Happy Birthday Len

Len Lye (5 July 1901 – 15 May 1980) would be 113 today – happy birthday Len!

I think he’d be thrilled to know the Govett Brewster (home to his archive of over 18,0000 works/archived items etc) is well underway with the the construction of the new Len Lye Centre in New Plymouth, due to open mid 2015!

If you don’t know of Len Lye (do a google image search!) he was one of New Zealand (& the worlds) pioneering artists in forms including kinetic art & direct film (‘composing motion’) as well as painting – imagine seeing this film, projected (Free Radicals, 1958)

Then think about the creative process: scratching onto tiny 35mm film frames, one by one, articulating three dimensional movement & syncing tightly to both the rhythm & the feel of the music…

In an interview with Wystan Curnow in 1978 for Art New Zealand magazine he describes his approach to music:

“I don’t think we’re going to get any music that I’m going to like until we get back to figures of rhythm. Like I heard when I went down to Africa House and went through all the records. Then I heard some real music. I know we’ve got to get back to it because the other stuff you were talking about this ideational art, conceptual stuff. Well, that’s how our music is, too. And it’s always been like that. Cage is a very good example of it and without being surrealistic. Pierre Boulez is a very good example of it. It’s just an intellectual level operation. What we need is the body into the act. Drums have got a kind of body resonance to them that nothing else has. I think it’s the heart quality of resonance – as distinct from your bloody skull resonance, you know. These guys are banging their marbles about in their skulls.”

And the tragic tale of finding, buying & then losing a crate of those african 78s:

“But I’ll give you an instance of my life with records. I’d heard that there were some good African records in Africa House. This came about because a friend of mine, Ivor Montagu, who produced with Hitchcock, was going to do a thing with Rider Haggard’s – Paul Robeson in the lead – and he started to rummage around and he found all sorts of African stuff which might serve as background, or be of use to whoever was doing the music.(10) So, I learned about these and I didn’t have much money but what money I could rake together – 20 pounds or something, – I decided I’d buy everything in the goddamned place. That 20 pounds would cover it. Well, it certainly wouldn’t. They had a room full of records. Stacked in little shallow cardboard cartons – 10″ stuff – tier after tier. They must’ve had thousands of records. Now, apparently, they went to Transvaal, to Kenya, to this, that and the other, – every possible part of Africa. And they did this. Old 78 speed. Amazingly marvellous records! They were technically beautiful! So I went through – to make my money last – I could see I’d only get, oh, one hundredth of what they had there – I went through everything! I took about two weeks. I came out at night with my eyes bugged, and my ears shot. Bloody headache. Stagger home. Go to bed. Get up next morning. Get another go. See? OK. All those records were stolen from me when I landed here. Yeah, there was a trucking strike on and they stayed around the Customs and someone must’ve just taken the whole crate, not knowing what’s in it. I often wondered if I’d ever hear them on radio, but I haven’t heard them yet. But I should think you could go there again and they’d still have those records. What the hell would they do with them?”

His kinetic sculptures are as much works of sound, as vision – if you live in or visit New Zealand, do not miss the opportunity to experience some of his work!

“the point I’m going into in this long-winded way is simply that my sense of sound, like any artist’s when he’s imbued with technically transferring something out of his innermost self on to, into his medium – on to canvas, on to film, you must be communing with your intuition about significances.”

The Govett Brewster Gallery has an online store with most all current DVDs & books available here and this quote sums it up perfectly:


Happy Birthday Len!


One Response to Happy Birthday Len

  1. Pingback: Detritus 344 | Music of Sound

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