Cocteau’s Chimney, Carter’s Cadenza: ‘Dream Time’ Symbols in Sight and Sound

in KronoScope
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Abstract

The idea of ‘dream time’, or oneiric time, has doubtless been with us since the dawn of human consciousness. But ‘dream time’ is a special kind of time that does not really take time or occupy time, and thus to depict it in a temporal, linear medium is patently impossible. The French filmmaker Jean Cocteau and the American composer Elliott Carter were fully aware of this when they sought to create symbols of the familiar yet ineffable ‘dream time’ phenomenon. This essay examines the interrupted ‘falling chimney’ sequence that frames Cocteau’s 1930 surrealist film Le Sang d’une poète and the cello/violin cadenza, inspired by Cocteau’s gesture, that similarly frames Carter’s 1951 String Quartet No. 1. It argues that Cocteau’s and Carter’s efforts are successful, but largely to the extent that they remind audience members of their own dream-time experiences.

Cocteau’s Chimney, Carter’s Cadenza: ‘Dream Time’ Symbols in Sight and Sound

in KronoScope

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