"The Tower" frottage/drawing

W.A.Davison - "The Tower"
frottage/drawing, 1996.


an interview with WILLIAM A. DAVISON

Describing Recordism as "...a mutant strain of surrealism.", William A. Davison, its founder and principle theorist, shares his thoughts, ideas, definitions, and plans regarding the fifteen year old ism.

interview by MAXX RUSH, Oct. 2000



MR: You state that Recordism is an artistic ideology close to Surrealism. Do you consider Surrealism an artistic ideology?

DAVISON: "Generally speaking, no. It is true that much of our understanding of Surrealism comes to us through its cultural products - the poems, paintings, films, etc. made by Surrealists. However, Surrealism is as much political or philosophical as it is artistic (of course, there are problems with making these distinctions. For example, almost anything can be considered "artistic"). Surrealism exists in the way Surrealists view and understand the world and this understanding may be expressed in any number of ways, some of which might be considered "artistic", or not.

Most Surrealists would resist the idea that Surrealism is an 'ideology' or that it is strictly 'artistic'. These labels are too limiting.

Recordists tend to define Recordism more narrowly. It can be considered 'artistic' because it is primarily concerned with creative work. Recordism refers specifically to the act of 'recording' - a metaphor for the application of chance and automatism to the creative act. Recordism is both the process of 'recording' and the set of ideas which surround and inform that process.

I should also say that I am not at all afraid of the word 'ideology'. To me, an ideology is merely a set of related ideas upon which something is based. However, I have in the past referred to Recordism as a 'functional ideology' as a way of addressing the issue of philosophical dogma, rigidity, and exclusivity. By my definition, a 'functional ideology' is a set of ideas which one may adopt to suit a particular purpose at a particular time with the implicit understanding that there are always other equally valid and useful views or approaches in existence."


MR: On the surface, it appears you have made many adaptations from Surrealism, particularly such endeavours as the International Bureau of Recordist Investigation, etc. What are the underlying differences between Recordism and Surrealism?

DAVISON: "This is one of the things Recordists are in the process of discovering. Just how is Recordism different from Surrealism? How is it the same? These questions are complicated of course, by the problems in defining Surrealism itself. Naturally, there are as many definitions of Surrealism as there are Surrealists and observers of Surrealism. Any statement made to the effect that Recordism is 'this way' and Surrealism is 'that', immediately runs into evidence to the contrary. Of course, one might just as appropriately ask the question, 'Who cares?'. Perhaps questions like these are too academic.

One thing I can say with some degree of certainty is that Recordism is called 'Recordism' and Surrealism is called 'Surrealism'. As you can see, the names are different. This may be a serious matter for some people. If we call what we do 'Recordism' and not 'Surrealism', then we must wish to distinguish ourselves from the Surrealists. As a matter of fact, we do feel there may be some value in adopting a new name, but this issue may or may not be particularly significant depending on your sense of orthodoxy.

In general, much of what can be said of Recordism can also be said of Surrealism. Surrealism has become quite broad in its scope, with a long history and a great many practitioners all adding to its breadth and variedness. The ideas which make up Recordism can easily be found within Surrealism, particularly when you consider the diversity of approaches and interpretations of each individual surrealist artist or writer. Recordism can be thought of as being a part or subset of Surrealism. Or, one might prefer to think of it as a different form of Surrealism.

But not all of what can be considered surrealist can also be called Recordist. Recordism is a narrowing of focus on certain aspects of Surrealism, most specifically automatism. Many important elements of Surrealism, although they may be of interest to Recordists, are not within what could strictly be considered Recordism. The surrealist preoccupation with 'revolution' for instance, is not a part of Recordism. Recordists tend towards magick rather than psychology, towards oneiric realism rather than abstraction, and so on. These are not so much 'differences' as they are 'shifts in emphasis' and whether these points would be considered major or minor issues depends on to whom you are talking (particularly since many modern Surrealists share some of these 'shifts in emphasis').

