- "Proposition for a Radiophonic Art"Introduction
Out of the Archive provides a regular forum for the publication of rare or little-known documents concerning the history of modernism and the avant-gardes. Its compass is global and its aim is to prompt critical reflection on how the past's material remains shape present understandings.
Not many people know of Paul Deharme today, a French businessman and radio pioneer who died young in an accident in 1934. Deharme had been successful at professionalizing radio advertising, and he and his wife counted among their friends some of the better known members of the French and international avant-garde, such as Robert Desnos, Alejo Carpentier, Marie and Yves Goll, and James Joyce. But, in the years before he died, Deharme also wrote a theory of radio that combined an original analysis of radio language with an avant-garde positioning of the new medium. Convinced that surrealism could be brought to the masses through a smart use of the wireless, Deharme worked out the principles of what he called a "radiophonic art," which would combine entertainment and the analysis of the collective subconscious.
Deharme insisted on radio broadcasting as a medium of oral communication with its own formal requirements different from those of theater or film. He contested the claims of his predecessors in radio theory, Pierre Cusy and Gabriel Germinet, who in their Théâtre radiophonique (1926), had argued for the similarity of radio to theater, hoping in this way to lend more prestige to the new medium. Deharme claimed to the contrary that radio broadcasting's advantage lay in its difference, specifically the fact that it relied solely on the voice, not on vision.i In this way, [End Page 403] Deharme was able to produce innovative radio plays such as Un incident au Pont du Hibou (1928) and L'île des voix (1934), as well as advertising spots.ii He was indeed one of the most original personalities in radio at the time. The most intriguing French radio play prewar radio, La cité des voix (1938) is dedicated to the memory of Paul Deharme.iii His legacy, however, would be quickly forgotten after the war. This is certainly due to the general neglect of the history of radio broadcasting before 1945, and to the inexistence or poor quality of radio recordings from the period. Already in a radio feature from 1944 dedicated to "Radiophonic art," Pierre Schaeffer, a founding figure of French postwar radio who collaborated with Jean Tardieu and Louis Merlin in the Studio d'essai, claims that "there are no names attached to radio, no radiophonic works. There are no archives."iv Historians of radio such as Cécile Méadel, René Duval, and Denis Maréchal have given detailed accounts of the organization of early French radio, its diversification into private and public stations, and the programming structure of the major stations Radio Luxembourg, Radio Paris, and le Poste Parisien. Several theoretical works on radio as well as radio plays of the time, however, remain unedited and uncommented by radio historians.v This is why the translation of Paul Deharme's first programmatic article, "Proposition d'un art radiophonique," which presents a condensation of his later works, seems appropriate today.
Deharme published several articles and a book on radio theory. "Proposition d'un art radiophonique" was published in 1928 in the Nouvelle Revue Française, the leading literary journal of the period. In it, Deharme announces a theory of radiophonic art and offers a compendium of principles that he had found most useful for making the radio message reach not only the listener's ears, but his or her conscious and subconscious mind. His book Pour un art radiophonique (Paris: Le rouge et le noir, 1930) significantly expanded on these ideas, adding references to contemporary psychological and psychoanalytic thought and to the surrealists, and offering a detailed discussion of the one radio-play that best exemplified Deharme's ideas, the 1929 adaptation of Ambrose Bierce's An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. In the magazine Vendre, Deharme also published a lecture originally given at the Association des Collaborateurs de la Publicité, in which he...