Necropolis, Ampibians & Reptiles

NOTES : booklet that came with the LP


1864: born Bern Switzerland. Father a stone-mason, alcoholic, itinerant. Mother a laundress Adolf and his brothers in community care from very young age.

1873: Mother died. From then he was lodged with a series of farming families, who abused and overworked him, and neglected his education.

1881: fell in love with a neighbour's daughter but the affair was halted by the girl’s father. This deeply affected Wölfli, and he became restless and a petty thief, going through a rapid succession of jobs.

1888: he met a prostitute in town square and instantly fell in love. They became engaged but never married.

1890: his delusions begin as 'voices' begin talking to him. Twice he molests young girls. He never carries out his intentions, but nevertheless gets a two-year prison sentence.

1895: attempts to molest three and one-half year old girl. He is caught and incarcerated on October 23 at the Waldau asylum.

1897: owning to violence toward other patients he was locked up in an isolation cell, thus beginning a twenty-year period in solitary confinement.

1899: one night he breaks up all the fumiture in his cell and then the cell door and the window in the hall. In the morning he is found stock-still, pale and covered in perspiration; but having made no attempt to escape. This same year he began to draw, write and compose music. He draws continuously and plays his music on paper trumpets.

1908: his work has been continuous, and now he begins to work on a fabulous autobiography entitled "From the Craadle to the Graave." He draws less at this stage. 

1916: the drawings are now in color and technique is developing. He is still very violent and complains of 'visions' imposing pictures on him. He composes march music as before. 

1917 - 1919: transferred to an ordinary ward from his cell. Works furiously, going through one pencil and reams of paper every two days. Often scolds his 'voices' and hums down paper trumpets for hours on end.

1920: now becoming recognized as an artist by others. Sells a lot of paintings and delusions of grandeur increase, saying he is the world's greatest artist. He is more sociable, but convulsions and hallucinations continue.

1928: never ceases to work and now begins to work on his "Funeral March," his greatest work.

1929: he is very ill and tired. Operated on for pyloric cancer. Continues to work despite hardly being able to move. He never finished the work his heart was set on: the"Funcral March."

1930: died on November 6 


Paintings: extant in the collection are 41 black and white drawings, over 1,460 color illustrations included in texts, over 750 color drawings, over 1,560 collages, and the decorated cell in which Wölfli spent 20 years of his life.
The most striking feature of all is that none of them is tied to representation. Even representational motifs reveal their structural function before they represent anything, e.g. a snake becomes not object but subject of a frame - not a symbol but a structural principal of coiling or creeping . Further, there is a striking organic unity of composition (a type of mandala), everything being sequential/cyclical.
Everything is there, the whole world reflected back on itself by surfeit, the available space always being totally filled.
Some of the representative figures are symbolic, especially the "Vogeli" (little bird) which is an endless filler, representing sound, space, enviromnent - a symbol of the generative figure, the 'voices' being directed by being positioned as writing/figure/music. For Wölfli the vogeli is his voices, urges, memories, guilt, threat, the
generative principle of all is artistic production.

Text/Sound Poetry: beginning about 1920 began to rhyme creatively in a mixture of High German and Bernese dialect. At this state, "Das grosse Lalula" of Dadaist Christian Morgenstern existed to be sure, but Wölfli's work is not just tile glossolallia well-known in schizophrenia, but a creative play with dialect e.g. in poems written on an imaginary voyage to China he skillfully tries to get a chinese sound from Bernese: "N-Ha-angs-ssi, Ar ta-angs-ssi!! N-Ha-angs-ssi, win Witt!... Schittara i da, Krina-lina! Gwittara bi da Fina grin."

Collage: starting in 1916, Wölfli began to incorporate cutouts with his ornamental and textural style. Prominent themes are women, beauty, domestic happiness, catastrophes, machines, world of technology, powerful political personages, artists-actors, musicians, painters, exotic "Giant-Animals-and-Plants," mountains and glaciers, religious pictures, etc., mcluding a not-famous-enough example of Campbell's Tomato Soup (1929).

