MARCEL DUCHAMP, Contrepetrie, 1968 [vinyl record on empty portfolio]
ca 28 x 18 x 2 cm / ca 11 x 7 x 0.8 inches
relief letters, record 7’0”, paper
published by The Letter Edged in Black Press Inc. / William Copley, New York 1968
Collection Kees van Gelder, Amsterdam
The SMS portfolios were a collaboration between William Copley & Dmitri Petrov which they published through their Letter Edged in Black Press Inc., working with some of the most important artists of the twentieth century. Exemplifying the community ethos of the ’60s, Copley sought to produce a new form of art journal that would bypass traditional institutions to distribute the artist’s work directly to its audience instead. Copley accepted contributions in almost any medium, carefully reproducing each artwork in his Upper West Side studio. All contributors, from the world-renowned to the obscure, received the same sum of $100 for their work. Presented without comment, each portfolio was mailed directly to subscribers every two months. Only six portfolios were produced, in an edition of 2000. Each portfolio contained from eleven to thirteen artist objects.
This SMS #2 edition is a seven-minute recording by Duchamp of “contrepetrie,” a word play involving transposing words, letters, and syllables and their sounds to make puns and effect new meanings. Record is part of S.M.S. magazine No.2 – April 1968.
The magazine came in the shape of a white folder which contained art multiples by the following artists:
1. Nicolas Calas 2. Bruce Connor 3. Marcia Herscovitz 4. Alain Jacquet 5. Ray Johnson 6. Lee Lozano 7. Meret Oppenheim 8. Bernard Pfreim 9. George Reavey 10. Clovis Trouille 11. Marcel Duchamp (the record).
Magazine cover reads “A guest + a host = a ghost, Marcel Duchamp 1953”.
Record is fixed with nut and bolt to the magazine.
Part of a folio of artist multiples, Marcel Duchamp’s piece works on at least two levels. One side of this disc features a short word game printed on black paper which covers the area of any grooves. The text “esquivons les ecchymoses esquimeaux aux mots exquis” (trans. ‘Let us dodge the bruises of the Eskimoes in exquisite words’). It is based on an element in Duchamp’s anagrammatically named filmplays on the similarity of the sound of words with quite different meaning and is one of the many circular texts seen rotating on similar discs in Duchamp’s film “Anemic Cinema”. The whole series of text is read by Duchamp on the opposite side of the disc in a 7 minute recording. While almost all are in French, Duchamp does include a single example in English: “my niece is cold because my knees are cold” which helps convey the sense of word play inherent in these pieces, and in fact in much of Duchamp’s work. The reading and circular representation of one of the texts display the circular aspects of these pieces which draw their sly humor from internal references within each stanza. While published in 1968, the recording sounds much older due to its thin quality, and may in fact have necessarily drawn from an archival source as Duchamp passed away that year. Adding to this, the record is haunted by a large amount of surface noise as the playing side was mounted directly to the folder cover enclosing SMS No. 2 leaving the surface exposed to more abuse. The combination of the fidelity and surface noise leaves the record sounding like an older 78 shellac disc even after extensively cleaning. Nonetheless, it is still an important document given the scant number of recordings of Duchamp’s calm speaking voice.
The work ‘Contrepetrie’ is mounted on a portfolio in which SMS # 2 was issued, being a part of the contribution to the magazine. Signed and dated in print verso on portfolio.