on life, music etc beyond mainstream

2016 28 Jan

In the words of Nicholas Johnson, codirector of the annual Samuel Beckett Summer School

von: Manafonistas Filed under: Blog | TB | Comments off

Ladies and gentlemen, dear readers, dear club of the Manafonistas! In one of his many bursts of formally specific creativity, Samuel Beckett explored the medium of radio from 1956 to 1963, creating five original works. He wrote, in a letter to Nancy Cunard, that a “gruesome idea” had come to him “in the dead of the other night”, an idea that became All That Fall.

He approached these scripts with as much precision as he did his plays, seeking through the printed word to communicate with the directors, actors and technicians who would bring the words to life, so that they might, through a mass medium, pass on this auditory hallucination to others. Yes, auditory hallucinations! We sometimes forget the magic of the everyday life.

There are two moments, at which I tend to picture Beckett with his ear pressed to the wireless. The first is at the outbreak of war in Europe in 1939, when I can imagine him in Paris, trying to get the news from the BBC. There is more biographical justification for the second occasion, during the broadcast of All That Fall in 1957, when it seems that bad weather across the Channel gave him only vague impressions of his play, with long passages of static.

This is a potent reminder of how challenging it has been in the past just to listen to the radio. The presence of any apparatus at all is easy to forget in the contemporary era, when “wireless” is more often used to refer to the internet, which we think of as the newer, stronger and younger mass medium.

It is also helpful to remember that “fidelity”, much discussed by Beckett scholars in relation to how closely one adheres to Beckett’s wishes for performance, has an additional, concrete meaning for the radio drama: can I hear it?

Now that we are beyond the era of crystal sets, vacuum tubes and ham enthusiasts, those who seek company have millions of hours and hundreds of languages to choose from, and they can take these sounds with them while walking, cycling, driving, cooking or cleaning. Countless identities, narratives and thoughts, compressed into tiny files, have passed fully into the control of the listener.

From its origin as a kind of miraculous, tenuous link to voices and bodies elsewhere, radio now forms only one part of the ubiquitous and continuous background noise that marks contemporary life.

It is within this auditory context that Pan Pan’s presentation of All That Fallon stage, at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin, in February 2016, after years of international touring, finds its form and its significance.

Listening is again turned into an active and sensory occasion, and a specific chamber for the experience is designed that marks it out as distinct from the bombardment of sound everywhere else in the world. It is a throwback both to an era when families tuned in together and, still further back, to the preradio era of the seanchaí and the filí, when the oral tradition made the event of a story more important than the physical object of the book. Good night, and good luck!


Samuel Beckett – All That Fall (1957)

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