NMSAT :: Networked Music & SoundArt Timeline

1938 __ « Essai d'Anesthésie » — « La Clef des Songes »''' (The Key of Dreams) — '''Radio
Robert Desnos (1900-1945)
Comment : Desnos showed his creative mastery of radio's nonverbal language in a short presentation called "Essai d'Anesthésie", created for his 1938-39 show "La Clef des Songes" (The Key of Dreams). These few minutes of Desnos's recorded voice (now in the archives of the Maison de la Radio) evoke an anesthetized state. He creates the effect of a ghostly echo chamber with his voice, his timing, and sound effects. There is one sentence -- "You will not suffer", "Tu ne souffriras pas" -- that is repeated four times, followed by the intermingled sounds of tolling bells and crickets. The first time, the sentence is so indistinct that it cannot be understood and sounds more like a nonverbal cry than like language. By the fourth time the sentence finally becomes clear, but the listener is left unsure, at the first hearing, whether this greater comprehensibility springs from greater clarity in the recording or from the stirring within the self of a more finely attuned aural acuity. The impact on the listener is eerie, like hearing a voice from another dimension, a voice "from the depths of a dream", as his friend Samy Simon notes (note 24). Weiss comment that "there exists a point, unlocalizable and mysterious, where the listener and radio are indistinguishable", which is exactly what Desnos accomplishes here. The echo chamber effect, combining Desnos's voice with silences, tolling bells, and crickets, causes one to doubt one's own hearing and prompts a straining to hear more, to compensate, with other imagined, remembered, or hallucinated senses. In an article written in defense of the artistic and technological creativity evident in radio publicity, Desnos himself described the echo chamber as "capable of giving to a phrase the amplitude of a call in a cathedral or a shout on a hike up in the mountains". [...] "La Clef des Songes" ran from February 1938 through June 1939 and was devoted to the surrealistic activity of interpreting listeners's dreams. It was Desnos's most successful experiment with interactive radio, a notion to which he was completely committed. Echoing Deharme's philosophy of radio production, Desnos claimed in a magazine article written to promote the show and to invite listeners to submit their dreams for dramatization and interpretation that he and his collaborators, Jérôme Arnaud and Colette Paule, wanted to create "a poetic drama in order to restore to the radio a domain [namely poetry] which fundamentally belongs to it". In the interactive play of interpretations and reader's responses, Desnos encouraged the poetic possibilities arising from such verbal exchange. Desnos's article concludes with a teasing incitement to readers and listeners to respond to the show by giving free rein to their own auditory imaginations. For "an invented dream", he writes, "delivers the same secrets, carries the same portents, as an authentic one. Dream on then, Dear Readers". [...] Furthermore, as surviving scripts for the show reveal, Desnos and his collaborators believed that, just as listeners's dreams could support the show, the radio, in turn, could generate their dreams. An exchange between Paule and Arnaud clarifies the functioning of this interrelationship : "[CP] - Well, in the mail we received this week, there were many dreams inspired by songs heard on the radio. [JA] - It's not surprising ! It's completely natural that the radio, that voice which extends everywhere, would have an influence on dreams, since, in short, the radio "is" the home of delivery of dreams". Each show began with the dramatization of a dream; the only extant recording lasts for about ten minutes (note 30). This particular dream dramatization demonstrates how the disembodiment furnished by the radio offered Desnos a satisfyning outlet for his fascination with disguises, allowing him, through the use of different voices, to don multiple aural "masks". Without the distraction of the face (even a masked face), the listener (as opposed to the spectator) must focus on a different kind of theatricality, one that is necessary privileged by the medium of the radio, as Deharme claimed with his idea of the "théâtre intérieur". Desnos, who from childhood had loved to assume different identities and who continued to explore multiple identities in his surrealist dramatizations of the self, was well prepareed for the radio's theater of the imagination and for mediating his understanding of it to others. The remaining recording begins with the sound of wind blowing. Then Desnos's lively and cheerful voice commences a narration in the first person and in the present tense : " I find myself suddenly in a strange country where the wind is blowing strongly". The sound of an approaching marching band with one man's voice singing in the lead is heard. Desnos continues : "We were in a group ["nous étions toute une bande"], walking along and singing". at this point the man from the marching band sings a refrain. He is joined by a crowd of people. Desnos goes on : "The others were walking very fast but I could'nt seem to keep up, despite all my efforts". Then a faint voice is heard in the background crying plaintively: "Wait! Wait for me" ["Attendez-moi, attendez-moi"]. The band plays on, and then Desnos's voice exclaims, "Suddenly ...", and a strange roar is heard in the background. It sounds like a noise made by a large animal, possibly an