Cut-up technique  

From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia

(Redirected from Cut up)
Jump to: navigation, search

Related e



Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel

The cut-up technique is an aleatory literary technique or genre in which a text is cut up at random and rearranged to create a new text.



The cut-up and the closely associated fold-in techniques are literary writing styles that try to break the linearity of common literature. They are designed to be used with common typewriters.

  • 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

Burroughs cited T. S. Eliot's poem, The Waste Land (1922) and John Dos Passos' U.S.A. trilogy, which incorporated newspaper clippings, as early examples of the cut ups he popularized.

Gil J. Wolman developed cut-up techniques as part of his lettrist practice in the early 1950s.

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.

Argentine writer Julio Cortázar often used cut ups in his 1963 novel Hopscotch.

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.

Literary influence

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.

From at least the early 1970s, David Bowie has used cut-ups to create some of his lyrics. It is a technique which came to influence Kurt Cobain's songwriting.

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.

In the film Downtown 81, the band Tuxedomoon can be seen performing using a similar method of reading phrases from cut-up papers.

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.

Email cut-ups

A recent phenomenon is an e-mail spam tactic in which randomly-generated text passages are used to thwart Bayesian filters. For example,

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.

Behavioural cut-ups

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.


See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Cut-up technique" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

Personal tools