Prom 21: Gaming Prom – From 8-Bit to Infinity (Radio 3) | BBC Sounds
The Silent Mind (Radio 4) | BBC Sounds
The Electricity of Every Living Thing | Audible
Who Killed Daphne? (Wondery) | Apple Podcasts
Women’s Euro 2022 (Radio 5 Live) | BBC Sounds
Summer time is Proms time. Though the annual classical music festival may not be a huge priority for you (it’s not for me), there’s something inspiring about the fact that it’s still flourishing, especially in these nothing-matters-but-corporate-profit times. Casual listeners might only know the weirdy, oompah, flag-bashing Land of Hope and Glory element of Last Night of the Proms, but that’s not representative of the whole shebang, thank God. There’s all sorts available during the eight weeks, from swoony, name-that-advert ballet music to experimental new commissions, a BBC Young Composer event and the appearance of the Ukrainian Freedom Orchestra. Ticket prices vary but every concert is available live on Radio 3 and on BBC Sounds, with some also screened on TV. This year, several Proms are happening away from London’s Royal Albert Hall, in venues such as St George’s Hall in Liverpool, Belfast’s Waterfront Hall and the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff. All created and funded by the BBC, ie by you and me. I am delighted to give money to such a brilliant event.
In recent years, to reach new audiences, there has been a habit of reworking popular, modern, non-classical tunes for a full orchestra. This can be celebratory or cringey, depending on your mindset. I can’t face the Haçienda Classical shows because my physical and aural memories of that nightclub don’t click with pretty strings and bright trumpets. But I’m happy enough to hear, say, film themes performed live, as many of them were played by an orchestra in the first place. I’m also up for listening to music I know little about. So, I tuned into the first ever Gaming Prom.
Readers, I am not a gamer. I’ve played Pac-Man and Space Invaders (at a table, in ye olde pub manner). I don’t mind a bit of Wii. I had a go at Mario Kart but it made me feel seasick. All of which means I have no memories to smash or enhance. I don’t know the tunes. Luckily for me, Radio 3 has a regular Sound of Gaming programme, so we were in safe hands. And this proved an enjoyable hour and half, a mixed musical bag. Presenters Steffan Powell and Louise Blain were great: warm and inclusive, explaining the context of pieces to newbies like me while still appealing to the game fans by naming their favourite Pokémon starter characters. Charmander and Bulbasaur, if you’re wondering; they got people to cheer for the one they liked best. This was not as awful as it sounds.
The first piece, based on Chronos (a “side-scrolling 1980s Fantasia”, according to Powell), was too jolly Doris Day western for me (galloping strings a-go-go), but as we progressed chronologically I enjoyed things more. A medley of 90s game tunes was fun and I loved the beautiful, cello-led Journey, the first video game music to be nominated for a Grammy, in 2013. The very recent Battlefield 2042, by Sam Slater and Oscar-winning film composer Hildur Guðnadóttir, was excellent: creepy, foreboding, emotional. As was Jessica Curry’s spacey score for Dear Esther/So Let Us Melt. A mind-opening evening all round.
Talking of minds, how does yours work when there’s no one disturbing it? On Wednesday, Radio 4’s The Silent Mind investigated. Some people – I can hardly believe this – have no brain noise at all: no interior monologue, nothing. Justin spoke about his quiet mind state: “Almost 100% of the time I’m in a peaceful, relaxing place… all around you is this unknowable deep ocean.” Charlotte described a lovely room that she mentally visits. Lauren, amazingly, has experienced various states: after a brain injury, during her healing, she had no inner chatter at all. Psychologist Charles Fernyhough, who works in this area, was a soothing and informed presenter; he explained that the out-loud talking-to-yourself speech of toddlers morphs into inner speech. Olivia Humphreys and Mike Woolley provided intimate, interesting production.
More insight into how minds work in The Electricity of Every Living Thing. From the bestselling memoir by Katherine May, adapter Julie Parsons and director Caitriona Shoobridge have fashioned an unusual audio experience: enveloping sound mixed with a diary-like drama. Not quite a play, nor fully a book reading, but an immersive tale. It’s the story of May realising in middle age that she’s autistic, and the sounds clatter and move, mirroring her experiences. I liked the occasional fzzzzttt, like the sound of current passing through overhead wires. Perhaps a little more setup as to why we should be on the narrator’s side would have been helpful, but this is an immersive, enjoyable listen.
Wondery has another true crime podcast out, Who Killed Daphne? This one is less of a serial killer lip-smacker and more of a political investigation, being the story of the 2017 killing of Maltese anti-corruption blogger Daphne Caruana Galizia. Paul, one of her three sons, who all feature in this show, made his own four-parter in 2020 for Tortoise, My Mother’s Murder, so initially I wondered why we needed this show. But of course the family wants this murder to remain in the headlines, and Wondery appeals to a more mainstream audience. Plus, the political fallout has been properly dramatic and still continues.
Hosted with dedication and fairness by Stephen Grey, with much help from Daphne’s son Matthew, this tells a genuinely gripping, heart-in-mouth tale, especially in the final episode, using the work of the Daphne Project, an international team of journalists who have followed every lead and motive to get to as close to the truth as they can. Compelling and vital.
On a more cheerful note, I’m hoping that the joy of the Women’s Euro 2022 final will stick around. I listened to 5 Live’s coverage last Sunday on a very packed, very slow train, following every pass and tackle alongside commentators Vicki Sparks, Izzy Christiansen and Stephen Warnock. (Sample quote from Christiansen: “She’s purchased that foul with money!”) When England won, I yelped and high-fived a fellow passenger. And when the result was announced over the train Tannoy, the whole carriage clapped. Lovely.