elephant. Then, just a suddenly, music from a jazz song overrides the animal's roar, followed again by Desnos's voice saying, "In front of us ...". But he is interrupted by the impatient voices of two men muttering to one another: "But what "is" this!" "It's a hippopotamus. They're all fat hippopotamuses". Then Desnos explains : " But I could not move my legs ...". Then another strange cry erupts, a human cry of agony, which Desnos clarifies : "I was in the process of stepping on Max Rénier, who was lying on the ground! He was thrity meters long and covered with spots like a giraffe". Interrupted yet again, this time by cries that are not human, Desnos resumes the narrative : "The two hippopotamuses were headed straight for us and, at the very instant they were going to flatten us ...". More cries are heard, followed by Desnos's voice, apparently speaking from a place of safety : "I saw from behind a tree a surprising parade. All the wild animals in the world were in it, a real menagerie. At that moment a storm blew up. The wind, the rain, the storm, made the wild animals run away". Storm sounds take over, carried along by what seems to be a full orchestra musically imitating a storm. Desnos then elucidates the situation : "The storm had become a storm of music and the forest had been transformed into a bathroom. There was clapping and yet there was no one there". Orchestral music continues in the background, together with the sound of clapping. The clapping then morphs into gunshots, and other sound effects give the impresson of a war. "The clapping became deafening", Desnos continues, "It sounds like shooting". And, in fact, shooting is heard, over which, eventually, a woman is heard crying out, " Help! Help!". Faintly, behind her, a man's voice echoes hers. Then another, woman's voice exclaims authoritatively : "Enter here, you'll be safe" ["Vous êtes à l'abri"]. "Enter here. But why don't you come in ?". "It was the female usher at the concert hall", explains Desnos, "who was pushing us into a padded room. The room was, in fact, a bomb shelter into which all the surprised spectators were tightly crowded ["tassés comme des sardines"]. Above our heads, the concert hall was collapsing, the shooting continued". Here the sound of a worried crowd and the report on shots anxiously underscore Desnos's voice. "In the shelter, everyone was complaining that they were going to suffocate". Two voices interrupt : a woman cries "Help!" and a man calls for "Air, air!". Bombs or explosions go of in the background. Continuing the narrative, Desnos concludes :" I myself was about to be smothered when I woke up breathless, my pillow over my head". [...] Desnos's exploitation of the "theater of the mind" in "La Clef des Songes" constituted his most surrealist work in the 1930s because, on a mass level, he was able to ignite the senses and illuminate the inner landscape of millions of his listeners by guiding them to focus on their own capacity for dreaming. With his cheerful interpretation of his listeners' dreams he was able to encourage them to pursue their "dreams", that is no say their hopes. By emphasizing the creative potential of images produced by dreams, he encouraged listeners to understand the fundamental surrealist idea that human beings are dreamers as much as they are rational thinkers. With his radio show Desnos asked listeners to recast Descartes's classical explanation for man's humanism ("I think therefore I am"), absed on the primacy of thought, as "I dream, therefore I am", based on the primacy of dream, and to apply this surrealist formulation to their own everyday lives. This was his way of popularizing surrealism, one and for all. For who better than Desnos knew how vivid the inner theater could be? How strangely appropriate, then, that his attempts to compel listeners to focus on the theater of the mind should be lost to posterity, for, in those early days of radio, programs were mostly unrecorded, and scenarios, frequently improvised on the spot, as Simon and Jacques Prévert attest, turned out to be as fleeting as the visions Desnos himself had regularly witnessed within his own automatist inner theater. [...] Desnos's radio advertisements closely resemble his automatically inspired poetic word games. Simon confirms that it was perhaps "with the advertising slogan that the best exercised his virtuosity as a word acrobat : his prodigious, scientific mastery of compression, of the well-placed word, allied to a true sense of a popular poetry for which he was never at a loss". [...] With the radio Desnos's voice-motivated virtuosity found its medium. [...] On the radio Desnos was finally fulfilling his dream of becoming a truly popular poet. He passionately wanted to create, as Youki explains in "Desnos, poète populaire", "songs that could be heard on the streets, sung by delivery boys, for example, or murmured by lovers into each other's ears." [...] He believed that musical radio advertisements were inspired by popular culture but they also contributed to it. He thought that these jingles helped bring French folklore, in the form of proverbs, songs, and music, back into circulation : "Radio advertisements will deserve a nod when the renaissance of French folklore is analyzed". [...] The memory of Desnos's voice is evocative precisely because of the corporeal trace it leaves behind; it reminds the listener of the body attached to it. There is no language without body, argues Barthes. And Desnos, the surrealist poet most identified with voice, is suitably remembered for the uniqueness of his voice. Remembering him on the radio is to remember hom at his most surrealist, since it is to remember him according to his own principles, those that define Desnosian surrealism, whose fundamental tenet was that surrealism is a reality that has become part of the "public domain", as stated in his "third" manifesto and echoed in his jingle for Pupier Chocolate: "one reality, complete, open" and "available to everyone", like the voice itself. (Katharine Conley)
