"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible." -Vladimir Nobokov

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Podcast Review: Nocturne

Nocturne is the kind of podcast that begs to be listened to in the dark. Not just because its focus is the night, but because it captures the atmosphere of those lonely, quiet hours between sunset and sunrise.  Nocturne was created by Vanessa Lowe, a self-proclaimed morning person, as a way to combat her own uneasiness about darkness.
While it would be easy to speculate that a show about nighttime could be especially dark and brooding, Lowe presents a broad range of nighttime experience. Episodes about the wonder and awe of stargazing sit comfortably next to the story of a father's terrifying night-time walk with his infant son.
What I love about Nocturne is the way that Lowe is able to weave her own self discovery into the episodes. Some are profiles of people who have a unique relationship to night, while others feature Lowe facing her fears and challenging her own preconceived notions about what it means to be awake in the dark.
What Nocturne does especially well, however, is go beyond simply talking about the subject matter, but evoking the feeling of night as well. The theme song for the show is an open, atmospheric piano melody, prefaced by the sounds we unconsciously associate with night: a symphony of crickets, the hoot of an owl, the mournful bellow of a distant train whistle. The best episodes of Nocturne capitalize on this atmosphere throughout the entire show, the most notable example being Episode 3: What the Baker Saw.
I've listened to this episode probably ten times since it came out, and it still gives me chills. It's a simple story- a baker, working late into the night at a remote art center, witnesses an encounter between two animals and feels somehow pulled into their world. I am fascinated by the way sounds can evoke feelings without needing an explanation or modifier, and the sound design of this episode somehow evokes the isolation of the Marin Headlands, as well as the narrative tension that drives the story forward.
Pegged on its website as "radio essay: a hybrid form of radio storytelling that blends elements of documentary, fiction, and sound art," Nocturne is the atmospheric, sound-rich podcast I'd been waiting for. Wether you listen on a crowded commuter car at eight in the morning, or to stave off insomnia in the wee hours of the night, Nocturne is a treat for anyone who's ever been captivated by darkness.

Recommended episodes:
Episode 3: What the Baker Saw
Episode 8: Into, Under, Through
Episode 9: Forward Momentum
Episode 11: Triumph's Ring
Episode 15: To a Distant Continent

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