Saturday, January 26, 2013
Jax presents ... SAMUEL BECKETT'S RADIO PLAYS
“The farther he goes the more good it does me. I don’t want philosophies, tracts, dogmas, creeds, ways out, truths, answers, nothing from the bargain basement. He is the most courageous, remorseless writer going and the more he grinds my nose in the shit the more I am grateful to him.
He’s not fucking me about, he’s not leading me up any garden path, he’s not slipping me a wink, he’s not flogging me a remedy or a path or a revelation or a basinful of breadcrumbs, he’s not selling me anything I don’t want to buy — he doesn’t give a bollock whether I buy or not — he hasn’t got his hand over his heart. Well, I’ll buy his goods, hook, line and sinker, because he leaves no stone unturned and no maggot lonely. He brings forth a body of beauty.
His work is beautiful.” – Harold Pinter on Beckett
We all know Beckett's work for stage and his novels. Few of us know his radio drama. Until recently, I didn't even know he wrote any. But in 1955 the BBC, intrigued by the international attention being given to the Paris production of Waiting for Godot, invited the author to write a play for radio. Beckett was initially hesitant, but wrote to his friend the shipping heiress and political activist Nancy Cunard:-
“Never thought about radio play technique but in the dead of t’other night got a nice gruesome idea full of cartwheels and dragging of feet and puffing and panting which may or may not lead to something.”
That ‘nice gruesome idea’ led to All That Fall—and four other plays specifically written for the radio medium between 1957 and 1962. There’s also a sixth – From an Abandoned Work, which I haven’t heard – and a French play, translated as The Old Tune, which comes bundled with the downloads below.
Neither Beckett’s work for stage or his novels, he’d be the first to agree, are exactly big on narrative and his radio drama is no different. Here’s a short synopsis of what does – or doesn’t - happen in those five plays:-
All that Fall: Maddy Rooney, seventy years old, “two hundred pounds of unhealty fat,” makes her laborious way to the Boghill railroad station to meet her blind husband, Dan, as a surprise for him on his birthday.
Embers: Henry sits on the strand, tormented by the sound of the sea. He talks to his drowned father, who doesn’t answer, and to his wife, Ada, who does. Throughout it all the sound of the sea weaves in and out, almost like a third character.
Words and Music: Words, called Bob and Music, called Joe are forced to collaborate by the club-wielding Croak. Under duress they produce two of the most exquisite lyric poems ever written by Samuel Beckett. The play is often understood as as being “about” the agonizing difficulties of the creative process itself.
Cascando: an Opener “opens” and “closes” two characters: Voice, who desperately promises “this time” to tell a story he can finish; and Music, who equally struggles to create a finished composition.
Rough for Radio I: the grumpy MacGillycuddy gets a female visitor then makes a phone-call, receives two in return, finally securing - or perhaps admitting - the information 'tomorrow...noon'.
Rough for Radio II: an Animator assisted by a Stenographer and the whip wielding mute character, Dick, has the task of eliciting from Fox some unknown testimony of unknown significance. If it could but be achieved then “tomorrow, who knows, we may be free!”
And thanks to the wonderful RTE (the radio and TV broadcasting company of Ireland), who re-recorded all five (plus The Old Tune) in 2006, as part of “Beckkett100”, they are now archived online and available to download as mp3s HERE.
‘All that Fall’ and ‘Embers’ are probably the most accessible, unless you’re a total Beckett freak, but I really like Rough for Radio II and Cascando – not because I understand them in particular, but because they’re really beguiling in an aural sense. Maybe he’s not big on conventional narrative but Beckett uses structure to poetic effect like no-one else, both in his other works and his radio drama.
