What was Hörspiel USA? Erik Bauersfeld’s 1984 KPFA Folio essay on “The Project”

Malleus Maleficarum German and English Audio ColumnGreetings all,

My wife recently had surgery for appendicitis, and between doing my work, taking care of her, and looking after my 4 year old son, I’m just too beat to write from scratch this week. My essay on Gordon Bok’s “Peter Kagan and the Wind” will therefore be postponed to next week. However, I’m not too tired to type up someone else’s words, so today I’m proud to present a lost piece of radio drama history.

After my review of his dramatic adaptation of Franz Kafka’s “Metamorphosis” went up, Erik Bauersfeld sent me a thoughtful and fascinating email response. Noting my interest in his cooperative 1984 Hörspiel USA project between Berkeley, California Pacifica station KPFA and German station WDR Köln, Mr. Bauersfeld kindly volunteered to send me information about it. The envelope he sent contained a 1984 copy of the KPFA’s Folio, which included summaries of all the Hörspiel USA dramas and an introductory article by Bauersfeld himself.

This was, of course, much too interesting to just file away. I contacted Bauersfeld and requested his permission to post his essay here, which he generously granted. Together with the show summaries, it presents a window onto a fascinating and all-too-brief bridge between the worlds of American radio drama and German Hörspiel. The dramas showcase an impressive level of dramatic invention and intellectual caliber, demonstrating philosophical depth and artistic boldness. While I share Bauersfeld’s regret that this international cross-pollination was cut short all too quickly, these nine broadcasts alone are an impressive accomplishment. They deserve wider recognition, and more than that, re-release.

I want to make it clear from the outset that this article only reprints Bauersfeld’s essay and the show summaries from the KPFA Folio issue. The words that follow are not my own, and I do not claim them. Furthermore, this post does not contain audio files of any of the actual shows. I only wish it did, as I’m dying to hear them myself. Nevertheless, I encourage any audio drama enthusiast to read on, and audio drama producers even more so. The ideas packed into these shows are rich, fertile, and inspiring, demonstrating even today how much further the artistic boundaries of audio drama can be pushed.

Again, my deepest gratitude to Erik Bauersfeld for allowing me to reprint his words and bring attention to this intriguing chapter of radio drama history.

The Project
by Erik Bauersfeld

Hörspiel USA all began when Robert Goss sent me his translation of a radio play about Helen of Troy written by Wolfgang Hildesheimer, with a note about doing it on KPFA. Hildesheimer is a distinguished Swiss writer, known for his radio work, novels, criticisms, and plays . . . but it was a long script, and I took months getting to it. But it took only minutes after reading the first several pages to get Robert on the phone. Of course, I told him, we must do it. But, I added, not as an amateur production with no funds for actors, directors or technicians.

The next day, I called the Goethe Institute in San Francisco and spoke to Ernst Schuermann. Talking over lunch, he told me he thought the Institute would be interested in funding the play. “But what about a series of Hörspiel instead of one play?” he suggested. And from there the project took off.

Robert Goss went to Köln, Germany, and then spent several months at Westdeutscher Rundfunk listening to over 90 Hörspiele and selecting thirty to choose from. Following that, I received an invitation by the Goethe Institute and WDR to visit radio stations in Berlin, Munich and Köln. It was at WDR Köln, with Paul Schultes, Klaus Schöning and Klaus Mehrlönder that the project was designed.

After that, we sent a series of applications to the U.S. National Endowment for the Arts for additional funds. In addition, WDR became interested in sending several of their directors to San Francisco to assist in the productions of works which they had originally directed. This resulted in two co-productions, Five-Man Humanity and Monologue, Terry Jo. In turn, WDR became interested in finding and commissioning writers and other radio artists in the San Francisco area for productions at WDR, Köln. At least half a dozen such commissions have already resulted. Thus began a major international exchange of radio art between WDR Köln and KPFA, the former’s first such project with American broadcasting.

The result of all this, our first series, Hörspiel USA will be broadcast on KPFA this month. Nine programs, ninety minutes each; six works translated and produced here in Berkeley (at Fantasy Studios) and six original WDR productions: in all, twelve Hörspiel never before heard in the United States.

During the two years of preparation, Ernst Schuermann was transferred to Munich where he now heads the main office of the Goethe Institute. He continues to support the project. Dr. Manfred Triesch, the new director of San Francisco’s Goethe Institute, has brought his own ideas, encouragement, and assistance to the project. At the Institute Library, a center is being developed for Hörspiel works: tapes of our own productions, plus a large collection of original WDR productions are available, as well as scripts and publications. Plans for a continuation of Hörspiel USA this coming year – with emphasis on the exchange of radio artists – are already underway.

