This Is Your World On The Devil’s Chord

This post is about some ideas brought together by two podcasts and a newspaper article, from a few days ago…

First of all, there’s this repeat of a classic This American Life show. I try not to blog about TAL constantly (this here was one of my lapses) – I resist the urge after each episode, otherwise this would be Lex Devoted Radio Fan and it might be a bit boring to read. However, this show – rightly beloved by listeners – is worth mentioning, not least for its synchrony with the other material mentioned below.

Mapping” (go listen to it!) deals with the age-old question of maps and representation of the world, and in the traditional TAL fashion, is divided into five Acts. The innovation, as I saw it (or heard it, or perhaps even sensed it) was to have an act for each of the five senses. So, for example, ‘taste’ was a piece on how a writer, Jonathan Gold, compiled a ‘food map’ of Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles.

The act on ‘sound’ was the one that caught my particular attention, and not just as a result of the (perfect) use (at 13.30 and 15.15) of Telephone and Rubber Band (by the Penguin Café Orchestra) as the musical bed for part of the piece. This piece featured a short but compelling discussion (with a guy called Toby Lester) on how each household object has a pitch, and how they interact (e.g. producing minor chords or even the Devil’s Chord (devil’s interval / tritone / augmented fourth) of lore.

These ideas were picked up (in my head, at least) in the first episode of the BBC’s The Sounds of Science show (Radio 4). This was a lot of fun – coming back to the Devil’s Chord but also discussing key/scale/tone, Western v non-Western tradition, dissonance (with lots of spice/food metaphors) and more.

The Observer, too, got in on the game (last Sunday), reporting on a study in the Ecologist of the aspects of the modern environment that people find irritating. Some of these, too, are related to sounds and music. A little curmudgeonly, but prompting interesting reflections and connections with the two radio pieces.

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