the dudion levers

oscar surprised me by taking me to an art show yesterday which related beautifully to our project. the martos gallery presented an art exhibit by michael portnoy and oliver sudden (nephew of Boris Vian!) based on another of Vian’s imagined instruments: the dudion levers. the dudion levers are an instrument, a mechanical brain of sorts, that amplify sounds and transform objects in the vicinity based on the expression of the song. it is another impossible creation found in the sketches of Vian, here brought to life in a performance by Portnoy. The art exhibit consisted of “vitrines” full of objects created by the dudion levers. of course we were very excited to meet Portnoy and members of the gallery and share with them our work on the Pianocktail.

dudion-leverssketches by vian


an object created by the dudion levers

cinnamon-barkanother object created by the dudion levers



the dudion levers – a microphone attached to a pair of clogs & behind this the “brain of the machine” where objects are “cooked” based on the expression of the song.



the created objects are placed in a “vitrine”

michael portnoy performing the dudion levers:


one of the objects cooked by the levers!

here is the press release from the show:

The DUDION LEVERS is the fruit of the collaboration between the artist, musician, and “Director of Behavior” Michael Portnoy and Oliver Sudden—engineer, tinkerer, and former opera singer, as well as the nephew of the famous French writer Boris Vian. A long time admirer of Boris Vian, fascinated by Vian’s visionary imagery, and his activities within the College of Pataphysics, Portnoy began to exchange thoughts and comments with Sudden on his uncle’s inventions after meeting in Europe last year. A few months ago, Oliver Sudden discovered in Vian’s archives sketches for a vocal “power tool” that would transform the voice into a massive orchestral unisound, which is then imprinted upon or inscribed on objects, or in some cases transforms or forms objects in the vicinity. The “brain” of this instrument was “the dudion levers”, a constellation of resonating glyphs. Sudden, once a famous tenor in the 70’s (under a different name) before a rare throat condition ended his career, has lived in anonymity and seclusion in Brittany, running a small shop which repairs analog synthesizers. He constructed an interpretation of THE INSTRUMENT and asked Michael Portnoy to give it his voice and to contribute conceptually in the modernization of the instrument’s sound and functionality.

The central piece of the show will be the first time exhibition and public use of THE INSTRUMENT, with which Michael Portnoy will perform the night of the opening. Portnoy will expose a series of sculptures which are assemblages of objects featured as central elements in proposed art projects/performances/films etc. (Ex.: The dotted lines in the middle of the road are covered in cinnamon and upholstered with white leather. The alligator is a mile away, by the window. Packet of cinnamon, white leather, red Lacoste polo shirt, mother-of-pearl, 2008.) These “proposals” are expressed gutturally by Portnoy through THE INSTRUMENT and transformed into songs which are inscribed upon each assemblage in mother-of-pearl.

Michael Portnoy’s diverse practice spans meta-functional sculpture, dance-theater, fascist socials, experimental stand-up, prog-operatic spectacle, aerobic feeding chambers, and Icelandic cockroach porn. Portnoy’s long-standing investigation of social exchange, and the rules of communication and play, is currently conducted through a series of abstract gambling tables, drawing on gambling’s roots in ritual and divination. His underground Casino Ilinx was just presented at SculptureCenter in the summer of 2008. PS1/Moma, Art Unlimited Basel, The Kitchen and Kunsthalle Basel are among the many international museums and art spaces who’ve featured his provocative, unpredictable work.

Oliver Sudden is a specialist in the first generation of analog synthesizers (Synket, Buchla, Moog, Synthi 100, ARP 2600, Putney, ElectroComp 400, Aries 300, etc.) His shop in Brittany is one of the few in the region that is equipped to upkeep and repair these machines. Sudden has developed a series of “perversions” of these models for his personal use. He is a skilled welder, electrical engineer, and self-taught malacologist and has invented several spat racks and a maturation tank for the cultivation of oysters.

Curated by Nadja Romain

For further information about The Dudion Levers or Martos Gallery, please callt 212 560 0670 or email:


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