In his 1916 short story “Le roi-lune”, Guillaume Apollinaire imagines a weathered traveler who, upon seeking refuge for the night in a network of caverns, discovers a lair inhabited by the old mad King Ludwig II of Bavaria. The King leads our traveler through his chambers to a massive organ- and as Ludwig II begins to play, sounds received from microphones placed all around the world fill the cave:
“Japan at dawn, geysers in a New Zealand morning, a market in Tahiti, voices in China, a train on the American plains, streets of Chicago at noon, boats on the Hudson River in New York, violent prayers in Mexico City, a carnivalesque cavalcade in Rio de Janeiro, evening songs in Martinique, a cafe in Paris, the sounds of the angelus in Munster and Bonn, a boat on the Rhine arriving in Coblenz, nighttime in Naples, a bivouac in Tripolitana, voices in Isfahan, midnight in an Asian desert, the sound of elephants at one o’clock in the morning in India, sacerdotal bells in Tibet, barques on the river in Saigon, gongs and drums in peking, the sound of a rooster announcing dawn in Korea.”
In his imagining of an improvised pan-terrestrial sound composition, Apollinaire preconfigures at once musique concrete, sampling technology & composition, live streaming media, Deep Listening practices, and fourth world/new age music.
Inspired by Apollinaire’s prescience, I’ve compiled the following videos as a way to recreate King Ludwig II’s subterranean keyboard, using YouTube in place of his much more difficult global microphone setup. You can create your own aleatoric compositions by playing, pausing, stopping, and rewinding the following videos of your choosing.
Portal image & top illustration:
Apollinaire, Guillaume, Jim DINE, and Ron PADGETT. The Poet Assassinated ... Translated by Ron Padgett. Illustrations by Jim Dine. Rupert Hart-Davis: London; Zurich printed, 1968
Apollinaire, Guillaume, and Ron Padgett. The Poet Assassinated: and Other Stories. London: Grafton, 1988.
Weiss, Allen S. Breathless: Sound Recording, Disembodiment, and the Transformation of Lyrical Nostalgia. Wesleyan University Press, 2002.
Shout out to Spencer Doran of Visible Cloaks for alerting me to “Le Roi-Lune” to begin with.