Twenty years ago, Damon and Naomi founded Exact Change, a small publishing house (okay, a small publishing room) specializing in a wide range of near-forgotten texts from the far-flung fringes of Dada, Surrealism, Fluxus, and other outcroppings of the 20th century avant-garde.
“Everyone we knew was running a little indie-rock label when we started,” says Krukowski, “but we didn’t want to do that. Of course, the irony is that we now have a record label too.”
Exact Change was founded, Krukowski has determined, “at the moment of the professionalization of underground music” — a pre-Internet time when the worlds of literature, visual art, and music operated discretely and seldom intersected. The duo recall Rough Trade’s advising them never to mention their books, for fear that it might suggest lax ambitions on their part — a real no-no in the ’90s. Meanwhile, as they attended their first book conventions, they found themselves caught in an awkward silence when they met John Cage and he asked whether they were musicians.
“We didn’t know what to say. Would he take us seriously?” recalls Yang. “It was like we were split personalities.”
“We had to constantly flip between two worlds,” says Krukowski. “Travel with two wardrobes.”
Cage took them seriously, allowing them to publish his Composition in Retrospect shortly before his death in 1992. And over the years, the Exact Change catalogue has grown into a formidable archive of experimental classics: Picasso, Stein, Pessoa, Schwitters, Apollinaire, Artaud.
If you’re more of a music type and those names don’t ring many bells, hold up: Damon and Naomi have some special selections from the stacks for you.
ANTONIN ARTAUD | WATCHFIENDS AND RACK SCREAMS | “Artaud was the Iggy Pop of French Surrealism.”
JOHN CAGE | COMPOSITION IN RETROSPECT | “All music in our time is influenced by Cage, one way or another.”
MORTON FELDMAN | GIVE MY REGARDS TO EIGHTH STREET | “A very serious composer’s very casual and funny writings about all the arts: music, painting, poetry, carpets . . . . ”
ALFRED JARRY | EXPLOITS AND OPINIONS OF DR. FAUSTROLL, PATAPHYSICIAN | “ ‘Pataphysics is the science of imaginary solutions.’ ”
CHRIS MARKER | IMMEMORY (A CD-ROM) | “A profound and beautiful use of digital media — Proust for the download era.”
You can learn more about Exact Change’s catalogue and history on-line at www.exactchange.com.