Friday 1 June 2018

Right Between the Ears: Radio 3, June 2

My latest programme for BBC Radio 3, ‘Right Between the Ears’ is going out this Saturday evening (June 2) at 9.30 pm. If you already have other arrangements, you will still be able to stream the programme after the broadcast by clicking here.

This link also gives you additional information about the programme. A podcast version will also be available.

A few years ago, readers of this blog may recall, I underwent a routine eye operation while under the influence of a local anaesthetic, which numbed all sensation in my head. I now recall that operation only as an uninterrupted succession of sounds - heavy buzzes, high-pitched crackles, sizzles and trickles resonated inside his skull. It created a series of rippling acoustic spaces around me. The most amazing music I have ever heard was playing amid the flickering lights and snatches of gentle conversation in the theatre. What is more I could no longer tell with my deadened senses, what sounds were coming from within me and which from without. I seemed to be experiencing a much deeper, more physiological state of hearing.

In an attempt to recreate this 'amazing music', 'Right Between the Ears' takes the listener deep into the acoustic territory of the skull from the eyes to the ears and then the recesses of the skull itself. This experience, this haunting auditory space, has a long history: the Quetzalcoatl Indians of Central America rubbed a notched bone against a skull during their funeral rites. The poet Rilke once wondered what kind of ‘primal sound’ would emerge if you ran a phonograph needle across the sutures of the human skull: would a new incoherent voice resonate from within it? With the aid of sound artist Aura Satz, we performed Rilke’s experiment with an actual human skull in a daylight séance conducted around a West London kitchen table. 

There are some remarkable reconstructions of auditory experiences caused by the physiology of the ear and eye and the cavities of the human head. I even lay in the dark on the springy floor of the anechoic chamber at Salford University to hear the high-pitched keening of my nerves and the low murmuring croon of my blood circulating in search of my own primal sound.  

I am profoundly grateful to all of the contributors to this programme, which sounds amazing: the binaural mix making for a mesmerising listening experience. Do try it with headphones if you get the chance. Despite the subject matter, the actual programme has a relatively low ‘ik’ factor - but then my generation was the first to become desensitised towards violence. 

Guest voices include musician and composer Martin McCarrick, sound artist Aura Satz, Trevor Cox of Salford University, Sophie Scott of UCL and Louisa Wykham of Moorfields Eye Hospital. The man with the artificial head was Studio Manager Donald McDonald and the producer was Mark Burman. 

Pictured above: our kitchen table séance, outside the amazing Maida Vale studios, cables at old BH