"What's the appeal of slow radio?" asked the Spectator last year. "Slow radio is popping up everywhere at the moment - programmes that have no outward form but just meander through the schedule... In spite of their spontaneous feel and free flow these programmes have usually been carefully orchestrated, and that's part of slow radio's appeal: crafted to sound like life itself, impressionistic, en plein air, long-running."
Slow radio certainly offers listeners the chance to zone out of life for a moment - switch the phone off, lie on the floor perhaps, close your eyes and drift away to a fascinating aural experience. The Spectator is right in saying many slow radio broadcasts, including those featured below, are meticulously created, but the term can be interpreted in many ways and include unscripted experiences. On 7 May, for three hours from 12:30am, Radio 3 broadcast Nightingales, which saw six musicians head deep into the Sussex woods to play nocturnal music with the nightingale. It's now available to hear online until 6 June and it follows many other ambitious slow radio projects from Radio 3, including a six-hour sequence of music interspersed with the voices of people living with dementia, Dementia voices, and an overnight performance of Max Richter's eight-hour Sleep, which became the longest ever continuous music broadcast on BBC radio.
Neither Dementia voices or Sleep are currently online, but plenty of other slow radio broadcasts from Radio 3 and Radio 4 are, and we heartily recommend that you turn on, tune in, and drop out to as many as you can manage...
David Bowie: Verbatim
Here's a chance to indulge in the wisdom of David Bowie with no distractions: no interviewer, no background context provided by a presenter, just his own words and music - his songs, and the music of his heroes. "Searching for music is like searching for God," Bowie begins. "They're very similar. There's an effort to reclaim the unmentionable, the unsayable, the unseeable, the unspeakable - all those things come into being a composer and to writing music." And thereafter, for a full hour, you'll become deeply immersed in Bowie's personal history and world, in a broadcast comprised entirely of interview clips from the BBC archive, some previously unheard.
Slow Radio: Bach Walks
Many of Radio 3's experiments in this field of hypnotic programming are collected together online under their Slow Radio strand, including this fascinating broadcast - a 30-minute edit of a five-part series that saw author Horatio Clare retrace a 250-mile journey that J. S. Bach made on foot in 1705 from his home in Arnstadt to Lübeck, home of his hero, the composer and organist Dietrich Buxtehude. The pilgrimage had great significance in the life of Bach, as Clare explained in the Spectator: "He hears and absorbs the cart wheel clip-clop and woodcutter's axe-tok, the voices and glasses of the inns. I am quite sure that the walk and the encounter in Lübeck with Buxtehude made him who he became."
Space: The Vinyl Frontier
Radio 4 describe this engaging collage piece as "a spoken-word concept album linking space and music" and it certainly takes you on a trip to the outer reaches of the universe. There are five "ideas" in the broadcast, beginning with American cosmologist Carl Sagan talking about the Voyager Golden Records (recordings sent into space in 1977). Next, author Peter Pesic considers the Music of the Spheres - connections that ancient philosophers made between astronomy and music. Theremin player Lydia Kavina also discusses the space-age pop of Vyacheslav Mescherin's Orchestra of Electronic Instruments, and London band Public Service Broadcasting talk about their 2015 album The Race for Space.
Unclassified: Let's slow things down
Not slow radio per ser, but the first episode of Elizabeth Alker's excellent new show on Radio 3, Unclassified, sought to achieve something similar - namely, to "slow things down". "Disconnect from all devices and escape into soothing ambient soundscapes, rewire your brain for gorgeous electronic experimentation and let surprising collaborations transport you into as yet undiscovered sound worlds," Alker suggested ahead of this episode being broadcast last month. "We're hoping to get completely lost. This is music by composers who are rewriting the rules and changing the way we think about contemporary and traditional forms of music."
Words and Music: The Long and Winding Road
Slow radio has become a popular form in recent times, but it's been around for a while. "There's nothing particularly new about slow radio apart from the recognition that such a genre exists," said the Spectator. "Words and Music, Radio 3's seamless sequence of carefully blended tunes and readings, has been on air every Sunday evening for at least 10 years." It remains an essential listen, covering, most recently, the following themes: Dreams and Nightmares, April Showers and, above, The Long and Winding Road, which features a selection of poetry and prose by Thomas Hardy, Robert Frost, Christina Rossetti and Nelson Mandela, and music by Vaughan Williams, Janacek, Haydn and The Hollies.
The Voices of... Sharon Van Etten
Finally, a series from Radio 4 that's not unlike their Verbatim episodes: The Voices of..., which lets musicians speak intimately about their work and lives without interruption. Many fascinating artists have been featured in the series, including Hungarian folk singer Marta Sebestyen, ex-Soft Machine musician Robert Wyatt, XTC's Andy Partridge and, above, American singer-songwriter Sharon Van Etten, who introduces herself by saying: "I have a pretty emotive voice. Even when I sing I well up sometimes, because wherever it's coming from it draws a spring."