This European Life

Remember when I accused This American Life of being formulaic?  We can put that behind us now.

I was listening to the TAL podcast of episode #611 (Vague and Confused) and during the 28th/29th minute, something unusual happened, at least for this show.  They all of a sudden became a European radio show for a few precious seconds.

In the scene, producer Sean Cole is introducing to the audience that he's on the island of Ni'ihau, which up to that point the audience is told is private property and isolated without modern conveniences.  He does this by first playing a recording from Ira Glass' voicemail.  Sean is on the voicemail explaining that he's on the beach at Ni'ihau, and in the middle of the message, the sound of the waves comes up and Sean's audio morphs from the voicemail to the in-person recording he made of himself making the phone call.

My explanation may not do this scene justice, but how it sounded was like the listener was transported from Ira's office (the modern world) to the preserved historical world of Ni'ihau, in a sort of time traveler/science fiction sort of way.  As part of the illusion, Sean's voicemail voice was distorted and bit-crushed as it transformed to his clear recording.

I've been listening to This American Life since 1999 or so, and this is the first time I've ever heard anything like that on this program.  It was somewhat Radiolab-like, though not quite as heavy-handed.

I've been also listening to HowSound, Rob Rosenthal's podcast on making great radio.  It's introduced me to a handful of radio pieces coming out of Europe, which are different than the American podcasts from this current Golden Age of Radio.  European podcasts tend to refrain from explaining things too much, and they also rely on interesting sounds to make a statement.  In my ears, Sean Cole's time traveling moment was a bit European.

A number of TAL staffers make appearances on HowSound and, so I wonder if they're listening to the same stuff that Rob Rosenthal is introducing me to, and I wonder if, like me, they're interested in doing something other than the straight-up present-a-scenario/surprise-the-audience/reflect-on-the-outcome formula that, while it works so damn well, has been what's for dinner for a while now.

It's interesting to speculate about.