Hip Hop (Part 2 of X): Subverting the tools is cool

HipHop (Part 2 of X) : Subverting the Tools is Cool

other people do the person x and y did this or that track…this isn’t one of those articles..

Digital Watches Mark The Beginning…
The moon landing set the seed of the expanding future in our parents minds of outer space and endless possibility of technology. It truth though it seemed to have no relevance on earth other than B-movie plots about giant slugs. The science fiction was confined mostly to the public imagination and private government spending and research. A generation or so later we fast forward to the 80’s and the children aren’t looking up at the skies dreaming like their parents did. Instead they are looking at the game Pong on a TV screen – transfixed by it’s simple glow – it was like Stanley Kubricks monolith had landed among the apes once again.

The 80’s was pivotal because young people around the world began to own electrical shit that wasn’t a powertool and things were branching out quite alot since the digital watch creeped into the 70’s. We weren’t building outside the mind with engines and cars and architecture – now we began to build concepts and models that weren’t in stone or glass or paint – they were in 1’s and 0’s and we couldn’t even physically touch them. Computers and digital watches with big red led faces and a whole pantheon of consumer goods hit the stores – the future was back with a vengeance. It was now possible to make electrical and computer gear cheaper and that meant mass uptake. Television and media programming helped the birth of a new language and phenomenon containing silicon, storage, memory and other digi-related nouns. The children of the 80’s saw no reason for this surge of technology to stop and they were right. The birth of the digital age? The era of electricity? …..

Like so many sociological changes it must be mass change by definition. The chaos unleashed by letting loose the peoples of the world on this technology was a glorious thing. Only by trying all the permutations of these new tools would we even begin to find out what was possible. Do you think the first person to refine iron imagined the uses it would be put to – it ended up defining an age.

Now although we are all quite happy (my readers at least) with the concept of using an invention for something it’s not meant for that doesn’t mean everybody is happy about that. Those in power always own the current culture and they have built it using the tools and the social realities they understand. They have put money into radio being sent out in a certain way, running big studios with analog desks, charging for sending information back and forth….you get the picture….the music and the film industries seem to be the perfect example of this. Youth being youth don’t give a shit how their parents did things and thankfully this bucking at tradition keeps culture from falling into a big black hole called entropy. It’s important we try all the permutations and as there are billions of us it’s not too hard to do.

Subverting the Tools?
So the revolutionaries, the new breed – how do they come into the mix and change things? What do you mean subverting? What about hip hop man? Okay…I promise I’ll get there 😉

  • 1835, Samuel Morse proved that signals could be transmitted by wire. It gives birth to the morse code industry which is then killed off in 1877 by a rival – the telephone. Same mechanism different concept about encoding signals.
  • 1877 : Thomas Edison invented the phonograph in 1877. He thought it was going to be useful for recording contractual agreements as they would be clearer…, of course it kick started the music industry and he only joins in because his competitors threaten to overtake him.
  • 1940’s cassette tape invented and soon after two French mentalists (Pierre Shaeffer and Pierre Henry) experiment with playing it backwards and forwards aswell as chopped up and looped – ‘musique concrete’. Definitely not normal behaviours but such irreverence to the medium gave birth to all sound ‘chopping’ of today.
  • 1946: ENIAC – the first electronic digital computer, is switched on and in 1957 Lejaren Hiller and Leonard Isaacson got a computer to compose a piece of music then played by a string quartet.
  • 1951: Sun Studios in Memphis, guitarist Willie Kizart dropped his amp and busted a speaker cone. The result was an “unruly hum” as heard on Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston and the Delta Cats – it’s the beginning of distortion as a legit sound and not an engineering mistake. Culture decides – fucked up sounding is like my life so leave the noisy bit in please….Hendrix lights up the 70’s using distortion – redefining guitar.
  • 1981: Kraftwerk develop bespoke instruments from random computer gear not intended for music such as mainframes , calculators and retrofitting rhythm devices to research gear.
  • 1989 Internet invented (or ‘running’) Web and hypertext itself. Originally, TBL just wanted to help physicists publish and share their works. Little did they know blah blah..

Good or should I say ‘Functionally Healthy’ subcultures fuck with the existing tools of the mainstream or current culture. They play with it like a child and sometimes they go ‘WAh!!” and break it. The inventors can never imageine what the children will really do. People invent things from other things. They have to – it’s what’s around. They take back the power by subverting and bending existing innovations to create their own subculture. They can’t invest in new technologies because they don’t have the cash – they have to use what is already around.

