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Thursday 31 July 2014

Waiting for Donny... and other creepy crawlies

On Tuesday's Ray D'Arcy Show, we heard the gang struggling to track down a slippery and elusive creature. One who has, over the years, produced his fair share of unsettling, and dreadfully fascinating sounds.

"I tell you what happens with some people," said a vexed D'Arcy, "they're so famous they won't allow us to ring them. In case then we have their number and we give it to people... in Abrakebabra on a Saturday night."

And who did this ultra-cautious, uber-famous megastar turn out to be? Why the puppy-lovin' Donny Osmond of course.

And so the minutes ticked by. And the whole thing became agonisingly Beckettian (a case of Waiting for Osmond). And poor Will Hanafin was forced to kill time by (thrillingly) describing how he'd taste-tested a revolutionary new form of non-sticky chewing gum.



WHIMSICAL

When the man himself finally appeared, or called in, the interview couldn't, of course, possibly live up to the tortured build-up. Osmond plugged his gig with sister Marie in the 02. D'Arcy interrupted constantly and shuffled papers, as is his wont. We heard a blast of Crazy Horses. And that was pretty much that.

Far less engaging than the jolly sounds of beetles squeaking inside a dead mouse, which we heard earlier in the week.

The sounds of radio are potentially infinite in variety, but usually predictable in reality: the shrieks of reactionary talk shows; the low-level, ambient rumblings of business news; the chuckling coo that dominates those whimsical mid-morning hours.

It's like aural wallpaper. Always there, but rarely requiring serious attention. Yet radio can still, on occasion, produce sounds that shock and delight.

Sounds that remind listeners -- wearied by all that is stale, trite and stupefying -- of how invigorating the medium can (at its best) be.

Saturday evening's edition of the much-missed Sound Stories may have been a repeat, but in terms of astonishing (and, frequently, revolting) sounds, it was clearly the week's star attraction.

When presenter Luke Clancy spoke of noise that stays "at the edge of your consciousness most of the time", he wasn't referring to local radio, but something altogether more charming. The mosquito. And not just the mosquito, but a whole host of scuttling creepy-crawlies. We were, Clancy said, about to "descend into the micro-sonic kingdom of the insects" with the "wildlife recordist and installation artist" Chris Watson as our guide.

For the next 25 minutes, Watson affably introduced us to a catalogue of (almost indescribable) skin- crawling sounds.

By the time it was over, listening insectophobes probably required sedation. Or a week-long shower.

We heard millipedes hoofing along forest floors. We heard the triumphant mass-hissing of Matabele ants as they gathered atop the ruins of a termite colony they'd trashed.

Up next were the giant earthworms of Southern Australia. Rare, two-metre-long beasties who happily slurp about in tunnels coated in their own mucus. Delightful.



RASCAL

"I'll leave it to the audience," Watson said (apparently keen to spare us further auditory horrors) "to imagine what the sound of a mucus covered earthworm is... withdrawing inside its soft earthy hole".

Except he didn't. Leave it to our imaginations, that is. The rascal.

"They actually sound like this!" he chortled, before "treating' us to a "hilarious and disgusting" soundtrack of gurgling and squelching.

As far as compelling gruesomeness was concerned, Watson saved his best tale for last. While recording audio for the BBC's Life In The Undergrowth series, a scientist gave him a Tupperware box. Inside which was a decomposing mouse. As Watson stared at "this horrible mess", the mouse started to move.

"The surface of its skin started to writhe about", he said. "And then it started to squeak". Bleurgh! Inside the mouse, you see, were Sexton beetles, and their ravenous larvae.

As they moved about, gorging on the rodent remains, they were emitting "squeaks and communications", which "sounded, horribly, just like a mouse".

"It was fascinating", said Watson, "But dreadfully fascinating". A fair summary of the show itself. A refreshing celebration of the rarely heard, and utterly gross, small sounds of the natural world.

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