In a world where corporate advertising has left its stamp on almost every aspect of human interaction, including (quite literally) people’s foreheads, it is incredibly refreshing to find an enterprise in which the act of selling is completely forbidden, and from which no one makes or loses a penny. The additional fact that such an enterprise provides some of the world’s most hard-to-find creative material free for the taking makes UbuWeb (www.ubuweb.com) one of the more useful, interesting archives of available today.
Founded in November 1996 by American poet and University of Pennsylvania professor Kenneth Goldsmith, UbuWeb is edited and maintained purely by volunteer effort, and thus requires no financial support. UbuWeb receives free Web space and excess bandwidth from donors who support its purpose, which gives UbuWeb complete freedom and control over its content.
And what is that purpose? According to the “About UbuWeb” section of the site, which describes poetry as the “perfect space to practice utopian politics,” the site’s founders and supporters aim to add yet another method of providing free content in an attempt to achieve universal knowledge. The site has grown from its modest beginnings 10 years ago, when it functioned as a poetry archive, to a safe house and museum for thousands of rare resources ranging from mp3 files, to movie clips, to interviews with cult composers and writers, to an extensive anthology of conceptual writing. The “Papers” section of the site is particularly useful for those searching for otherwise impossible-to-find writing and criticism on theater, art and philosophy.
UbuWeb is unabashedly unconcerned with copyright restrictions and posts materials without permission from their creators. Although many of the resources published are out-of-print, even those in print are considered fair game by the site’s curators. The site features a Hall of Shame that lists artists and their representatives who have issued cease-and-desist orders on publishing their material. It seems most artists, though, simply don’t care or are pleased that their work is now available to a mass audience: The Hall of Shame features just 13 artists from an archive of thousands.
At times UbuWeb’s collections seem impossibly large and obscure — especially when you recognize only a couple of names out of the dozens of artists listed in any particular section — but I recommend randomly picking one and perusing that artist’s Ubu catalog. The point of the site is not to cater to a niche but rather to universalize the appreciation for interesting and provocative art, and such a widening of tastes is only possible when the audience is willing to invest a little time in artists they may never have heard of.
It would take months of nonstop browsing by an army of very dedicated procrastinators to get even a taste of all that UbuWeb has to offer. Below, however, are some particularly noteworthy examples from two of the site’s different sections.
From UbuWeb: Sound
DJ Food, “Raiding the 20th Century — Words and Music Expansion”: Opening with the 20th Century Fox theme and including mash-ups that would put Girl Talk and Danger Mouse to shame (the mix of S Club 7 and KRS-One is particularly inspired), this 40-minute kaleidoscopic venture into the most recognizable sounds of the 20th century features Paul Morley reading passages from his perfectly relevant “Words and Music.”
“John Cage and Morton Feldman in Conversation (1967)”: This three-part discussion between the two American composers has Cage at his most accessible and comical. The pair turn old-man anecdotes of being annoyed by loud rock music into sharp commentary on the nature of art and private space.
Frank Zappa, “The Talking Asshole”: William S. Burroughs gave Zappa permission to read aloud from his novel “The Naked Lunch” to a live audience at the Nova Convention of 1978, and Zappa does so with perfect articulation, lending each “you dig?” a comical punch.
From UbuWeb: Film and Video
“Abbie Hoffman Makes Gefilte Fish”: The home video of a singing, storytelling (and sometimes yelling and cursing) cook bragging about his gefilte fish recipe on Christmas Eve in 1973 provides a charming addition to Hoffman’s wider identity as the anarchist of “Steal This Book” fame.
“Face to Face with Jeremy Isaacs: An Interview with Allen Ginsberg”: Taped in 1995, two years before his death, a bespectacled, demure-but-dynamic Ginsberg discusses the bohemian lifestyle and reflects on the “Howl” writing process, and denounces modern “neo-conservative, theo-political televangelists” who attack counter-culturists.
The video clips and songs listed above are a mere taste of the Ubu buffet. The “Contemporary” and “Conceptual Writing” sections are filled with several libraries’ worth of near-incomprehensible writings from the likes of Samuel Beckett, Gertrude Stein and their lesser-known counterparts. So next time that “Diversity of Life” paper just doesn’t sound like how you want to spend your night, consider giving Yoko Ono’s “Fly” a try instead.