We should really think of the present and the future as waves that are crashing upon themselves. That’s a lot of noise and froth. Now digital technology was part of the sea. The Ying of our Digital Inventions to the Yang of the Analog World.

In the 1980’s there was a great wave called HipHop which rose to three times the height in the ocean – a culture tsunami – three waves combined to make one seriously big wave and subsequently a sea change.


WAVE 1 : MUSIC : The tempo of revelation

One other element about the beginnings of this electronic music was that it allowed artists to have their compositions run at an exact tempo – over and over again with reliability. This was a very big deal and was a massive break from the analog world of flamenco guitar players, bagpipers and rock groups where the musicians would naturally move around the tempo – if they were excited they might play faster – and of course for compositional effect they may choose to speed up and slow down.

Let’s remember that music is physical – it’s waves (and particles) coming out of those speakers all over your body and into your ear. The ability to make the tempo run at exactly 80 or 90 beats per second for the duration of the piece meant that the audience were ‘hypnotised’ in a new way – an almost scientific way. Our body has tempo’s and clocks built into it (stomach, brain, eye, heart) and when we are subjected to music for a duration of time we will naturally tend to resonate or ‘merge’ with it. Same as you do when you bob around in the sea….it’s hard to avoid.

My contention is that a constant stable tempo is a good tempo to receive ‘programming’ while a varying tempo is a good fun for an ‘exciting ride’ of emotions – yes I do mean the difference between rap and rock ‘n’roll … kinda. James Brown had moved towards the repetitive metronomic funk in the analog world with his band that were fined wages for wrong notes and then it went even further with hip hop – dissecting real and unreal grooves like wizards of stereo sound and pushing and pulling the rhythms and sound collages back and forth by a measure of milliseconds.

One of my favourite images of Lee Perry is some video footage of him in the Studio where he sticks his head up to the control room window and shouts at the drummer “Play it like a Machine Man or I kill you…Do you hear me man!?” Lee Perry knew that the hypnotic effect of dub was better achieved by keeping the tempo or ‘spell’ constant.

The smart hip hoppers get this and I remember hearing KRS-1 say that hip hop is the tempo of revelation. A good tempo for the narrator to get inside your brain. Black youth were rightly twitchy and agitated and when the tech democratisation of two turntables and a microphone allowed anyone to get involved – well a lot of people had a lot of things to say in the black community …this element in the music spoke to me…. the energy – the growls – the chaos – the truth

Check it

  • adult human heart, at rest, beats at about 70 bpm (males) and 75 bpm (females).
  • Hip hop tempo 70-110 bpm
  • House 110-140 bpm
  • Jungle 140-190 bpm. (But that’s really a half-time gig:)
  • 200 onwards – lunatics with drill samples

So hip hop is generally just above our natural ‘rest’ point and just before our shake out booty point. It’s pitched just right above your natural rest state – an incitement to get up…to be motivated…to kill inaction… to stand up – stop resting….that’s why when it hit in the US first it was the voice of revalation….the English language was being rolled and twisted and stuttered and presented back to it’s semi-owners….they didn’t understand it….the people understood it – never since the Celts and the Indians took a hold of the English language and shook some poetry into it had the medium of English speech been shaken. 1980’s baby. Forget shit like Ultravox….couple of good tracks but nothing that blasted a hole as big as this….hip hop was an explosion…..a verbal explosion at the tempo of revalation…..thank the gods the voice had became much stronger and not a moment too soon….

Lots of people were super unhappy about this new powerful voice. They had been in the mind games business long enough to know this was a powerful tool. They didn’t understand the language of the music and the lawyers didn’t really know how to legislate for the chopping up and sampling of the existing copyrighted funk tunes and rare grooves that were ‘liberated’. The content of the lyrics were confrontational – voices that have been quashed always shout when they can first make sound again. …and like a loud sound in a public place everyone turned their head to look.

The scene and ideologies galvanised people – the lexicon and approach spread and before you know it…..the ripples reached the UK and then into even further unchartered territory – the lost lands of Cowdenbeath…..me imploring relatives to bring back books on graffiti from their trips to New York….the ripple went far and it changed the ocean..

