I find, at times, (and these times are alarmingly and embarrassingly often) that my music taste has gone stale. Or at least that it feels stale. I’ll listen to the same few albums and playlists, kidding myself that if I’m listening to them on shuffle for a change that it’s just as good as listening to new music. It isn’t. There is no excuse for the frustration I find myself feeling – the musical well has not run dry, it is just that I rely on the same tired old sources for music. And so, over the past few months, I have decided to make a committed effort to go out and search for new music in new places. And surprisingly, for me at least, the place where I have been searching for and discovering music has been the radio.
Over the past few months the radio helped me to realise many things. Lots of my favourite artists have side projects or solo releases that I was totally unaware of and I should be more proactive in going out and looking for these. Kate Bush’s Aerial album was actually a masterpiece that eleven year old me didn’t understand, and sometimes it takes ten years of not listening to something to realise this. The European Space Agency’s recent innovative sound recordings of comets can be seamlessly blended in to pretty much any Kraftwerk song (this particular instance of joy was gifted to the world by Jarvis Cocker on his Sunday Service and is well worth a listen). There is a very particular and joyful satisfaction in the re-discovery songs which you loved so well and hadn’t realised you had stopped listening to (this month including such gems as Erykah Badu’s Baduizm album and Groove Armada’s At the River).
For me, the radio holds myriad appeal, not only in that it allows for a temporary relinquishing of control but also in that it allows for a shared experience. While my flatmates and friends may sigh at my ritualistic tuning in to BBC Radio 6 (2pm on a Sunday, every Sunday), there is something wonderful about it too. The ceremonious gathering round, brewing a pot of tea and opening a packet of biscuits in preparation for the two hours to follow.
And in these two hours, I am blissfully freed of the weighty responsibility of choosing which music to play. It’s easy to underestimate the way in which music can change the mood of a social situation, whether it be listening to music as an activity in itself or simply having it on in the background. Radio can feel like a bit of a risk at first, but with the right presenter and the right show it can be unspeakably wonderful to bask in someone else’s musical curation.
I rarely make the active choice of silence (my childhood was wonderfully full of music with the only times of absolute quiet being the moment where my mother, and more recently my brother, changed CDs at the end of the album). For me there must always be music playing, even in the few minutes it takes to make a cup of tea or walk over to a friend’s house. But the avoidance of that gap of musiclessness can become a daunting stress and one which can haunt the last few songs of much beloved albums. In my search to find new music through the radio I have found also the joy of letting someone else choose the music I listen to, handing over the reins to a trusted musical curator. And this is how I learned to stop worrying and love the radio.By Alice Miller