So what's the deal with radio plays, I hear you ask? English-language-wise, both the US and UK have a rich history of radio drama, spanning the first 'soaps' on commercial radio in the US and Orson Welles' seminal adaptation of HG Wells' “War of the Worlds” (which used the medium so well, a nation was raised to the edge of panic). And by the mid-1940s, the BBC was producing over 400 radio plays each year. These days, radio drama has a minimal presence on terrestrial radio in the US, but the BBC's commitment to this most idiosyncratic of media remains strong. In the UK, Radio 4's daily 'Afternoon Drama' attracts an average audience of 500,000. That's half a million. Five days a week. Fifty two weeks a year. And most of these are not adaptations of novels, short stories or stage plays: they are works written specifically for radio – that is, they take full advantage of the medium.
So again, what's the deal with radio plays? For me, a good radio play is the next best thing to music, in that the content bypasses the eye and mainlines itself straight into your brain. Cos radio plays are all sound. So far, so obvious, right?
But what does ‘all sound’ actually mean? For the listener, compared with say watching TV drama or films, it means YOU get to create your own version of the characters and story in your own head because sound has to be, after smell, the most connotative of the senses.
What's the first thing we become aware of, in the womb? Our mother's heart. One could argue, therefore, that our ears are of primary way of engaging with our environment.
What differentiates homo sapiens from other animals? Speech – and how do we receive speech? Through our ears.
Sound is primal. Sound is personal and thus both subjective and infinitely ambiguous: the same sound will have as many connotations as it has listeners. Sound is intimate: the lover's whisper, the bully's hissed threat, the child's cry, the dog's howl. Yeah, I'm rambling a bit here, but that's purely because of the very special and unique relationship each of us has with any given collection of sounds, which in turn renders the aural experience difficult to describe.
Okay, I’ll admit it: there's something very unnatural feeling about sitting down and listening to radio drama as it is broadcast, whether it’s on an actual radio or via a website. There's nothing to look at. You (well, I do) start to fidget after the first five minutes. Worse still, I close my eyes in the hope this will let me focus – and I fall asleep. We're so visually oriented these days, we don’t know what to do with our eyes when we’re not using ‘em to take in information.
Listening is defo a skill. What I do – thanks my digital radio and its sd card – is record plays then transfer 'em over to my mp3 player and take 'em out with me. On walks. On train journeys. On the bus. With my eyes actively engaged in looking at nothing in particular, my ears are freed up to allow the drama to unfold somewhere deep in my brain. And if you've never listened to radio drama I urge you to take the plunge, cos at its best? There’s nothing like it.
Other Notable People Who You Might Not Know Have Written Radio Plays
Mr. Pinter : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A_Slight_Ache
Mr. Orton: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Ruffian_on_the_Stair
Mr. Behan: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brendan_Behan#Plays
Mr. Minghella: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anthony_Minghella#Selected_plays
Mr. Adams: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Hitchhiker%27s_Guide_to_the_Galaxy
Ms. Carter: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Angela_Carter#Radio_plays
More recently, one of my fav radio plays is Matthew Broughton’s wonderfully eerie The Rain Maker. Due to copyright issues, you can’t download it, but I have an mp3of it, if anyone wants to send me a flash drive. Here’s a link to the writer talking about The Rain maker process:-
Another amazing piece of writing for radio is Jack Thorne’s People Snogging in Public Places. Again, due to copyright issues, this isn’t available to listen to right now, but keep an eye on the radio schedules cos it may be repeated.
Finally, in true Becketian tradition, let me end where I began, with himself. There’s been a recent vogue for ‘staging’ his radio plays: here’s a trailer for one:-
Here’s a Mexican version of Embers, in Spanish:-
Here’s the original 1957 BBC recording of All That Fall – as a bonus, you get to stare at a particularly craggy Sam as you listen.
