Over the course of the last few years, I have become a pretty obsessive NPR listener, and one of the first shows to really hook me was Radiolab. This program, hosted by Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, explores scientific ideas through compelling storytelling. Think of it as This American Life for science geeks. Over the years, they have done a number of specials either focused on or featuring stories about music. Below, I have collected a few of my favorites.Please feel free to share other programs that may be interesting! Enjoy!
The Ring and I. This is probably my favorite hour of radio — period. The Radiolab cast presents the history and plot of Wagner’s Ring Cycle from a number of different perspectives. This production makes one of the most heavy works of music in the Western cannon both approachable and compelling to anyone no matter their background. If you only listen to one show from this list, this is it!
Musical Language. This episode examines the links between music and language: ”We re-imagine the disastrous debut of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in 1913 through the lens of modern neurology, and we meet a composer who uses computers to capture the musical DNA of dead composers in order to create new work.”
Unraveling Bolero. Both Maurice Ravel, one of the first Impressionist composers, and Anne Adams, a visual artist, are believed to have the same disease, and the symptoms of this condition are evinced by Ravel’s piece Bolero as well as Adams’ visual representation of the same piece.
A 4-Track Mind. This is one of the coolest stories I have ever heard. Bob Milne is a ragtime piano players that is able to audiate four distinct pieces of music in his mind at the same time with near perfect accuracy. Well worth a listen!
The Loudest Miniature Fuzz. This was the story that introduced me to the band Buke and Gass. Homemade instruments and fantastic melodies make them one of the most interesting and one of my favorite bands. Check them out!
Radiolab Remixed. The podcast recently released several stories with separate tracks and encouraged listeners to remix these stories in whatever way that they saw fit. Here are some of the highlights. There is some really cool stuff here!
Earworms. An exploration of the dreaded “earworm”: that song that pops into your head and just won’t leave you alone…
Pop Music. More earworms, plus, how do musicians write pop hits? How does a deaf man hear music?