44 episodes

Innovative and thought-provoking features that make adventurous use of sound and explore a wide variety of subjects. Made by leading radio producers.

Between the Ears BBC

    • Society & Culture
    • 1.0, 1 Rating

Innovative and thought-provoking features that make adventurous use of sound and explore a wide variety of subjects. Made by leading radio producers.

    Jump Blue

    Jump Blue

    On 2 August 2015, the great Russian freediver Natalia Molchanova disappeared in Spanish territorial waters. Through sound, text and music, “Jump Blue” takes us to extraordinary depths in this immersive re-imagining of her final descent.

    Apnea, or freediving without breathing apparatus, requires the few who practise it to encounter a profound stillness as their heart rate slows and their lungs contract. In the darkness of the abyss, on a single breath, they truly meet themselves. In Hannah Silva’s lyrical text, voiced by actress Fiona Shaw, memory and sensation fragment and intertwine in shifting layers of consciousness.

    "Jump Blue" is based on extensive interviews with many of the world’s leading freedivers, including Natalia Molchanova's son Alexey.

    Freediver ..... Fiona Shaw

    Text by Hannah Silva
    Research by Nicolas Jackson
    Executive producer, Sara Davies
    Music by Aaron May
    Sound design by Steve Bond
    Produced by Nicolas Jackson and Steve Bond

    'Jump Blue' is an Afonica production for BBC Radio 3

    • 18 min
    The Vet at the End of the World

    The Vet at the End of the World

    Angry bulls, furious penguins, enraged seals! In the shadow of the volcano 'Between the Ears' gets a microphone close up to enjoy the action, as veterinarian Jonathan Hollins, gives us a taste of life with the remote animals and sea life of Tristan Da Cunha.

    On an island of a population of around 250 people, a thousand sheep and many more penguins, Joe also gets a flavour of what happened to the islanders when the volcano last erupted and they were forced to leave their homes, sixty years ago. Cracks in the ground were opening and closing - one sheep fell in! Boats took them to a nearby penguin colony where they sheltered until rescued. Sent to live in the UK , all chose to return to Tristan as soon as it was declared safe by an expeditionary force sent out by The Royal Society.

    The island was just as they had left it, the settlement miraculously spared, though all the sheep mysteriously disappeared... there are theories as to why!

    Memories of the volcano are mixed with Joe's daily life - the domestic close up sounds of cows birthing, bulls hoisted onto land from bucking fishing vessels and gong clanging to bring the islanders together.

    The atmosphere is punctuated by updated versions of traditional sea shanties - performed by the likes of Lou Reed, Anthony, Beth Orton, Rufus Wainwright, Richard Thomson and Tim Robbins.

    This rocky outcrop was claimed by the Dutch, the British, the Portuguese, and even an American Privateer, geographically useful to all in its splendid isolation, (even in the 20th century the islanders only heard about the ‘result’ of the First World War a year after it finished). Today, we might envy their close community and isolation in a world endangered by today’s globalisation.

    Joe was lucky to get permission to record during his time there, by the island council, scarred by their previous experiences with the ‘press’, most particularly during that 18 months living as refugees in the UK.

    From the most remote community in the world – Tristan Da Cunha - the sounds, songs and tales of a whole island committed to socially isolating – together.

    With grateful thanks to the people of Tristan Da Cunha.

    Producer: Sara Jane Hall

    Archive: The Royal Society Volcanic Eruption on Tristan da Cunha, 1961

    Music: as sourced by Danny Webb from 'Rogue’s Gallery' - a series of sea shanties and pirate songs.
    And 'Imaginary Songs From Tristan Da Cunha' by Deathprod.

