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Sounds of Silence

Sounds of Silence

'Sounds of Silence'

BBC Radio 3 and BBC Sounds

Five-part audio series for Culture in Quarantine


PODCASTS ATTRACT 4.2 million listeners weekly in the UK. A downloadable audio file which can be heard at leisure, the podcast creates an intimate space for the speaker and the listener. Soumik Datta, producer of Sounds of Silence, has understood the unique qualities of the medium and provides a harmonious blend of information, insight and intellectual surprise.

In the five-part series for BBC Radio 3, Soumik speaks to five musicians from diverse backgrounds on the impact of lockdown personally and professionally. The thematic strands are woven around the musicians’ personal responses to time, to sounds and silence against the sound score of their own music. We meet a composer and performer in Dublin, a soprano in Birmingham, a beatboxer in Basingstoke, a cellist in the Scottish Highlands and a kirtan singer in Hertfordshire.

Michael Gallen, composer and singer-song-writer, sketches a sound-picture from his flat at the edge of a public park in Dublin. The humour and accuracy of his description of the park maintenance team’s job inventory is almost as noteworthy as his observation of the blackbird singing in clusters of complex rhythmic and harmonic patterns. Michael’s belief in listening as a spiritual practice could be the mantra for the series. In silence we find ‘the residual hum of being; a frequency that emanates from the earth’. This poetic utterance is as evocative as his song on human connections.

Abigail Kelly is a soprano based in Birmingham who had found her voice frozen post-lockdown, until a self-imposed task, washing her wigs in the basement, liberated her, and the arias came flooding back. She finds particular comfort in singing African American spirituals and Jamaican folk songs learnt from her father that connect her to her heritage. Fortunately, she was too wise as an eighteen-year old to lose the ‘black’ in her voice as advised by a tutor when applying to study music at University. Her rendition of ‘I want Jesus to walk with me’ gives the listener a taste of vocal range and power of Abigail’s singing.

SK Shlomo, beatboxer, is perhaps the biggest name amongst the five musicians featured. A world champion of beat boxing and the loop-station, he has another surprise in store for the listener. Moving sideways from the pure rhythm play of beatboxing into melodic and harmonic electronic explorations, a track from his recent album plays, over which he tells us how he has confronted himself in the silence and learned to be kind to himself. It is a sublime track and the combination of the music with the words is podcasting at its best.

Su-a Lee, cellist with the Scottish Symphony Orchestra for twenty-six years, finds herself in a wee cottage in the Highlands with her partner. The lockdown has made her aware of the infinite possibilities digital space provides for accessing music to those geographically removed or physically disadvantaged. Along with a mad compulsion to sow seeds in any container, Sue’s ability  to be productive is life-enhancing.

Kirtan, a form of communal call-response singing from the Hindu tradition, has a passionate advocate in Jahnavi Harrison. Growing up amongst the Hare Krishna community in Hertfordshire, Jahnavi  imbibed this form of sacred singing from the moment of her birth. However, the sweetness and purity of her full throated singing is uniquely her own. 

The experience of listening to Sounds of Silence is deeply satisfying. We are introduced to musicians who may not be our radar. The episodes urge us to become sound-aware – to listen out for the ‘interval between the ping-pong balls’ and the frequency of the chainsaw. It teaches us about the healing power of silence to confront and accept ourselves. It pares down sound to individual notes and chords so that when we hear Soumik strum the sarod, the shimmering volley of sound and resonance becomes magnified in our ears. Make the time, switch off from the world and just listen – you may find it a very meditative experience.


‘Sounds of Silence’ is a five-part audio series presented and produced by sarod player Soumik Datta on the impact of the COVID-19 lockdown on musicians. A Soumik Datta Arts Production for BBC Radio 3 and BBC Sounds, commissioned for Culture in Quarantine by The Space Arts, BBC Arts and Arts Council England, the podcasts will be available for a year on BBC Sounds. 

BBC Radio 3 / BBC Sounds Links

Episode 1 BBC Radio 3 - The Essay, Culture in Quarantine: Sounds of Silence, Michael Gallen

Episode 2 BBC Radio 3 - The Essay, Culture in Quarantine: Sounds of Silence, Abigail Kelly

Episode 3 BBC Radio 3 - The Essay, Culture in Quarantine: Sounds of Silence, SK Shlomo

Episode 4 BBC Radio 3 - The Essay, Culture in Quarantine: Sounds of Silence, Su-a Lee

Episode 5 BBC Radio 3 - The Essay, Culture in Quarantine: Sounds of Silence, Jahnavi Harrison