Written by Radio

The Essay – The Sound and the Fury

I really enjoyed The Essay this week on Radio 3. Writer Andrew Martin suffers from phonophobia – a condition that makes extraneous noise particularly annoying.
Cheekily called The Sound and the Fury (coming just a couple of weeks after BBC Four’s excellent and completely unrelated series on twentieth century music completed), the five essays detailed how Martin first came to succumb to the condition, when he moved into a flat in Brixton near a pair of chained up dogs that barked continuously, and went into some of the sound pollution in our society. From planes going over, to unnecessary announcements and muzak, the world can obviously sometimes be a painful place for him.
I’m not sure exactly when Radio 3 upped their game with The Essay’s podcast, but you can now get every episode as a download. I’m sure that sometime in the past it just used to be a selection which was kind of annoying for a series like this. Anyway, the series seems to be on demand permanently, so I’d recommend checking it out.
One episode dealt with “muzak” which in Martin’s case means any pop music played anywhere. At times he comes across as something of a curmudgeon – real life Ed Reardon. But I grant him that there are places where you’d prefer not to hear music. However you lose marks for quoting Daily Mail articles when trying to prove your point. I’d suggest that you could prove just about anything you like with Daily Mail articles!
Perhaps the funniest episode is the one about station and train announcements. The earnest requests not to “roller-blade” in King’s Cross are pointless. I’m also fed up hearing about fullsize bicycles – although that, perhaps, is more useful for passengers. I do speak as a cyclist though!
I’ve always hated “Station Stops” which does sound like tautology. And the requests at the beginning of a journey to read the safety information, like that at the end to make sure we’ve left nothing are pointless. Not least because vast numbers of people get on the train after the first stop and leave the train before the last stop. It’s as though only those of us who start our journeys with the train at terminus should be allowed to survive having taken on board the safety information, and that none of us should care if people getting off mid-journey should forget their belongings.
Ironically, in the podcast version at least, the final essay finishes with a minute or more of silence, followed by a very high-pitched tone. I couldn’t work out whether that was something a producer had inadvertently left in when editing the podcast version, or an attempt by Martin to explain what phonophobia was like for non-sufferers. I rather suspect the former.
I’m not sure if Martin would have been happy that I listened to the whole series whilst out and about through my phone’s headphones. Indeed I was actually in King’s Cross when listening to him talk about the station’s superfluous tannoy announcements. What I do know is that he wouldn’t like my workplace with constant background music.