Music: Wölfli was a self-titled "composer," his pictures, "pieces of music." He also gave many written indications as to how it should instruments ought to be used.
Indeed he often played his own compositions on the only available "mstrument;' the paper trumpet. He was conversant in some musical expressions and was also quite aware of what they sigffified, because he sometimes discovers and corrects one of his own errors. Furthermore, although he had no formal training, in the parallel development of motifs in treble and bass clef, one can discern deliberate musicality.
It seems best to do as Streiff and Keller in Catalogue of the Adolf Wölfli Foundation suggest, and that is to divide his music into three categories:
1) Pictures where the music dominates;
2) Pictures where music is only marginal or fragmentary, or the staves are empty;
3) those where the music is important but is not filling up the whole surface.

In interpreting any of his music, then, one would most likely attempt to transcribe literally only those pieces where the music was the main purpose for the picture. This does not mean that the others can not be interpreted as music, but simply that the role of any written notes is more likely to be purely ornamental in these pieces. Indeed in the pictures of 1904 - 1905, all the staves are empty, but Wölfli often enough referred to them as music to warrant their ideration as a valid expression, difficult as this may make their faithful interpretation.

Allgebrah: "that is, music in writting; self-invention" (AW). The distinction between music and Allgebrah is not so clear since both are part of this central process of self-invention, the cornerstone. But it was clear that the creation of a whole new numerical system was necessary to cope with the phenomenal excess of Wölfli's production. After trillions, quadrillions, etc., he creates Regoniffs, Suniffs, etc., through twenty-two levels of multiplication up to One Oberon, "which should not be exceeded because same is a cat-tas-strophe. HM!!" But later on even Oberon must be eclipsed by Zorn which is the dissolution of the numerical into music and emotion. Allegbrah is music!

"Allegbrah Donn'r, -rollen! 
Durch Gottes weitte Wellt! 
Dein Schatz in Auss'r, -Nollen! 
hat Heute gar keln, Gelt! 
Reit Du auf einem, Esel! 
Das Fullen ist ja mein. 
Wihr haben's keine Schesel! 
Fur liebe Kinderlein."

Imaginary Autobiography: 
From 1908 to 1930 Wölfli recreated his life, the world and eventually the cosmos in a massive series of works totally more than 19,340 pages.
1908 - 1912: "From the Craadle to the Graave." He sees his life as in need of recreation, by fictionalizing his past ordeals.
1912 - 1916: the "Geographical Hefte." begin his architectural and town planning schemes, thence his travels to imaginary places and, finally, cosmic voyages.
1916 - 1930: Wölfli becomes "St. Adolf II" which he sees as having been earned by sixteen years of hard work. His recreations take on the character of a religious mission for himself.
1922 - 1928: over 200 mandala drawings see Wölfli fully realising the role of archetypes, the cosmic egg of alchemy, in such a mission. Everyhing falls within its scope.
1926 - 1930: Sixteen volumes of the Funeral March consist of a series of short or phonetic phrases separated by indications of rhythm. This song is interrupted by short geographical texts, prayers, or bible quotations. It is the world and Adolf Wölfli become One, a work of great complexity which is rivalled in its encyclopedic scope only by Joyce's "Finnegan's Wake." Never before published, it is now in its final stages of preparation.


In his music, Wölfli uses two different kinds of notation:
1) traditional notes with staves, notes, keys, etc.
2) a system of syllables indicating degree i.e. the French do, re, mi, fa, sol, ti. In the early drawings (1904 - 1905) there are only empty staves.
Yet the traditional system contains many oddities unique to Wölfli:
Staves are always of six lines rather than the usual five, with many auxiliary or ‘leger’ lines. The notes are usually quavers or semi-quavers, rarely crochets. The stems of the notes have 'flags' sometimes on bath sides instead of the normal one. He uses the treble and bass clefs, times signature (usually 2/4), and a sharp (#) indicating key signature - possibly that of one sharp i.e. G major. Bars are used to indicate meter but in strange sequences. These defy reading in any traditional way, but are regular enough to suggest that they were meaningful to Wölfli.

