Manifesting Meaning from a Performance or Cruelty: Parallels in the Musical Experimentalism of Antonin Artaud and Sub Ordnance

Cat Hope, Sam Gillies

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


This paper attempts to draw parallels between the French playwright, poet, actor and theatre director Antonin Artaud’s (1896-1948) philosophy of the Theatre of Cruelty and the works of various musicians in both past and present forms of musical experimentalism. For Artaud, cruelty was inherent to life. Mere existence was an “inescapably necessary pain, without which life could not continue” (Artuad, 1993, p. 80). Could it be this conflict, this inherent cruelty and the need to express it that drives the various facets of experimentalism in art? Although Artaud’s writings were primarily focused on the theatre, the concepts that underpin them can be applied to a musical context. This essay seeks to apply such a reading to the context of experimental composers and musicians such as Americans John Cage (1932-1992), David Tudor (1954-1993) and Frenchman Edgard Varèse (1906-1961). as well as the contemporary West Australian noise group Sub Ordnance, a group whose instrumentation of drum set and chainsaw suggests that parallels to Artaud’s concept of cruelty may be closer to home than we might have considered.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationSound Scripts
Subtitle of host publicationProceedings of the 2009 Totally Huge New Music Conference
EditorsCat Hope
Publisher Australian Music Centre
Number of pages6
ISBN (Print)9780909168773
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes
EventTotally Huge New Music Festival 2009 - Perth, Australia
Duration: 30 Oct 200931 Oct 2009


ConferenceTotally Huge New Music Festival 2009

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