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Radio review: Culture File on RTÉ Lyric FM brings listeners on a quick-witted and quirky journey

Luke Clancy’s Culture File slot on Lorcan Murray’s Lyric show is properly intellectual without being pompous – and entertaining too


Caitríona Frost of Bangers and Crash

Caitríona Frost of Bangers and Crash

Caitríona Frost of Bangers and Crash

I think it’s fair to say that we live in, if not quite a full-blown idiocracy, then at least a fairly stupid age. Blame telly, social media, microwaves from space or whatever you like: this is an era when a clever chap like Stephen Fry, or those state-the-obvious Ted Talks, are regarded as “intellectual” purely because the comparative bar is set so low.

At least Fry is charming. Ted Talks (as heard on Newstalk every Saturday evening) are self-satisfied and grindingly mediocre, a shortcut for wannabes too lazy to read a book.

Culture File — Luke Clancy’s daily slot on Lorcan Murray’s Classic Drive (Lyric FM, Mon-Fri 4pm) — really is intellectual, though. I don’t mean in the way that’s often understood; that is, pompous, narcissistic, wilfully obscure.

I mean in the good way: curious, sharp-witted, independent-minded, constantly asking provocative questions (for which there are often no answers, which makes it even better); constantly casting off for the stranger, quirkier, more interesting shores of human life and endeavour. In its description of itself, Culture File is “an excursion into art, design, music, performance, media, technology and a world of intriguing possibilities”.

For example: this week reporter Louise Williams spoke to Caitríona Frost, a Cork-born classically trained percussionist who plays with the brilliantly named duo Bangers and Crash, about her latest work, mashing together Irish traditional playing techniques with the marimba.

The marimba is a percussion instrument, a lot like a xylophone. The national instrument of Guatemala, it is said to have travelled from Africa during the slave trade.

In advance of a concert with musical partner Alex Petcu, Frost explained: “I’ll be standing at the wrong side of the instrument and basically playing it backwards while Alex faces forwards…there’s a lot of symmetry.” They will also be playing music inspired by the melodies of wind chimes.

Frost delved into the challenge of matching percussion with trad music, with its “ornamentations and pitch-bends”. The marimba “is what it is, it’s pure percussion — there’s no sustain”. I couldn’t follow half of what she was saying, which made it all the more enjoyable.

Meanwhile Jennifer Walshe’s regular Things Know Things bit takes a playful approach to properly intellectual material: the “permeable boundaries between things human and non-human, organic and artificial”.

Think of it like a less gloomy variation on Nietzsche’s “gaze into the abyss and it gazes into you”: this explores how, in a philosophical or symbolic sense, we can think of the world looking back at us even as we observe it. A composer, performer and Oxford professor, Walshe this week spoke about how her keyhole, through some trick of the light, had created a camera obscura on the wall of her hallway.

We started out with something tiny (literally), something mundane; we ended with an experience that was, in her words, “enchanting” and “magical”.

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