Saturday 10 December 2016

The liveliest programme of the week was all about. . . death

Published 18/12/2011 | 06:00

I've always believed that humanity can be divided into two groups: those with an innate curiosity about the world around them, and those misfortunate creatures without.

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The former group would have loved this week's Futureproof (Newstalk) and Documentary on One (Radio 1). The latter, God love them -- they have no souls.

These really were wonderfully interesting and odd and thought-provoking shows. In the former, Jonathan McCrea spoke to a woman called Dawnie Steadman, director of the Forensic Anthropology Facility in the University of Knoxville, Tennessee. And her job is an unusual one. Using donated bodies, they lay them out in fields, or bury them, to observe the process of decomposition. This then provides vital information for the long arm of the law, when forensically assessing a case.

It all sounds very grisly and disgusting, but their conversation wasn't like that at all. It was, on the contrary, full of fascinating information -- I'd never heard of post-mortem marbling of the blood, for starters.

And in a funny way, the slot was also quite life-affirming. Accepting and understanding that we're all just one false step from shuffling off this mortal coil makes you appreciate the gift of your own existence that bit more.

On Radio 1, meanwhile, Sound Matters looked at, well, sound, and the incredible influence it exerts on our lives and bodies.

It started, literally, at the beginning: how uterine amniotic fluid amplifies sound. The programme then journeyed through speech, pattern recognition, intonation, communication, synesthesia, whales and dolphins, the therapeutic use of echo-location, and something called psycho-acoustics, which sounded like it might be the music played inside Jeffrey Dahmer's head, but thankfully wasn't.

Produced by Peter Stone and Susan Hickey, it was hugely entertaining. And unlike some other radio documentaries, which can be so gentle and uneventful they're virtually comatose, Sound Matters was packed to bursting with eye-popping -- or maybe ear-popping -- bits of information.

Amazingly, though, neither of these two great shows provided the strangest moment of the week. That would have been the news that Dan Boyle -- yes, the former Green senator -- has released an album.

Matt Cooper played one of the songs on The Last Word (Today FM). It's too easy to deride Boyle's music as terrible, but . . . it really was terrible.

dmcmanus@independent.ie

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