The Wire, Radio 4, Sunday
The Genius of Mozart, Radio 3, All Week
The Archers, Radio 4, All Week
This is no time to sit on the fence
Sunday 09 January 2011
There was a bracing start to the year: rumbling beneath the fanfares – the big numbers like the Mozart season and the Archers' anniversary shindig – was the joyous sound of the BBC doing one of the things it does best, bringing wonderful things you didn't know existed into your home.
In The Wire, Chris Watson, sound recordist extraordinaire, travelled to the Wired Lab Project in New South Wales, where he met wire maestro Alan Lamb. The artist, biomedical researcher and composer uses miles of disused fencing wire, which serves as what he calls "nature's microphone".
By putting pick-ups on the wires, Lamb and his colleagues record an explosion of beauty and cacophony, grinding discords and blissful harmonies, the kind of music Stockhausen might have dreamt up. It's as if the soundtracks to Heaven and Hell are playing simultaneously throughout the universe. (I'll come quietly, Private Eye.)
It's not just about making strange music: it seems to have a physical effect. Lamb reported that a group of old ladies visited; some phoned later to say their arthritis was cured. On the other hand, a psychiatrist friend played them a Lamb piece, Primal Image, during a meditation session. "Oh no, not Primal Image to a meditating group!" Lamb laughed. "They all had to go in the garden and throw up."
There was nothing threatening or discordant in Radio 3's Mozart Season. For me, a week away from the office meant the opportunity to soak in a musical bubble bath. In between the music, there was plenty about the man and his life, his father Leopold, his wife Constanze and the rest of the family, especially in the daily Donald Macleod's Mozart, in which he displayed his usual light touch. "Fantastic? Just plain weird," he said after the Fantasia (Capriccio) in C Major. "A sort of come-hither-you-never-know-where-this-may-lead kind of piece."
One quibble: most of the documentary programmes were lumped together last Sunday. Mightn't they have been better spread out?
Wolfgang and Constanze didn't make an appearance in The Archers during the week (how's that for a link?) – Lynda Snell's pet llamas, I mean. It's understandable, as there was a fair bit going on in the wake of 60th-anniversary night, when Nigel's tumble and Helen's anti-climactic pre-eclampsia somehow failed to hit the spot.
Normal, impeccable service was restored in the appalled aftermath. The whole cast was fantastic (and motherhood may yet make Helen bearable), but Timothy Bentinck stood out, his guilt-stricken performance as David horribly moving. Blimey, I'm welling up writing about it.
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