Because Recordism came out of Surrealism and resembles Surrealism so closely in many ways, this question of how Recordism is different (and by extension, whether its existence is even justified) seems to be a major concern. For the Recordists, this is not such a major concern. Surrealism itself does not exist in a vacuum. It is not entirely unique or without precedents. Both Surrealism and Recordism are part of an historical continuum which is as old as humanity - that is, the exploration and expression of those aspects of our existence and our 'reality' which cannot be seen but can only be imagined. From this perspective, whether Recordism is justifiably different from Surrealism is an exercise in splitting hairs."


MR: Is Recordism a movement? If so, what are its basic goals and agendas?

DAVISON: "I am interested in seeing how this idea spreads and whether it will be of any significance to other people and this is part of the reason for establishing the International Bureau of Recordist Investigation, but whether Recordism could currently be considered a movement...well, just how many people does it take to make a movement, anyways?

Recordism is a process. This process can be employed individually or collectively and its aims extend from the personal to the social. The process is one of discovery, awakening, and liberation. Through the application of chance and automatic methods, the Recordist can momentarily overcome the bonds of rationality and allow the unformed matter of Chaos - the realm of potential - to flow into our world and coalesce into some more concrete form. The emergence of this new form - a text, object, image, sound, or whatever it may be - is a revelatory and liberating experience and, as it then exists in a form which can be shared with others, it becomes possible for this experience to be passed on and multiplied.

Ultimately, the goal of Recordism, like that of Surrealism and other utopian currents in art and culture, is to effect a positive change in the human condition. The Recordist's approach to this is through the liberation of the imagination and the fostering of a new understanding of life and reality."


MR: What prompted or inspired you to devise Recordism?

DAVISON: "On the morning of December 5th, 1984, I awoke and wrote at the top of my journal entry for that day, a single word - 'Recordist'. Whether this word came from an actual dream or from random thoughts as I lay half-asleep, I do not know. But the word seemed significant and I began to think about what it might mean. By the end of the day I had decided that it could refer to a form of automatism similar to that practised by the Surrealists (who were at that time a fairly recent discovery of mine) and that I was in fact a 'Recordist'".


MR: Several movements were inspired by Surrealism, but broke away from it in opposition to what they perceived as Surrealism's shortcomings, errors, and dogmas. Among them were the Lettrists, the Situationists, CoBrA and Phases. Is Recordism such a break-away movement?

DAVISON: "I like to think of Recordism as a 'mutant strain of Surrealism'. This belies my interest in memetics - a theory which proposes that ideas replicate themselves much the way genes do - but it also seems to be the most apt description of Recordism's relation to Surrealism.

In the beginning, it was not my intention to form a 'break-away movement' from Surrealism. Recordism simply happened (fitting for an ideology based in chance and automatism!). There were a number of factors involved in how Recordism came to be. 1) I was then, still am and have been since childhood, unabashedly inclined towards the strange and fantastic. 2) I was living in a somewhat culturally isolated part of the world (Nova Scotia, Canada) and had a limited amount of information available to me. I learned of Dada and Surrealism through art history books borrowed from the local library and firmly believed that the Surrealist movement ceased to exist many years before. 3) I was highly creative and somewhat ambitious. 4) I had a sense of the occult significance of things and a belief that something transcribed from a dream or written in a semi-conscious stupor may be of some importance. And 5) I was odd-ball enough to devote much of the last 15 years of my life to a word transcribed from a dream or written in a semi-conscious stupor!

More poetically, the seeds of Surrealism were flung far afield and landed in some very odd places. From one of those seeds grew a rather peculiar thing...Recordism. I have to wonder how many other mutants are out there?

This doesn't even touch on the numerous unique and valuable contributions made to Recordism by various friends over the years - in particular, that of my partner S. Higgins whose work and ideas have had an incalculable influence on the distinct character of Recordism and the Bureau.

In the mid-90's, Recordism entered a new phase of existence. It became a public entity (with the establishment of the International Bureau of Recordist Investigation in 1994) and, along with the increased networking and research activities (mainly via the internet), it found it must adjust to co-existence with Surrealism. Yes, there were Surrealists out there! And they weren't all dead! This was a happy discovery but it meant a major reassessment of the position of Recordism in relation to Surrealism.