Another development has had consequences of more national importance to those of us interested in radio drama – audiences and artists alike. With the coming of television and commercialism in broadcasting in this country, radio drama, which began so impressively, was literally wiped out. But in Europe it continued to develop into a fine art, ranging from the most accessible to the most experimental. For the first time, the United States was represented at the International Geneva Conference of Radio Drama. Four radio artists, Everett Frost of WGH, Boston; Yuri Rasovsky, from Chicago; Dean Boal from National Public Radio; and myself all attended. This, too, was an outcome of our project, through the efforts of Ernst Schuermann at the Goethe Institute and Dr. Schultes and Klaus Schöning at WDR. This extraordinary gathering of radio drama artists culminated with a recommendation by the European Broadcasting Union to our government for increased financial support for radio drama in this country.

Thus, a “regional, national, and international bridge of connections,” to use Klaus Schöning’s phrase, has been set up for the development and exchange of radio art. And even more: these developments and our current series have given KPFA an international status, as Charles Amirkhanian, our Music Director, already has throughout Europe for his artistry in sound poetry and contemporary music. During this past year, three programs were produced and broadcast by Klaus Schöning at WDR Köln on our work here at KPFA. Unlike in this country, radio is reviewed daily in the newspapers of Europe, and our work was fully and enthusiastically reported.

Erik Bauersfeld is director of the KPFA Drama and Literature Department.

Here ends Bauersfeld’s article. I’m attaching the original Broadcast schedule for Hörspiel USA below.

Broadcast Schedule, October 1984

Program One, Mon. Oct. 1, 8:00 pm

During October, KPFA, in association with Westdeutscher Rundfunk Köln (West German Radio, Cologne) presents a series of nine programs to introduce our audience to the art of Hörspiel. this project, initiated by by funding from the Goethe Institute of San Francisco, and later by the National Endowment for the Arts, includes six classic Hörspiele, translated and produced Berkeley, and six original WDR productions. Two of the works in the series were co-produced by WDR Köln and KPFA (see article, page 1). Kalus Schöning, Dramaturg and producer at WDR Köln, was largely responsible for the development of this project, and on this first program, in conversation with Project Director Erik Bauersfeld, he discusses the art of Hörspiel in West Germany with many examples from its history, before and after the Nazi occupation of German radio. The program will follow with two complete works:

Hörspiel: An Introduction by Klaus Schöning. (WDR Köln production)

Five Man Humanity by Ernst Jandl & Friederike Mayröcker (produced in English)

Translated and directed by Robert Goss in consultation with Klaus Mehrlönder, director of the original WDR production. The two directors introduce the work with a discussion of its meaning and its production here at WDR. This brief work (17 minutes) is a classic in the WDR repertory, becoming in recent years a favorite with school children. Sound poets Jandl and Mayröcker have combined their abstract acoustical art with the cogent theme of militarization. In a Mother Goose-style, five men are born, grow up, educated, conscripted, imprisoned, tried, executed, and born again. The Bay area cast includes Leo Downey, Jack Shearer, Sigrid Wurschmidt, Jude Haukom, Craig Bray, David Frank, Steve LeGrand, Wallace Gorell, David Parr, Tyson Thomas, Ethan Eubanks, Jeffrey Johnson, and Daniel Goss. The work was produced at Fantasy Studios with technical production by Danny Kopelson.

Wind and Sea by Peter Handke (original WDR production)

Handke is one of the most prominent European writers and has produced several Hörspiel. In this brief and largely acoustical work, Handke directed and contributed the sounds of his own breathing. This original WDR production is introduced with a discussion by Klaus Schöning and Erik Bauersfeld.

Program Two, Sun. Oct. 7, 8:30 pm

The First Casualty of the Trojen War by Wolfgang Hildesheimer (produced in English).

Translated and directed by Robert Goss. Wolfgang Hildesheimer, one of Europe’s most prominent authors, has written many dramas for radio. Historically, he is one of the earliest writers for radio, and is still active. In his typically humorous style, this play (Das Opfer Helene) Helen of Troy tells the real story of how the Trojan War began and how unsuccessful she was in preventing it. A discussion of the play and its production introduces this program. The cast of Bay Area performers is as follows:

Helen – Hope Alexander-Willis

Menelaus – Jack Shearer

Hermione – Lorri Holt

Paris – Julian Lopez-Morillas

The play was produced at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley.

Program Three, Mon. Oct. 8, 8:00 pm

Monologue: Terry Jo by Max Bense & Ludwig Harig (produced in English).

