All the Light We Cannot See

Netflix Limited Series (2023)


By Doug Boilesen, 2023

This PhonoMovie is based on the 2014 novel "All the Light We Cannot See" by Anthony Doerr and on its Netflix adaptation which was released in 2023. Phonographia Movies must have at least one phonograph in the story and this movie has three phonograph scenes and one radio scene which was notable for its many broadcasts of the phonograph record "Claire De Lune.")

The primary setting of the movie is in Saint Malo, France during World War II. Ettiene LeBlanc is the "Professor" who had broadcast his educational program of truth through philosophy and science from his attic in Saint Malo on radio frequency 1310. The broadcast always included him playing Claude Debussy's “Claire De Lune.” Werner Pfennig grew up in Germany as a devoted listener of the Professor's radio program.

When the Professor's nephew Daniel LeBlanc and his daughter Marie-Laure flee Paris and come to his home in Saint Malo the Professor shows his blind grand-niece how the radio broadcasting system works. She takes over the broadcasts by using her braille books to read stories like "Twenty-thousand Leagues Under the Seas" by French writer Jules Verne. The readings were part of the French Resistance since they provided the allies with coded messages within the chosen passages spoken on the program.

Note: All screenshots from this movie are courtesy of NETFLIX.



Ettiene the Professor had always started each radio broadcast with “Clair de Lune” by Debussy playing its record on his open horn gramophone. It's this song that Werner Pfennig heard while growing up in Germany and it's the connection with the Professor's show which eventually leads Werner to Marie-Laure.


Ettiene and Marie-Laure in the attic with the radio equipment and the gramophone.



Debussy's “Clair de Lune” played on the open horn gramophone in the attic is the memorable song of this movie. It could also be called an "Our Song" for Marie and Werner who embrace in the attic to say good-bye with a kiss as "Clair de Lune" plays and they promise each other that they will someday be together again. It's a beautiful moment and I thought it was perfect (but it's not in the original book).






LISTEN on Spotify to “Clair de Lune” by Jean-Yves Thibaudet, 2009

LISTEN to Clair de Lune by Claudio Arrau pianist, recorded in 1991 when he was 88 years old. The Suite bergamasque was first composed by Debussy, 1890-1905. Courtesy of YouTube's Adagietto.

LISTEN to Claude Debussy playing "Clair de Lune" in 1913. Note: The source of the record was not an acoustic phonograph recording but is from a piano roll created by Claude Debussy. See Credits below for more information.


"Clair de Lune" catches the attention of Werner's sister Jutta in Germany as the radio is on when Werner broadcasts his radio message and Werner and Marie say good-bye to each other.



Sitting in a room Werner's sister Jutta turns towards the radio when she hears “Clair de Lune." Walking to the radio and hearing her brother's voice Jutta knows that Werner is still alive. "I am still on the same frequency in my head," Werner tells his sister over the radio.



The emotional power of music like "Clair de Lune" and the wonder of the radio delivering Werner's voice to his sister hundreds of miles away is a poignant moment in the story. Jutta embraces the radio in pure joy. The radio, like music, is a connector on many levels, and although Werner had grown up illegally listening to the Professor on its French station, it was how Werner had connected with the world of ideas; connected with the Professor and Marie; and now reconnected with his sister.



The other phonograph scene in this movie is a record played of the sound of birds on a portable phonograph. Marie's father had taken her to Paris's National Museum of Natural History where he was principal locksmith. In the scene he winds up the phonograph and plays the recorded sound of birds. And they listen.





CREDITS and more information related to Debussy and "Clair de Lune."

All screenshots for this PhonoMovie are courtesy of NETFLIX.

The following comes from YouTube's Adagietto - Debussy plays Debussy | Clair de Lune (1913) and provides information about the piano rolls made by Debussy.

From 1903 to 1913, Claude Debussy recorded several of his own pieces on piano rolls. Debussy was delighted with the reproduction quality, saying in a letter to Edwin Welte: “It is impossible to attain a greater perfection of reproduction than that of the Welte apparatus. I am happy to assure you in these lines of my astonishment and admiration of what I heard. I am, Dear Sir, Yours Faithfully, Claude Debussy.” More than one century old, these recordings allow us to listen to the great composer playing his own works. Debussy made his last recordings when he was 52 years old and suffering from cancer, in 1913. He died less than five years later, on March 25, 1918.

Rolls for the reproducing piano were generally made from the recorded performances of famous musicians. Typically, a pianist would sit at a specially designed recording piano, and the pitch and duration of any notes played would be either marked or perforated on a blank roll, together with the duration of the sustaining and soft pedal. Reproducing pianos can also re-create the dynamics of a pianist's performance by means of specially encoded control perforations placed towards the edges of a music roll, but this coding was never recorded automatically. Different companies had different ways of notating dynamics, some technically advanced (though not necessarily more effective), some secret, and some dependent entirely on a recording producer's handwritten notes, but in all cases these dynamic hieroglyphics had to be skillfully converted into the specialized perforated codes needed by the different types of instrument.

The playing of many pianists and composers is preserved on reproducing piano roll. Gustav Mahler, Camille Saint-Saëns, Edvard Grieg, Teresa Carreño, Claude Debussy, Manuel de Falla, Scott Joplin, Sergei Rachmaninoff, Sergei Prokofiev, Alexander Scriabin, Jelly Roll Morton and George Gershwin are amongst the composers and pianists who have had their performances recorded in this way.


This comment was made in the Adagietto string "Debussy plays Debussy" by @marianneoelund2940 in 2020:

Debussy made this recording of Clair de Lune, and 13 other pieces, onto a set of 6 rolls using a Welte-Mignon reproducing piano, also known simply as a "Mignon."

The Mignon was unique in that it recorded the nuances of a player's performance, including dynamics and pedaling, thus the result can be far more expressive than the more typical player-piano roll reproductions.


"Clair de Lune" is a French poem written by Paul Verlaine in the year 1869. It is the inspiration for the third and most famous movement of Debussy's 1890 Suite bergamasque of the same name. 'Clair de lune' ('Moonlight') is from Verlaine's early collection Fêtes galantes (Gallant Parties, 1869). (Ibid. Adagietto).

Not to be confused with "Au clair de la lune" the French folk song of the 18th century ('By the Light of the Moon') they are both French and both about the moon. For Friends of the Phonograph "Au clair de la lune" is where the history of recorded sound begins with 10 seconds of that poem spoken by Frenchman Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville recorded on his Phonautograph on April 9, 1860.

Scott's Phonautograph was not conceived or designed to play back sound but computer technology altered that original limitation. The 1860 recording of Scott's voice reciting "Au clair de la lune" was heard for the first time in 2008 because of the work done by First Sounds and its team, the software developed at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, modifications to the application, additional signal processing and the manual correction of the time signal. It's a remarkable story which should be read, and also supported as there is more to be done.

The sound recordings of Édouard-Léon Scott de Martinville has been recognized as Humanity's First Recordings of Its Own Voice and celebrated as the patrimony of all mankind. (Ibid. First Sounds)

Listen HERE to the Download mp3: Au Clair de la Lune (May 2010 release #44) courtesy of First Sounds.

It is also fascinating that Claude Debussy's "Clair de lune" has nothing to do with "Au clair de la lune" but Debussy did use the melody of "Au clair de la lune" in another one of his songs, Pierrot.