Two questions arose out of this situation. First off, if I had known in 1984 that Surrealism was still an active movement, would I have bothered to develop this idea of 'Recordism'? The answer is , 'Quite likely not.'. Secondly, now after over 15 years of considering myself a 'Recordist', should I abandon Recordism and join the ranks of the current Surrealist movement? After careful deliberation, the answer is, 'No'. Having developed in isolation for so many years, I believe Recordism may have some unique qualities which the current Surrealist movement does not - qualities which could be of benefit both in terms of its own evolution as well as in the social and cultural program which it shares with Surrealism. Of course, the reverse is likely true as well that modern Surrealism has qualities which Recordism does not and so I hope that the two will complement each other in the belief that, as Recordism and Surrealism are united to a single purpose, whatever diversity of approaches and tactics exist can only be good."


MR: Can you describe Recordist art? That is, what characteristics and methods define a work of art as Recordist?

DAVISON: "Most importantly, a Recordist work is produced by Recordist methods. The work must be arrived at through some sort of chance and/or automatic or intuitive process which is not under the direction of rational concerns.

This is not to say that rationality does not enter into it at all, it does, but it is only allowed to react, usually in fairly minor ways, to the raw material which it encounters via the irrational process being employed.

This will sound familiar to Surrealists. It is the basic approach to automatism which formed much of the theory of early Surrealism and gave rise to many of Surrealism's 'great works'.

How might we recognize a Recordist work? It has an unmistakably jarring or unsettling quality - a poetic truth of inexplicable beauty or strangeness, like a vision or a dream. This will also sound familiar to Surrealists, it sounds like Surrealism."


MR: What has been the general reaction to Recordism?

DAVISON: "From the larger artistic community and the general public, the reaction has been surprisingly positive! It seems entirely possible at this time for a major re-evaluation of these ideas to take place. And Recordism is in a particularly good position in this regard, as it is able (even with frequent references to Surrealism) to side-step some of the stigma attached to Surrealism itself.

From the actual Surrealists (not that I've had a great many encounters with them as of yet), I sense a certain amount of skepticism which is understandable, but I've also had some very enthusiastic and supportive responses. It will be interesting to see how this develops."


MR: Why has it taken so long for you to create a web site?

DAVISON: "Poverty."


MR: Do you seek to align with the International Surrealist Movement?

DAVISON: "Absolutely! We are deeply respectful of their efforts and believe that much positive growth could occur through an alliance, or any sort of association.

The Recordists seek to align with any group or individual with similar aims and we are actively engaged in doing so. We are equally interested in honest and constructive debate if the need arises. Our doors are open."


MR: What are your plans and goals in the near future regarding your web site and Recordism in general?

DAVISON: "A new computer system is forthcoming and that will speed up work on the web site immensely. By early next year, we expect to have most of the site's general content available - including galleries of visual art, video and audio files, etc. (updates on the status of the web site and other projects will be sent to those on the I.B.R.I. e-mailing list. Have yourself included by getting in touch with us at the address below).

In terms of Recordism and I.B.R.I., we will shortly see the completion of our performance art event 'StrangeWays' which will be held this Fall in Toronto; we will hopefully be releasing audio CD's or CD-R's by Songs of the New Erotics and/or Six Heads; a cross-Canada tour for Songs of the New Erotics is planned for next Spring; there may be an exhibition of Recordist visual art sometime soon; and the usual artistic experiments, networking activities, publishing, and so on."



W.A.Davison is a tiny electric engine with several wires missing and a heart made of black rubber. He inhabits the spine of a sea-going trout and weaves dinner mats from his own hair.

For more information contact:
William Davison
E-mail: info(at)recordism(dot)com.
Web: http://www.recordism.com


Originally published in Melting Clock: The Internet Journal of Surrealism, Oct. 2000.

Reprinted with kind permission of Maxx Rush.

Text on this page copyright W.A.Davison and Maxx Rush, 2000.

Image copyright W.A.Davison, 2000.