Brion Gysin

* The painter Brion Gysin (1916-1986), rediscovered Tristan Tzara's cut-up method while cutting through a newspaper upon which he was trimming some mats. He did several experiments with cut-ups while living in Tangiers. He shared his discovery with his friend William S. Burroughs, who put the technique to good use and altered the landscape of American literature:

Burroughs' extensive use of cut-ups in Nova Express, The Ticket That Exploded, and other books made the method highly controversial in the literary world. There was some talk to the effect that Brion was a bad influence, a keef-crazed, razor-wielding, dada-spouting anarchist whose high-art theorizing was corrupting an authentic American voice. In time, cut-ups became enshrined as an alternative strategy for dealing with words, studied and employed by poets and novelists and even playing a part in pop music, as a lyric-writing aid or inspiration for, among others, David Bowie, Iggy Pop, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards .
From Robert Palmer's forward to Gysin's The Process (New York: The Overlook Press, 1987).

Always the experimenter, Gysin altered the cut-up technique to produce what he called permutation poems in which a single phrase was repeated several times, with the words rearranged in a different order with each reiteration. Many of these permutations were worked out using a random sequence generator in an early computer program written by Ian Sommerville. Gysin also experimented with the technique of permutation on recording tape, by splicing together the sounds of a gun firing recorded at different amplitudes in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and producing 'Pistol Poem.' This piece was subsequently in 1960, used as a 'leitmotiv' for all the performance in Paris of Le Domaine Poetique, a showcase for experimental works by people like Gysin, François Dufrêne, Bernard Heidsieck, and Henri Chopin.

Some other Brion Gysin publications and recordings:

William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin, The Third Mind (New York: Seaver Books, 1978).

Brion Gysin, The Last Museum (New York: Grove Press, Inc., 1986).

RE/SEARCH #4/5 A Special Book Issue: William S. Burroughs, Brion Gysin and Throbbing Gristle, edited by Vale (San Francisco: RE/SEARCH, 1982).

Steve Lacy & Brion Gysin, Songs (Therwil/Switzerland: hat Hut Records, 1 LP & 1 S, hatArt 1985/86).


Last Modified 21 January 1998