Back to All Events

Words + Music, a live radio play

Presented in collaboration with Rice University and sponsored by the Humanities Research Center, experience “Words and Music” by Samuel Beckett and Morton Feldman with Loop38 in this one-night only event with Christina Keefe and Jack Young.

About the work

Samuel Beckett’s radio play “Words and Music” comprises two competing media as its characters, “Words” and “Music” (sometimes known as Joe and Bob), and underlines an inherent cross-media paradox of text colliding with sound. First commissioned by the BBC, the original 1962 production was set to music by Beckett’s cousin John Beckett—a score that dissatisfied Beckett, who once declared an operatic misalignment of music and text as “a hideous corruption” of artistic meaning. After another underwhelming production in 1973 (set to music by Humphrey Searle) Beckett’s play found its conceptual ideal in a 1987 production with music by Morton Feldman scored for six chamber musicians. The production marks a cross-disciplinary milestone for drama and music in the twentieth century. Both Feldman and Beckett found the idea of setting words to music absurd. Like Beckett, Feldman repeatedly disparaged the idea of music and text interacting on the same semiotic plane, stating, “I wouldn’t want to use a term like prosaic or clichéd, but it’s something to some degree related.” Their shared distrust of cross-media work makes their collaboration singular as both an ironic performance and sincere enactment of the very thing they scoffed. “Words and Music” binds language to sound while also strictly denying the collaboration. The words “Please” and “No” repeatedly respond to musical interludes; as if language were speaking—and disagreeing—with sound. Indeed, as many critics perceive it, the dialogue appears to be a one-sided conversation with half its lines missing. As such, “Words and Music” asks for a media slippage, a sort of arbitration where words and music meet in the middle at semantic harmony and tonal law, a settlement that remains rare today and provocative as ever.

About this production

This production will focus around an interdisciplinary network of darkness—the unlit space of the Chapel and the shadowy acoustics of Feldman’s score for six musicians (first flute, second flute, vibraphone, piano, violin, viola, and violoncello). An added component is that we will be live streaming of this production with KTRU, the Rice radio station.

Read More

“The Beckett/Feldman Radio Collaboration” by Marjorie Perloff.

Earlier Event: March 9
Second Saturdays: Leslie Gaworecki
Later Event: April 13
Second Saturdays: John Hovig