Podthoughts by Colin Marshall: “Adventures in Modern Music”

Posted by Maximum Fun on 23rd August 2009

This is not, to put it mildly, the heyday of the print periodical. Yet your Podthinker has nonetheless managed to, against all odds, acquire a new print infatuation in the 2000s: The Wire magazine. Though not, in fact, a fanzine dedicated to the David Simon HBO drama, it nonetheless brings the awesome. Subtitled “Adventures in Modern Music”, The Wire covers all manner of what’s commonly called “experimental” music, including but not limited to (quoth The Wikipedia) hip hop, modern classical, free improvisation, “post-rock”, and various forms of electronic music. It’s smart, informative, unusually probing of corners one couldn’t normally reach and aesthetically pleasing in the extreme.

And what does a smart music magazine do, especially one as reliant as The Wire on music that one must hear — and hear closely — in order to grasp? Why, they put out a podcast, in this case, Adventures in Modern Music, the digital version of the analog radio show they broadcast on London’s Resonance FM, the freest of freeform stations. (You can tell it’s truly free because you hear sirens in the background a lot.) Each program serves up an hour and a half of modern music talk, modern music tracks and modern music sets, hosted by a different Wire contributor, each with a quite different on-air sensbility, every time.

The appeal of the show equals the appeal of the sort of music, sound and in-between hybrids that The Wire covers: unpredictability and experimentalism. Any given episode of Adventures in Modern Music might serve up bizarrely sampled frogs’ croaks, black-market remixes of remixes of lost B-sides, field recordings of Japanese forests, totally unorthodox uses of a saxophone, misremembered Chinese revolutionary songs or a bunch of Germans with synthesizers they built in their basements.

When not spinning tracks, the hosts take time to chat solo, broadcaster-to-listener, about what’s run in the magazine lately or what they’ve selected specially for the evening’s program. Beyond that, they often invite special, modern music-making guests into the Resonance studio or on the phone to discuss what projects they’ve got going on. Most recently, Anne Hilde Neset talked to Clive Bell about the thriving, variegated experimental music scene that’s arisen among untrained musicians in China since the 1980s [MP3], but there’ve also been conversations with Roger Wootton of the progressive rock group Comus [MP3], with visual artist, composer and earliest turntablist Christian Marclay [MP3] and about the mainly-U.K. underground genre “funky” [MP3].

All this gets elicits, in the main, one feeling in the listener, as heartening as it is depressing: sheez, there’s so much fascinating music out there, most of which one can’t ever get around to hearing in their lifetime, and some of which one might accidentally skip over by not not being readily able to recognize it as music. Or at least that’s how your Podthinker feels. Now to do some more listening.

Vital stats:
Format: modern music adventures
Running since: January 2003
Duration: ~90m
Frequency: weekly, with occasional breaks
Archive available on iTunes: none (most on web site now and “the full archive will be available soon,” it says)

[Questions, comments, ideas, suggestions or threats for Podthinker Colin Marshall? colinjmarshall at gmail.]