Stravinsky succinctly reminds us not to be precious with owt:

“the danger lies not in the borrowing of clichés. The danger lies in fabricating them and in bestowing on them the force of law, a tyranny….”

I remember hearing Public Enemy’s ‘Nation of Millions’ and ‘Fear Of a Black Planet’ for the first time and the human drama was as visceral as Mozarts requiems. What have I heard in the UK that’s done the same for me? Asian Dub foundation and after that on the polticial voice rising there wasn’t much….but now everyone has ‘settled’ in the West we are now discovering that we are still unhappy and can’t quite put the finger on it….oh yeah – we are all born into a world already carved up…;)

The new houses are often built using the bricks of the old for reasons of pragmatism – it’s what was lying around. And for hip hop events that meant old records, bits of electronics, street sound samples and big sound systems cobbled together from multiple speakers.

There was also a counterpart to the gig or party that the music had going on which was the graffiti ‘happening’…where one day from nowhere a massive mural/piece would appear from nowhere throwing the whole context of an area into another dimension….it could have been a moving train or the side of a burnt out building. Andy Warhol is his biggest wet dream wishes you could have conspired poetic events such as these…..instead he fannied around safely indoors replicating expensive colours on top of expensive materials and fabrics. Graffitti writers nicked the paint and worked at night by torchlight and spoke with a visual style that the overstudied and frazzled Warhol could never plug into.

These burners could never be sold and after a while the graffitti writers got into business although the mainstream was onto it already. Beat Street and all kinds of movies helped graffiti blow up everywhere.

It’s a fact that you have to burn to want to do graffiti – it’s not easy – the proportions, the paint running, the speed of operation and the fact that it’s against the law and the stopwatch doesn’t last long from the first fence climbed into the yard makes. When you are not allowed to take part in the development of the way the cities and countries look architecturally then the under classes will always just do their thing on top of it….

In fact it tends to be a feature of democratic states with fascist undertones (US…..northern Ireland, Spain…Paris etc….graffiti/burners/murals are common in all of these places …and now in Eastern Europe things are on the rise with excellent graffiti writers doing their thing – the context just as poetic as any…..it’s the resistance trying to lift the spirits of the people ….the democratic bit means that you don’t get executed for the graffiti….although Mayor Kotsch in New York was close to passing the law;)

It’s clear that graffiti (Greek for ‘writing’) as manifest in the Hip Hop culture saw the age old tradition of rebellious defacing of property updated to new heights – these pieces were not just the simple complaints of citizens with a a scrawl on a Colleseum wall – these we moving trains of steel covered on sometimes more than 2 cars – a huge rainbow going through the city…. Or Spitting demons on the side of a liquor store, cartoon characters from the nations youth were twisted and distorted on huge walls. The kids were having ‘their way’ with the mindset of the people.

Wildstyle graffiti was the epitome of this visual subversion and it was the most covert of codes – a complicated construction of interlocking letters often completely undecipherable to non-writers.

My uncle brought that book back from America and it was hot – he must have been connected OR things had went so mainstream that he picked it up at K-Mart or Macies more like. It was 1984 Henry Chalfant and Martha Cooper, – Subway Art. It’s even got big gatefold pullout sections!

I’’ve watched these two resources below and they are solid and have been for years…ones for your favourites…tell em this article sent ye…



The paths to dancing before break dancing took the streets were :

1.Ballet -> jazzdance -> then solo improv’s where you might express your inner whatever. It cost a lot.
2. Life with a gypsy troupe doing flamenco and Indian dances, being hounded by the police and doing dramatic stuff round campfires.
3. ‘Ethnic’ Dance. Don’t get me started.
3. Tap Lessons from your Granddad.
4. HipHopRoute : Straight to a lino shop and then down your mates and expressed your inner whatever.

Those weird moves that came into being….all the shudders, and sine waves through the body and the ‘robot’ and the repeated movements were like the movements of the times….the tech mindset had entered dance….which made sense when you think about how ‘things’ end up in dance…

Waving your arms around your head and making a whooshing sound like a nonce happened because of the branches on trees swaying to our ancestors who mimicked it ……makes sense that the tech’ should enter dance at some point …..it wasn’t the trees now it was moves like ‘helicopter’, ‘colt 45’, ‘jackhammer’ and ‘drill headspin’. The floorwork of breaking, which is most like gymnastics, seemed to concentrate on the urban machine shapes while the dance moves of those popping and locking crew on the west coast were digital, electronic and spage age like : robot(tin), Strobing, Ticking, (energy)Waving, animation popping, gliding

Do you think the inventor of the strobe light thought that dancers would try and make it look like they were under a strobe light that wasn’t there – artificially cutting visual frames to appear stuttered under normal lighting…..no way – chaos was in delicious effect and the dancers were having it….the jazz and ballet dancers shat themselves and quickly aligned to include ‘street’ dance into the syllabus…..they might as well have called it tech dance.

