Listen without prejudice

Profound moments arise from letting everyday sounds tumble on and on

Casting around for something decent to listen to - the sound of a kettle boiling in a Japanese hair salon, a successful bachelor opening his post, somebody carefully filling the bin and then removing all the crabmeat - I turned to Resonance FM (; 104.4FM if you live in central London), the independent station run by artists and writers who consider radio their conceptual sirloin and want to give it to us raw. The current star of Resonance is a series called All Day Every Day - which is, in fact, not on all day every day, but at 5.45pm for 15 minutes on Wednesdays, though you won't catch me picking nits off the avant-garde.

Just recently, a programme was devoted mostly to the sound of doors opening and closing. Memorably, a studio door badly in need of oil, a lift door not responding to someone pawing the up button, the doors leading out of an amusement arcade and a door hung too badly to quite shut. All the doors were American, in the interests of glamour.

Simultaneously relaxed and intense, the whole thing came over like a long Scorsese tracking shot, down corridors, through kitchens and into cars, and at one point on to what sounded like a small local bus where coins clattered wistfully into a plastic till, leaving you with a wonderfully clear visual impression of the driver making a gesture with his hands for the person holding the microphone to for God's sake go and sit down.

In another programme a sensible man, interviewed about coastal erosion, lost his thread completely and mumbled, "We reach our zenith, they tell us as guys, we reach our zenith at 18 and think: 'Well, this is the point decay sets in . . .''' before eventually getting back to pointing out strata here and soft sediment there, and telling how bungalows and garages and gardens were yearly being taken by the sea in front of his very ears.

This past week, Swedish jazz musicians limbered up in a green room before a performance, wandering off to chat and tune up, launching up and down scales (and, at one point, into what sounded like "The Girl With Flaxen Hair"), lighting cigarettes, offering advice, lifting the lid of a piano and pedalling a muffled hammerful, the microphone merely squatting in the corner and picking all of it up.

At no point did the thing feel too proud of its willingness to let live, its ambiguity. It left me thinking that really this sort of thing is what radio is for: to let a moment tumble on.

I remember such a thing happening - the once - on Radio 4 a couple of years ago, in an edition of Open Country devoted to an eaglet falling out of its nest and sitting on the pebbles of a beach waiting for a parent to return. Just how a microphone was attached to the creature, I don't know, nor how the producer knew it was about to undergo a dark hour of the soul, but butter knives across the country were poised over elevenses as stones thrust up through the infant bird's toes and the fringes of weeds at the edge of the beach expressed the creature's huge exhaustion.

Wordlessly, unhurriedly, the programme demonstrated the great disadvantage of a child's world: they cannot leave it when they want to. In short, it was profound. Next up was You and Yours.

Pick of the week

Theme Time Radio Hour
20 July, 12 midnight, 6 Music
Bob Dylan on doctors, including “I Have a Cold” by Huey Piano Smith and the Clown.

The Trial of Ezra Pound
20 July, 9.30pm, Radio 3

Antonia Quirke is an author and journalist. She is a presenter on The Film Programme and Pick of the Week (Radio 4) and Film 2015 and The One Show (BBC 1). She writes a column on radio for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 21 July 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Tyranny and tourism