Directed by Klaus Schöning. A co-production with WDR Köln. Mr. Schöning directed the original WDR production of this story about an American family murdered during a vacation cruise in the Caribbean. Their young daughter, Terry Jo, escaped on a raft and when rescued several days later, speaks incessantly and incoherently about the traumatic experience. We also hear the voices of others, taken from the testimony of the actual case. As Terry Jo becomes more clear, the others become more contradictory and obscure. The incident was reported in a French newspaper, from which the authors composed the piece. This is an exceptional example of a Hörspiel technique, which presents an objective and unsensational acoustical account of horrific events in daily life. Silences, edited pauses, and restraint are dramatic devices with some implication for survival in the contemporary world. The cast of Bay Area actors is as follows:

Terry Jo – Sigrid Wurschmidt

Voices – Robert Goss, Shabaka, Gus Johnson, Cyril Clayton, Nanos Valaoritis, Jenny Sterlin,David Parr, Steve LeGrand, Jerry Cornelius, Morgan Upton, Charles Dean, Elizabeth Keller, Pamela Marsh, and Erik Bauersfeld.

This work was produced at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley with technical production by Danny Kopelson.

Program Four, Sun. Oct. 14, 7:00 pm

Breakfast Conversations in Miami by Reinhard Lettau (produced in English).

Directed by R.G. Davis from a translation by Reinhard Lettau and Julie Prandi. Additional editing of the text by Robert Hurwitt. Directing and production assistance by Maria Gilardin. In this political satire, six former Latin American dictators meet in Miami and discuss their experiences as heads of state over a series of breakfasts at the airport hotel. Their interests shift from such matters as protection from kidnappers, popularity, and dealing with opposition parties to avant gardism, soap operas, sleeping late, and finding the “path to the inside” via cosmic thoughts and deep breathing. The cast of Bay Area performers is as follows:

Narrator – Pamela Marsh

Chairman – H. Robert Haswell

Mimosa – Charles Dean

Professor – James Cranna

Rosa – Morgan Upton

Schneider – Gail Chugg

Torrijos & Cellini – Don Sortor

Wessin – Bruce Mackey

The program was produced at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley. Technical production by Danny Kopelson. Editing by Robert Howe. Sound design and production by Erik Bauersfeld.

Program Five, Mon. Oct. 15, 8:00 pm

Gertrude by Wolfgang Schiffer & Charles Dörr. (produced in English).

Directed by Oscar Eustis from the translation by Robert Goss. Consulting director for the production was the author and director of the original WDR Hörspiel, Wolfgang Schiffer. Gertrude had been admitted to a halfway house for rehabilitation. Most doctors diagnosed her as an incurable schizophrenic. Listening to the radio was one of her ardent pastimes and she began a series of letters to WDR Köln, where two producers took an interest in her and began to document her struggles to find a new place in society. This attention brought a new meaning and encouragement to her life. Then the program was completed and Gertrude was left, once again, to find her way alone. This original Hörspiel is an outstanding example of documentary used in a dramatic artistic form. Director Eustis tried, in this adaptation, to preserve some of the original documentation. The voice of Gertrude and the people in her life are heard, and our actors carry on the story. The program is introduced with a discussion of how this was accomplished. In the cast are:

Gertrude – Abigail Booream

Producer – Wolfgang Schiffer

Other voices – Drew Eshelman, Gus Johnson, Laural Ollstein, David Parr, Jenny Sterlin

The program was recorded on locations in San Francisco and Berkeley, with technical assistance by Karin Brocco; technical production at Fantasy Studios by Danny Kopelson. Music by Maggi Payne. Director of production for radio: Erik Bauersfeld.

Program Six, Sun. Oct. 21, 8:30 pm

Roaratorio by John Cage (original WDR production).

Radio Play Text by John Cage. This is the first broadcast of Roaratorio in its entirety, in the United States, and one of the most complex works for radio ever produced. It contains a grand total of 2293 sound effects, all referred to in the texts selected from James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. On this program, we first hear a discussion of the work with WDR producer and editor of Roaratorio, Klaus Schöning, including portions of a conversation with John Cage, and his address at Donaueschingen in October, 1979, on having received the Karl Sczuka Prize for the work. The first broadcast at WDR, Köln was October 22, 1979 with the following credits:

Voice – John Cage

Singer – Joe Heaney

Musicians – Seamus Ennis, Paddy Glackin, Matt Mallow, Peadher Mercier, Mell Mercier

Realization – John Cage & John David Fullemann

Cooperation – IRCAM Paris

Editor – Klaus Schöning

Assistant – Peter Behrensen

In this coming season, the Roaratorio will be staged for the Merce Cunningham Ballet Company. Two remarks by John Cage may help orient our audience for this broadcast. First, regarding the text: “I hope that Roaratorio will introduce people to the pleasures of Finnegan’s Wake when it is still on the side of poetry and chaos rather than something analyzed and known to be safe and law-abiding.” Secondly: “I had long come to the conclusion that the purpose of music, and I trust of Hörspiel, is to sober and quiet the mind, thus making it susceptible to divine influences.”

