The Daily Telegraph
I’m all for slowing down – but you don’t always have to do it by proxy
Got any plans for the Easter bank holiday weekend? A spot of gardening? A vigorous spring clean? Or perhaps something less worthy – a visit to a stately home, an outing to the local point-to-point, or a long walk to admire the bluebells and wild garlic in all their pungently scented glory?
If that sounds too strenuous, you could stay in and listen to someone else walking on your behalf. Not the splendid Clare Balding, dauntless on Radio 4’s
Ramblings, but Radio 3’s latest essay in “slow radio” – a four-hour audio portrait of the Black Mountains, featuring the sounds of moorland and crag, as the writer Horatio Clare undertakes a 12-kilometre yomp from the village of Cwmdu to the town of Hay-on-Wye.
You might think that Radio 3’s default content of music without too much intervening chat was already the ultimate in slow radio, but what sounds like sweet harmony to one set of ears may represent an intolerable racket to another. Personally, I have a strong prejudice against Percy Grainger. A single note of Molly on the Shore is enough to make me stuff my fingers in my ears. But almost everyone loves the rustle and chirp of nature. Radio 3’s Breakfast Birdsong has been a huge success – as the station’s controller Alan Davey put it, slow radio offers “a timeout in this busy, fast-paced world”.
The idea of slowness as an antidote to the toxic speed of modern life has been around for a while. If Andy Warhol’s interminable Sixties films, Sleep and Empire, claimed slowness for the avant-garde, the backlash against the technology that was supposed to take the drudgery out of everyday life took a more vigorous turn in the Eighties, with Carlo Petrini’s Slow Food Movement, spawned by the heretical opening of a branch of McDonald’s near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
Since then the slow philosophy codified in Carl Honoré’s 2004 book, In
Praise of Slowness, has made its stately incursion into an imposing range of human activity, from town planning to travel, fashion and even video games. A recent New
York Times article listed an entire library of games that are the virtual equivalent of watching grass grow: Mountain (where “things grow and things die”), Viridi (“start a succulent garden in your pocket”); or the Japanese Neko Atsume: Kitty Collector (virtual stray cats congregate to sample toys and nibbles).
Soothing though these diversions seem, they have one thing in common with the tasteful offerings of slow radio and television. They allow their consumers to feel spiritually superior to gamers racking up points by wiping out computergenerated adversaries with extreme prejudice, or tourists who contribute to the desecration of wild places, all while adroitly shielding them from unmediated experience.
The mediation of experience arguably began with the invention of photography and recorded sound – and a good thing, too, in the sense of allowing our imagination access to places beyond its own narrow horizon. Still, having once heard a nightingale sing from the unlovely vantage point of a petrol station on the A20, I’m inclined to feel that, even if Radio 3’s slow soundscape is more refined than the one outside my front door, on the whole I’d rather hear a real London blackbird sing than stay inside to relish the exquisitely recorded sound of someone else’s experience.