Leif Elggren
The Codfish Suit
9.11 (desperation is the mother of laughter)

Firework Editions

Three of the oddest discs I’ve come across in some time by conceptual artist Leif Elggren, responsible for the imaginary Kingdoms of Elgaland-Vargaland and last year’s Ghost Orchid, a spoof on supposed celestial voices lurking in household electronic appliances. This time out, Elggren and fellow brainiac Liljenberg take up the entirety of two discs, sleeping on one and laughing on the other. On a third disc, The Codfish Suit, they read dadaist letters that they’ve sent to various celebrities around the world. These guys have been working together since 1978 and have been self-publishing slews of offbeat books and recordings all along, but until recently they haven’t been available in the States.

The Codfish Suit from 1996, is a sound version of Elggren and Liljenberg’s book "Experiment of Dreams." The texts are hysterically funny. In 1995, for example, they wrote the following letter to Brigitte Bardot: "We are planning to start a fish factory in Lofoten, Norway. Our plan is codfishing, but we are not interested in the fish, but what’s in the stomach of the codfish. So we will have a lot of fish-refuse that we now will offer you. We know that you are a great friend of animals and perhaps this could serve as catfood? Looking forward to your answer." Similar letters are written to Elton John, Neil Armstrong and Yassir Arafat, among others. The CD contains these letters read aloud during a gallery performance in affected voices, treated with primitive echoes and electronics. It’s a lo-tech outing and makes a better read than it does a listening experience.

91.1 and Zzz…, on the other hand, are wonderful audio documents. Had Andy Warhol done sound pieces, this is what he might have conceived of. However, this is not what they would have sounded like. Elggren and Liljenberg are not really sleeping and laughing–they are only pretending to. As such, its fiction is more akin to hysterical Artaud-inspired theatre than to documentary. Both discs start off straight enough: At the beginning of Zzz… it simply sounds like two people sleeping, a snore here, a cough there. But as the disc progresses, the snoring gets more theatrical and obnoxious until, about half way through, it turns into a snoring opera, with the two protagonists taking turns belting out twisted arias of snorts, yawns and honks. Same goes for 91.1 (desperation is the mother of laughter): The first few minutes are just two guys sitting around laughing. 30 minutes into it, it’s obvious that the exercise is verging on the absurd and the laughter becomes forced and sinister. By the end of an hour, it’s positively painful to think that two men have been laughing as hard as they could for such an extended period of time.

File these discs with your artist’s recordings: They’ll go nicely with Terry Fox’s recordings of 11 cats purring for a half an hour, Erik Belgum’s "opera" of people screaming obscenities at each other for 60 minutes, Lauren Lesko’s squishy contact-mic’d vagina and Roman Opalka’s lifetime project of counting from 1 to infinity (the 40-minute LP excerpt from 1977 is all you really need to hear).

Kenneth Goldsmith
© New York Press, 2000

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