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Luz Maria Snchez

SAMUEL BECKETT AND RADIO ART

how the conference will proceed. Firstly, the subject of this conference is the

I would first like to make several comments on this subject and explain

result of long arduous study a doctoral thesis which I had the chance to prepare under Dr Teresa Camps Mirs tutoring between 2003 and 2007 at the Autonomous University in Barcelona, and which I have to defend in June 2007 1. Secondly I would like to share with you the fact that it is from working with elec1.My defence of the doctoral thesis titled Samuel Beckett y el arte radiofnico took place on 8 June 2007 in the department of art at the Faculty of Philosophy and Literature, at the Autonomous University of Barcelona. The jury, which awarded a grade of A cum laude, was formed by Dr Jenaro Talens (Professor at the University of Geneva), Dr Jos Antonio Sarmiento (lecturer at the University of Castilla-La Mancha), Dr Jordi Ibez Fans (lecturer at the University Pompeu Fabra), Dr Teresa Blanch Mallet (lecturer at the University of Barcelona) and Dr Francesc Corts (lecturer at the Autonomous University of Barcelona).

tronic and digital media, both video and audio, rather than as a researcher or conference, I would just like to say that I will try to be as brief as possible by presenting information that will allow us to understand Samuel Becketts radio plays, and at the end of my speech we will have the opportunity to hear the

teacher, that my approach to Samuel Becketts plays is made. As regards the

play titled Cascando produced by Everett C. Frost 2 and if you are still interested, the work titled Rough for Radio I 3 produced by composer Richard Rijnvos the main subject. featuring the voice of John Cage. Having said this we can now concentrate on Samuel Beckett (1906 Foxrock, Ireland 1989 Paris, France) was a pro-

2 Cascando. Produced by Everett C. Frost for Voices International, made in 1989. Broadcast on the National Public Radio network as part of the series The Samuel Beckett Festival of Radio Plays.

lific writer, creating sound works of narrative, drama and poetry both in English and French, which resulted in his being awarded the Nobel prize for literature

in 1969. Although Beckett wrote a script for a movie titled Film in 1964 featuring the silent movie actor Buster Keaton and shot on location in New York, and between 1965 and 1982 focused part of his attention on the creation and

3. Radio I. Produced by Richard Rijnvos for Nederlandse Omroep Stichting (NOS), made in 1991. 4. ACKERLEY, C. J. y GONTARSKI, S. E. The Grove Companion to Samuel Beckett: A Readers Guide to His Works, Life and Thought. New York: Grove Press, 2004, pp. 162, 224, 77, 472, 398. 5.It should be explained here that when referring to Becketts radio plays we shall do this translated into Spanish, as done by Jenaro Talens, and which can be found in Teatro Reunido. BECKETT, Samuel. Teatro reunido. Eleutheria Esperando a Godot Fin de partida Pavesas Film. Sanchis Sinisterra, Jos (translation Eleutheria); Moix, Ana Ma. (translation Esperando a Godot and Fin de partida); Talens, Jenaro (translation Embers). Barcelona: Tusquets, 2006.

production of television plays such as Eh Joe, Ghost Trio, ...But The Clouds ..., Quad and Nacht und Trume 4, it is much less known that between 1956 and 1962 Beckett began to write for the radio and penned six plays for this medium: All That Fall, Embers, Words and Music, Pochade radiophonique, Cascando and Esquisse radiophonique 5.

ting could not have been more complete since from the late 1940s experimental radio production in continental Europe received ample support from public radio, with the creation of experimental radio studios in Paris and Cologne

Samuel Becketts exploration of the electronic medium of radio broadcas-

which would go on to produce musique concrte and electronic music and whose main representatives were Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen respectively. Also, in the mid 1950s, and as a result of these experiments and of developing his theory, a basis for radio art was established which could be

consolidated as an exercise in art within electronic art in the second half of the 20th century. On a biographical level, it should be noted that Samuel Beckett began

writing for the electronic medium in radio broadcasting just when he was at the

height of the sudden unexpected success brought about by Waiting for Godot, which provided him with a financial bonanza and established him as the most original playwright of his time 6. In fact around 1956, when Beckett was writing

