There had been several forays into sound poetry by Dadaist artists in the years before and after 1920, but the major work of the time was Ursonate, “composed”, one might say, by painter and collage artist Kurt Schwitters.

In 1922, Schwitters began writing a sonata for the voice based on abstract vocal sounds organized as musical phrases and motives. Between 1926 and 1932, he performed it many times and polished it into its present form. He wrote, “The sonata is in four movements, an introduction, an end, and a cadenza in the 4th movement. The first movement is a rondo with four motives, which are identified as such in the text of the sonata. The rhythm is easily felt, strong and weak, loud and soft, tight and relaxed …” The sonata was written in script to be pronounced in German. Here’s an example of the script:
    Fümms bö fümms bö wö fümms bö wö tääää?
    Fümms bö fümms bö wö fümms bö wö tää zää Uuuu?
    Rattatata tattatata tattatata
    Rinnzekete bee bee nnz krr müüüü?
    Fümms bö
    Fümms böwö
    Fümms bö wö täää????
Schwitters also wrote: “Listening to my sonata is better than reading it. This is why I like to perform my sonata in public. But since it is not possible to give performances everywhere, I intend to make a gramophone recording of the sonata …”

Jaap Blonk performs it here in 2005 with an added touch of electronics to extend his performance into a new medium called Ursonography.

Blonk’s superb recitation of the Ursonate is accompanied by Golan Levin’s ‘intelligent subtitles’. It’s an excellent example of using technology to enhance the presentation of the vocal message. In fact, as the result of Levin’s timbral-sensing software, the subtitles follow Blonk’s recitation in real time, locking onto the timing and timbral nuance of Blonk’s voice. And the typography of the subtitles illuminates the poem’s structure. Altogether it’s a wonderful example of the human voice extended by electronics.




schwitters600Kurt Schwitters



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Jaap Blonk performs Ursonate