Marcel Duchamp

Erratum Musical (for Three Voices) (1913) / Sculpture Musicale. Realized as Mesostic By

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Although known as a radical visual artist, Duchamp never ceased from employing any medium or art form believing that these were open to anyone. Erratum Musical was written for three voices, which may be sung in any combination or sequence, each part inscribed with a name: Yvonne, Magdeleine (Duchamp's sisters), and Marcel. This composition, from 1913, employs techniques of random generation that would surface in popular culture 40 years later, showing that in music, like art, Duchamp was quite ahead of his time. The text was derived by running together the definitions of "imprimer" (print) -- "faire une empreinte marquer des traits une figure sur une surface imprimer un sceau sur cire (make an imprint[,] mark with lines[,] a figure on a surface[,] impress a seal on wax)." One note, in two chromatic octaves, was given to each of the 25 syllables. The notes on 25 cards were mixed in a hat, withdrawn, and written on score paper as they occurred. Each of the pieces makes use of prepared or invented instruments and compositional devices (like the aforementioned cards, numbered balls, etc.). All of these pieces are beautifully direct, unique, and spare -- interesting for more than just their historical value.