his first radio work at the age of fifty, he had already published sound works

of drama, narrative and poetry, beginning in 1930 with his poem Whoroscope, novels Murphy and Watt, and in French his works titled Mercier et Camier, his theatre play Eleutheria, and the trilogy of novels Molloy, Malone Dies and The
6. ACKERLEY and GONTARSKI, The Grove Companion to Samuel Beckett, p. 172. 7. The rerelease of Waiting for Godot in Paris took place in the Odon Ttre de France, in 1961. KNOWLSON, Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett, pp. 371, 485. 8. KNOWLSON, Looking Back But Leaping Forward, p. 32. 9. MITCHELL, Breon. Six Degrees of Separation: Beckett and the Livre dArtiste. In Oppenheim, Lois. Samuel Beckett and the Arts: Music, Visual Arts, and NonPrint Media. New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1999. 10.Luciano Berio (19252003). Italian composer. Renowned for his experiments with electronic instruments, most of his work was produced in Radiotelevisione Italianas (RAI), Studio de Fonologia Musicale in Milan. 11.Luciano Berio. Sinfonia. Made between 1968 and 1969, for eight voices and orchestra. It includes texts of Becketts novel The unnamable. Published by Elektra/WEA, #45228. 12. Philip Glass (1937). American composer. Cofounder of the New York company Mabou Mines. In 1976 he made the opera Einstein on the Beach with Robert Wilson. 13.KNOWLSON, Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett, pp. 629, 69269. 14. Morton Feldman (19261987). American composer. 15. DEBROCK, Guy. The Word Man and the Note Man: Morton Feldman and Becketts Virtual Music. In Oppenheim, Lois (ed.). Samuel Beckett and the Arts: Music, Visual Arts, and NonPrint Media. New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1999, pp. 6782. 16. KNOWLSON, Looking Back But Leaping Forward, p. 32.

and included works such as More Pricks Than Kicks, Echos Bones, and the

Unnamable.

with other fields of art, and was also a great observer of the art movements of

It is important to highlight the fact that Beckett was permanently in touch

his time, which resulted in his being involved in several collective works, both collaborations with several artists. For example, from the late 1930s, Beckett worked with Francis Picabia, Wassily Kandinsky and Marcel Duchamp in 1941

with visual artists and composers. In fact Beckett established friendships and

Beckett sought refuge for three months and a half in the town of Arcachon, in France, together with Duchamp and his partner Mary Reynolds [a friend of Becketts who he had met through Peggy Guggeheim with whom Beckett had a short affair] during the Second World War, most of the time playing chess and Beckett remained friends for many years with Alberto Giacometti who would

worked with artists linked to Surrealism, Cubism, and German Expressionism 8. From his work with visual artists can be highlighted such projects as the Livre dArtiste made with Avigdor Arikha and Jasper Johns 9.

later design the set for the new release in Paris of Waiting for Godot 7, he also

worked with composers such as Luciano Berio 10, who composed a Symphony Unnamable 11, with the American composer Philip Glass1 2 who wrote several

Regarding work carried out with musicians, it is worth noting that Beckett

for eight voices and orchestra, in which he included texts from the novel The compositions based on texts by Beckett: The Lost Ones (1975), Cascando (1986) 13, with Morton Feldman, whose opera Neither
14

(1975), Mercier et Camier (1979), Company (1983/84) and Worstward Ho short text provided by Beckett later Feldman would go on to compose the musical score for the radio play Words And Music, for the American production of The Beckett Festival of Radio Plays 15, and with Marcel Mihalovici with whom he shared a close friendship and who would later produce the music for the radio play Cascando. was the result of a very

relationship which exists between visual and audio arts and writing, which had

All this provided Beckett with the necessary concepts to think about the

17. Beckett did not accurately date the last of his radio plays Rough for Radio II. Several researchers have opted for sticking to the ambiguous dates mentioned by Beckett (the sixties), while others argue that this play must have been written in 1962. See: ACKERLEY and GONTARSKI, The Grove Companion to Samuel Beckett, p. 489. Samuel Becketts biographer, James Knowlson, says that this play was written in the early 1960s, as with the first rough. KNOWLSON, James. Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett. London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 1996; paperback edition, 1997, pp. 618619. 18. IGES, Arte Radiofnico. Un arte sonoro para el espacio electrnico de la radiodifusin, p. 13. 19. IGES, Arte Radiofnico. Un arte sonoro para el espacio electrnico de la radiodifusin, p.14.

