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Thu 6 Jun 2013 21:00 BBC Radio 4

30 minutes
First broadcast:
Friday 06 April 2012

Is it still possible to do anything truly original? And why should we care if it isn't? Ian Peacock finds out, with a challenge to come up with just one original thought of his own: a new sound to end a radio programme.

'Creation is the art of concealing your sources' is a mantra attributed to any number of great thinkers, Einstein among them. And if we are not convinced that Einstein was original, who is?

In his trademark quirky but thoughtful style, Ian Peacock sets off on a Kafkaesque quest for true originality. But his infectious optimism quickly begins to crack. Doubts set in during a trip to the UK Patent Office, surely a bastion of unalloyed originality. Patents it seems are rarely built on blinding flashes of inspiration, more on incremental development. And Ian's own inventions (a hamster wheel for cats and bleeping contact lenses amongst them) find surprisingly little enthusiasm.

For help he turns to Kane Kramer, self-proclaimed inventor of the digital audio player, who also runs a side-line helping people nurture their own creativity. Is there originality lurking within us all, or is this a gift you have to be born with? According to writer Winifred Gallagher, invention is an instinct lurking within all of us, if only you can work out how to harness it.

As Ian's increasingly philosophical journey evolves, ever more curious sounds emerge from a quartet of specially-engaged minds, holed up in a darkened anechoic chamber and challenged by Ian to devise the most original sound ever for the programme's finale. At times it sounds more like a children's party than a route to blinding new truths as this menagerie of professors and artists clank together random objects. The result, when at last it appears, turns out to be, well, interesting. Have these great brains achieved the ultimate alchemist's dream? Or are we doomed, in the era of the mash-up never to achieve originality again? And would that even matter?


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