    • 27 min
    Diorama Drama

    Diorama Drama

    Before the magic of photography, the dazzle of cinema - there was the Diorama.
    Frenchman Louis Daguerre is known primarily as one of the inventors of photography - but before the magic of light fixed on paper there was the Diorama, which some call the precursor to the moving image, and cinema. The Diorama offered the well-heeled audience a glimpse into other worlds… where volcanos would erupt on the hour, Roman ruins explored, mountain peaks ascended… not unlike a modern Las Vegas but in the 1820s.
    Using light, moving apertures, smoke and mirrors, sound and music, to produce unusually realistic effects, he created a new form of entertainment - immersive, dramatic, sensational, and for a brief period, the wonder of the Western world. From New York to Moscow, Dioramas opened their doors to well-heeled customers who would be so delighted with the ‘realism’ of the created scene, they would frequently ask to be led onto the stage - be it a scene from the Alps, the Battle of Trafalgar, Cowes in the Isle of Wight, or a voyage in search of the North-West Passage.
    By 1850 nearly all had burnt to the ground, probably due to the large number of oil lamps involved, and the highly flammable nature of the stage props and theatres, but hidden by a Nash façade in Regents Park, London, there stands the last of the Diorama Theatres - a Grade 1 listed building, now sadly empty and awaiting ‘reimagining’. Architect Marek Wojiechowski, who is developing plans for the long empty building, takes him on a tour backstage.
    Award winning writer, drama producer and podcast expert Dr Lance Dann get a chance to visit the original Diorama before setting off on a kaleidoscopic journey through other influential dioramas.
    He returns to the Denis Severs House in Spitalfields, where he once helped install a sound scape, to bring this detailed recreation of a Huguenot silk weaver’s house, to life. Does the magic still work?
    Dr Hetta Howes takes him into the immersive atmosphere of Great St Bartholomew’s Church where the worshippers were once drench is sounds, sights and evocative suggestions, and describes the most suggestible of religious texts – the passion meditations.
    Intriguingly he hears about The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death - the murder dioramas created by the brilliant and formidable Chicago heiress Francis Glessner Lee - still used today to teach detectives. Susan Marks has spent a decade researching her - her first film was charmingly titled - The Dolls of Murder, and together they try and solve one of her most famous murder scenes - Barn!
    Dr Sarah Garfinkle helps us understand how our brains fool us, or decide to play along with immersion, whilst Dr Alistair Good, VR games designer, tempts Dann to jump off a tall building, virtually.
    Finally Dann visits possibly the last genuine Daguerre diorama in the world – in a small village just outside Paris, Bry-Sur-Marne, where the Mayor Jean Pierre-Spillbauer, and local archivist Vincent Roblin, have dedicated much of the last 20 years trying to restore the small but effective diorama at the back of a provincial church. After contacting Antoine Wilmering at the Getty Foundation, they received a grant of $200,000, matched by the French Government, which saved the last of Daguerre’s dioramas.
    Producer: Sara Jane Hall
    Music sourced with the help of Danny Webb.

    • 43 min
    The M1 Symphony

    The M1 Symphony

    The dynamic, often dramatic, life of the M1 in words, sounds and a thrilling new work performed by the BBC Philharmonic, as Britain’s first major motorway marks its 60th anniversary.

    In a powerful composition specially commissioned by BBC Radio 3, The M1 Symphony depicts how the M1 has transformed the British landscape and millions of lives. A place of routine and drama, where a momentary lapse can change everything, with terrifying speed.

    Documentary producer Laurence Grissell and composer Alex Woolf first collaborated last year on The NHS Symphony. Their new work explores a very different but no less transformative feature of British life.

    When it was opened 60 years ago, the M1 was truly revolutionary. No roundabouts, no crossroads, no traffic lights, just one continuous road connecting north and south. It dramatically cut traffic jams and journey times.

    But from day one, the M1 would extract a high human and environmental cost.

    A life-changing collision, an endangered ancient woodland and the soul-destroying frustrations of the daily commute form part of this unique tapestry of new interviews, archive recordings, ambient sounds and original music.

    Conductor: Mark Heron
    Composer: Alex Woolf
    Music producer: Sarah Devonald
    Producer: Laurence Grissell

    • 45 min
    The Virtually Melodic Cave

    The Virtually Melodic Cave

    To view the VR experience in 360 on your smartphone paste the following link into your search browser:

    For the first time, a virtual reality experience and radio documentary will bring to life the ethereal magic of Fingal's Cave - the awesome natural structure on the uninhabited island of Staffa, in the Inner Hebrides of Scotland. Using cutting-edge technology, which captures not only the acoustics of the melodic cave, but its awe-inspiring visual scale and beauty, this Between the Ears takes you to a site of natural beauty that has inspired Felix Mendelssohn, Jules Verne, John Keats, August Strindberg and countless others.

    Featuring a rich cinematic sound experience, we follow the work of Dr Stuart Jeffrey from The Glasgow School of Art’s School of Simulation and Visualisation, and sound designer and composer, Aaron May, as they both – in their own ways - explore the remarkable Fingal's Cave. A few years ago, Stuart and a team of archaeologists from the National Trust for Scotland discovered Bronze Age remains close to the cave and near a 19th-century building that was used by early tourists as a shelter from the elements. We join Stuart on location as he continues the dig and unearths further evidence of a Bronze Age site, and we accompany him into the heart of the cave during different sea states.

    At certain times, the cave actually sounds musical, and this is the reason why local people named it the ‘musical cave’. Stuart explains that inside the cave there is a natural cognitive dissonance that can be very unsettling, indeed some visitors are left feeling on edge. This is because the resonant sounds of blowing and popping, together with booming waves; create a soundscape that does not match the movement of the waves.