My opinion on breakdancing…I think that breaking now in 2006 concentrates way too much on floorwork gymnastics and not enough on being the funkiest bastard in the universe….and that’s why my allegiance lies with the California poppers and lockers …… plus I’ve hurt myself in the past doing floor stuff way too many times. Check these typical break-dance injuries! My favourite times in hiphop clubs was never around when the best DJ was playing it was when a crew out of nowhere starts to get down in the club……breakdancing can occur anywhere and when it does….it’s unbeatable. …the ballet is nice but breakin is the shit.

The world of dance had changed overnight….finally the techno in our minds and our society melted into dance moves….. the progression of dance moved one step further from jazz -> breaking.

It is the role of the sub-culture to subvert the mechanisms of the upper culture – it’s homely term is called ‘stirring the pot’ and the military term is storming the castle using the enemies guns against them. It comes out in all different ways in history ….. and in 1980 it happened as Hip Hop on three fronts of music, dance and graphics.

It had a synergy with all three elements happening at the same time and it’s impact is still felt today. It’s a spirit – I often think the punk bands have a bigger connection with the spirit of hip-hop than some of the current hip hoppers do….

Hip hop is almost a methodology rather than a genre.
Hip Hop’s genesis was about reinvention of tech and language for empowerment.
Young Black America spoke with poignancy at the right time and the right tempo of revelation for it to sink in right. Things changed overnight.

….and here it is in 2006 – i recorded a record called Elemental with a buddy 4D in sanfrancisco. We used an ipod as our hard-drive and did it in a kitchen on a laptop. New orleans had revealed just how the government felt about black folks when in a crisis and the rappers that came through the kitchen had no real problem in getting heat….we didn’t do rehearsals – it was … here’s the beat and go….that’s punk, that’s jazz, that’s hip hop and the truth of the matter is on the record – yes this is a plug but it’s a righteous one. We hope to do some shows in the summer.

people – if you got to the end of this then thankyou…..it’s been on my mind you know?



I left my pimped USB game controller in SanFrancisco

I’m serious. I had it all ready to use as a lightsabre cum play start stop trigger augmentary physical groove device…..anyways I digresss…

San Francisco you big whore…i love ya.

Before my recent visit I was looking in on America from the eye of the teleivison and I see how dangerous that can be – in all kinds of ways….it’s better to consume actual Americans to get an idea of America.

I came over and I got the idea all right….there’s intelligence, fire, anger, passion, LOADS OF ISMS, fear, sub-sub-subugenres, ….people talk of their futures now more solidly than ever before…..the landscape has popped into view with recent events and I hear tales of escape, tales of empire building, the coming social winters and mostly tales of a hunger for change…

It’s like all the movies going at once sometimes.

I used to think of Americans as little children but it’s not the case at all . . . . the genesis of their country has spawned a country where you can’t really describe how an american looks, it has no common ancestory, the native peoples misnamed by Columbus – it’s like an Eden experiment and the bio devices are being pulled out of the wonder phase and into the mire….I love them and my heart bleeds for them now I’ve been so close to them…

I believe in the Americans I met. As Bill Hicks said – if we could get past shit, feed people, and unite we could explore space together in freedom and forever…..that;’s the scale of the shit and we need to work backwards from it.

Americans are driven crazy with race like no othe place I’ve been in. It’s simple – everyone has got to love every other race even if it takes free inter-racial porn to be secretly given out to spotty teenagers….their dicks know in their mini-hearts that all kinds are wired to work out just fine in our bones…

I’d also like to use this point in wandering blog to suggest once more the map of redemption idea I have which involves me, a massive swimming pool with a floating world map full of girls….I know I could help fix things with three days of that……

Words and the dance you get up to – I like the funky, dirty slide of SanFranciscan patter. I dig the cats and I love it when shit is hittin and spittin….I don’t dig Motherfucker as a word at all but I can’t stop using it – we should all agree to change that motherfucker..oops…bollocks…iscratch that word….editS£@$

Right – I’m falling around mad. i love you and this SanFrancisco thing isn’t a fad. Listen up I was serious about that gamepad thing and all the boogaloo I’ve yet to do with you. I am me, She is She and You are You – I’m all about the voodoo..

