A sequence on the theme of dystopia, with readings from Burgess, Auden and Yeats and music from Shostakovich and Vaughan Williams. The readers are Samantha Bond and Tobias Menzies.
Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes
A Clockwork Orange (extract) read by Tobias Menzies
London read by Tobias Menzies
The Shield of Achilles (extract) read by Samantha Bond
All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace read by Samantha Bond
Dystopia read by Tobias Menzies
The Second Coming read by Tobias Menzies
The Handmaids Tale (extract) read by Samantha Bond
The Tempest (extract) read by Tobias Menzies and Samantha Bond
The Pedestrian (abridged) read by Tobias Menzies and Samantha Bond
Seven Questions About the Journey read by Samantha Bond and Tobias Menzies
1984 (extract) read by Samantha Bond
1984 (extract) read by Samantha Bond
To the Machines, Should They Decide to Take Over read by Tobias Menzies
High-Rise (extract) read by Samantha Bond
The Time Machine (extract) read by Tobias Menzies
Michael Symmons Roberts
Fire Regs read by Samantha Bond and Tobias Menzies
Words and Music: Dystopia
The concept of dystopia is a peculiarly twentieth century one – most of the readings featured in the programme were written during that turbulent century
We begin with a classic from Anthony Burgess – A Clockwork Orange, with the anti-hero Alex speaking in Nadsat – the language Burgess invented. Alex loves Beethoven (‘our old friend, Ludwig Van’) so it seems appropriate to hear part of the Ninth Symphony.
William Blake’s London from his Songs of Experience is a nightmare vision of the city which could easily describe a dystopian vision. It’s followed by Gesualdo’s 17th century madrigal Moro, Lasso which with its tortured harmonies appeals to the modern sensibility.
WH Auden’s Shield of Achilles describes a dystopian world utterly without compassion.
One of the themes of the programme is our relationship with technology and machines. Lifts breaking down (in A Clockwork Orange, 1984 and High-Rise) seem to symbolise the breakdown of modern civilisation. And current hopes and fears about the rise of technology are addressed in All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace by Richard Brautigan, and To the Machines, Should They Decide to Take Over by Matt Ford. Brautigan’s poem seems to express hope, but the music of Charles Ives seems to suggest some doubt – perhaps our relationship with machines will remain an Unanswered Question? Matt Ford’s poem is about machines assuming that poetry is an abuse of language; Poème électronique by Edgard Varèse seems to be an appropriate soundtrack to the poem.
A more direct treatment of Dystopia is characterised by Amina’s poem of the same name.
Yeats’ The Second Coming with its nightmarish image of the ‘rough beast, its hour come round at last’ slouching towards Bethlehem to be born leads us, via Shostakovich, to an excerpt from Margaret Atwood’s classic dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale. We pause briefly to remember with nostalgia, the time when there used to be an ice cream store, which leads to a brief moment of calm with Gershwin’s Summertime.
A brief excerpt from Shakespeare’s The Tempest refers to the brave new world that became the title of Aldous Huxley’s dystopian novel. Vaughan Williams’ Cloud-Capp’d Towers sets words from the play ‘The cloud-capp'd towers, the gorgeous palaces, The solemn temples, the great globe itself, Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve.’
The centrepiece of the programme is Ray Bradbury’s short story, The Pedestrian, where the act of walking alone at night is seen to be transgressive. The police car that arrests Leonard Mead is, a machine – again addressing our fears about automation.
This leads to the third Movement of Penderecki’s Third Symphony, used in the soundtrack to Scorsese’s Shutter Island, during which we hear Don Paterson’s unsettling Seven Questions about the Journey.
George Orwell’s 1984 suggests that we won’t be watched over by machines of loving grace but by Big Brother. David Bowie’s song of the same name adds to the sense of unease.
JG Ballard’s High-Rise was recently made into a film, and we hear an extract from Clint Mansell’s evocative soundtrack. The architect of the high-rise building lives at the top in a beautiful garden, while society beneath him increasingly breaks down. Society is similarly stratified in the excerpt from the Time Machine by HG Wells.
We end with a scene in Reception in the Advent House Hotel; a jazz piano tinkles in the background while the two Receptionists provide a warm welcome and some helpful safety instructions in Michael Symmons Roberts’ Fire Regs. The pianist and his band provide a gentle end to the programme; but am I just being paranoid, or does that sound like Radiohead?
I hope you have enjoyed your stay.
Producer – Nick Holmes""Added, go to My Music