abstract of talk:
"Recognised worldwide for his stage play En attendant Godot (1948/9), Samuel Beckett’s impact on the development of French radio drama is nevertheless oftentimes ignored. His corpus of French-language radio plays comprised some of the most acoustically innovative works of the post-World War II period. Adrienne Janus states that “listening to murmurs and babble at the limits of silence and noise moves Beckettian poetics through a rhythm of acoustic control and release beyond mind and world, subject and object. This mode of poetic attention allows Beckett to capture both the anxiety, and the playfulness, of being caught at the limits of language…” (180). Beckett’s radio drama aesthetics thus defined a strict hierarchy of sound that balanced sound effects, music, and dialogue, making his radio works “a matter of fundamental sounds (no joke intended) made as fully as possible” (Frost 362).
Building upon a new wave of interest in Beckett’s work brought about through Trinity College Library’s recent acquisition of Samuel Beckett manuscripts and the working library of renowned Beckett scholar Stanley E. Gontarski, in this talk, I theorise that the high aesthetic level to which Beckett brought French radio drama acoustics did not occur without unforeseen consequences. Here, I highlight evidence suggesting that the manipulation of sound, the use of artificial sound effects, and the juxtaposition of music with sounds and voices as employed in Beckett’s most significant French-language radio plays (Tous ceux qui tombent - ORTF, February 25, 1963; Cascando - ORTF, October 13, 1963; Cendres - May 5, 1966; Paroles et musique - 1972) fashioned a level of acoustic art that could not be sustained indefinitely which ultimately propelled the genre of French radio drama toward an untimely death in the 1970s. Thus, production of Beckett’s works for radio simultaneously redefined radiophonic creativity and precipitated the death of French radio drama."