Asger Jorn & Jean Dubuffet
Over the last 100 years, the creative juncture between the fine arts and music has produced endlessly thrilling territories of sound. Not only has it bubbled below aspects of popular music - psychedelia, prog, ambient, punk, new wave, and beyond - but great swaths of avant-garde and experimental music, sound art, and sound poetry. Standing slightly adjacent to it all, is the sinfully under-acknowledged realm of the artist record; documents of artists who predominately worked within the visual realm, making forays into the world of sound and music. This creative territory blossomed during the second half of the 20th Century, opening new avenues of possibility for artists like Dieter Roth, Martin Kippenberger, Bruce Nauman, Joseph Beuys, Lawrence Weiner, Michael Snow, Albert Oehlen, Hanne Darboven, and others. Now, Tochnit Aleph returns with the first-time reissue of one of the rarest, earliest, and most important of them all, Asger Jorn & Jean Dubuffet’s legendary Musique Phénomenale, originally issued in an edition of 50 copies in 1961. Released in a stunning double CD edition of 600 copies in a 6-panel slip-cased digipak, with a 12-page illustrated booklet and liner notes by Asger Jorn in French and English, not only do its sounds remain thrilling more than half a century after it was first release, but it’s just about as historically important as reissues come for any fan of experimental music, sound art, and artist records.
While many of his peers made forays into literature, photography, and film, the French painter, Jean Dubuffet, was among the first visual artists to delve toward sound in music in a focused way. As the main protagonist of the Art Brut movement - seeking something raw, intuitive, and fundamental through inspiration taken from untrained artists - Dubuffet’s interest in music as a creative vehicle seems logical with distance. In his own words, "Certain unexpected windfalls... come out of improvising on an instrument one doesn't really know how to use." It was into this realm, in 1960, that he ventured with the Danish painter and sculptor, Asger Jorn, a founding member of the avant-garde movement COBRA and the Situationist International.
Released the following year in a tiny edition of 50 by Edizione Del Cavallino as 4x10" box set, Musique Phénoménale is the document of these adventures between the pair. Virtually unavailable in its complete from since its original release, the set’s eight sides now sprawl across two stunning CDs.
Comprising ten compositions jointly created by Dubuffet and Jorn, Musique Phénoménale encounters the artists, neither of whom were musically trained, delivering a brazenly experimental sonic assault on convention via saxophone, bassoon, detuned piano, hurdy-gurdy, cabrette, bombard, and a number of other instruments, captured by two tape recorders purchased by Dubeffet in order to manually edit the results. He later fondly recalled of recordings' crudeness and sense that they "had no beginning and no end but were simply extracts taken haphazardly from a ceaseless and ever-flowing score."
While inextricable from the fine art context, Musique Phénoménale is arguably one of the most historically important documents of avant-garde music ever created, capturing a form of raw and emotive sonic expression which has few equivalents outside of free jazz, a movement that would reach the wild fever pitch encountered here in 1960 for a number of years. Resting at the juncture of hyper consciousness and the completely intuitive, while predating anything that could claim a close sonic equivalent - Musica Elettronica Viva, Gruppo Di Improvvisazione Nuova Consonanza, Scratch Orchestra, etc. - the album upends the perceptions of history across its collection of raucous explosions on acoustic instruments.
Never before reissued on any format and virtually unobtainable and unheard since its original release, Tochnit Aleph’s brilliant CD reissue of Asger Jorn & Jean Dubuffet’s legendary Musique Phénomenale is an absolutely mind-blowing series of revelations from start to finish. As creatively engrossing as it is historically Important, it’s as essential as reissues come for any fan of avant-garde music, sound art, artists records, and free improvisation. Despite these recordings being more than 60 years old, they’re easily among the most exciting we’ve encountered so far in 2022.