From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
In the 1950s the painter and writer Brion Gysin started to cut newspaper articles into sections and rearranged the sections at random. "Minutes to Go" resulted from this initial cut-up experiment: unedited and unchanged cut-ups which emerge as coherent and meaningful prose.
The form has since been appropriated, consciously or not, by musicians working in sample-based genres such as hip hop and electronic music; DJs especially value "digging the crates," spending hours in record stores looking for obscure breaks, vocals, and samples to meld together in new compositions."--Sholem Stein
- Cut-up is performed by taking a finished and fully linear text (printed on paper) and cutting it in pieces with a few or single words on each piece. The resulting pieces are then rearranged into a new text. The rearranging of work often results in surprisingly innovative new phrases. A common way is to cut a sheet in four rectangular sections, rearranging them and then typing down the mingled prose while compensating for the haphazard word breaks by improvising and innovating along the way.
- Fold-in is the technique of taking two different sheets of linear text (with the same linespacing), cutting each sheet in half and combining with the other, then reading across the resulting page. The resulting text is often a blend of the two themes, somewhat hard to read.
History in literature
A precedent of the technique occurred during a Dadaist rally in the 1920s in which Tristan Tzara offered to create a poem on the spot by pulling words at random from a hat. Collage, which was popularized roughly contemporaneously with the Surrealist movement, sometimes incorporated texts such as newspapers or brochures. Prior to this event, the technique had been published in an issue of 391 with in the poem by Tzara, dada manifesto on feeble love and bitter love under the sub-title, TO MAKE A DADAIST POEM
Also in the 1950s, painter and writer Brion Gysin more fully developed the cut-up method after accidentally re-discovering it. He had placed layers of newspapers as a mat to protect a tabletop from being scratched while he cut papers with a razor blade. Upon cutting through the newspapers, Gysin noticed that the sliced layers offered interesting juxtapositions of text and image. He began deliberately cutting newspaper articles into sections, which he randomly rearranged. The book Minutes to Go resulted from his initial cut-up experiment: unedited and unchanged cut-ups which emerged as coherent and meaningful prose. South African poet Sinclair Beiles also used this technique and co-authored Minutes To Go.
Gysin introduced Burroughs to the technique at the Beat Hotel. The pair later applied the technique to printed media and audio recordings in an effort to decode the material's implicit content, hypothesizing that such a technique could be used to discover the true meaning of a given text. Burroughs also suggested cut-ups may be effective as a form of divination saying, "When you cut into the present the future leaks out." Burroughs also further developed the "fold-in" technique. In 1977, Burroughs and Gysin published The Third Mind, a collection of cut-up writings and essays on the form. Jeff Nuttall's publications "My Own Mag", was another important outlet for the then-radical technique.
Since the 1990s, Jeff Noon uses a similar remixing technique in his writing based on practices prevalent in Dub music. He expanded upon this with his Cobralingus system, which breaks down a piece of writing, going as far as turning individual words into anagrams, then melding the results into a narrative.
History in film
Antony Balch and Burroughs created a collaboration film, The Cut-Ups that opened in London in 1967. This was part of an abandoned project called Guerrilla Conditions meant as a documentary on Burroughs and filmed throughout 1961–1965. Inspired by Burroughs' and Gysin's technique of cutting up text and rearranging it in random order, Balch had an editor cut his footage for the documentary into little pieces and impose no control over its reassembly. The film opened at Oxford Street's Cinephone cinema and had a disturbing reaction. Many audience members claimed the film made them ill, others demanded their money back, while some just stumbled out of the cinema ranting "it's disgusting". Other cut-up films include Ghost at n°9 (Paris) (1963–72), a posthumously released short film compiled from reels found at Balch's office after his death, and William Buys a Parrott (1982), Bill and Tony (1972), Towers Open Fire (1963) and The Junky's Christmas (1966).
Burroughs taught cut-up technique to Genesis P-Orridge in 1971 as a method for "altering reality". Burroughs' explanation was that everything is recorded, and if it is recorded, then it can be edited (P-Orridge, 2003). P-Orridge has long employed cut-ups as an applied philosophy, a way of creating art and music, and of conducting one's life.
Musical influence and similarities
See also: Magnetic tape sound recording
Musique concrète had introduced such techniques — cutting, re-arranging and re-editing sounds — much earlier in a musical (as opposed to literary) context.
Other musicians working in sample-based music genres, such as hip hop and electronic music, employ a similar technique. DJs may spend hours in record stores looking ("digging") for LP records featuring obscure or interesting breaks, vocals, and other fragments to meld together in new compositions.
Jeff Noon uses a similar remixing technique in his writing based on the practices prevalent in Dub music. He expanded upon his remixing with his Cobralingus system, which breaks down a piece of writing, going as far as turning individual words into anagrams, then melding the results into a narrative.
And to return to Tzara's Dadaist example, Thom Yorke applied a similar method in Radiohead's Kid A (2000) album, writing single lines, putting them into a hat, and drawing them out at random while the band rehearsed the songs.
An online subculture of bastard pop resembles the fold-in technique by for example taking instrumentals from one artist and combining it with the vocals of another artist.
- The first question of course was, how to get dry again: they me as I walked, the remembrance of my churlishness and that I must confidence between himself and Mrs. Micawber. After which, he for his dagger till his hand gripped it. Then he spoke. I kissed her, and my baby brother, and was very sorry then; but not
Even grammatically consistent sentences can be formed, such as
- Then, from sea to shining sea, the God-King sang the praises of teflon, and with his face to the sunshine, he churned lots of butter.
Such text is called spamoetry (spam poetry) or spam art. Since the text is often derived from actual books, this is effectively a cut-up method.
The anarchist group, the CrimethInc ex-worker's collective's book, "Recipes For Disaster" featured a recipe entitled "behavioural cut-ups". This recipe is a method of changing one's life by performing activities which are perceived as (at a basic level) cutting up two socially acceptable, routine behaviours and attaching them to form a creative, amusing activity. It is intended that you perform one or a series of cut-ups for a long amount of time until it becomes second nature and your behaviour is altered significantly.
The theory's most obvious root in cut-ups is the basic behavioural cut-up. You take a list of things you do every day, and a list of things that scare you and apply the cut-up technique to both lists. For example, the text suggests: Public Transportation and Public Speaking. The user is supposed to become used to making speeches on the subway or bus.
The recipe suggests, for example, taking a toaster and doing one of a list of odd things with it- among these are giving it a face and personality, talking to it and taking it with you wherever you go.
- P-Orridge, Genesis. "Magick Squares and Future Beats." Book of Lies: The Disinformation Guide to Magick and the Occult. The Disinformation Company, 2003: 103-118 ISBN 0-9713942-7-X
- Conversations with William S. Burroughs - Interviews from various publications assembled in a weblog
- Industrial Records
- Markov chain
- Surrealist techniques
- Bastard pop
- Dissociated press
- Surrealist techniques
- Assemblage (composition)
- Vocabularyclept poetry
- Found poetry