Peace but agression where needed
Schmwoah xxxx

Sacred Geometry

Sacred Geometry

Systems of hidden numbers and formulas. Templates from nature and belief systems and language founded on numeric relationships.

With unlimited applicaiton domains it’s no wonder that Stock Brokers, Designers, Painters, Musicians and many others dip into these frameworks and numerical relaitionships inherent in nature. I recently used one of the sacred geometric forms to undertake some music and the results were mind bogglingly good although the strucure was very hard to play with half bars dotted everywhere in the structure pattern (track called ‘The Waves’ from the album Radio Wonderlust Vol 1.

Check out the links below for your next big project. ** checked as of 23 Oct 2005 **


 Sacred Geometry-Star Mapping

Sacred Landscape Geometry 2000, Rennes, Simon Miles

Baconian Evidence for Royal (Son of Queen Elizabeth) Lineage & Shakespeare Authorship. (http://www.sirbacon.org/) Image libraries and abundant scholarly detail about the Bacon story is assembled wonderfully there.

Designer Genes Bacon/Shakesphere Son of Queen Elizabeth -Franklin Library/Bruton

Bacon -Shakesphere -Queen Elizabeth, Bruton Vault, Geomantic Blueprint for Americas Spiritual Destiny AND Eldorado -Atlantis from Amarushka-http://www.goldencapstone.org/

Eagle in Pennsylvania (head of appalachian “spine”),

Rennes Southern France Geometric in Much Greater Detail: Precedent for the Templar Re-Pent Agenda?

Templar Fabric of Time- William Buehler’s

‘The Builder’s of Chartres’ book, Bernard of Clairveaux & Templar.

offset PENT on MARS face Cydonia GEOMETRIC(from enterprisemission.com

– John Michell’s book “Simulacra”: Faces on the Land… etc.. etc..

Astronomy in Japan:Yowatashi Boshi
Japanese Star Loreof Orion


Metropolis, Dada’ism and the Rise of the Machine.

Art, Technology and Social Feedback Loops

The mediator between the brain and the hand should be the heart”

This essay is an attempt to discuss issues regarding technology, culture and art how the artists palette was extended to include technology and cultural samples. This extension of art and society was once borne out of the need to co-exist with industrialization. The early 20th century, with the onset of industrialisation and science increasingly woven in society is a pivotal and perfect time in human history to explore this. I have chosen to concentrate on a few areas to illuminate my points :

  • The film Metropolis by Fritz Lang (1926)
  • The Dada movement
  • The first ‘World War’

The pivot point for the majority of this essay is the film Metropolis. This film was the first large scale piece of science fiction to be undertaken in cinema and both at once managed to be documentary and prophecy. The film has had a chequered history and taken a few critical beatings throughout the years however it has remained a zeitgeist moment in the culmination of politics, science and art made between the two World Wars.

It will be useful to examine the storyline of the film before we proceed onto how society influenced it and how it has influenced society.

Metropolis is a film with a universal theme of oppression set in the future (2026) one hundred years from when it was made. Fritz Lang, the director, had the idea for Metropolis while visiting New York. It’s endless and sheer landscapes punctuated by the frantic action at ground level confirmed it as a truly modern city stretching itself towards the future.

Lang took this rough model of New York and stretched it one hundred years further. Langs futuristic city was one where anonymous creatures of labour fuelled machines that supported the city – their labour, like clockwork, turning the giant mechanisms that ran up through the great structures of steel and light. The tone of the film with it’s great structures, electricity and relentless machinery effectively conveyed an accelerated industrialization and scientific development.

In the film the workers are portrayed slave-like with shaved hung heads and black disheveled clothing. The workers inhabit below ground, the privileged elite inhabit the ground level while the upper echelons of the city are reserved for science and government.

