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Surrealist music is music which uses unexpected juxtapositions and other surrealist techniques. Anne LeBaron (2002, p.27) cites automatism, including improvisation, and collage as the primary techniques of musical surrealism. Discussing Adorno, Max Paddison (1993, p.90) defines surrealist music as that which "juxtaposes its historically devalued fragments in a montage-like manner which enables them to yield up new meanings within a new aesthetic unity," though Lloyd Whitesell calls this a gloss. According to Theodor Adorno (1930), "Insofar as surrealist composing makes use of devalued means, it uses these as devalued means, and wins its form from the 'scandal' produced when the dead suddenly spring up among the living." (Whitesell 2004, p.107 and 118n18).


Early surrealist music

In the 1920s several composers were influenced by Surrealism, or by individuals in the Surrealist movement. Among these were Bohuslav Martinů, Andre Souris, and Edgard Varèse, who stated that his work Arcana was drawn from a dream sequence. Souris in particular was associated with the movement: he had a long, if sometimes spotty, relationship with Magritte, and worked on Paul Nouge's publication Adieu Marie. The two composers most associated with surrealism during this period where Erik Satie, who wrote the score for the ballet Parade which caused Guillaume Apollinaire to coin the term surrealism, and George Anthiel who wrote that "The Surrealist movement had, from the very beginning, been my friend. In one of its manifestos it had been declared that all music was unbearable--excepting, possibly, mine--a beautiful and appreciated condescension" (LeBaron 2002, p.30-31). Later French composer Pierre Boulez wrote a piece called explosante-fixe (1972), inspired by Breton's collection of poems mad love. Germaine Tailleferre of the Group des Six wrote several works which could be considered to be inspired by Surrealism, including the 1948 Ballet "Paris-Magie" (scenario by Lise Delarme, who was closely linked to Breton), the Operas "La Petite Sirène" (book by Philippe Soupault) and "Le Maître" (book by Eugène Ionesco). Tailleferre also wrote popular songs to texts by Claude Marci, the wife of Henri Jeanson, whose portrait had been painted by Magritte in the 1930s.

Surrealism and music

Early surrealists shared a negative opinion of music. Giorgio de Chirico claimed in his 1913 article "No Music" that a painting has a "music of its own", implying that music is unnecessary. In 1928's "Le Surréalisme et la peinture" Breton dismisses music, "the most deeply confusing of all art forms", as providing a lesser degree of sensation and "spiritual realizations" than the plastic arts, saying that "auditive images, in fact, are inferior to visual images not only in clarity but also in strictness, and with all due respect to a few megalomaniacs, they are not destined to strengthen the idea of human greatness. So may night continue to descend upon the orchestra, and may I, who am still searching for something in this world, be left with open eyes, or with closed eyes in broad daylight, to my silent contemplation." In 1944's essay on music "Silence is Golden" Breton confesses his ignorance of music and even suggests the fusing of music and poetry: "for the first audible diamond to be obtained, it is evident that the fusion of the two elements--music and poetry--into one, could only be accomplished at a very high emotional temperature. And it seems to me that it is in the expression of the passion of love that both music and poetry are most likely to reach this supreme point of incandescence." (ibid, p.29-30)

Despite all this, later Surrealists have been interested in, and found parallels to Surrealism in, the improvisation of jazz (as alluded to above), and the blues (Surrealists such as Paul Garon have written articles and full-length books on the subject). Jazz and blues musicians have occasionally reciprocated this interest; for example, the 1976 World Surrealist Exhibition included such performances by Honeyboy Edwards.

Later surrealist music

Readers of the Surrealists have also analysed reggae and, later, rap, and some rock bands such as The Psychedelic Furs. In addition to musicians who have been influenced by Surrealism (including some influence in rock — the title of the 1967 psychedelic Jefferson Airplane album Surrealistic Pillow was obviously inspired by the movement), such as the experimental group Nurse With Wound (whose album title Chance meeting on a dissecting table of a sewing machine and umbrella is taken from a line in Lautreamont's Maldoror), Surrealist music has included such explorations as those of Hal Rammel. Many ambient musicians (most notably Robert Rich) use complex arrangements of textural sounds to evoke surrealist imagery. Many goth artists like Rozz Williams have been influenced by surrealism.

In a February 2003 interview, breakcore musician Aaron Funk (aka Venetian Snares) was asked a question regarding the diverse mix of genres he draws upon in his music, a property which the interviewer labelled "eclecticism". Funk replied: "I prefer to call it Surrealism." [1]


  • Ashby, Arved, ed. (2004). "Twentieth-Century Tonality, or, Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" by Lloyd Whitesell, The Pleasure of Modernist Music. ISBN 1580461433.
  • Lochhead, Judy and Auner, Joseph (2002). "Reflections of Surrealism in Postmodern Musics" by Anne Lebaron, Postmodern Music/Postmodern Thought. ISBN 0815338201.
  • "Satan's Baby": Venetian Snares interview conducted by The Milk Factory

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