A number of other signs cause more problems: the use of the sign '9' at the end of bars, for example. The # sign is very often used other than as a sharp because it is not next to any particular note. In these frequent cases it seems most likely that it performs the function of a ‘rest.’
The appearance of the figures 1 2 1 before and after bars is unexplained, as is the function of dots after note stems, unless they are a variant of the traditional dotted note. Diagonal bars linking stems may be interpreted as ties but there are otherwise no indications of dynamics or timbre.
Streiff and Keller have suggested that where Wölfli employs staves in pairs, it seems reasonable to assume that the line he draws between them should represent middle C as in the traditional notation. Then the top line in the treble would be the extra sixth line (i.e. A) as would be the bottom line of the bass (i.e. E) And if the use of one sharp at the beginning of most pieces represents the key of G major then Wölfli's music begins to be readable.
We must re-emphasise, however, that this is but ONE interpretation and the major importance of Wölfli's work is that is pictoral framing and peculiar formation render the possibility of many, if not unlimited, interpretations.

The result of reading the music by this system is on the record. Whilst in his time, if it had ever been performed, it might have sounded somewhat 'atonal,' it certainly sounds quite melodic to a modem listener. No chords seemed unrealizable,' and there are always interesting developments of melody, harmony and counter-point.
Rhythm is a problem however, and his numerical system remains a mystery. 


Adolf Wölfli was mad, of that there is no doubt. But it is vital not to categorize his art as separate - as mad, or 'naive.' Wölfli, like all artists, is confronting the essential question of art, religion, philosophy: Original Sin, in the sense of man's powerlessness to confront the Absolute. He sees himself as One: the sinner and the sinned against, and asks Why must humans suffer guilt, and some become insane as well?

Wölfli always spoke of art as 'a beautifully rhymed curse' which simultaneously endowed him with great power but ultimately imposed its ineluctable limitations.

Madness, in the sense of dissatisfaction with accepted nonns, is always asocial and lies at the origin of all creation. Creativity is always a deviance, a transgression of accepted modes of thought. In fact, art like Wölfli's casts light on the on'gin of art in general, because the creative mechanisms behind it are often more visible than in that of the 'healthy' artist. In contrast, cultural (i.e. accepted) art is only a controlled madness, a HYPERBOLE which can only be indulged by constantly referring back to the yardstick of its culture. Therefore instead of its being a supposed  expression/symptom/result of an illness, art such as Wölfli's must be accepted as 'art,' and that is all. The 'illness' does not disappear, by reason of this acceptance, of course. But rather it exists alongside, affecting but not conditioning the creative process.

Wölfli's MUSIQUE BRUT is thus neither an Illness nor merely an aesthetic, but a challenge to the human condition, like any great oeuvre. It is process rather than product (a process of documentation); production rather than expression; creativity rather than communication, though of course it communicates a dimension beyond mere semantics. 

Wölfli creates an 'individual mythology' (Barthes) which over-runs meaning: from the mythological/archetypal it becomes transcendent/formal; and thence beyond intelligibility to irrational/transcendental, a sphere of meaning which eventually appears as a metaphorical truth in the "FUNERAL MARCH".

"A Water-Snake you shall become!
if you fall once away from God!
?how come: we see for sure,
today, on down:
before the dog's face all the
world is mocked
... The world has now, delusions
of grandeur! So don't you start from
the beginning all over!

But he also wrote:

"Some day, again - in the dark
wind - sweet childlike
innocence will come!"