Program Seven, Mon. Oct. 22, 8:00 pm

On Reading Orwell by Mauricio Kagel (original WDR production).

Produced and broadcast this year, 1984 at WDR Köln in recognition of George Orwell’s novel about the same year. In Orwell’s science fiction vision, 1984 was dominated by a Big Brother who altered language technologically in ways that reinforced his dictatorship. Kagel’s text consists entirely of such words, a meta-language. For example, two words connection and secured, become connecticured; unification and clearness become unificearness. These words are spoken and chanted. The sounds represent all the acoustical events mentioned in Orwell’s book, in a form of the daily indoctrination of employees in 1984’s Ministry of Truth: “Hate broadcasts . . . having the goal of keeping ideological loyalty fresh by insistent repetition.” Kagel is perhaps the most inventive and prolific of all Hörspiel artists. His works in all details, recording, directing, editing, composing and producing, are by himself. His work is that of the true ‘auteur’ of radio art. The program includes a discussion of Kagel’s work and a conversation between him and Klaus Schöning, WDR director and producer.

Radio by Ferdinand Kriwet (original WDR production).

This Hörspiel was originally in the series Acoustica International, co-produced by WDR, Köln, French Radio, and Sveriges Riksradio, Sweden. It won the Primios Ondas Prize in 1983. Kriwet is a master of radio collage and Radio draws its composition from broadcasts and archives around the world. “Voices that continually surround us, speaking, singing, buzzing shortwave; a concentration of what is on the air, day in and day out.” The program is introduced by Klaus Schöning, with portions of taped remarks by the composer about his work.

Program Eight, Sun. Oct. 28, 7:00 pm

On tonight’s program, we present two Hörspiele by American writers and members of the international artists’ movement, Fluxus. Both works were commissioned and produced by WDR, Köln.

Natural Assemblages and the True Crow by Allison Knowles (original WDR production)

Allison Knowles won the 1982 Karl Sczuka Prize for her Hörspiel Bean Sequences. On this program, we hear her second work. It is based on her 1982 poetic journal, which explores the subconscious world of childhood. The sounds accompanying the text (read in German and English) were performed by the composer using toys and other reminiscences of childhood. The program is introduced by Klaus Schöning, WDR producer and director, in a discussion with the artist about her work.

Hsin Hsin Minh by George Brecht (original WDR production).

Born in 1925 in Halfway, Oregon, Brecht has been living in Köln since 1972. This is his first radio piece and it is based on the the text from one of the great poetical-philosophical works of Zen Buddhism, Hsin Hsin Minh. The author is the Third Chinese Patriarch, Seng Ts’an, who died in the year 606. “Return to the origin, and the sense of things will announce itself to you; hunt for it in objects and you will miss it.” The program is introduced by a discussion with Klaus Schöning, about the unusual composition of the work, which is performed in four languages: English, French, German, and Chinese.

Program Nine, Mon. Oct. 29, 8:00 pm

The Other and I (Die Andere und Ich) by Gönter Eich (produced in English).

An American family touring Europe have detoured on a hot Sunday afternoon in August, to swim at a resort on the north Italian coast. On the way they pass a desolate fishing village. An old woman stands at the foot of a bridge, watching them pass. Ellen, the mother, sees her and later is drawn back to find her. When she does, she enters a world and life from which there is no escape. Gönter Eich (1907-1972) is the mot famous of all German writers for radio. His work remains more classic that the “New Hörspiel” of the past several programs, but his style is poetic, full of imagery and themes that derive largely from German Romanticism. In 1953, he married the Austrian poet and novelist Ilse Aichinger. A year earlier he was awarded the Hörspiel Prize of the War Blind (one of th emost prestigious awards in West Germany in the 1950’s). Eich explored lost identities in his plays – lost identities between people, between words and their “external correlatives,” and between the living and the dead. The Other and I (Die Andere und Ich) is just such a typical Eich theme. Ellen Harland becomes lost or captured in the body and life of another woman. She cannot return to her own self and her comfortable world, but must live out the whole life of an impoverished woman in a desolate fishing village on the coast of Italy. Directed and produced by Erik Bauersfeld.

The cast of Bay Area performers is as follows:

Ellen Harland / Camilla – Winifred Mann

John Harland – Morgan Upton

Mother – Shirley Jac-Wagner

Father – H. Robert Haswell

Giovanni – Rick Cimino

Philomena – Lorri Holt

Antonio – Mark Rousseau

Aunt – Barbara Oliver

Recorded and produced at Fantasy Studios, Berkeley.