And here’s a photo from his little known ‘buff’ period.
p.s. Hey. Major treat this weekend as the writer and d.l. extraordinaire Jax concentrates us on the radio plays of the unimpeachable lit-smith Mr. Samuel Beckett. There's amazing stuff galore up there for you guys, and I hope you'll enjoy the directive and the goods, and that you will speak back to your guest-host between now and Monday. Thank you, and thank you, Jax! Now, I'll go back and start by recreating the interactions I attempted re: the later comments from two days back that Blogger so rudely disappeared on me and then gradually get us up to speed. ** Thursday ** Sypha, Weird to see the changes I made to my 50 books list. The Agota Kristof wasn't a change, I just called the trilogy of novels by their overall name in one list and by their individual names in the other. Of course, if I redid the list again now, it'd be differently made yet again. ** David Ehrenstein, Hi. Wise Gore. ** Barry, Hey! What a true pleasure and honor to have you post here. Thank you! I was at the opening of Hors Piste the other day and saw that they're screening your work, and, if I'm in town, which I'm almost sure I will be, I'll be there. Everyone in or near Paris, Barry Doupé's 'The Colors that Combine to Make White are Important', which was featured in Hyrule Dungeon's post the other day, is being screened at the Centre Pompidou on February 1st at 8 pm in the Cinema 2 theatre as part of the Hors Piste festival, and I highly recommend that you attend if you at all can. Again, thank you, and, if you'll be there for the event, hopefully I'll meet you there, and, if not, somewhere somehow, I hope. ** Hyrule Dungeon, Hi, J. Thanks so much again! ** JoeM, Hi, Joe! Thank you so much about the video for my dad. That's really kind of you to say, my friend. The Seekers! Nice, thank you for that too! ** Anonymous/ postitbreakup, Hi, Josh. No, the 'Pyre' booklet will only be for the people who see the show. That's Gisele's decision, but, given its strong resemblance to the first section of my novel, I also prefer that it stay locked to the theater piece. Thanks about the 'Try' thing. ** 5STRINGS, Hi. I think I've long since 'fucked up' my 'career' to the point where selling out would not be technically possible even were doing that were the slightest temptation. It is technically possible to get rich off one's first novel, so go for it. I don't know that Ugly Joe-like new band. What an idea. I don't think any of my novels are bad, no. Some bad short fiction and poetry, for sure. Some weak chapters, but not bad necessarily, I don't think. I really don't think I'll see 'Argo.' 'Skyfall' I will certainly see, probably on a plane flight. Paris is good. You should be here, although it is a bit nippy. ** Billy Lloyd, Hi, Billy! If the London gig for 'The Pyre' pans out, I'll definitely let you know. I think I do know some pretty awesome Paris places that tourists don't get officially directed towards, so that's a deal, and, yeah, I hope you do get over here. That would be fun. Oh, no, the motivation spell wore off a bit? Temporarily though, right? Did the coffee work while not rumpling your stomach? How are you today? ** Friday ** Chris, Hi, Chris. Mm, it depends on what you mean by heal. Honestly, I didn't feel completely like my old self for at least a year, I think, or it felt like a year. I think that, after that long, I was eating and drinking most of what I had imbibed before, although I never ate onions or peppers and that sort of thing again. I was/am a vegetarian, and apparently that helped it go sort of smoothly, I was told. But I haven't had any recurrence of the ulcer thing since, and, obviously, it's been a long time, so hopefully you have internal peace to look forward to again. The theater schedule is pretty much a red herring, as far as charting my own schedule goes, but, that said, I don't post the behind-the-scenes work schedule, which is relatively intensive, or will be until late May. ** Misanthrope, Yikes: car, slippage. Did it snow more? We seem to be completely through with snow, at least for a while. It's even supposed to get contextually toasty -- 14 degrees C -- in the next few days. ** Un Cœur Blanc, Hi! She is tough, but her surfaces are detail-y and alluring. You're still beset with the flu? Ugh, I'm sorry. The flu is so imperialist this year. Of course I'm happy about your Blanchot reread. Wow, you're so right about the weirdness of Blanchot and a food space. How totally interesting. Yes, that feels wrong. Hm, I'm going to think more about that. That's so interesting. Thank you, and have the best weekend you can. ** David Ehrenstein, Oh, good, I'm glad you seconded my Stead post