In the identity of art and artists, represented and representation, schizophrenia poses the central issue of humanity (Anti-Oedipus, Deleuze & Guattari). The artist's work must be seen both as part of his time and also as something out of time.
Wölfli's work thus documents his time in much the same way as in modem art there has been an incorporation of actions, ideas, situations and materials. There is thus no real difference between Wölfli's "Campbell's Tomato Soup" and that of Warhol, except that the latter is a bit late.
Musically we can learn far more about the process of musical creation from Wölfli's various methods of representation - ornamental, pictoral, symbolic, verbal than we can by adhering to the accepted form of the time. In the Twentieth Century we have now explored many of these forms: e. 9. the verbal indications of Cage as to instrumentation and duration in pieces otherwise governed by chance; the figurative scores of Martin Davorin Jagodic; the architectonic ideas of Xanakis, to name but a few.
Wölfli must be seen as both unique and of his time: a time where new forms were coming into being - Schoenberg and Webern on the one hand, Satie and Debussy on the other.
How might musical history have developed if Wölfli had been an "official" part of it? 


born 1955 in New Zealand, now resident in Australia.
Received some classical training but began his career in music while training as a psychiatric nurse in Australia. Formed the music/performance group >SPK<  in 1978 and has since worked predominantly in Europe. Studied philosophy in France and also works as a writer, film-maker and producer. Established MUSIQUE BRUT in 1985 of which he is a director.
"In order to do this project the justice it deserves, I have tried to complete the picture of Wölfli the composer by reading his music in the classical sense (at least in three of my pieces). The other participants either chose not to, or could not interpret the scores in this sense, but many of his annotations suggest that this is what he had in mind at least some of the time e.g. this directive he give as to the reading of the mandala piece COUNTESS SALADINE (1911) (Cf page 10):
'The inner circle is the sol-clef, the outer circle is the g-clef, beginning at the bottom.'
"Thus I gave to the COUNTESS SALADINE a straightforward pianoforte representation using the system outlined on page five, and generating a consistent rhythm by treating Wölfli's own spatieal arrangement of notes as its rhythm. It is quite remarkable how the resulting (a)tonality seems appropriate for its time (not dissimilar to Satie but pre-12-tone Schoenberg).

"For NECROPOLIS, AMPHIBIANS, AND REPTILES (1911) I took the fragmentary chord progression and expanded it using classical inversion, etc. I used violin as the solo mstrument because this is the instrument most often visually represented in his paintings. The other elements of the piece: rooks/toads/bells are all ornamental features of nearly all Wölfli's works. The EBONY TOWER IN THE ORIENT WATER/FANFAARE # 1 (1904) is a typical example of his early pieces which are purely ornamental but which he still always called Imusical compositions.' He had yet to develop the more standard notation the ‘music’ being more a function of spatial arrangement circles (loops), bell strings (church bells), and of course the fanfare (french horns) and the oriental scale which derives, like the tower,
from the Near Orient (perhaps Turkey, the Balkans... ). I also deliberately affected a religious overtone which is in keeping with Wölfli's texts, populated as they are by saints (St. Adolf II) and religious symbols.
THE BÄLLI (1908) is a slightly later piece, and one of the first in which Wölfli employed his variant of standard musical notation I have interpreted this piece in the spirit of his imaginary travels to far-flung corners of the world, repeating the fragmentary melody on the marimba.
For the last three years of his life (1928 1930), Wölfli worked ceaselessly on his Funeral March, his most ambitious work and one that was most important to him. Unfinished, but numbering some 3,080 pages, it consists of collages and text, the latter compromising short rhymes in dialect followed by word series or phonetic structures which are separated by time indications. This song, for in fact Wölfli envisages these syllabic inventions as rows of tones (speech and music becoming one), may be interrupted by short prayers or bible quotations.
The underlying structure of the Funeral March is as follows Wölfli picks out an object or a person from the collage picture and makes a rhyme including its name and the phrase 'i d'r Wiiga witt.' Thus a single symbol symbol unites the real world and Wölfli's private world, connected in effect, each series with every other. Imaginary words, creatures, places and people, amalgamated and exaggerated form his own experience and from magazines, are onuupresent to an almost intolerable degree.
Interpretation of these tone poems remains an enigma, not least to myself. So I have combined an example with a funeral march for Wölfli, played in his favorite country brass band style, and inspired by an earlier painting which depicts well his fabulously overbrimming universe. CHIMPNAGS-APES OF THE UNION CANADA: AMERICA is a final homage to the 'oy and intense emotional contradictions in all of Wölfli's creations. 