These broad classifications of groups by Lang represented his experience of hierarchies in ci401cAustria and Germany and the five central characters that are developed in the film are stereotypes representing the major drives of society. The first is the Lord of Metropolis, John Frederson, who rules and dominates the whole city as opposed to governing it. The second is the state scientist and inventor, Rotwang a focused man intent on invention. The third is the son of the Lord of Metropolis, Freder a happy-go-lucky character and with no direction at the start of the film and the fourth is Maria, a leadership figure for the workers. She acts partly as union rep and priest for the underground masses as well as symbolizing purity and mother earth. The oppressed workers are effectively treated enmasse and as such are effectively desensitized. The final protagonist is a Robot – an invention of Rotwang brought to life using the soul of Maria as source material in an experiment.

Freder is enticed by Maria to go into the underground city and there he witnesses a worker struggling to keep up with the demands of the machine and subsequently dies. This awakening to the reality of Metropolis’ underbelly prompts him to go and tell his father what he saw. His father replies “it was their hands that built Metropolis”. The implication is that the masses are responsible for Metropolis.

Freder returns to the underground and trades places with one of the workers, asking him to take a message to his friend. The newly liberated worker however is waylaid and tempted by the lure of the red-light district in Metropolis – another device used by the city to contain men.

The relationship between the main characters in the film is complex and we discover that Rotwang and the Lord of Metropolis both loved the same woman a long time ago. The woman gave birth to Freder and subsequently died. Joh goes to meet Rotwang where Rotwang shows him a robot modeled on the woman that died explaining that all it is missing is a soul. Rotwang manages to bring the robot alive using the soul of captured Maria and then places the evil Robot Maria into the midst of the workers with the intent of thwarting their plans of revolt. Eventually the robot manages to convince the workers to take up violence and not peace and leads them to the machines – ordering them to be destroyed. The workers do so and subsequently the underground is flooded and their children are in danger of being drowned.

“The machines are bound by the people and the people are bound by the machines”

Meanwhile the real Maria escapes and attempts to stop the flooding and to save the children. In the underground city the workers are on a witch-hunt for Maria – they capture the robot, which is laughing wickedly, and burn her seeing the mechanisms underneath the fake flesh. Freder in an attempt to save the real Maria from Rotwang, battles with Freder with Rotwang falling to his death. The masses realize that in fact Freder is the mediator that they were seeking to represent them.

The film narrative is often criticized for being simplistic and of containing an antiquated romanticism while it’s visual content tends to be lauded very heavily. However one German left wing weekly magazine commented, “This is not just Metropolis it is all of Germany as we know it and experience it every day of our lives”. On release in 1926 the film did not do very well in German cinema due to the recession and the need for quick, snappy upbeat pictures to relieve the depression. It did, however, find favour with Hitler whose perverse misreading of Lang’s nightmare into dictatorial heaven prompted Lang to flee the very same day.

The First World War left an indelible mark on the psyche on the world, particularly Europe. Germany along with other countries was left with a feeling of disgust and anger at the war and the dull echo of the romanticism that seemed to precede the war was a fading memory. There was great poverty in the wake of such industrialization and the science at the time did not seem to favour the poor. The demise of the arts and crafts movement destroyed generations of skilled workers and replaced their varied skill set with mass-produced goods.

There was never a point in human history like that between the two World Wars. Before the war the majority of the Western world was adjusting it’s psyche to regular news on a worldwide basis. The collective witnessing of the war started a fire in the hearts of artists. Like all rage it is a primal and confused beast like a Frankenstein toying the objects near to it in confusion. Who are we and what have we become was the response of the art world. It gave us Dadaism as the opposition party to the madness of war and the pervasive mentality of the time. The issues were so great that political action and shock tactics took precedence over the gentle pursuit of landscaping. Old classifications such as artist or poet became meaningless – only personal revelation and interaction with the world around oneself was sufficient to right the wrongs. Art now dealt with war not on a tribal, gentry or parochial sense it dealt with collective consciousness.

How do we govern ourselves? Who are we governing? Why is science and technology going in the direction that it appears to be heading? A new requisite for synthesis with technology and industry was thrust upon us.

These questions and issues gave rise to the art movement of Dada whose principles were the antithesis of everything that led to the beginning of the First World War. A renunciation of Nationalism, a rejection of the bourgeois, a blurring of the dividing lines between artistic disciplines and a reduction of the sanctity of high art. German Dadaism along with most of a recovering Europe was inextricably intertwined with a sense of new politics. Dada was a revolution from the gut – it characterized not so much by what it stood for as what it stood against.

