Posts Tagged ‘LIve’

Radiolab LIVE

Posted: November 7, 2013 in Uncategorized
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     Recently, I had the opportunity to travel to Chicago, with my friend, Phil Ensminger.  Armed with an audio recorder, and two smartphones, the two of us set out to cram as much of the city into our weekend as our feet and phone batteries would allow. What drew us to the Windy City, was a show playing at the Chicago Theatre. RADIOLAB LIVE: APOCALYPTICAL. That’s right, the hit podcast (yes, I said podcast!) from WNYC in New York, is on a national tour performing live shows all about “The End.”  As we are both enthusiasts of pretty much anything that has to do with audio, Phil and I were not about to let this unique experience pass us by.
For a few highlights, let me set the stage…
     Hosts Jad Abumrad, and Robert Krulwich, occupied center stage in front of three large projector screens. For the most part, they were stationed behind a table with a computer and a projector. Perched on a couple of stools in business casual attire, they gave the show a very relaxed and conversational tone- a trademark of their podcasts. Stage left featured the acoustic upright bass and percussion duo made up of Darin Gray and Glenn Kotche. Over on stage right were Sarah Lipstate, who played the electric guitar, and a gentleman (his name escapes me…and I can’t seem to find it anywhere) who operated the video playing on the overhead projector, among a variety of other tasks.
      The content of the first and main segment of the show sought to answer the question of how dinosaurs become extinct on our planet. To be honest, not the most exciting topic  I’ve heard Jad and Robert tackle. A lot of experts, seemingly making educated guesses about something that, according to them happened blankety-blank million years ago. The long and the short of it was that dinosaurs were destroyed by an asteroid. Not, however from the initial impact, but from the rebound effect caused by the asteroid hitting earth’s surface and the certain gases which mixed with each other and crystallized and fell back to earth. These tiny crystals then covered the entire earth, trapping heat as they fell. Eventually the earth became so hot the dinos couldn’t take it any more and died off.
     Enough of the actual validity of their argument though, the props and audience interaction incorporated during this segment was out of the park! It featured two near life-sized dinosaur puppets from Erth Visual & Physical Inc. At various times throughout the show, the long neck of a Brachiosaurus would turn and extend out over the audience- close enough that one could reach up and touch the incredibly realistic looking replica!
     There were also some really cool visual effects seamlessly interwoven throughout the show as the dialogue between Jad, Robert, or an interviewee took place. One of the tasks of the guy operating the video, was to complete a sketch of a dinosaur fossil. With quick strokes of the pencil, he brought a dinosaur image to life before our eyes. It was as if he was an archaeologist brushing away the last bit of dirt before uncovering an ancient artifact. This overhead point of view projected on the screen behind Jad and Robert was downright awesome.
      One of my favorite aspects of the show was the sound effects and musical transitions performed live by the trio of musicians I mentioned earlier. The sounds that can be created by an electric guitar, upright bass, and a drum set, produces a unique blend of sounds to say the least. Acting like a conductor, Jad directed them when to start and stop a musical transition. My favorite transition took place at the conclusion of the Dino segment. It began as a driving piece with the drums as the predominant force. As time passed, the piece continued to grow in volume and intensity. After about a minute, the piece reached its climax- it was loud! Glenn was absolutely pounding away at his drum set. Then, Jad gave the signal to cut. As the final beat of the drums and cymbals boomed, an incredibly bright strobe light above the stage quickly blinked on for an instant. At this same moment, the three projection screens suddenly fell and dropped several feet lower than they were hanging before. Now, if their goal was to make us feel like we were engulfed in the middle of a cataclysmic, end of world catastrophe, they can rest assured! As the screens swayed in the aftermath of their abrupt fall, I checked to make sure my seat was still bolted down. This transition was so unique and executed with excellent timing and precision,  it embodied the true sense of the word- APOCALYPTICAL!!
     The sound effects continued throughout the shows as well. At one point, Darin Gray abandoned his bass for what seemed to be a piece of PVC tubing. Blowing into one end, and spinning the other end above his head, he made his way up and down the center aisle of the theatre creating a very realistic swirling wind. At another part of the show, the topic turned to birds. This time, Darin was joined by his band mate Glenn Kotche. Together, they started blowing into and twisting various bird calls. Suddenly, we were surrounded by the sounds of chirping, quacking, honking, and whistling, as the two guys rapidly changed between the different calls. The theatre was transformed into a bird sanctuary John James Audobon would have been proud of.
     One of the challenges of bringing a podcast show on live tour, would seem to be the level of (or lack of) involvement from the audience.  I have to give them props, they did a solid job of making sure the audience participated and were active listeners in the two-hour event. After coming back from a short interlude, Jad and Robert began telling us about a man who had a complex because he was the LAST one in his family. After he died, there was no one who would carry on the family name. This got the Radiolab crew wondering, what would you call someone who is the last in their family line? So, they asked for the audience to speak up and give their input. The suggestions they fielded ranged from “Endcestor,” to “Anti-Genesis,” to “Phil Collins.” As this was taking place, the guy at the projector would write the suggested name on a sheet of paper, which was projected overhead for everyone to see.
    Bottom line, even though some of the content was weak at times, this show was really, really well produced! It was primed and polished down to a tee. The transitions were executed beautifully, and the audience was engaged. Both Phil and I walked away entertained and inspired. If Radiolab ever goes on tour again, we’re game!
FYI: Stay tuned for our podcast- devoted entirely to this trip…Coming soon!