Notes on the other participants :

Nurse With Wound

Countess Saladine (1911)


Walter Morgenthaler, Hermine Ferndriger-Marti, Ein Geisteskrankler als Kunstler, (Bern/Leipzig, 1921). 
Zu den Bildern eines insassen der Irrenanstalt Waldau in Bern, in: Kunst und Volk, #4, 1944.

Julius v.Ries, 
Uber das Dämonish-Sinnliche und den Ursprung der Ornamentalen Kunst des Geisteskranken Adolf Wölfli (Bern, 1946.)

Theodor Spoerri, 
'L'armoire d'Adolph Wölfli in: Le surrealisme, meme. Cahier 4, 1958. P.50-55.

Elka Spoerri, 
'Adolf Wölfli', in: Kunstler Lexicon der Schweiz XX. jahrhundert. Bd.2, (Frauenfeld, 1963-7). P.1073.

Walter Morgenthaler, 
'Adolf Wölfli, Traduction et prdface de Henri-Pol Bouch6' (Publications do la compagnie de l'Art Brut, Fascicules 2, Paris 1964.).

Dieter Keopplin, 
'Adolf Wölfli, in: Katalog A.W.1864-1930,Werle aus einer Privatsammlung, Kupferstichkabinett, Kunstmuseum Beset, 1971

Franz Meyer, 
Ein Geisteskranker als Kunstler, in ibid. Roger Cardinal, 'Adult Wölfli', in: Outsider Art, (London, N.Y., Washington, 1972).

Theodor Spoerri, 
'Identität von Abbildung und Abgebildeten in der Bildnerei der Geisteskranken', in: Katalog documenta 5, 1972.

Michel Thèvoz 
'Adolf Wölfli', in: L'Art Brut, (Geneva, 1975 & Rizzoli N.Y., 1976.)

Alfred Bader, 
'Adolf Wölfli,' in: Zwischen Wahn und Wirklichkeit. Kunst-Psychose-Kreativität, (Luzern, Frankfurt, '75).

Rudolf Hanhart, 
Besprechung von drei Werken von A.W., in Museums Brief 33, St. Gallen, jan, 76).

Renee Shafransky, Schilling, 
'Wölfli, the Semi-colon',: no rose, v.1. #l Winter (N.Y.) 1976, pp 7-13. 

Elka Spoerri, 
'A.W.'s Erzählwerk', in: K.P.Kisker & G.Hofer, (Eds.) Die Sprache des Anderen, (Basel, N.Y., 1976).

Elka Spoerri & Jurgen Glaesemer (Eds.) 
Adolf Wölfli. Catalogue of the A.W. Foundation, Museum of Fine Arts, (Bern, 1976.)


Robert Volmat, 
L'Art Psychopathologique, (Paris, 1956). L'Art Brut, 10 Fascicules. Publications de la compagnie de L'Art Brut (Paris, 1964-76).

Hans Prinzhorn, 
Artistry of the Mentally Ill, (Berlin, N.Y. 1971).

Roger Cardinal, 
Outsider Art, (London, N.Y.,Washington 1972).

Alfred Bader (Ed.), 
Geisteskrankheit, bildnerischer Ausdruck und Kunst, (Bern, Stuttgart, Vienna, 1975).

Michel Thèvoz, 
L'Art Brut, (Geneva, 1975, & N.Y., 1976).

Gilles Deleuze & Félix Guattari, 
L'Anti-Oedipe, (Paris, 1972).

Bruno Bettelheim, 
The Empty Fortress (N:Y., 1967).

Anton Ehrenzweig, 
The Hidden Order of Art, (Berkeley, 1971).

Luce Irigaray, 
'Le schizophrene et la question du signs', in: Recherches, #16, Paris, Sept, 1974.