IoS radio review: Between The Ears: Disequilibrium, Radio 3, Saturday
Walking on Planet C, Radio 4, Monday
Come on feel the noise – until it just plain hurts
The sound designer Nick Ryan was working on an audio-only computer game, creating an entire world through which players navigate using sound, when his own soundworld was struck by calamity. A brain lesion, the legacy of a road accident, left his balance shot to pieces and his hearing disastrously compromised – it was "like wearing a glass bubble full of fluid".
This would be unbearable for anyone, but particularly for somebody who works with sound for a living, and as the brilliant Between the Ears: Disequilibrium recounted, his world began to fall apart. Simple actions, such as turning round while walking, were beyond him; even worse was the hyperacusis: an extreme sensitivity to sound. He described being surrounded by chattering friends: "Their mouth parts have turned into broken crockery ... [It's] literally like they're smashing plates, or stabbing shards of glass into my head."
Made by Ryan with Lisa Gee and superbly produced by Jeremy Mortimer, the programme's own sound design was brilliantly realised: voices drifted between almost painful clarity and barely-there whispers, distant and echoey then close-in and pin-sharp, layers upon layers mixed in with random sounds, buzzings and distortions and snatches of ghostly music. It left me unsettled and disorientated, plunged into a nightmare world. It was easily one of the most powerful programmes of the year.
In 2010, Nile Rodgers of Chic fame was diagnosed with extremely aggressive prostate cancer. As part of his recovery regime, he started walking the streets of New York and, unable to sleep, blogging. He recreated it for Walking on Planet C, his stories serving as something of a social history of the city.
His memories of growing up the son of heroin addicts were startling, and, although NYC is, I'm told, a mostly pleasant place nowadays, in the 1970s it was anything but. Via the Black Panther office in Harlem where he used to work – now a beauty salon – he fetched up at the site of the nightclub where Chic first auditioned. That night, he recalled, "there was a triple homicide, and one of the guys that was shot died on top of our bass player's amplifier". Freak out, indeed.
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