“There are 24 hours in a day. Seems pretty straightforward. But what do you really know about the hours between say, 11pm-6am. From graveyard shift jobs to “secret identities”, who we are and what we do at night is often less fully perceived by others, whether by choice or by circumstance. Peering into the dusty corners of the night, Nocturne explores these often overlooked and undisclosed slices of life. Under cover of darkness, our thoughts and feelings can take on strange new shapes, sometimes barely recognizable as our own. And the pulse of the world seems to alter too, sort of creating a curtain of privacy around our behaviors and even our appearance. Do I truly know you if I only know the daytime you? Let’s find out in Nocturne. Nocturne is a member of The Heard, an awesome collective of sound-rich, story-driven podcasts. Nocturne is essay radio - a hybrid form of audio storytelling that blends elements of documentary, fiction and sound-art.”
“I have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” So goes the most famous line from Sarah Williams’ poem, “The Old Astronomer”. So also goes, I think, the mindset of the creators of Nocturne, the innovative podcast regarding all things, eponymously, nighttime. The time between when most of us go to sleep and when we wake up has always been, traditionally, mysterious. Not only do our physical bodies enter into a resting state while our subconscious minds dish up frequently bizarre dreams, but life outside of our bodies continues on and in some ways intensifies. The stars, the first real evidence that our sun is but one of many, come out. Nocturnal animals are waking up for the first time to go about their day, evidenced by the chirping of crickets and the hooting of owls. What happens all around us when we sleep? Who’s awake, and why? What mysteries lurk in the night, concealed by darkness? It’s these questions and more that Nocturne attempts to answer in various ways in various episodes.
Although there are outliers, human society as a whole tends toward a diurnal state, meaning our primary functions take place during the daytime. But we also tend toward a state of curiosity regarding the unknown. We want to know what’s happening in the places we can’t easily see or go to. We spelunk through caves and dive to the bottom of the ocean and even launch ourselves into space to satisfy our curiosity. As for the nighttime? Trying to shine a light on it causes it to literally disappear, so instead all we can really do is experience it for what it is. This is what Nocturne does in each episode. Rather than try to unravel the mystery of the night intellectually, it acts as a vehicle for experiencing it sensorily. Nocturne accomplishes this feat through both its content and its form--namely its superior sound design.
With episodes ranging from the lives of long-haul truckers and bakers who work through the night and tell what they see and hear to a strangely intimate (and haunting) first-person stream-of-consciousness narrative of producer Vanessa Lowe’s decision to take a hike through the woods by herself in the middle of the night, what Nocturne principally grapples with is why a seemingly simple, almost quantitative change, that from light to dark, changes so deeply the quality of both our external and internal experience. Obviously we see things differently at night. There’s less light. But we also feel things differently. What was before, in the light, a walk to a beautifully isolated beach on which Lowe finds solace and peace becomes, in the dark, the source of an unnamable, almost primal fear. As she moves deeper and deeper through the darkness and into the woods, her heartbeat races uncontrollably and she begins to see in each shadow and hint of eyes an unformed threat lying in wait to pounce as she walks past. She never makes it to the beach.
What I’m getting at here, what makes Nocturne such a pleasure to listen to, aside from how well it’s produced, is that it engages with both the denotations and the connotations, with both the literal and the figurative, of the night. It’s not only the darkness per se, but our reaction to it, our need to understand our relationship with it. For those looking for a podcast that explores this aspect of humanity’s contention with the unknown, and does so with innovative and immersive sound design, look no further than Nocturne.
The sound design of Nocturne is top notch. In a way it has to be: at night, because we can see far less, our other senses seem to feel heightened, particularly sound. Taking this cue, Nocturne puts a lot of effort into making the listener really feel like they’re there.
Vanessa Lowe is everything you want in a podcast host--there when she needs to be, but able to step back and let the subjects of the podcast tell their stories uninterrupted.
A great podcast to listen to, well, at night obviously.
Overall Score: 8.8/10
- What the Baker Saw
- A Hole in the Night
- Into, Under, Through
- Life is But a Dream
If you like this podcast, you’ll probably like:
- Love + Radio
- The Heart