Isidore Isou, The Founding Father of Lettrism

The National Center for Dance in Bucharest recently debuted this year’s repertoire of shows with a unique event celebrating Isidore Isou, the founding father of Lettrism. 

He was born and grew up in Romania but moved to Paris shortly after World War II broke and later became a prominent figure of the avant-garde scene alongside the likes of Tristan Tzara and André Breton. His passion was poetry and, after conducting some serious research in the history of literature, he came to the conclusion that its current form was what he called amplic – simply following the same old blueprint for hundreds of years. It was time to enter the chiseling phase of poetry, starting with the most basic elements of writing and visual communication. Deconstructing and renewing the foundations of art was a major preoccupation among dadaists and surrealists alike, yet Isou wanted to separate himself from these movements. He identified the most basic elements of a poem as the letters – visual symbols and acoustic sounds devoid of semantic content – and began a formal revolution. New sounds and symbols were added, new configurations took shape, Lettrism was born, a purely formal type of poetry with no meaning. It infected all areas of the arts: painting, cinema, photography and of course, music. Isou had a long and outstanding career and is still a source of inspiration today.

Although born in Romania, Isou is virtually unknown in his native country, constantly overshadowed by the more famous Tristan Tzara and dadaism, something Lettrism was allegedly opposing. This is probably why the CNDBevent debuted with a short excerpt from a documentary by the none other than Orson Wells, interviewing a young Isidore explaining Lettrism: a gibberish mix between known letters and other sounds like lip smacking, humming, whistling, all for acoustic effect. The sounds themselves mean nothing but they are definitely intriguing, sacrificing the discursive element of poetry for unheard-of voice modulations and resonance, resulting in a strange kind of music.

So Lettrism takes the shape of poetry, music, even dancing (since we are at the National Center for Dance) or all of them combined, as one of the evening’s performers proceeded to demonstrate in a “Lettrist Recital”. Loré Lixenberg is a Mezzo Soprano known for her wide range and quality of voice and her ability to fully immerse herself in any and all performances. It was only fitting for such an artist to grace us with her take on Lettrism by showcasing, for the first time in Romania, five works by Isou himself. I wouldn’t call these works poems, but rather a series of signs and indications for spelling and pronouncing various sounds and unintelligible words along with gestures and actions that accompany them. 

Written by Marina Oprea.

Read the article here

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