day 7: because you are probably bored

I know that a lot of us are home right now and need to stay sane. Here’s some cool stuff that I am finding online. I will be updating it as we go:

Berliner Philharmonie has a free pass. Last date to use the code (BERLINPHIL) is 31st March

International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam (IDFA) is streaming films for free. Also try using your Kanopy account and your MUBI account if you have a university log-in.

Haymarket Books has 10 free ebooks right now. e.g. Angela Davis, Capitalism and Disability etc. 

Verso Books has 80% off on ebooks and has a few free books as well. 

Scribd has a 30 day free thing going on. 

Leeds Queer Film Festival has free films.

Project MUSE has free access till May 31 

Last update: 20.03.2020

Sound Candy: Ian Chillag’s Everything is Alive is back! Here is their latest.

In Appreciation of the Slow Burner Podcast

NOTE: Major spoilers about The Polybius Conspiracy podcast in the following post.

At the end of The Polybius Conspiracy, there is a veritable moment of mystery. Of an accident unfolding into a revelation of the kernel of the entire series. It occurs towards the very end as Jon Frechette talks about Bobby Feldstein’s video. You’re wondering, he says, what’s going through his head? This moment – one I have gone back to many times – is hinging upon this line to convey an almost meta-poetical narrative where Frechette is not only narrating a character in a narrative but inserting that thought into the listener. What is happening? – you are made to wonder. Disappointment, frustration, despair – he says – before revealing Bobby’s last words on the podcast – Goddamit, I know what happened. The Polybius Conspiracy concluded at that very moment. I remember listening to it the first time and being caught completely unaware. It was only the second time when I listened to it – after listening to all the episodes, on that occasion – that I could appreciate the moment for what it was. It was – and in my very humble opinion, still is – the most perfect slow burner podcast that I have consumed. Which is what I am about to write about, in this post. Listen to the entire series before we begin! Here’s the first episode.

These days, the presence of podcasts is ubiquitous. This ubiquity makes one wonder about the form itself. The most common form is the direct dialogue form of podcasts: people speaking on a topic. That form, of enlightening the masses, of telling a story comes in all different shapes and sizes: Blockchain technology (Varanida), prisoners in San Quentin (Ear Hustle) and  so on and so forth. That is a form that may differ in the way it presents itself but there is always a script of Q&A. There are people like Benjamen Walker (The Theory of Everything) who twist it around – chairs are thrown from rooftops, phone calls of complaints about the podcast are played in the podcast. He disrupts the way you would consume his podcast and redirects your attention to things that . There is Roman Mars (99% Invisible) who gives you the fleeting feeling of meandering into an anecdote before throwing an epiphany at you; it is always a dazzling effect. But the podcast that completely turns it upside down is the podcast that blurs the distance between the narrated content and the listener. Two podcasts come to mind: the recently concluded Death in Ice Valley and The Polybius Conspiracy that was put out by Radiotopia last fall.

The two podcasts could not be more different. Death in Ice Valley is about the Isdal Woman case which is an unsolved mystery from the 1970s. It was produced by the BBC and NRK. The Polybius Conspiracy is about an urban legend in Portland in the 1980. What brings them together? The proximity question – Death in Ice Valley was a work-in-progress. The producers relied heavily on the kind of responses they received from their audience and definitely followed leads that came from the Facebook group that they had created. The listeners were partly stakeholders of the entire process of the whole. The proximity to the content was uniquely close. The ‘knowledge’ from the podcast was one that was not from the enlightenment that one could gain out of it. It was not functional in that sense. It was simply something you as a listener could intervene and interject things into. As every episode unraveled into new clues and more leads, the slow burn was that ‘unknowledge’ – that unknowability of the end point which seemed even more elusive since the people making it were also not sure where they were going.

The Polybius Conspiracy, on the other hand, did something very different. This podcast simply inserted the audience into the podcast. Let us think of the timeframe of the episodes. If the producers come to Portland for a podcast about an urban legend, the narration puts the listener as a viewer of an event that has already taken place. The moment the ruptures into that timeline becomes incorporated into the podcast, the “truth” of the podcast also starts to blur the distance between the listener and the producers, so to speak. The moments, like the “break in” in Episode 7 or the moment Marc Sims – Reuben’s partner – surfaces on the podcast, it is a universe that one can “believe” in. These are moments that are performed for the audience and are given access to. The moment when Marc Sims’ partner Reuben seemingly hangs up on the producers, there is no layer that protects the listener from the fact that there is an “unknowability” – not only from the seeming mystery of the entire narrative, but also where does the contour of this ‘unknowledge’ stem from? The slow burn of the layers that the listener can always insert into this podcast is where the proximity between the podcast and its listeners lies – it can always be negotiated with more commonsense questions. Like: a. Was it Marc? Was Reuben delusional? Does it matter?

As a listener, I am not that bothered by the “fact-or-fiction” question of the two podcasts (Slate has already called The Polybius Conspiracy it fake, btw). What is more fascinating to me is precisely this residue of the contour between the two kingdoms of fact and fiction that are opposing only in theory. In the way most narratives unfold, the two things are merely versions where one layer enriches the other. The form of the podcasts – used rarely to bring up such important questions – is ripe for such experiments and we are luckier for it.

My recommendations for podcasts this time?

a. Doosra by BBC is one of the most refreshing sports podcasts. Mainly on cricket but also about a bunch of kids of South Asian origin who talk about society, family, sports, nationalism, and lots and lots of cricket. This is an unmissable one.

b. Benjamen Walker’s Theory of Everything had two extraordinary episodes in the False Alarm! series that deserve a double shout-out

c. Radiolab‘s “Unraveling Bolero” is one of the most moving and astonishing things I have heard in a long long time.

Sound Candy 18.02.2017

The great and wonderfully talented Jóhann Jóhannsson died last week in Berlin. It was absolutely heartbreaking to imagine someone so talented and wonderful dead at 48. This reminded me of great episode that Hrishikesh Hirway did with Jóhannsson; the way he spoke of the OST of Arrival makes it one of my favorite episodes. As a tribute, I’d really recommend listening to this episode this week.

My favorite episode that was released this week was the finale of Radiotopia’s Secrets. All the episodes till now had this catharsis where you could understand the secret… you could get it, as it were. The story with El Abed ended with that sense of closure but with the story of Annie and David which really left me astounded. There are such drastic consequences of our secrets that sometimes they do have this sense of complete and ubiquitous emptiness.

The Rolling Stone people had a good discussion on Justin Timberlake this week that I would highly recommend. It was funny and informative at the same time.

The last recommendation on Sound Candy takes us to the soothing voice of Nate DiMeo. I don’t want to spoil the story that he tells me but since reading this article by Alex Carp, the sense that this is a larger historical moment humanized by this story is something that dawned upon me.




Neglected Essentials of Berlin: The Chop

This is not a Sound Candy post because I have been in love with The Chop for ages now. I wanted to write about things they do. I think this homegrown Berlin paper that writes about local gigs and then puts up the monthly Neglected Essentials is one of the best things about the music community in Berlin that is notoriously local.

This is their 2017 Retrospective Mixtape

I have been introduced to some absolute classics on that tape. Like Hush Moss, Gurr and Adventure Team. This October 2016 mixtape is still one of my very favorites.

The thing about them is that they are still about everything about Berlin. They have the Chop Chip to a. support them and b. to gain gin-drenched entrance to parties and other goodies.

But if you guys are not looking for music and are only interested in a good mid-week read, I’d highly recommend Alex Carp’s Slavery and the American University.