Magazine article The Spectator

Sunday Sustenance

Magazine article The Spectator

Sunday Sustenance

Article excerpt

Before we knuckle down to the week's offerings I'm going to seize the opportunity (this review is a one-off, so no need to panic) to champion a regular programme: Something Understood (Radio 4, Sunday mornings at 06:05 and repeated at 23:30). It's on every week and, while some are better than others, I've never heard a dud. It is neither more nor less than a 30-minute encouragement to be human - just what my (church-free) Sunday morning needs before the bells take over the airwaves.

Mark Tully (the most frequent presenter) picks up a subject in both hands (this week:

mentors) and handles it with sympathy, good sense and good humour - he always sounds to me like a modest man who has understood not just something, but pretty much everything. Other voices will read poems and tell stories; other people will be introduced to mull over the selected topic and we will hear music - this week Bach, Bernstein and 'The Bare Necessities' all featured.

It's half an hour which is neither too big nor too clever but a right-sized portion: audible brain-food of the gentlest, most restorative kind. The edible equivalent would be a perfectly timed boiled egg and a pot of strong tea.

'We hear with our ears, but we listen with our mind.' That message, which introduced The Sound of Fear (Radio 4, Thursday), is in itself resonant; thrilling; portentous. This excellent programme examined how our live and leaping imaginations turn sound into effect. When we hear the shrieked alarm of a gang of spooked cockatiels our mind listens and is put on alert - it is perfectly natural, a forest-learned response, to hear a noise and to imagine - envisage - anticipate - an unseen, unrealised threat.

Bernard Herrmann took that panicked cry - Shriek! Shriek! Shriek! - and turned it into music. Alfred Hitchcock played those screaming violins alongside a scene of shocking murder. We watch Psycho; we hear its soundtrack; our mind listens and responds with both an immediate terror and an ancient panic. Simple, but genius: the sound is used and the listening mind is exploited.

'You want your dinosaurs to give people a fright, ' says the man in charge of imagining the Tyrannosaur's roar for the BBC. 'You want it to seem real . . …

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