Tuesday, 11:22pm
12 June 2012

Sonorama panorama

A French magazine that put a new light (and spin) on musical multimedia

This June issue of French magazine Sonorama includes reports from the Cannes film festival, writes John L. Walters.

Sonorama – Cover (crop)

Also: a feature about recent conflicts in North Africa, a piece about a masked wrestler called ‘l’Ange Blanc’ (below) and a round-up of new music releases.

Sonorama – disc 2 (crop)

There’s also a substantial multimedia element, with reportage, chansons, jazz musician Sidney Bechet (top) and a feature about French chanson.

However there’s nothing digital about Sonorama, which I chanced upon in a Normandy flea market. This one, no. 9, is the June 1959 edition of the trademarked ‘magazine sonore’ published by Sonopress and edited by Jean-Pierre Castel between 1958 and ’62. You can still find them for sale online, too.

Sonorama – disc 1 (crop)

The audio element is in the six white flexi-discs interleaved between the printed pages and and then comb-bound into the square (7 x 7in) magazine. The entire issue can be folded back behind the disc and placed securely on a record player, thanks to a spindle hole through all the pages (which also reminded me of the bullet hole in Push Pin Graphic no. 54 – see ‘Look away’).

Sonorama on a deck

Flexi-discs are usually thought of as a 1960s phenomenon, sent out to fan clubs (such as the Beatles’ one) and stuck to the front of music rags such as the NME, so Sonorama is a distinctly early (and upmarket) use of the new technology. Stick the mag on a turntable (above) and it yields the sounds of De Gaulle, crowds, singers and saxophones alongside a dusting of surface noise.

Sonorama – disc 3 (left page) crop

Sonorama is more curiosity than treasure, and its design and contents are perhaps not as interesting as the boldness with which the elements are put together. Nevertheless there’s a welcome musical treat in the third disc (see above and below), which features music from Marcel Camus’s masterpiece Orfeu Negro [Black Orpheus], set in the Rio carnival. At the time of Sonorama 9’s publication the movie had just won the Palm d’Or at Cannes.

Sonorama – disc 3 (right page) crop

Antonio Carlos Jobim and Luiz Bonfá’s haunting soundtrack (later to captivate the world as Bossa Nova classics), was little known outside Brazil in the summer of 1959.

With songs such as ‘A felicidade’ and ‘Manhã de Carnaval’, the musical multimedia of Sonorama no. 9 offered its readers / listeners a taste of the future in more ways than one.

Sonorama – disc 4 (crop)

John L. Walters, Eye editor, London

Eye is the world’s most beautiful and collectable graphic design journal, published quarterly for professional designers, students and anyone interested in critical, informed writing about graphic design and visual culture. It’s available from all good design bookshops and online at the Eye shop, where you can buy subscriptions and single issues. Eye 82 is out now, and you can browse a visual sampler at Eye before you buy on Issuu.