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PICABIA, FRANCIS: La Nourrice Americaine
A critical figure in the early C20 avant-garde and instrumental in the history of Dada, both in Europe and New York, Francois Picabia composed only one musical work in his lifetime but - however you listen to it, and however you account for its composition - this is a work that once encountered is impossible to ignore - notwithstanding the fact that for close to 90 years it has been glossed over in most histories of C20 art and music. Written in 1920 for the Parisian Festival Dada (until now its only performance), La Nourrice Americaine consists of 'three notes repeated to infinity'. Although it may have been intended as a provocation, in the light of subsequent developments (Cage's playing of the Duchamp card, the rise or rediscovery of conceptual art and the evolution of musical minimalism) it cannot be ignored. Moreover, it works: there are two 20 minute versions on this CD - one slow, the other much faster, and it is an illumination how completely different they are: a classical demonstration that the physical grain of things, the phenomenological experience of qualia, can never be discounted; that sometimes what is relegated to mere detail turns out to be the central matter of a work. For me, for instance, the faster version is a far better composition - though it is problematical to explain how and why; and the fact that it is so hard to explain itself justifies the importance of the work. There are great complexities in this apparently absurd simplicity - which, of course, anybody could have produced at any time. But the fact is that nobody did - until Picabia. And after Picabia, a barrier was broken, easing the way into new territories for generations that followed. Between the two versions there is a rare radio interview with Picabia made in the late '40s (in French - with an Englsh translation in the accompanying booklet). Otherwise there are notes, a brief biography and a facsimile poster from the Festival Dada programme.