podcast Slow Radio BBC

Slow Radio awards you with an explosive soundscape ranging from numbing urban noise to the deafening cacophony of rainforests. Meditative or absurd?

Some time ago, TU Delft’s X launched an event called Salon. Wanting to imitate the 17th century salons of French high society, the host for the month had planned a series of evenings that promoted discussion on art, music, politics or other forms of creative self-expression that are often overlooked in a high-stress academic environment such as our university.

In one such session, there was an exciting debate on the boundary between music and sound. A boundary that contemporary artists often view as malleable. Befitting such a description is a production by the BBC network, a podcast called Slow Radio.

Slow Radio, if it sounds similar to ‘slow food', (a concept originating in Italy in the 1980s to combat the hastiness and deglamorisation of nourishment), it’s because it is built around the same fundamental philosophy: slowing down, living in the moment and stepping back from the noisy highway of life.

With episodes lasting 20-30 minutes, the podcast offers listeners a half hour of pure unadulterated sound. The idea sounds eccentric at first and unremarkably similar to an ambient noise playlist that students use while studying. Hence, it took me by surprise when I realised it is nearly impossible to focus on anything else when the podcast is on. The themes are varied and listeners are usually rewarded with an explosive soundscape ranging from numbing urban noise to the deafening cacophony of rainforests.

Unfortunately, I have my reservations regarding Slow Radio, and with good reason. The absurdity of the existence of such a podcast points to our pitiful disengagement with the world around us. We no longer tune in to the sounds that envelop us, rather, choosing to listen to songs, the radio or, ironically, podcasts while outside or on the move. Yet, this show still might have something to offer: a meditative and immersive experience of a place or time that we may never be able to physically visit. For example, one of the episodes compiled forgotten sounds of items that have been lost to technological reinvention such as typewriters, steam engines and old clocks. Other times, it allows us a vicarious auditory experience of walking, on a late night, across Kabukicho – Tokyo’s ancient entertainment district.

This particular episode opens with the shrill noise of a train halting at a subway station followed by the sound of shoes stomping across the floor. We then proceed to hear Kabuchiko’s famous 24 hour neighbourhood bustle with music from bars, speeding cars, digital chants in Japanese from video game arcades and the general murmur of a city filled with the noise of life and the noise of living. 

Ultimately, I have mixed feelings regarding Slow Radio. On the one hand, its quirky raison d'être is appealing but on the other, it feels a little ridiculous to me to attentively listen to recorded sounds of the world while ignoring what is right outside. This one is clearly for a niche audience. Perhaps this is for you, perhaps it isn’t.

Pooja Ramakrishnan, Master of Environmental Engineering student, is a science student during the day and a poet by night. She balances the two with her curiosity and fascination for the world we live in.