aperghis 2, foretaste of the thread: a history of the voice [1]: Susan Gevirtz, Beckett, Tuva throat singers, and others to follow. [see post below: georges aperghis, parcours 1-4 in sequence, for the record, and bernie lubell’s wooden neurotic machines]

in luna park, we find some threads of recent posts accreting: zappa, coltraine, the power and necessity of experimentalism, technological mediation, what is art, for whom and where, how deep does art go? to what length is it willing to go? the conflation of media. if neanderthals risked their lives to make ‘art’ in deep, dark caves, is luna park any different? of course it’s ‘different’ in style and technology. but might it arise from the same ‘animal’, or similar departure from ‘animal’, impulse? i am in no doubt that if Nietzsche were alive to witness luna park, he’d be today as much an aperghian as he was in his day a wagnerian. does that mean that there is a connection between wagner and  aperghis? no, it doesn’t. it means only that N would have recognized that what aperghis accomplishes for our day, is what wagner might have but failed to do, in N’s. N broke radically with W because the latter came to ally his music of ‘Gesamtwerk’ with everything N despised – nationalist, nihilistic, rationalist, autocratic modernity.

luna park grapples with these problems of modernity. the IRCAM production, with levy’s stage design and beller’s transposition of aperghis’s score into digital music, combines the nietzschean problem of our historical moment superbly – bodies are fragmented, confined, constrained, mediated, are present and virtual simultaneously, subjected to modernity’s tech while struggling to maintain their autonomy. the audience must choose what it decides to applaud: the seduction of the technology, or the corporeal, musical brilliance of the performers.

keep in mind that aperghis’ use of ‘language’ elements, the sounds vocalized but mostly incomprehensible linguistically, is meant to challenge the dominance of text/language dominance central to the so called ‘linguistic turn’ of 20th anthropology, psychology, sociology, philosophy, and even science, as the main instruments for policing ‘knowledge’ production. even though there is a superficial resemblance to dada, to tzra, schwitters and ball for example, it is at best tenuous, and would reduce A to a historical moment that would eradicate his politically aesthetic intentions.

it’s impossible for me not to compare this work with many of its precedents. i’m thinking in particular of a facet of beckett’s work that as far as i know has not been commented on. one of his very early works was created for BBC radio, and, was about ‘radio’ as a technology. I’m also thinking of his Not-I, Kamau Braithwait’s little know book, History of the Voice, Barthe’s Grain of the Voice, Merce Cunningham’s dance work, Torse, and his Variations V. and many other refs… which i will comment on in the future.

this is not the best recording, but what’s available on youtube: it’s about the alienating effects of the technology of radio:

it seems to me that beckett’s Not I establishes an aesthetic/poetic standard by which any sonic art must be compared/judged. comparing doesn’t necessarily mean judgment; just as judging doesn’t necessarily mean comparing. and then, try if you will, to separate the content from form. but again, here, the corporeal, the technology of the body, is foremost. just listen to the commentary about the ‘brain’, about spatio-temporality, B’s obsession, as it was in his only venture into cinema, FILM, and his general aesthetic trajectory, a kind of pre-postmodern self-reflexivity of form and content – the inseparable intrication of media and content, whether medialogical or simply linguistic, or their juxtaposition/synthesis/conflation.

right. all that. but also, the deletion of every aspect of Spectacle. no fashion, not stage, no ‘star’, no recognizable person. thus, not-i. nothing but the technology of voice of the human body.

and of course, tuva throat singing:

for those who may be interested, i’ve given talks about the beckett work:

Speak the Middle Tongue – Take the Forked Road: A Theory of the Voice

The voice is the sign of pain and pleasure…

Aristotle, Politics, 123a, 10-18.

the title derives from a poetic text by the american poet, susan gevirtz, cited in my talk not included in the excerpt below. so i include it upfront, out of the argument sequence, as another epigraph:

We need a new term for such an agency without agent. Gevirtz has given us a profound image in which to locate it; giving voice with the polygenetic middle tongue so that we can take the forked roads between noise and meaning, between listening and speaking, between giving voice and calling, in order to complete the community of the geno-voice. For her, the model derives from the “the virtual space of all the tele-technosciences, in the general dis-location to which our time is destined…”, as Derrida has described the event that governs communication today. Remember that significance doesn’t necessarily imply communication of linguistic meaning; that geno-songs and geno-voices aim to destabilize, to dislocate meaning in the networks of co-interpolation. What I will next demonstrate is that giving voice to something in the tele-technoscientific virtual space of communication today takes the form, as Gevirtz’s poetry brilliantly models, of broadcast. As she puts it in a poem entitled, “Prothesis:”


The voice speaks to its own mouth

and also from a speech external.


