder was designed to affect the alpha rhythms of the human brain, allowing access to one's inner visual capacities. The first object-kinetic sclpture to be viewed with your eyes closed. Gysin spoke of flashes of memory and 360 degree visions with the clarity of projected film after extended use.