resurrection. She's talked about and read far too infrequently these days, I think. No chance in hell that I'll get invited to the Diderot reburial. It's interesting, though, 'cos they haven't buried a new body there in many decades. There was a campaign afoot to get Celine reburied there a short while back, but that got scotched by the powers that be for the obvious reason. ** Rewritedept, Coachella is like dead band reunion central this year. That feels weird or something to me. That said, now I really want to try to go because one of those reunions is of one of a fave, very under-appreciated band, The Three O'Clock. Although I'm hoping they do a warm up gig at some small, friendly LA club beforehand 'cos Coachella attendance just sounds like hell to me. With Stead, 'The Man Who Loved Children' is her masterpiece, probably. It's long, though, and I've only read a couple of the others, but they were both excellent. The Blur show should be pretty fun. The videos of their London reunion show look like a lot of fun. I was underwhelmed by the new Yo La Tengo. I mean, it's real nice, obviously, but I wanted something new to be happening in their sound, I guess. We were briefly linked, if you mean LinkedIn, but I got the hell out of here this morning. Nothing personal, of course, ha ha. Get through your non-off days as best you can, man. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. That Embassy show sounds like a lot of fun, as does the Orton sisters' installation. I hope it gets photographed or videoed or something. Excited for your Skinny review. 'Hello, Hello, I'm Back Again' looks spooky and great. So, steroids it is. Well, obviously, I hope they help you out a lot. ** 5STRINGS, It doesn't quite match to any of those connotations precisely. I guess I should see 'SLP'. Don't know if I will, though. Eventually, I guess. Inspired by Clapton? Why? I've never really gotten the Clapton as great/god thing at all. Must be a nice feeling to feel like your ass is 20 years old, congrats. Nice column, buddy. ** James, Hi, James! Nice to see you! Sorry to hear that you've been beneath the weather. You have plenty of company, although that knowledge never helps much. Cool about the Xmas time old friends hanging stuff. Any comparison between 'Closer' and 'Irreversible' is a very high compliment to me, thank you. Paris has been treating me very good when I've been here. Had great snowfall for a few days, and now its evidence is completely gone. Quite cold, but not deadly. I am back working on the George novel again, yes, slowly, but yes. You're into the editing phase, nice. I really look forward to getting there on my end, as violent as it may end up being. Have a lovely weekend! ** Bollo, Hi, J! Good, so it's fixed and ready to be your silent enclosure again, an architectural installation work titled 'Applause' or something. I had no clue about the Zorn/Rimbaud thing. He's like Pollard; either you commit fully to his trajectory or you get lost. Thanks, I'll go check out the video, cool. Is that new Grouper the one that's reviewed in the current issue of The Wire? Made me want it, not that I needed any encouragement really. ** Steevee, Hey. We disagree about The Quick, but then I'm familiar with their evolution. They were my very favorite band for about four years. I must have seen them live something like 30 times. The new Philippe Grandieux being 'White Epilepsy' or the documentary? Probably 'WE', I would gather. I heard a piece of the Pantha du Prince, and it did sound really tasty, and I'll get it, thank you. ** Kyler, Hi, K. Oh, God, ... I came home tired late last evening and saw that an old friend of mine whom I haven't talked to in far too long had 'invited' me to hook up with him on LinkedIn, so I blearily joined and then awoke this morning to find my email box flooded with LinkedIn shit and a few emails from friends asking if I had really invited them to join LinkedIn, which I hadn't, so I deleted my account there lickety-split. What a creepy place. Hm, interesting and mysterious about 'what went wrong'. I couldn't quite decode your message, but it was colorful and intriguing. Happy that laughs have pummeled the 'wrong' to some degree, man. ** Alan, Hi, Alan. She's pretty interesting. Unique voice. You might give her a try. Oh, thanks a lot about the 'Weaklings (XL)' cover, man. All the credit goes to Joel Westendorf. That photo is of the living room of the house I grew up in. Very melancholy image for me, and I'm glad to know that it works without attached memories. Have a great weekend. ** Okay. We're caught up. Be with Beckett and Jax as best you can this weekend, and I will naturally see you again on Monday.
Posted by Dennis Cooper at 9:06 AM