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2013 in Podcasts: WH Chong's favourites

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Crikey’s Culture Mulcher WH Chong picks the best podcasts of 2013.
Reith Lectures (BBC)
My favourite podcast of the year: the 2013 BBC Reith Lectures, given by the artist Grayson Perry. Entitled ‘Playing to the Gallery’ Perry tells how he became an artist and explains the place of contemporary art in today’s culture. Each lecture about 30 minutes, with 10 mins audience questions (very worthwhile q-n-a). Part of its appeal is Perry’s undiluted cor-blimey accent.
His four topics are titled: Democracy has Bad Taste ( what art is today and who makes it so); Beating the Bounds (about the current boundaries of art);Nice Rebellion; Welcome In! (the art world’s taste for revolution); and, I Found Myself in the Art World. Grayson Perry became a celebrity when he won the controversial Turner Prize, becoming known as the transvestite potter. (He recently also made a doco about making a set of six tapestries on the British class system: The Vanity of Small Differences.)
Entertaining, illuminating, quick-witted (asked his opinion of Damien Hirst’s shark, Perry sidestepped: “Whenever I’ve seen it, it was looking quite mothy.”) And often frank: asked by an audience member, “in terms of contemporary art, what actually do you like?” Perry replies: “I like very little contemporary art. Contemporary art is all being made now and so most of it is rubbish.”
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Poetica (RN)
The excellent long-running program with interviews, readings, special subjects, poetic genres.
Poetica is stimulating: Infuriating recent double on current Chinese poetry by Ouyang Yu — is the best Chinese poetry really so narrow, so political? Poetica is illuminating and touching: Ian Johnston, a retired surgeon who is also a translator of Chinese poetry and who has squirrelled himself away from the madding world on Bruny Island. Poetica is esoteric: The precocious Slovenian poet Srecko Kosovel who never published in his short life (died at 22; he missed a late train and caught a cold) — “one of central Europe’s major modernist poets”.
Then there are: Les Murray. Rachel Carson. Gwen Harwood. Roger McGouch. Ken Bolton. The excellent Canadian, Karen Solie. Pi O. Pantoums. The riches embarrass. One thing about it I don’t like is the audio/music accompaniment. The clanking of chains and tinkling of bells behind the reading of Slessor’s Five Bells. Why? Poetica, please, it, is, not, necessary. Trust the poetry, the reader, your listeners.
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Essential Poets (Poetry Foundation)
I love this. Mostly brief episodes, between 1220 minutes. This is a collection of readings by the poets as chosen in 2006 by Donald Hall, when he was America’s poet laureate. The poets are given brief potted biographies before the archival recordings.
Some are disappointingly flat (not always the ones you expect) but there are some real high points. Hearing E. E. Cummings’ sonorous voice declaiming from 1959 is hair-raising, especially with the recording’s spectral acoustics. Kay Ryan, a recent poet laureate, delivers her tight vertical poems in a suitably wry voice; I imagine her eyebrows raised. August Kleinzahler — never been that keen on his stuff, but what a performance! William Carlos Williams at the Library of Congress in 1945, with his high fruity voice: “So much depends upon a red wheelbarrow, glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens.” Electrifying.
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Great Lives (BBC 4)
Recommended by that exquisite book artist, Nicholas Jones, who listens to it as he wields the scalpel. Each Life goes about 30 mins which is a good timekeeper for shorter dogwalks. A guest chooses a Life and a discussion ensues between the host, the guest and an expert witness.
I recently enjoyed the episode about Philip K. Dick, the great cult scifi writer of the 60s and 70s (Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, The Adjustment Bureau etc) whose life was chaotic, paranoiac and chemically altered, including remarks about Shakespeare and a couple of voice recordings of Dick. Chosen by actor Michael Sheen (think Tony Blair) with expert commentary by Roger Luckhurst, prof of Mod Lit at Uni London.
Other Lives include Fela Kuti; Dali; Aubrey Bearedsley; George Orwell; Rasputin; Nancy Mitford; Gertrude Stein etc etc.  Addictive.
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Modern Art Notes
Founded and hosted by Tyler Green, who is the reason for this program’s distinctive quality — a kind of wine-dry, judicious engagement. His cool disguises a capacity for combat, more evident in his journalism; he is the art critic for Bloomberg News.
Art podcasts are tricky for listeners — you have to be able to picture the work of the artists discussed. But America is the land of great survey shows and blockbusters, which is the main material for Modern Art Notes, so it’s not too hard to pick the episodes that connect to you. In any case the accompanying blog of the podcast displays images by the artist for show in discussion — which is terrific as an introduction to artists you’ve been curious about.
The episode about Gauguin in Tahiti is terrific; ditto Diebenkorn in Berkeley, the crucial time when that great abstractionist struggled with figuration. TheThomas Nozkowski interview is great — Nozkowski is pratically unknown in Australia but a quiet painting star in America (like a funky abstract Morandi, kinda sorta).
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New Yorker Out Loud
At some point Eustace Tilley has to get a look in. I gave up on the NYer’s Political Scene podcast because it’s just too depressing. On Out Loud they go sideways, riffing on an article in that week’s issue: Daniel Mendelsohn on Greek tragedy. Bill Buford on French cooking. Larissa MacFaquhar on Japanese suicide. James Wood on Elena Ferrante’s novels, with her translator Ann Goldstein, who just happens to work at the NYer.  Peter Schjeldahl on Ai Weiwei; Schjeldahl defends his final judgement in the magazine: Ai is “good enough” which sounds terrifically patronising; maybe it’s a New York thing. The inimitable Joan Acocella on evangelical Christians — her New Yorker voice cuts glass and mustard.
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All Songs Considered (NPR)
In the US National Public Radio is both a repository of reliable liberalism as well as a magnet for rightwing revulsion and parodic disdain (by liberals). Maybe it’s because it’s so mild-mannered; it’s very ABC like generally. One of the more useful things I get from them is their very well-known music podcast. The host Bob Boilen is an old hand and seems to have listened to every band in every venue and has collected all their works. His usual sidekick Robin (Hilton) introduces an infuriating adolescent/frat humour to the proceedings of bringing new music — so much so I often have to turn it off.
Check out their listeners’ album picks for 2013, and their discussion of themusic of the year.
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Start the Week (BBC 4)
I think the best discussion panel show on radio or TV. Erudite but accessible, broad ranging topics  if occasionally recondite (like ‘fairytale Physics’) — from Torture & Terrorism, to Scotland, to Political Language, to the State of Feminism, to Poetry and Stories, to Art and Culture. The longtime remarkable host, journalist Andrew Marr, suffered a stroke; his place was ably undertaken by various broadcasters but he returned in November with a programme appropriately about religion featuring a biographer of the religious poet George Herbert, the religious composer Sir John Taverner and the author Jeanette Winterston, who escapeda fundamental childhood.
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Stranger Than Fiction (Slate)
A six-part series of interviews with science fixation writers from Slate. The authors are the drawcard: Robert Sawyer and Margaret Atwood from Canada, Alastair Reynolds from the UK and Kim Stanley Robinson, Cory Doctorow and Neal Stephenson from the US; the cream of speculative fiction. A lot of the talk is about politics as practiced today; because that’s what makes so much of the future beyond technological advances.
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And also worth checking out:
Sound Opinions
Culture Gabfest
Arts and Ideas BBC
Art 21 (3-4 min videos)
NPR Pop Culture Happy HOur
MoMA Talks: Conversations

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