French comment : Le poète devient rédacteur publicitaire aux Studios Foniric et anime l'équipe qui invente et réalise au jour le jour les émissions diffusées sur Radio-Luxembourg et le Poste Parisien. Il cherche à la fois à faire rêver ses auditeurs grâce aux capacités suggestives de la radio et à les rendre actifs dans la communication en faisant appel à leurs témoignages. C'est ainsi qu'en 1938 “La Clef Des Songes” remporte un grand succès en reprenant à l'antenne des récits de rêves envoyés par les auditeurs. L'expérience radiophonique transforme la pratique littéraire de Desnos : de l'écrit celle-ci se déplace vers des formes plus orales ou gestuelles. L'essentiel pour Desnos est maintenant de communiquer, et la littérature est un moyen parmi d'autres. Ainsi Desnos écrit-t-il diverses chansons de variété, interprétées par des gens comme le Père Varenne, Margo Lion, Marianne Oswald, Fréhel. Peu à peu ses projets deviennent plus importants : en collaboration avec le compositeur Darius Milhaud, il écrit des cantates comme “la Cantate pour l'inauguration du Musée de l'Homme” et travaille avec Arthur Honegger et Cliquet Pleyel pour des lyrics de film. Il tient la rubrique des disques dans Ce soir, journal dirigé par Aragon. (Compiled from various sources)En 1934, Armand Salacrou lui confie la publicité radiophonique des produits pharmaceutiques dont il a la gestion (Vermifuge Lune, la Marie-Rose pour les Poux, la Quintonine, Le Vin de Frileuse, le Thé des familles…). Entouré de collaborateurs, il invente et réalise les slogans pour plus d’une centaines de produits jusqu’en 1939 – des petits poèmes pour lesquels Carpentier propose les airs les plus divers, du classique au folklore et aux variétés qui servent d’indicatifs. Les inventions de Desnos firent siffloter toute la France et grimper les ventes de ces produits en flèche ! Le succès lui vaut de réaliser des émissions radiophoniques patronnées par les produits annonceurs : lectures de contes, chansons folkloriques, concerts… Ce sont parfois des radio-montages d’opéras, de drames lyriques, de musiques classiques, de chansons modernes. Desnos rédige et réalise ainsi plusieurs émissions quotidiennes restées célèbres, à la fois culturelles et divertissantes : “La Demi-heure de la Vie pratique” ou “Le Quart d’heure de récréation”. La première consiste à présenter des personnages célèbres et, sous forme de dialogues, à les rendre vivants. Elle est accompagnée de lectures, de morceaux musicaux et d’extraits d’archives. Desnos réalise en 1936 Le Salut au monde, inspiré d’un poème de Walt Whitman. Il imagine, en collaboration avec Alejo Carpentier, une fresque sonore mêlant sons, chants, musiques et lectures. Une idée géniale à l’époque. Le succès rencontré entraîne la création d’une série d’émissions poétiques et musicales adaptées de romans, de poèmes ou de pièces évoquant les traditions d’autres pays, en une sorte de tour du monde sonore et poétique. Avec La Clef des songes, lancée en 1938, Desnos atteint au mieux l’un de ses objectifs : monopoliser le savoir des auditeurs, les faire participer à l’élaboration de l’émission, les inviter jusqu’au cœur de la création. Il utilise les récits de rêves qui lui sont envoyés par lettre, les met en ondes (citations, lectures, mises en scènes…) et les commente selon l’antique clef des songes d’Artémidore d’Ephèse, réactualisée. C’est un franc succès et seule la déclaration de guerre met fin à ce dialogue noué par Desnos avec ses auditeurs. Ainsi de 1934 à 1939, l’activité principale du poète est de travailler à la radio. Il y passe presque tout son temps. Il découvre la liberté d’invention, le travail d’équipe, l’art de la communication directe au jour le jour : les émissions sont soigneusement préparées, mais toutes sont alors réalisées en direct. Desnos confère ainsi à la publicité comme à la radio ses premières lettres de noblesse. (Anne Egger)En 1937, Robert Desnos, qui signera quelques années plus tard le courrier des rêves d'un magazine féminin sous le nom d'Hormidas Belœil, crée une émission radiophonique hebdomadaire, La Clef des songes, où il propose aux auditeurs d'interpréter, au double sens du terme, leurs récits de rêves : en leur révélant leur valeur de présage, au moyen d'une traduction toute récente du traité d'Artémidore, et en les faisant jouer par des comédiens. D'une semaine à l'autre, il constate des concordances, liées à l'actualité sociale ou politique, et soucieux de restituer aux auditeurs ce songe collectif il fait mettre en scène les rêves les plus fréquents de la semaine... (Alexandrian S., 1974. Le surréalisme et le rêve, Paris, Gallimard, pp. 276-283). (Giordana Charuty, « Destins anthropologiques du rêve », Terrain, numero 26 - Rêver, mars 1996)
Source : Conley, Katharine (2003), "Robert Desnos, Surrealism, and the Marvelous on Everyday Life", University of Nebraska Press, pp. 104-105, pp. 107-119.
Urls : http://www.ubu.com/sound/desnos.html (last visited ) http://terrain.revues.org/index3071.html (last visited )

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