To round out my ‘talk’,

I’ll now turn briefly to Samuel Beckett’s “Rough for Radio I,” written originally in French in 1961, but not published in English until 1976 as “Sketch for Radio Play” in Stereo Headphones, no. 7. This work has been largely ignored by Beckett critics, in part, because Beckett himself considered it surpassed by his later radio works, particularly by “Cascando,” 1962. “Rough for Radio I,” however, if less developed in aesthetic terms than his later works, is far more relevant to my theoretical discussion here, because it addresses what a first encounter with radio may have been like. I don’t have time here to discuss this short but complex work in much detail, and will highlight only a few of its elements. The two main characters are simply called HE and SHE. HE has invited SHE to his flat for reasons that are never made completely clear, but, as SHE says: “I have come to listen.” In the first part of the work, the dialogue between the two characters establish the scene and state of HE’s mind – the flat is dark and cold, HE is troubled and responds irritably and with barely restrained hostility to SHE’s concern for him and interest in the event. As SHE says: HE has suffered her to come. The event that unfolds only very slowly and haltingly depicts SHE’s first encounter with both operating a radio, learning to tune it, (knobs must be twisted not pushed), and with it’s transmission only of voices on some channels, only music on others, and both simultaneously playing on still others. SHE’s response is of incomprehension and astonishment. SHE cannot understand the relation between the voices and music, cannot understand where they are, if they are together or not, why they cannot be seen or see each other, or whether or not they are in the same situations. Beckett depicts HE as equally unable to comprehend the experience of listening to the disembodied voices and music; HE does not understand SHE’s question – “Are they in the same… situation?” But when she modifies her query to – “Are they… subject to the same… conditions?” – HE replies, “Yes, madam.” Beckett suggests that HE has been traumatized by listening to the radio, and that HE has become addicted to the experience of listening. SHE asks: “… you like that?” HE responds: “It is a need.” At this point, SHE leaves the flat.


In the second part of the radio play, HE makes two successive telephone calls to his doctor, but reaches only the latter’s secretary. The secretary’s voice is never heard; her comments can only be surmised from HE’s answers. During the two calls, the radio alternately plays voices and music simultaneously. The sonic effect is palimpsestic, yet riddled with the secretary’s silent responses and HE’s silent pauses as he listens to her, and to the radio. HE is very agitated, in a state of panic, describing his situation as “most urgent.” The radio music and voices become increasing faint, and HE is now terrified that they will completely stop. “They’re ending,” he tells the secretary, and with terror shouts, “ENDING.” HE for a moment imagines that the voices and music will come together, then realizes that that is impossible. “…how could they meet?”, he asks. The secretary, after apparently asking: Isn’t that what all last gasps are like?, hangs up abruptly, or the connection is accidentally lost. But she then calls back immediately, the music and voice are heard together, though fading, and finally cease. Against this sonic background, HE’s replies to the secretary reveal that the doctor is unable to come until the next day because he has to attend to two births, one of which is breech.


What, then, are we to make of “Rough for Radio I?” My view is that it is Beckett’s critique of broadcast’s power to alienate, to create trauma, panic, and psychosis through its enforcement of isolation of individuals from each other. The disembodied voices produce a general sociocultural condition of disembodiment, nothing less than a psychotic historical rupture in the human condition. It is an allegory of social breakdown, the breakdown of relations between HE and SHE, between HE and the doctor, between He and his wife who has left him; in general, the breakdown of human relations caused by the advent of the tele-technoscientific, virtual, sonic space of communication, represented by both radio and telephone. That the musicians and speakers are isolated from each other, will never be able to inhabit the same situation, never come together, is what explains why they are subject to the same conditions, those of alienation. This interpretation is reinforced at the work’s end by the now thankfully rare condition in which women once gave birth – confinement. The radio confines it’s listeners to their living rooms, just as the telephones opens up a global virtual space of sonic alienation, with speakers/listeners reduced to disembodied voices on either end of the telephone line, and just as the broadcast musicians and speakers are confined to separate channels. “Rough for Radio I” is a grim depiction of the death of the communities of nation language and its total expression that both Antin and Brathwaite work to restore. Antin’s urgency is powerfully figured here by two possible types of birth; will a post-broadcast humanity be born in its confined condition safely, or, literally inversely, by breech? Beckett no doubt intended breech to be understood homophonically – as much a breach of law, code, and most importantly, a breach of relations, as a breech birth, which equalizes the potentials of life and death.

“Rough for Radio I,” then, goes into this breach, as a work of broadcast about broadcast, in formal terms; but much more importantly, in affective terms, it is an attempt to produce a condition of immanence in listeners through identification with HE and SHE. In other words, Beckett’s work represents the alienation between the radio’s speaker/voices/music in order to produce an understanding in listeners that they are, actually, literally, those characters. HE and SHE are literally voices in their heads, and their material signification emerges their, in the reciprocal events of listening/hearing, and hearing/listening. In this sense, “Rough for Radio I” speaks with the third tongue and takes the forked road between listening and giving voice, between HE and SHE, between patient and doctor, between music and voice, and finally, between the birth and death of humanity as it listens to and speaks of the historically inscribed conditions of broadcast modernity. Beckett’s remarkable allegory of immanent urgency is a consummate performance of contradictions that demonstrates our monolinguistic fate – that though we speak only one language, it can never belong to us.

By way of summary, I will end by citing a few lines from Gevirtz’s poem, “Prosthesis,” already referred to, which is, and better because realized rather than merely theoretically speculative, another revision of the concept with which I began, the grain of the voice:


How the voice is part of the body and alters with the body’s growth.


The confusion, question, of whose voice is whose, from where do words

issue? Who has them like we have an arm?


The legal voice and its link to limb.


The voice that exists without body, on tape, on the phone, on the radio –

its omniscient fascist possibilities all by itself.


Gevirtz, from Prosthesis : : Caesarea, Potes & Poets Extra, 1993; reissued by LRL e-editions, 2009.



aperghis 2, foretaste of the thread: a history of the voice [1]: Susan Gevirtz, Beckett, Tuva throat singers, and others to follow. [see post below: georges aperghis, parcours 1-4 in sequence, for the record, and bernie lubell’s wooden neurotic machines]

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