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Shhhhhhh

4 Extra Debut. Silence is getting ever harder to find. Lucy Powell aims to discover and quietly celebrate its rich variety. From 2015.

Examining the nature of silence might not seem the most obvious thing to do on the radio, the medium most wholly given over to noise and which was in its day seen as a direct threat to the realm of silence in our personal and public lives.

It might seem, too, that silence is a singular thing, an absence that offers little to any would-be investigation. But it's a subject that's fascinated Lucy Powell ever since she was set a koan by a Zen master, who asked her what the sound is before the bird sings.

Now she sets out to answer that problem through an analysis of archive recordings from religious scholars, authors, comedians and poets, as well as conducting fresh interviews with the likes of conductor Edward Gardner, neuro-scientist Jan Schnupp and Buddhist nun Tenzin Palmo, who spent seven years on silent retreat in a Himalayan cave.

Lucy hears a freshly composed improvisation on the theme of silence from the classical duo 'Folie a Deux Femmes' and argues that in fact silence is a rich, multiple property that can vary dramatically depending on the context within which it is placed.

Producer: Geoff Bird
Presenter: Lucy Powell

First broadcast on BBC Radio 4 in 2015.

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58 minutes

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