Songs for Surrealists
Even if you didn’t know it, you’ve probably played an Exquisite Corpse game, fashioned by the Surrealists in the 1920s to explore the mystique of chance and the power of the collective unconscious. In the basic word and drawing games, a player begins by writing part of a sentence or creating a section of a drawing on a piece of paper, then folding it and passing the paper to the next player, who creates another piece of the sentence or artwork before folding and passing it along to subsequent players, each ignorant of the previous contributions. Named for the phrase that emerged from the Surrealists’ first go-round - “The exquisite corpse will drink the new wine’’ - the game and its larger cultural movement enchanted then-college student Roger Miller in the 1970s. Miller went on to form the Boston post-punk band Mission of Burma (and a slew of others including Birdsongs of the Mesozoic, Alloy Orchestra, and, yes, Exquisite Corpse) and tomorrow he hosts Surrealist Night at the Arts at the Armory Cafe in Somerville. Miller will teach and lead different games as well as DJ a soundtrack apropos of the evening’s mind-bending festivities.
Q. How did you first discover Exquisite Corpse games?
A. I was studying piano and composition at Thomas Jefferson College, a small university in Michigan, and my piano teacher, who was really smart, looked at my ideas and drawings and said he thought I would be interested in Surrealism. I was already sort of into it under the guise of psychedelia, it was the 1970s after all, but I started to explore it under more stringent guidelines.
Q. Did Surrealism become a feature of your music?
A. When I came to Boston one of the first singles I released was called “Max Ernst.’’ The whole idea of Surrealism appeared in early Mission of Burma lyrics. I’ve just kept going.
Q. What’s the appeal for you of Exquisite Corpse games?
A. I love seeing things being created, and it’s guaranteed that at the end of the night you’ll have a bunch of things that never would have existed by planning them.
Q. What do you say to people who are hesitant to participate because they can’t draw well or aren’t good writers.
A. It’s completely unimportant. If you do the Corpse game with the purpose of proving how great an artist you are you’ve wasted everyone’s time. The point is the collective vibe.
Q. How does one go about choosing a Surrealist soundtrack?
A. Oh, I’ve been thinking about things like “Here Come the Warm Jets’’ by Brian Eno, and Roxy Music, and a lot of the music I’ve been involved in. It’ll be stuff that’s amorphic. You won’t be hearing a four-on-the-floor beat.
Interview was condensed and edited.