Professor’s BBC series listens in on all our yesterdays

Professor David Hendy

The talking drums of Ghana, featured in the BBC Radio 4 series, Noise

The rattle and hum of human history is the subject of Noise – an “ear-opening” major BBC Radio 4 series that begins on Monday (18 March 2013), written and presented by University of Sussex Professor David Hendy.

Professor Hendy has travelled the world for the 30-part series to research the stories, record sounds on location and sample the archives in an exploration of 100,000 years human interaction with sound, from the first prehistoric cave artists to the present day.

Some of the sounds have never been broadcast before, such as the very earliest wax cylinder recordings of musical performances in Africa, while others have been recorded on location especially for the programme to form 'soundscapes' that transport listeners to particular places and moments in time.

Each episode examines a different element of human experience, including:

  • the mystic power of sound reverberating in Neolithic burial chambers;
  • song, drums and silence traces the journey of slaves from Ghana to the New World;
  • the impact of the city, explored via the hubbub of ancient Rome to the massacre of noisy cats in pre-Revolutionary Paris and the clamour of industrialised London;
  • the horror of conflict, shown in the ear-splitting hell of WWI trenches, or in the profound poignancy of 9/11 victims’ voicemail messages to loved ones;
  • the importance of listening, as found in the story of Islam, ancient Hinduism and Buddhism;
  • the potency of music in work, play and prayer as experienced in the Muzak of the factory floor, the blues rhythms of the jazz speakeasy and the heavenly sound of a medieval cathedral’s “singing” angels.

In the series, which has taken a year to make, Professor Hendy includes treasures from the British Library and the BBC’s Natural History Unit, the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford, and other private sound archives from across the world.

Professor Hendy says: “Sound is more than just acoustics. Noise, for example, is a sound that someone, somewhere, doesn’t want to hear. So noise gives us a route in to the story of human existence. It brings sound back to a human level – more of a felt experience and one that’s about power and struggle, life and death, pleasure and pain, the need to hear and be heard.”

A book – Noise: A Human History of Sound and Listening by David Hendy (Profile Books) – is also being launched on the first day of the radio series (18 March). To find out more about the making of the book and the series, go to the Making Noise blog.

Notes for Editors

Noise, a 30-part series for BBC Radio 4, produced by Rockethouse in collaboration with the British Library, begins at 1.45pm on BBC Radio 4 on 18 March and runs Monday to Friday.

David Hendy is Professor of Media and Communications in the department of Media and Film at the University of Sussex and an award-winning broadcaster and writer. He joined the BBC in 1987 as a journalist, working on The World Tonight and Analysis on Radio 4 before moving back into academia. He has taught media history at the University of Westminster, and held visiting research fellowships at Cambridge, Yale, and Indiana universities. He joined the University of Sussex in 2012. He is currently working on a book called Media and the Making of the Modern Mind, which will be published by Oxford University Press in 2015.

Professor Hendy’s BBC Radio 3 series, Rewiring the Mind, which explored how modern media have changed our ways of thinking, won the James W. Carey Award for Outstanding Journalism.

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Last updated: Thursday, 14 March 2013