an enormous impact on his creative work 16. And, by combining the possibilities which sound technologies offered him mainly the audio recording tape, this forceful way. provided him with the tools to allow him to explore the medium of sound in a All That Fall, Embers, Words and Music, Rough for Radio I, Cascando,

and Rough for Radio II, were written during a brief period between 1956 and

1962 17, which started from an initial invitation by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). In fact, except for Cascando which was produced by Radio Tlvision Franaise (RTF), and Rough for Radio I produced by the Dutch ketts radio plays were primarily produced by the BBC. One concept worthy of

broadcasting company Nederlandse Omroep Stichting (NOS), most of Bechighlighting when talking about Samuel Becketts radio plays is that these six ting. This is important since in composer Jos Iges words the first realisation

works were specifically conceived for the electronic medium of radio broadcasthat a certain art product belonged to the category of Radio art is the fact that this product undeniably owes its existence to the radio. In other words, that this art product, even though it could be exhibited in other media concert halls or

exhibitions and media records, tapes, etc. basically owes its existence and logy channel, as a communication medium and, consequently, regarding the

real meaning to radio, since its morphology is used threefold, ie, as a technolatter, the use of radio language 18. And therefore All That Fall, Embers, Words And Music, Rough for Radio I, Cascando and Rough for Radio II all comply for bodies. with this requirement, since Beckett specifically produced them for voices, not Here we must take a break to prove, as Jos Iges says, the concept of

radio art is a meaning which dates from the 20th century, and specifically the

second half of this 19 as the concepts of sound art and electronic art. It must be understood that it was not until after the Second World War that the concept to gain popularity among artists and theorists. Before this, radio art was used under the generic name of radio drama, since contributions from historic avantof acoustic art as an independent speciality in 20th century arts that it began

garde movements, especially those who coined the term The Art of Noises, were held on a level parallel to radio production as they were assimilated into
20. In fact Beckett considered that it was with his first radio play All That Fall when he returned to write in English. COHN, Ruby. A Beckett Canon. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press, 2001, p. 401 note 9. 21. The case of All That Fall and Embers translated into French by Robert Pinget, Becketts friend and assistant. ACKERLEY and GONTARSKI, The Grove Companion to Samuel Beckett, pp. 11, 169. 22. ESSLIN, Mediations: Essays on Brecht, Beckett and the Media, p. 150.

music art in the early 20th century.

with All That Fall, Becketts first play for radio, he goes back to writing in English. Beckett started writing his plays in English, his mother tongue. However, to write plays both in English and French. So it is not surprising that Beckett would have written his first three radio plays in English All That Fall, Embers after 1945 he wrote only in French. It was not until 1956 20 that Beckett began

Going back to Becketts radio work, another feature worth noting is that

and Words and Music, and the other three in French Pochade radiophonique, Esquisse radiophonique and Cascando. Beckett also produced or perhaps

23. Linda BenZvi, Beckett, Samuel, Colorado State University, New York, 1986, p. 185. 24. FROST, Everett C., Fundamental Sounds: Recording Samuel Becketts Radio Plays, pp. 361362.

approved the translations of these plays in French and English accordingly 21.

are only six works but these have had a great influence. For Martin Esslin, BBC producer, Samuel Becketts radio plays focus on voices and sounds, [and] lie

Samuel Becketts works for radio broadcasts is relatively limited. There

somewhere between the Irish writers most personal and revealing works 22. Linda BenZvi, in her series on Samuel Becketts plays states that listening to Becketts radio plays is like listening to characters and ideas which have been previously introduced into his fiction and drama, but listening to them

25.ACKERLEY y GONTARSKI, The Grove Companion to Samuel Beckett, p. 489. Knowlson also points out that this play was made in the early 1960s, as was his first Rough for Radio. KNOWLSON, Damned to Fame: The Life of Samuel Beckett, pp. 618619.

in the singular world of sound created by electromagnetic waves from which

they emanate 23. Everett C. Frost, who produced The Beckett Festival of Radio Plays, says that once hooked, Beckett took on the challenge that radio presented him with notable enthusiasm, with a cunning and innovative clarity on the features and possibilities of the medium, and without any condescendence. Each of the radio plays [by Samuel Beckett] is a reference point, since they were pioneering in the development of sound art 24. Samuel Beckett wrote his six radio plays in a period stretching between

1956 and the early 1960s. All That Fall and Embers were the only plays for this

medium written in the 1950s, the first dating from 1956 and the second 1957.

while Rough for Radio II was dated by Beckett as a play written in the sixties? 25. Following the second Rough for Radio, Beckett did not write any other cing plays for the audiovisual media such as cinema and television. radio play, since after 1964 he concentrated his efforts on writing and produWhen one listens to the six radio plays altogether, one finds that All That

Beckett wrote Words and Music, Rough for Radio I, and Cascando in 1961,

Fall (1956) is an extremely realistic play with a large number of characters, whose theme is human deterioration in the face of ageing and death, and the little music, and when it does appear it is just another feature of the sound set. tain subversion in his handling of sound features by placing the radio listener

uselessness of religion as gratification for human acts. This work contains very However we find that in this radio play, Becketts first, he already aroused cernot as a spectator but as an accomplice in the play since All That Fall is a

reflection of reality distorted and decomposing in which Maddy Rooney is immersed.

