Working Progress, Working Title [Automystifstical Plaice]

Working Progress, Working Title [Automystifstical Plaice]

John Matthias

graphics: Artists Rights Society; Performance for MIDI keyboard, pianola configurations, and click-track:G. Schirmer Rental; studio portrait of Hedy Lamarr: Roy George and Associates.

Note: In the 1930s, actress Hedy Lamarr was married to Fritz Mandl, a German arms manufacturer who guarded her so closely that he insisted she accompany him everywhere, even to discussions regarding the development of military technology. After finally leaving Mandl, Lamarr brought her acting talents to Hollywood. She also brought with her a knowledge of the roles that synchronization and what the arms community called “frequency hoping” could play in the guidance and control of missiles like the V2. When the second World War broke out, she sought out a collaborator who could appreciate what she was trying to offer the Allies, and was eventually directed to George Antheil, the composer of Ballet Mecanique, an avant-garde score that required the synchronization of 16 pianos. Between Hollywood projects, Lamarr and Antheil worked out the details of a patent that was ahead of its time in terms of practical application, but would become the basis for the hand-shaking communications technology in use today in everything from cell phones, wireless PDA and other Internet devices, to the guidance of cruise missiles. Their collaboration also became the springboard for John Matthias’s “Working Progress, Working Title [Automystifstical Plaice].”

In what some have called his richest poem, Matthias allows the factual details of the Lamarr-Antheil story to expand into a meditation on the “progress” of sound-and-noise, film, film history, history generally – and how the “frequency hoping” of technology, representation, systems of constraint, and sources of power go into the composition of what we call culture.

A discussion of “Working Progress” and other Matthias poems can be found in the current issue of Samizdat. Click here to go to the poem.