Radiotopia’s first ‘Showcase’ series: ‘Ways of Hearing’

Ways Of Hearing is a six-part podcast hosted by musician Damon Krukowski, exploring the nature of listening in our digital world

Ways of Hearing, Radiotopia’s first Showcase series, launches today, bringing you top-notch weekend listening for the next seven weeks.

“Time,” episode one in the six-episode series, looks at the way digital audio — in music recording, radio and television broadcast — uses a different sense of time than we experience in our offline lives. A time that is more regular but less communal. Guests on the first episode include Ali Shaheed Muhammed, of A Tribe Called Quest, and Joe Castiglione, the radio voice of the Boston Red Sox.

Listen to episode one

Host, writer and co-producer Damon Krukowski, former Galaxie 500 indie rocker and author of The New Analog: Listening and Reconnecting in a Digital World, uses each episode of the series to tackle larger themes related to sound — “Time,” “Space,” “Love” and so on — and also as a way to answer a central question: Why, with so much information and processing power at our fingertips, does it often seem to be more difficult to share our experiences than before?

“Damon has been thinking about sound and listening for decades as a musician, teacher and writer,” said Max Larkin, lead reporter at WBUR’s Edify and co-producer of Ways of Hearing. “There aren’t many people who could bring as much passion and knowledge to a project like this one.”

The second episode, “Space,” uses the setting of New York City to look at the ways headphones transform urban space — how both gentrification and personal audio can privatize public space. When you put in your earbuds, Krukowski said, “You’re creating a private space in a public sphere.” “Space” will drop Aug. 11.

“Look around any subway car or waiting room and you’ll see a proliferation of earbuds. More and more people spend more and more time inside their own sonic world,” Larkin said. “As someone who makes radio and podcasts, it’s gratifying to see that — but I am working with Damon because I believe it’s vital, now more than ever, that we think critically about how we listen, who we listen to, and how we handle what we hear.”

Episode three, “Love,” looks at the loss of intimacy in our cellphone calls and through the digital manipulation of voices in music.

A bonus episode, “Ways of Song Exploding,” takes a break from the series’ single-word themes to unpack the way Hrishikesh Hirway unravels popular songs on his podcast Song Exploder, also from Radiotopia.

Episode four, “Money,” takes on the question of how music streaming has upended musicians’ material existence. It includes visits to the Library of Congress copyright office and KEXP Seattle’s music library.

“Power,” episode five, looks at how the “volume wars” of the 2000s and the current domination of the music business by Apple and Spotify narrow the range of effective audio communication. “Noise,” episode six, ties a bow on the series, reflecting back on the previous six episodes and raising a final question: Is noise what we’re missing in our digital lives?

Ways of Hearing builds on Krukowski’s recent book and Pitchfork articles about streaming and the new digital reality for musicians.

“Podcasting is the perfect medium for this — it not only lets me express some of the ideas I have about the switch from analog to digital sound, but [a podcast] is itself digital sound,” Krukowski said, “which means that we can use the medium to talk about itself. It’s very ‘meta’!”
Ian Coss, left, and Max Larkin record audio in the field for episode 2 of Ways of Hearing, “Space.” (Photo by Damon Krukowski)

The team for the limited series includes Krukowski, Larkin and Ian Coss, co-producer and sound designer for Ways of Hearing and ethnomusicology doctoral candidate at Boston University.

“The team working on Ways of Hearing with me is experienced in both radio and podcasting, and I’ve been really enjoying learning from them,” Krukowski said. “I feel very lucky to be working with both of them, and I’m loving the way they are surprising me as they bring the idea for this series to life.”

The series takes its title from John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, a BBC television series from the 1970s that used the newly widespread technology of television to question our relationship to images. Like Ways of Seeing, Ways of Hearing wants us to take a critical look at the ways we consume audio in the digital era.

“PRX has been the ideal supporter for Ways of Hearing — I now know there’s a reason that Radiotopia and Julie Shapiro are so revered by people who love radio and storytelling,” Larkin said. “Julie [Shapiro, executive producer of Radiotopia] has helped us push forward a passion project and turn it into something bigger — something that, I hope, will speak to Radiotopia’s audience of bright and curious listeners.”

Subscribe to the Showcase feed on Apple Podcasts, RadioPublic or wherever you get your podcasts to hear the rest of Ways of Hearing — and future series from Showcase.