human deterioration and death appear again, but the number of characters is

Embers (1957), the second radio play by Beckett, is a work in which

drastically cut since we have just one character hooked on a loud monologue in radio drama plays by doing something radical: he eliminates it completely, second radio play, Beckett completes the development of the character who
26. In the BBC production this sound belongs to electronic instrumental pieces.

facing the sea. In Embers Beckett disrupts the traditional function of silence and he substitutes it by adding an element of sound in the air: the sea 26. In this witnesses the decomposition of his own language, to present us with a character who suffers from his own language.

sents us with a play in which the main theme is the creation of art. In this radio play the main character does not witness or suffer from the decomposition ter, which is on the same level as the language of instruments. This situation

In Words and Music (1961) Beckett radically changes his style and pre-

of verbal language but verbal language is turned into an independent characis linked to Becketts interest in exploring the act of creating, which is resolved

by a triad of features comprising voice, music, and a regulating character. This written in this period Words and Music, Rough for Radio I and Cascando.

triad was to become the distinctive element of three of the four radio plays In Rough for Radio I (1961) Beckett continues to explore the act of crea-

ting through the triad of features introduced in his previous works. However this trio of features is modified. In the first Rough for Radio the regulating character simply moves certain switches, through which one can hear flows of verbal and instrumental sound. So, again we go back to the character as a witness who

observes how these flows remain or begin to disappear. As in the previous play, verbal language lies on par with instrumental language, however Beckett of the play the only one done so far resorted to recordings of John Cages voice. failed to determine the part which corresponds to verbal flow, so the producer

again come up against the metaphor of the act of creation through the triad of witness and simple enabler for these flows to be noticed touching switches ,

In Cascando (1961), the play we will hear at the end of this talk, we

features: voice, music and the regulating character. This feature is no longer a but appears as a mediator of these he opens and closes them. Although

the verbal and musical flow are both important in the play, in Cascando the verbal part was determined by Beckett starting from a narration within the play Woburns story. As in the previous play, the ambiguity in the plot, combined here, leads to confusion and inability to understand what is happening and where it is happening.

with a sound set characterised by the absence of sounds depicting the atmosp-

of features which he uses to symbolise the act of creating verbal language,

Finally in Rough for Radio II (sixties) Beckett does away with the triad

instrumental sound and regulating character to give rise to a composed triad: voice Fox, the tortured being regulating character Presenter, a character who registers the voice the Typist, and another character who just inflicts

physical pain to voice, and who acts under the orders of the regulating character Dick. In this radio play Beckett sheds all types of instrumental sound. Although Beckett goes back to cover the act of creating, in this play he does so through a tour de force between verbal sound and silence.

works of radio art and therefore must be included in the canon of art creations which use sound mediated by electronic technology.

Part of the conclusions of the doctoral thesis is that these six plays are

27. In the 1980s Frost worked on the project The Beckett Festival of Radio Plays to produce a new version of Becketts radio plays to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the writers birth, these were broadcast by American radio. Frost carried out indepth research into the BBCs archives and had a close friendship with Beckett with the aim of working together on this new version of his works. The Beckett Festival of Radio Plays was produced between 1986 and 1989, and distributed by National Public Radio in America. OPPENHEIM, Lois. Samuel Beckett and the Arts: Music, Visual Arts, and NonPrint Media. New York and London: Garland Publishing, 1999, p. 386.

plays, between 1986 and 1989 under the title of The Beckett Festival of Radio Plays, the productions of All That Fall, Embers, Words and Music, Cascando and Rough for Radio II appeared and which were directed by Everett C. Frost 27.

Finally, regarding the availability of the radio productions of these

Beckett Festival of Radio Plays was made in 1991 by the Dutch channel Nederlandse Omroep Stichting (NOS), directed by composer Richard Rijnvos and with sound material which includes the voice of American composer John Cage.

Rough for Radio I a play not produced by the BBC nor included in The

and Music, Cascando and Rough for Radio II have been released, produced by the British Broadcasting Corporation in 1957, 1959, 1962, 1964 and 1976 respectively.

And it is just recently that the productions All That Fall, Embers, Words

April 20, 2007, Can Xalant, Matar

Text published at Annual report 02 Can Xalant 2007, Can Xalant, Centre for Creation of Visual Arts and Contemporary Thought, pp. 281-288.