The philosophies of this art movement read more like a political manifesto and the notion of gallery showings was replaced with happenings designed to confuse, irritate and prompt action in it’s viewers. The recent war had shocked minds and in the opinion of the Dadaists, events as art were of higher value than the art itself which could only be hung in a gallery. The very nature of how we live, act and react was the fodder of their work. They intended social change not as a byproduct but as a direct result of their actions.

Dada was also the first movement to re-contextualise objects resulting in a body of works described as “ready mades” which used banal objects of everyday use. Dada was almost like cultural sampling of the society in which it lived and which it fed back into. Mass produced items were for the first time being considered under the banner of art rather than science and the blending of science and art continued for a great deal of the early 1900’s. The art of this time was asking questions on the global state of mankind and assessing it’s progress and toying with it’s physical and mental inventions.

ci401cIt is clear that this examination of society is underway in the film Metropolis. The examination of physical, political, social and scientific drives and conflicts flood throughout the film. The huge relentless machinery of Metropolis provide a poetical tempo and backdrop to the stereotypes of the main characters who represent science, government, workers, mother earth the robot as a final fusion of all of these. Lang, like the Dadaist Mondrian, uses technology to examine his feelings about technology and a great number of inventive filmic devices were employed to create the desired effect on screen – from optical tricks, re-projection of backdrop scenery, swinging cameras and the techno-wonder of the robot Maria coming to life.

Social comments are woven into the visual language of the film. The intricacies and interplay of society symbolized by wheels inside wheels. Mass production and industrial culture is shown to be served by man rather than the converse. The increasingly blurred division between human and machine illustrated by the joining of worker with the machine. The confusion over what is real and what isn’t when the workers mistake the Robot to be the real Maria. Confrontational shots of characters staring directly into the camera for sustained periods of time beckon the viewers opinion of the object in the same way the Dada happenings pushed it’s audience. Masses of workers with shaved heads trudge in rags around the belly of the beast – an awful precursory image of the horror yet to arrive in the Second World War.

Art and science have been blending together since we could draw circles and triangles. Industrialization forced us to look at concepts of mass production and the commoditisation of art and laterally a global culture forced us to reinterpret cultural fragments of ourselves including everything from the banal to the political. Art is blending new science and spirituality in the same way that Islamic painting has blended old science and spirituality for centuries. There are new breeds of painters like Philip Laffoley who draw on ancient and modern methods to blend sacred geometry with physics and paint.

Metropolis is a piece of technological poetry that belies its date of creation. The strong architectural, visual and symbolic nature of the work make it a visionary piece of film that despite flaws with narrative survive the truth that time brings. Metropolis both reflected what was happening at the time and fed back into what was happening at the time. The Second World War must have had scenes to match frames of Metropolis – the film is terrifying and shames the almost kitsch Star Wars by comparison. Star Wars also had an evil dictator who had a son that must intercede in the fathers evil. The allegory in all of this is that each generation is the father of tomorrow’s generation – will they too have to intercede to stop our madness?

The question of the worth of science and it’s over simplistic classification of good or evil belies the real questions that surrounded the artists of the turn of the century. Dadaism was not necessarily against technology neither was it for the wholesale embrace of it. Dadaism used science and society to explore science and society. It was a widening of the palette rather than a choice of direction.

This inclusion of technology in a wider sense of ourselves was a major step in the development of society and without it we can hardly imagine the revolutionary mindset of the 60’s, the satirical antics of Monty Python, the noisescape bulletins of Public Enemy or the sensibility of punk and irreverence of Vivienne Westwood clothes.

The question is how do we harmonise with technology and industry and retain our sense of humanity?

Metropolis attempts to answer this question in it’s final frame with the quote at the end of the film by saying that

“the mediator between the science of the brain and the body (society) which carries out the action must be the heart.”

Fritz Lang was a visionary. Managing a cast of thousands, employing the latest technologies and writing with in a strong political and spiritual fashion he created a truly modern opera of light and poetry that endures to this day.


The Nature of the Beast, Fritz Lang by Patrick McGilligan

Fritz Lang by Lotte H.Eisner

Fritz Lang, The Image and the Look by Stephen Jenkins

Marcel Duchamp by Gloria Moure

The Dada Painters and Poets by Robert Motherwell and Jack D Flam

Futurism and Dadaism by Jose Piere

Various Internet resources