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Nam June Paik
«Letter to Dr. Steinecke»

Cologne, 2nd May, 1959

Dear Dr. Steinecke!

Many thanks for your prospectus about Darmstadt 1959. It is my pleasure to be able to inform you that my anti-music piece «Hommage a John Cage» is going very well (despite the poor mechanical conditions) and will be completed in time for Darmstadt 1959.

The first movement is:
Marcel Duchamp = Dostoevsky = K. Schwitters
Variete ≠ Variation
This movement is evidence that the sublime is essentially inseparable from the ugly and the comic. For that reason, all listeners must assume prior to the performance that they have just listened to the entire Passion of Matthew. Naturally, a journalist with the limited skills of Herr Stuckenschmidt cannot endure this lofty intellectual ambition. The material is radio collage and language. The language is reduced to its primitive phase in which phonetics and intonation are apparently relatively differentiated, but semantics have not yet been formed. The rhythms are conceived as one with breathing, action and dynamics. This stands in opposition to the process of young European composers who handle rhythm and dynamic separately. I stopped composing this movement 50 days ago, as I still lack the means of synchronization. I shall immediately resume the composition when the third tape recorder arrives (i.e. roundabout 10 May 1959).

Second movement is
«As bo-o-ring as possible:
like Proust, Palestrina, Zen. Gregorian chant, Missa, Parisian cafe,
life, sex and dog staring into the distance.»

My point of departure is everyday order, i.e. musicians' music world, through the constant surprise and disappointment (in the first movement) and the extreme bo-'o'-ringness (in the second movement). The second movement is a warning about the German Economic Miracle in which diligence has become as one with stupidity. It involves a prepared piano that will be transported to Darmstadt at my own expense, and another prepared piano. No damage will occur to the second prepared piano, since merely the strings of 10 keys will be slackened. The pianos are prepared in a wholly different way from that of John Cage. In addition to pianos, several toys (car, pitch-pipe, tanks, etc.) will be used.
Third set is more philosophy of music than philosophical music. Quotes from Artaud and Rimbaud resound from the loudspeakers. With this action I paraphrase. Through a functional action that divests itself of its own function the «act gratuite» becomes visible on the stage. This represents a solution to the suffocation from which contemporary music-based theatre suffers.
In this movement, my piano (which cost DM 50) is toppled over, glass is broken, eggs are thrown, paper torn, a live hen set free, and motor bike arrives.
But it all has nothing to do with humour. The only Dadaist artists who have survived are those who treated humour as a result rather than a goal, e.g. M. Duchamp, M. Ernst, Arp. Schwitters. (A small Schwitters collage now costs 50 thousand Marks.) I would like to supplement Dadaism with music, although Dada remains a taboo for cultural philistines today. Today Henze and Buffet reign supreme just like Haendel, Rubens, Liszt, Hindemith, Stravinsky and Picasso once reigned supreme. I am convinced that I have finally found a wholly new style. It has nothing to do with the preceding new music from the aria. I would like to withdraw my last work «Sirlahyangga» (1958) and send you this new composition instead. You can have confidence in the quality of this piece, since I cancelled the performance of my composition last year and, as I wrote to you on a number of occasions, do not wish to make my «debut» with a «study» possessing the mediocre quality of a «studio concert».
The performance is simple, since Herr Walther (best pianist in Freiburg Academy of Music) and Frau Kagel have agreed to play without fees. I also anticipate that the technician from your library will make a brief appearance with his motorbike. In March 1958 I had the honour of travelling on his pillion seat. The entire duration is c. 10 minutes. I would prefer the latest possible date for the performance (in order to have sufficient rehearsal time) and the smaller concert hall (as prepared piano is not loud). And this piece must be played at the beginning of the concert, since the audience must not be allowed to see the directions and the preparation of the stage. I hope, or believe (if you will excuse this liberty), that you would give a chance to this serious (and non-restorative) antithesis to «twelve-tone mannerism». (Much as I still love Schoenberg and Stockhausen.) I shall implement the spatial concept of my composition in the Cologne studio. Please be so kind as to let me know if there will again be the possibility of playback for 2-4 channels this year.
I would also like to write a short «atmospheric» introduction for the programme. By what date should this be sent to you?
In anticipation of your positive reply,
I remain,
yours sincerely,
Nam June Paik

P.S. Please excuse my poor grammar.

This letter to Dr. Steinecke of the International Music Institute Darmstadt was Paik's second attempt at presenting his «action music» in the context of the yearly summer courses in Darmstadt - again without success. Taken from: Nam June Paik, Niederschriften eines Kulturnomaden, Edith Decker (ed.), Cologne, 1992, p. 51–53.