Voices reverberate between the stereo speakers, talking about dreams in a blurred, dreamlike style, merging and clashing in a kind of word-music that forms a eerie, appropriate background and a recurrent motif in "Sigmund Freud: A Portrait in Sound," the first program in an ambitious new series from National Public Radio. The series -- called "A Question of Place" -- begins with the Freud portrait at noon today on WETA-FM (11 a.m., Monday, Oct. 13, on WAMU-FM) and will continue for a dozen weeks with "sound portraits of 20th-century humanists."
Subjects will range from such artists as James Joyce, Bertolt Brecht and William Faulkner to such thinkers and activists as Noam Chomsky, Claude Levi-Strauss, W.E.B. DuBois, Michel Foucault, Simone de Beauvoir and Bertrand Russell. The treatment is an interesting blend of education and show business, with dramatic episodes frequently blending into narration and analysis of the subjects' work and many noteworthy performances by people not particularly associated with radio: Tennesee Williams portraying Faulkner; Theodore Bikel playing a many-faceted role as Stravinsky; Viveca Lindfors as Simone de Beauvoir; Robert Frost reading Robert Frost; and John Houseman as Bertrand Russell.
Possibly the best of many high points is the James Joyce profile (the second to be broadcast), written by critic Hugh Kenner (a genius at the popularization of abstruse literary subjects) and using Irish actors reading from Joyce's works. Also outstanding is the Brecht program, which blends readings from his works with a discussion of his life and ideas and reaches some kind of climax with a recording of his appearance before the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Compared to some of these, the Freud presentation seems slightly lacking in gliter. But it is solid, covers more of Freud's intricate theories than one would have thought possible for a general audience in a single radio show, and launches a series that will certainly include some classics in the history of broadcasting.