'Zoo symphony' coming to BBC Radio 3

By Mark Savage
BBC Music reporter

Image source, Getty Images
Image caption,
"Apparently dusk is an exciting time for noises in zoos," said Radio 3 controller Alan Davey

A symphony of lions, monkeys and llamas will help send Radio 3 listeners into a state of "quiet mindfulness," the station's controller has said.

The broadcast, recorded at dusk in an unnamed zoo, will be part of a new, regular "slow radio" show.

"You'll hear the sounds of lions going to sleep," said Radio 3's Alan Davey. "Dusk is an exciting time for noises in zoos - as it is in most places."

He said Radio 3 should be an antidote to "the frenzy of everyday life".

"We feel strongly about offering the public a mindful experience, a place, a haven, where they can lose themselves in audio."

As well as hearing the sounds of animals settling in a zoo, listeners will be treated to the hushed environment of Durham Cathedral in the still of the evening.

And on Remembrance Sunday, the station will present a series of "sonic memorials", capturing the contemporary sounds of battlefields from the First World War, allowing listeners to reflect on how the world has changed in the 100 years since the war ended.

The station has made several forays into "slow radio" in the past, broadcasting the chanting of Benedictine monks and the soft trudges of a walker travelling 200 miles through the countryside.

Image source, Alexandra Heybourne
Image caption,
Slow radio "takes you out of the world for a time" says Radio 3's controller

A regular feature on the weekend breakfast programme - Sounds of the Earth - includes contemplative recordings of everything from rice fields in Japan to the dawn chorus in Curacao.

But the new monthly series will be the station's first regularly scheduled slot for slow radio, with individual episodes available to download as podcasts.

Other slow radio commissions include Walking Through Time - a recording of clocks and other timepieces in Upton House in Warwickshire; and Burren Cattle Blessing - featuring the sounds of cattle being driven to pasture in County Galway.

And on Christmas Eve, Radio 3 will also present another three-hour walk; with broadcaster Horatio Clare soaking up the sounds of the Black Forest in Germany.

The birthplace of slow broadcasting is arguably Norway, where a seven-hour train journey from Bergen to Oslo became an unlikely TV hit in 2009. It was followed by an eight-hour knitting epic and a 12-hour broadcast of a crackling fireplace.

BBC Four has also dabbled in the phenomenon, with languorous programmes featuring the making of a glass jug and a narrowboat journey along the Kennet and Avon canal.

Media caption,
Pioneered in Norway, so-called Slow TV has featured an eight-hour knitting epic, as Jenny Hill reports

Radio 3's slow radio strands were announced as part of the station's autumn season launch; which featured a raft of new commissions and world premieres.

Professor Brian Cox will guide listeners through a centenary performance of The Planets, contrasting what was known about the solar system when Holst wrote his masterpiece with the current scientific perspective.

October will see the world premiere of Edith Wharton's recently rediscovered play The Shadow of a Doubt.

Written in 1901, long before Wharton achieved fame with her novel The Age Of Innocence, the drama tackles the topic of assisted suicide, but was abandoned during rehearsals in New York for unknown reasons.

Image caption,
Martin Freeman will star in a voice-activated drama production

Elsewhere, Radiohead drummer Phil Selway will provide the soundtrack for Sea Longing, a drama "investigating man's relationship with seals"; and Martin Freeman will star in a production of BS Johnson's novel The Unfortunates, adapted for Amazon's voice-activated Alexa speakers.

The original novel was designed to be read in a random order, an experience which the radio play will build upon by allowing listeners to choose how they hear the production.

The station will also broadcast Sir Simon Rattle's opening concerts in his first full season with the London Symphony Orchestra, as well as performances from Jacob Collier, mezzo-soprano Alice Coote and a weekend-long memorial to Hector Berlioz, marking the 150th anniversary of his death.

Davey added that the station would present a "New Artist Day" in 2019, where the next generation of young artists would take over the network for a day, curating and presenting shows.

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