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Truly refreshing treat amid the late December scraps

'Repetition," said (composer) Michael Gallen, on Newstalk's shiny new series Science is Everywhere, "is the thing that would kill me".

He was referring to "bad sounds" – the ones that drive us into dementedness, like a dripping tap – but he might equally have been commenting on post-Christmas radio.

For, just like a dodgy feed of ham and turkey, post-Christmas radio has a habit of repeating on us. The archives are plundered. Leftover chunks of audio are served up. Things we've heard before, become things we hear again, as live radio (more or less) snores away, sprawled in front of the telly.

An odd time, you might think, for Newstalk – traditionally one of the biggest Christmas snoozers – to launch a fresh series. But there it was, tucked away (or dumped?) on New Year's Eve morning, enthusiastically waving at an audience who may have been elsewhere.

A shame, really, as Science is Everywhere's first episode – the science of sound and music – was solid stuff: lively and well-structured. While the 'sciencey' bits – about the mechanics of eardrums, say – were interesting enough, the show's real strength was its focus on how humans react to, and interact with, sound.

We heard Tony Perry, of Windmill Lane Studios, demonstrate how minor keys (or dissonant sounds), can make us anxious or uneasy (before suggesting that such reactions are, most likely, culturally specific).

We heard the aforementioned Michael Gallen speculate as to why (many) people find "white noise" (like radio static or running water) so calming. White noise, he said, is "basically sound with all the possible harmonics". Noise filled with "so many notes... that you can't actually perceive anything". And so, your senses get pleasantly lost in it (or I think that's the gist).


An enjoyably wide-ranging hour, rounded off by some playful experiments (conducted by host Lara Dungan and TCD's Shane Bergin) on those frequencies that can smash glass, and "the most annoying sound you can imagine". Of course, if you're going to explore the nature of sound itself, then radio is, obviously, the most natural medium. It's merely a pity that sonic explorations like this aren't more common.

Over on Radio 1, later that same day, Jim Lockhart hosted 2013's Final Partings, a cracking panel discussion about the "musical voices stilled" during the year. Edel Coffey described the late Ray Manzarek (keyboardist with The Doors), as not just "the archetypal hippy", but the "defining riff-maker" and "backbone of that band". Phil Chevron was eulogised, as was George Jones – a performer who, Cait O'Riordan said, could "sing heartache and sadness like nobody else".

The tone wasn't all solemn reverence. When O'Riordan, a long-time admirer of Lou Reed, finally met the legendary/notorious curmudgeon (on a French TV show) she found him to be "a complete pig".

Was there something performative about this abrasiveness, the panel wondered? Was Reed playing a part? "When he was in a bad mood," suggested O'Riordan, "he was genuinely in a bad mood, there was nothing ironic about it". But such moods were, she concluded, like "a black cloud passing over the sun," they "would always blow away".


Monday's Black on Blue: Mary's Tribute to Joni – a celebration of (the still very much alive) Joni Mitchell by Mary Black may have sounded like a potentially strained concept, but it was probably the radio highlight of the week. Given that it was, essentially, just a three-way conversation between Black and fellow 'Joni-philes' Wallis Bird and Roisin O (Black's daughter), you might have expected results that were pretty formulaic and tightly-controlled. The type of panel discussion that radio schedules are already stuffed to bursting with.

Happily, it was anything but. The tone was informed, but delightfully loose, chatty and unselfconscious. Black was the notional chair, but the whole thing rattled along with such energy and (intelligent) enthusiasm, that the traditional host/guest hierarchy was soon heaved out the window (interruptions and changes of direction were, clearly, welcome).

Aside from anything else, it was that rarest of dynamics. Three women; left to their own devices; unchaperoned by a male host; on Irish national radio. Here, amid the late December radio scraps, was a truly refreshing treat. The only depressing thing was that it seemed so exotic.