Sunday, February 16, 2014

Radiolab's Musical Language

My first impressions of this podcast were that it was very well put together, both in terms of discussion content and the way creative editing was used to provoke interest, illustrate and enhance key points of discussion (since much of the discussion was about sonorous objects, many of them were played as examples to the listener; the sounds are powerful when presented in a before-and-after format, which allows the listener to draw their own conclusions, before those conclusions are eerily and accurately expounded upon by the commentators). The topic was intriguing in and of itself - the oddity and wonder of how and why sonorous objects make us feel things: from comprehensibly spoken language to incomprehensible (linguistically) spoken language, and the universally understood melodies embedded within; the way these melodies act as 'touches' because of their ability to incite emotion without higher comprehension; the natural adaptation of the ear to dissonant sounds (in an attempt to discern patterns and 'hear' a more pleasing sound, or rather a more patterned collection of electrical impulses, because unpleasant sounds actually incite unpleasant emotions!); and how past famous composers' unique riffs and compositional tendencies can be analyzed, restructured, and re-composed into a brand new compositionally sound piece.

Wow! That's a lot of stuff to discuss, and I didn't even mention half of the snippets of research discussed - such as Diana Deutch's perfect pitch study with tonal languages, and the grand implications that has for potentially unlocking remarkable musical ability within the human mind. Over the course of an hour, 5 or 6 interesting topics were touched upon, all relating to the musicality of language and how/why sound has the ability to make us feel so many things so strongly. There was heavy layering of sonorous objects, from music, to sound effects, to overdubbed voices playing out a second scene framed around the central discussion (ie the 'neurons' trying to decipher a dissonant sound); what stood out to me was that the sonorous backdrop for the entire podcast was very rich and varied, but at the same time nearly always felt meaningful and related to the actual discussion. In some cases the illustrations were vivid and straightforward, as in the telling/playing of Stravinsky's first performance of Rite of Spring (the screaming and crashing effects during the 'riot' bit was particularly humorous and effective). In other cases, the effects were more subtle and served as a sort of auditory 'filling' that kept the listener active, bouncing between speakers, looping and echoing a statement or sound in unexpected places, providing just enough "background noise" in between more purposeful conceptual illustrations to keep the listener's attention.

Overall I think the quality of sound, the cleanliness and creativity of the editing, the calm demeanor and genuinely thoughtful back-and-forth of the commentators, the way each topic being discussed was illustrated by a wide variety of interesting auditory examples, sometimes in the form of specific samples and sometimes by way of clever editing techniques and effects (looping, layering, sound effects) - all of this, combined with the high quality of the information presented (both in content and form - the content is interesting, credible, and presented by easy-to-listen-to guys in a concise and satisfying fashion), leads me to consider this a pretty darn good example of what a podcast can, and perhaps should, be. In any case, I think it is an excellent example of how to produce a polished, informative, and entertaining product.

Musical Language (59 min)

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