    During the Romantic period, Fingal's Cave attracted much attention and inspired many musicians, artists and literary figures and poets. Felix Mendelssohn made it ashore in 1829 and was so moved by the unearthly sounds that fill the cave he created the remarkable Hebrides Overture in response. Jules Verne said, "the vast cavern with its mysterious, dark, weed-covered chambers and marvellous basaltic pillars produced upon me a most striking impression and was the origin of my book, Le Rayon Vert”. During the 19th-century era of romanticism and the sublime, the Germans were particularly enthralled by Fingal’s Cave. Not only did they visit, but quirky plays and stories were even set there (including Bride of the Isles about vampires living inside Fingal's Cave).

    The location’s rich mythology, including that of mermaids and giants, highlights the sublime aspect of the place. Stuart's wider research, a collaboration with Professor Sian Jones at the University of Stirling, is trying to fill in the gap between how the Romantics viewed it - a site of awe - and how we see it today. “We have become dull souls, seeing it only as a nature reserve,” he says. Stuart hopes to change that perception by investigating whether cutting-edge technology can capture a place’s very essence.

    And this is where composer Aaron May comes into this story. Whereas Stuart has spent many hours within the magnificent natural structure, Aaron has never set foot in Fingal’s Cave. But for this documentary he has created a new musical composition based upon his experience of entering a phenomenally exact virtual reality reconstruction, made by Stuart and his team at Glasgow School of Art. The VR version, features laser scans, photogrammetry and acoustic sound maps. You are able to tour the entire length of the cave and even hear how a piece of music would sound if played within it. A version of this virtual reality experience, complete with Aaron’s composition, will be made available for listeners to explore on their smart phones. And of course, Aaron’s remarkable and evocative s

    • 29 min
    Container Ship Karaoke

    Container Ship Karaoke

    Is karaoke the modern sea shanty?

    Containers are the nearly invisible carriers of 90% of the goods on earth – yet we know so little about them, or the people on board. The crew who power globalisation, are unsung heroes. Now we hear them sing, and capture something of that strange, lonely, heroic life.

    Sea shanties are a relic of the past – today it’s far more likely to be karaoke soothing the soul and powering the arm of the modern sea farer.
    Instead nearly all ships have a karaoke machine on board - and rumour has it, competition is ferocious.
    In search of the modern sea shanty, Nathaniel Mann, award winning singer and song collector, who has long avoided taking part in karaoke, boards a state-of-the-art container ship in Gdansk shipyard… the Maribo Maersk, to sing along with the Filipino sea men, ship's cook Valiente, and able-seaman Ariel.
    He also ‘plays the ship’ - discovering acoustic possibilities from the engine room to the Monkey Island (the platform above the bridge), attaching contact microphones which revel the rhythms hidden behind heavy metal walls.
    He climbs out on the 'catwalk' to watch the stevedores at work, the giant cranes crashing a container into the hold every two minutes, 24 hours a day - until all 18,272 have been shifted - with all the complexity of a game of Tetrus.

    The company offers mainly 5 month contracts to the 20 or so sailors on board, and discovering how the team pass those months at sea, Nathaniel hears tales of home-sickness, made even more poignant by the choice of songs the crew prefer to sing.

    We hear from an international crew about life at sea in this giant vessel – you can’t even hear the sea from the decks above. Tales of dark skies, longed for loved ones, learning the shape of the world from water - we hear a fluid mix of the sounds of the ship, the crew singing karaoke, and Nathan's own new songs, gleaned from his observations on board.

    We also hear from Suffolk shanty singers Des and Jed, who wonder if karaoke might be an updated version of an older form of shanty.

    About the presenter: Nathaniel Mann is an experimental composer, sound artist, performer and sound designer - known both for his experimental trio Dead Rat Orchestra, and most recently as embedded composer at the Pitt Rivers Museum. He also won the Arts Foundation's 25th Anniversary Fellowship 2018.
    In 2015 he won the George Butterworth Prize for Composition, and much of his experience as an accomplished and imaginative percussive master, as well as singer, will be integral to this programme - a symphony of singing, the sea, the ships and the songsters.

    Producer: Sara Jane Hall

    With thanks to the crew of the Maribo Maersk, especially:
    Chief Officer: Morten Fløjborg Hansen
    CPT: Stig Lindegaard Mikkelsen
    2nd Officer: Francis Umbay Dela Cerna
    4th Engineer: Campbell John Dooley
    Chief Cook: Valiente Panopio Peralta
    AB: Ariel Dallarte Martin

    • 29 min

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