RADIO / Cut, cut, cut it up: Robert Hanks on the dub-mix sound of 'Rushes II'

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The Independent Culture
Radio listeners are, according to folklore, shy and conservative animals, easily startled by sudden movements, happy to keep grazing quietly over the same patch of ground. Lately, as listeners stampede from Radio 1 in their millions or start switching over to Classic FM, this proposition has started to look a little shaky; but clearly, the theory still has some weight at the BBC. At any rate, there seems to be some tacit acknowledgement of it in the timing of the BBC's only slot for 'innovative' radio, Rushes II (Radio 4) - late on a Friday night during the summer dead zone, about as lean a time as you can imagine.

Perhaps there's a kind of mild disclaimer in the title, too, with its suggestion of something sketchy and experimental, not yet edited for public consumption - though the programmes hardly match up to that idea. You get the impression that 'innovative' has here been read as code for 'involving lots of time fiddling around in the studio': what has characterised the programmes so far is multiplication of sounds and over-elaborate editing.

So far in the second series we've had 'Storm', in which thunder sound-effects were montaged with anecdotes about storms and a child counting down the gap between the lightning flash and the thunderclaps; pleasant enough, but nothing unusual. Then there was 'The Party', a Russian production in which two men wordlessly sing 'Happy Birthday' with increasing aggression; this sounded like the soundtrack from one of those dreadful wordless television comedies, like Futtock's End, with some kind of moral tacked on.

And this week we got 'Into the House of Wax', in which a hairdresser and members of the public at a wax museum had their remarks on the models cut up, given extra echo and spliced with speeches by Thatcher and Hitler and a voice-over announcing that at night, 'The band strikes up and the dance begins'; then a musical box cut in playing 'Clair de lune'. This was mostly confusing - the Radio Times billing said 'The Waxworks - at night they bite back,' so perhaps it was meant as a skewed, waxworks-eye view of humanity; that still doesn't make the logic very clear.

All in all, it's hard to see what the point of Rushes is. The best producers innovate anyway, and being told to doesn't help - 'Storm', made by Simon Elmes, wasn't a patch on Vaughanssaga, the Greenland odyssey he made with Vaughan Purvis. Piers Plowright, who oversees the whole series, has regularly created more of a sense of shock without any of this layering and montage. Perhaps they feel the new, rationalised BBC doesn't give them enough time to experiment, and Rushes is meant as a remedy. But in this artificial context, the experiments just seem sterile; and tucking them away out of earshot doesn't seem such a bad idea.

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