Podcast: Jean Tinguely

JEAN TINGUELY, SCULPTOR – American Highways #63

Artist Jean Tinguely invented machines that were described as “paroxysms of junk”, His dancing sculptures, made out of discarded gears, wheels, motors, and scrap metal, were by turns joyous, funny, savage, frightening, or endearing.

In this episode of American Highways, pianist Guy Livingston brings us music inspired by the current retrospective in Amsterdam of Tinguely’s artworks. This eclectic playlist features The Talking Heads, The Velvet Underground, Harry Partch, Vanessa Lann, Hexnut, Eric Chasalow, John Zorn, Fred Frith, Lou Reed, and John Cale. Music inspired by machines!


Jean Tinguely music playlist

Gismo, 1960 Photo- Gert Jan van Rooij Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, c/o Pictoright Amsterdam, 2016



Theme Music :
Steve Reich. The Desert Music (1984)
First Movement (Fast).
Chorus of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Members of the Brooklyn Philharmonic, Michael Tilson Thomas & William Carlos Williams.
Nonesuch Records 79101.

David Byrne
Houses In Motion
Talking Heads
Rhino Records R2 76488

Eric Chasalow
Symphony of Popular Misconceptions (What Is Essential)
Eric Chasalow, electronics
Suspicious Motives Records 2015

Lou Reed
Venus In Furs (Stereo Version)
The Velvet Underground & Nico
Verve 823 290-2

Guy Livingston
raffinerie carrée “trop rapide, trop d’algues”
Guy Livingston, prepared piano
un-released, 2012

John Zorn
Jeffrey Zeigler, cellist
Innova (ACF) 2014

Fred Frith
First Riddle
Fred Frith & Ensemble Modern; Franck Ollu, cond.
WDR & Winter 910 044-2 LC 02829

Lou Reed & John Cale
The Trouble With Classicists
Lou Reed & John Cale
Warner Bros/Sire 9 26140-2

Harry Partch
Ring Around The Moon – Second Phase
John Schneider, Partch ensemble

Vanessa Lann
Is a Bell… a Bell?
Isabelle Ettenauer, toy piano
Attacca ATT 2015146

Trio Strakke Lucht
Erik De Clercq, Erik Langeveld, Martin de Ruiter
ThuisLabel 01

Roger Kleier
Put One In His Brain
Roger Kleier, guitar, electronics
Rift CD 18

T. Haake/F. Thordendal
The Exquisite Machinery of Torture
Hexnut Ensemble
Karnatic Lab KLR 013

Tom Waits, arr. Ned McGowan
What’s He Building in There?
Hexnut Ensemble
Karnatic Lab KLR 013

John Zorn
John Zorn’s Naked City
Tzadik ‎– TZ 7312

jean-tinguely musique et machine

Jean Tinguely with Moulin, 1963, © Museum Tinguely, Basel Photo- Monique Jacot



Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
Tinguely Museum, Basel

The Exhibit in Amsterdam

Jean Tinguely – Machine Spectacle, 1 Oct 2016 – 5 Mar 2017
Jean Tinguely is famous for his playful, boldly kinetic machines and explosive performances. Everything had to be different, everything had to move. Precisely twenty-five years after his death, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam features a Tinguely retrospective: the largest-ever exhibition of the artist to be mounted in a Dutch museum.

Music Machines at the Tinguely Museum in Basel

On Saturday, November 12th, Museum Tinguely is hosting a concert within the 20th Martinů Festival in Basel. Ensemble Metropolis – composed of top musicians of leading Swiss orchestra, as well as international award winners – will be performing Martinů’s opera The Tears of the Knife.

Jean Tinguely, Méta-Harmonie II, 1978 (front), Pandämonium N°1 – Méta-Harmonie 3, 1984 (back right), Méta-Harmonie II, 1978 (back left) Installation view at Museum Tinguely, Basel

Jean Tinguely, Méta-Harmonie I, 1978 (front), Pandämonium N°1 – Méta-Harmonie 3, 1984 (back right), Méta-Harmonie II, 1978 (back left). [Special tours lasting half an hour are organised each 2nd and 4th Tuesday of the month.]

Some Personal Notes

The machines have their own music, their own sounds: I wanted to create a soundtrack for them – but that’s the wrong idea – they all have unique sounds, which are irregular, and fascinating. Loud or soft, they should be listened to.

And there are even machines which make their own music using pieces of broken instruments, tubing, ball bearings, drumsticks, piano parts, etc, though these are not on display in Amsterdam. They are part of a special exhibit in Switzerland, at the official Tinguely museum in Basel. I’ve been to that museum more than once, and it’s exceptional. An overwhelming and wonderfully kooky experience.

His stance was anti-elitist, and he enjoyed showing his rusty, messy, unpredictable machines in the context of stark white galleries and museums. The more contrast, the better. Destruction, decay, but also strength and power, were all part of his philosophy. Many were joyous, free, and used a simplicity of means, just a few gears and springs, to create wildly complex movements. Some machines destroyed themselves in dazzling explosions, or fizzled out with a whimper, others happily hobbled around, like a dog with a sore foot. And of course some generated more art – rolls and rolls of paper with scribbled paint.

If you are at the Stedelijk, look for the 4 radio sculptures, which use functioning radios in strange and ridiculous ways, as the voicebox for these child-size machines. They have speakers which look like heads, and they squawk static and the occasional bit of music, while waving feathers or rubber bits as they rock back and forth.


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