Dada optophonetic

Kp'erioum, Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971)

Kp'erioum, Raoul Hausmann (1886-1971)

The optophonetic of poet Raoul Hausmann, presented by Cecile Bargues

« Sometimes an invention is created more than once », wrote Raoul Hausmann in the Courrier Dada. Regarded as being one of the brightest stars of Dada Berlin, nothing was filtered prior to being expressed, says Hausmann, from those magical moments at Cabaret Voltaire nightclub in Zurich when Hugo Ball appeared on stage dressed as a « magical bishop » and recited « abstract chants » (« gadji beri bimba ») and relived « the sounds of very ancient sacerdotal laments ». In 1918 Hausmann also declaimed « letter poems » that involved the whole body via variations of breath and voice in order to be expressed, without knowing that this wordless poetry already constituted one of the most salient features of Dada. Even if he never knew Hugo Ball, communication being difficult (Berlin experiencing the Spatacist uprising at the time) Hausmann could only agree with the concept of freeing himself from a language that « had become unworkable», because it had been « ravaged by journalism.» But that’s where any complicity ended. The radical Hausmann was a million miles from any praying as he stripped language down to its barest bones, that’s to say right down to the letters themselves. Letters were his « new material »; the building blocks of his optophonetic poetry. « Optophonetics » (the science of visible speech sounds) was the term used to coin the fusion of the visual with sound; in other words, the concept that characterised him. An example of this can be found in Kp’erioum, where font size and bold type indicate vocal amplitude. Raoul Hausmann « revealed the surprise and joy of Dada dancing with typography », wrote Brion Gysin, the inventor of the cut-up collage technique (‘cut’ in the language of the media) in collaboration with William Burroughs, and the Dreamachine (a flicker device) with Ian Sommerville. We are also indebted to Hausmann for the optophone, a machine capable of transforming sound into coloured lights and vice versa. He applied for a patent for this with an engineer called Daniel Broïdo but it did not, strictly speaking, come to fruition. Perhaps one might argue that this legendary optophone is our most efficient dream machine.


Art historian, Cecile Bargues is a Dada and Raoul Hausmann specialist