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Jaap Blonk Presents a Dada Work That's on Par With Duchamp and Breton

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Damon Smith, a Houston-based double bass player and visual artist, completely remembers the first time he heard an interpretation of Kurt Schwitters's Ursonate, a piece of Dada art that's the sonic equivalent of the readymades of Marcel Duchamp in terms of scope and impact.

"I think to have a sound poem organized in sonata form is ground breaking," says Smith, who first heard the piece performed by Eberhard Blum on a hatART record.

Smith is one of the individuals responsible for bringing Jaap Blonk, who will present Schwitters's sonata that's entirely constructed out of phonetics, to Rice University on Tuesday. Blonk, a Dutch composer, musician and poet, is one of the best performers of the Dada-era piece that should be in the same conversation as visual heavyweights Man Ray and André Breton.

"[Blonk] was a saxophonist who stumbled onto the idea to work with voice while singing along with Archie Shepp's 'Three for a Quarter, One for a Dime,'" says Smith, who first played with Blonk at a festival in Palermo (Sicily), Italy in 1998. "He then researched historical sound poetry and began learning the historical works, writing his own and improvising with the ideas with improvisers."

Because the German-language piece doesn't contain a proper score or formal dynamics, it's up to Blonk -- who has been performing the sound poem since 1982 -- to make it special. Smith thinks that Blonk is one of best at it.

The Ursonate isn't the only thing Blonk is getting into during his Houston stay. Tonight at AvantGarden, he'll be performing in a quintet format with Pennsylvania woodwind cat Jack Wright and locals Smith, David Dove (trombone) and Sandy Ewen (guitar). At 7 p.m. Monday, Blonk will perform with an improvised music quintet during the They, Who Sound concert series at AvantGarden, 411 Westheimer. At 7 p.m. Tuesday, Blonk will interpret Kurt Schwitters's Ursonate at the Keith-Weiss Geology Building, Room 100, at Rice University, 6100 Main Street; a discussion about Schwitters and Dada will follow. For more information, check out Jaap Blonk's website.

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