Cadavre Exquis


"Exquisite Corpse" A technique of serial blind composition.
A surrealist party game applied to electronic music.


Originating as a surrealist party game for words or pictures, the idea is extended here to include the composition of audio sequences.

Example audio sequences:


We will start with an introduction to the history of the original Cadavre Equis game.


Among Surrealist techniques exploiting the mystique of accident was a kind of collective collage of words or images called the "cadavre exquis (exquisite corpse)". Based on an old parlor game, it was played by several people, each of whom would write a phrase on a sheet of paper, fold the paper to conceal part of it, and pass it on to the next player for his contribution. The technique got its name from results obtained in an initial playing, "Le cadavre exquis boira le vin nouveau" (The exquisite corpse will drink the young wine). Other examples are: "The dormitory of friable little girls puts the odious box right" and "The Senegal oyster will eat the tricolor bread."

These poetic fragments were felt to reveal what Nicolas Calas characterized as the "unconscious reality in the personality of the group" resulting from a process of what Ernst called "mental contagion." At the same time, they represented the transposition of Lautreamont's classic verbal collage to a collective level, in effect fulfilling his injunction-frequently cited in Surrealist texts-that "poetry must be made by all and not by one." It was natural that such oracular truths should be similarly sought through images, and the game was immediately adapted to drawing, producing a series of hybrids the first reproductions of which are to be found in No. 9-10 of La Revolution surrealiste (October, 1927) without identification of their creators.


The game was adapted to the possibilities of drawing, and even collage, by assigning a section of a body to each player, though the Surrealist principle of metaphoric displacement led to images that only vaguely resembled the human form. One, by three hands, begins with a spider, which gives way to a man's torso the feet of which are formed by two jugs. Other, more interesting cadavres exquis were reproduced in a special issue of Variete's titled "Le Surealisme en 1929 (fig. 288). One of these begins with a woman's head by Tanguy, which dissolves into a jungle scene by Max Morise, returning to a female anatomy schematically indicated by Miro, and terminating in "legs" in the form of a fishtail and an engineer's triangle by Man Ray.

Andre Breton comments on the origination of the Cadavre Exquis


EXQUISITE CORPSE: Game of folded paper played by several people, who compose a sentence or drawing without anyone seeing the preceding collaboration or collaborations. The now classic example, which gave the game its name, was drawn from the first sentence obtained this way: The-exquisite-corpse-will-drink-new-wine.


The Exquisite Corpse was born, if we remember correctly (and if that is the proper expression), around 1925 in the old house at 54 rue du Chateau, since destroyed. There Marcel Duhamel, long before devoting himself to the perusal of American literature, made enough from his whimsical (if grandiose) participation in the hotel industry to lodge his friends Jacques Prevert and Yves Tanguy, who did not yet excel at anything except the art of living, while enlivening everything with their spirited outbursts. For a while Benjamin Peret also stayed there. Absolute non-conformism and universal disrespect was the rule, and great good humour reigned. It was a time for pleasure and nothing else. Almost every evening we gathered around a table where Chateau Yquem deigned to mingle its suave note with that of other, equally tonic local brews.

When the conversation - on the day's events or proposals of amusing or scandalous intervention in the life of the times - began to pall, we would turn to games; written games at first, contrived so that elements of language attacked each other in the most paradoxical manner possible, and so that human communication, misled from the start, was thrown into the mood most amenable to adventure. From then on no unfavourable prejudice (in fact, quite the contrary) was shown against childhood games, for which we were rediscovering the old enthusiasm, although considerably amplified. Thus, when later we came to give an account of what had sometimes seemed upsetting to us about our encounters in this domain, we had no difficulty in agreeing that the Exquisite Corpse method did not visibly differ from that of 'consequences'. Surely nothing was easier than to transpose this method to drawing, by using the same system of folding and concealing.


Ill-disposed critics in 1925-1930 gave further example of their ignorance when they reproached us for delighting in such childish distractions, and at the same time suspected us of having produced such monsters in broad daylight, individually, and more or less laboriously. In fact, what excited us about these productions was the assurance that, for better or worse, they bore the mark of something which could not be created by one brain alone, and that they were endowed with a much greater leeway, which cannot be too highly valued by poetry. Finally, with the Exquisite Corpse we had at our command an infallible way of holding the critical intellect in abeyance, and of fully liberating the mind's metaphorical activity. All of this is as valid on the graphic as on the verbal plane. We must add that along the way a considerable enigma arose, posed by the frequent encounter of elements with similar associational origins in the course of the collective production of a sentence or a drawing. This encounter not only provoked a vigorous play of often extreme discordances, but also supported the idea of communication between the participants - tacit, but in waves; this would have to be reduced to its rightful limits by control of the estimate of probabilities, but in the final analysis we believe that this communication tends to be confirmed as fact.

Because of the predetermined decision to compose a figure, drawings complying with the Exquisite Corpse technique, by definition, carry anthropomorphism to its climax, and accentuate tremendously the life of correspondences that unites the outer and inner worlds. These drawings represent total negation of the ridiculous activity of imitation of physical characteristics, to which a large and most questionable part of contemporary art is still anachronistically subservient. If only some salutary precepts of indocility might be opposed to its present array, take offence at the exclusion of all humour, and bring it around to a less larval sense of its means.

Andre Breton [From the catalogue of an exhibition at La Dragonne, Galerie Nina Dausset, Paris, 7-30 October 1948, entitled "Le Cadavre Exquis: Son Exaltation", p.5-7, 9-11.1


The Exquisite Corpse Synthesizer Patch


The "Exquisite Corpse" modular synthesizer patch is used inside a multi-track recording environment and allows the producer to experiment with "automatic" mixing. Individual tracks of a multitrack recorder are passed through controllable gates (VCAs) into a mixer. A variety of synthesizer resources can be used to control the level of individual tracks by automatic means. These include (but are not limited to) random voltages, sequencers and envelope generators. The resulting mixdown can then be said to be automatic (that is under machine control). However, unlike conventional automated mixing, the mixdowns can be unique for each attempt. It is presented as an amusement, and an experimental technique for producing disjoint sound sequences.

If a number of individuals were to record tracks on a multi-track recorder, without listening to what was on the other tracks, this "blind" composition begins resemble the Cadavre Exquis party game. In this case, a single individual can generate an exquisite corpse. Using a multi-track, it is possible to do blind composition with a single individual, something you can not do with writing or drawing.

This example makes use of the Voltage Controlled Electro-Optical Mixer and Wiard Woggle Bug module.