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Music: Die Tödliche Doris: Soundless Music

28 November 2007–9 February 2008, alt. gallery, Newcastle

Die Tödliche Doris, 'Festival of Ingenious Dilettantes', 1981

Die Tödliche Doris, 'Festival of Ingenious Dilettantes', 1981

‘The East Is Best, But The West Is Better.’ So declared German electro-primitivist duo Deutsche Amerikanische Freundschaft in 1981. Whether by accident or design, such a manifesto/gauntlet summed up the spirit and creative needs and contradictions of an austerity-era post-war generation who may have been physically hemmed in by the Berlin Wall, but were testing new boundaries beyond by sometimes literally bashing through it. Die Tödliche Doris—The Deadly Doris, often mis-translated as the Christiane F-ish Deadly Dose—was created and convened as an ever-mutating, imaginary and archetypal über-Frau by Wolfgang Müller and Nikolaus Utermöhlen alongside a variety of drummers. The group became the more playful but equally iconic flip-side yin to the po-faced Sturm und Drang yang of Einstürzende Neubaten, who they shared a wasted boho scene with.
 

Soundless Music pulls the viewer/listener through the group’s entire aesthetic, as they display the 13 ‘fashion styles’ which accompanied their 1981 debut album, “   ”. Defining their oeuvre solely by parentheses in this way wasn’t some self-consciously arch, retro rain-coated pose. Rather, the trio were wilfully co-opting old identities and scribbling all over them till their sides split in a self-styled display of provocative and occasionally troubling knockabout. Nearly three decades on, pictures of women in bikinis made of wigs, ornamental tooth braces crafted out of pearls, shoes fashioned to resemble woodpeckers, a shaved head with squares of carpet glued on and other cut n’paste ephemera are revealed as grainy samizdat dispatches from a time when the underground had an explicitly political edge. With each item a visual representation of the basic panic-stricken kindergarten Weimar racket produced on each song, the effect of such found and re-assembled detritus resembles a ‘zine era ID magazine as curated by Joseph Beuys.
 

Soundless Music draws its title from Die Todliche Doris in Signs and Gestures, a looped video document of a 1998 performance at the Deaf Music Festival in Berlin’s Volksbuhne. As “   ” played, two female sign language interpretors clad in classic mime-artist black acted out each one in a series of wordless physicalm vignettes. Müller’s supplementary lecture, ‘A History of Die Tödliche Doris’, showcased Super 8 film footage, including the band’s contrary appearance on TV show Rockpalast, which attempted to fetishise its subjects by setting them against a suitably bleak Berlin Wall back-drop. The Life Of Sid Vicious, in which the doomed Sex Pistols’ cat-walk down a Parisian boulevard wearing a Swastika emblazoned t-shirt is re-created by a toddler on a Berlin Strasse, was also shown. The fact the boy is called Oskar as with the terminal man-child in Gunter Grasse’s The Tin Drum, may be coincidental, but is Doris at her deadliest.
 
Neil Cooper is a writer based in Edinburgh