Imaginary Advice

Computer Says No

Episode: “S.E.I.N.F.E.L.D.” | Podcast: Imaginary Advice | 26m40s

Poet tries to programme a neural net to do stand up comedy, with mixed results. Along the way, he deconstructs the usual rhythms of setup and punchline and disrupts the relationship between comedian and audience. There’s some discussion of the Turing Test and a few good gags, but the beauty of this audio experiment is its slow descent into total surreality after the audience is deleted and the laughs stop (26m40s)


Subject Or Object

Episode: “Shannon, Bath Towel” | Podcast: Everything Is Alive | 27m06s

Unscripted interview show in which the host conducts conversations with the imagined characters of household objects. Here, he talks to “Shannon”, a bath towel given begrudgingly to a couple as a wedding present and now doing daily drying service in their bathroom. The premise is bizarre but the result oddly moving, especially when the towel narrates part of the novel she has been writing during her downtime on the rack. This episode also contains something very rare: a funny podcast advert (27m06s)


Death Cleaning

Episode: “Joy” | Podcast: Still Processing | 37m14s

Appraisal of the tidying methods of Marie Kondo with reference to what they tell us about capitalism and mortality. The hosts go through their possessions during the episode, assessing whether they “spark joy” and probing the psychology behind that slogan. The segments about the links between bereavement and belongings are of greatest interest; is it a kindness to those left behind to minimise the accumulated clutter of life before we pass on, or is the ritual of cleaning out a dead parent’s house a necessary milestone in our emotional development? (37m14s)


The Oldest Woman

Episode: “The Mysterious Life of Jeanne Calment” | Podcast: The Land of Desire | 44m18s

Documentary about the world’s oldest well-documented person, a French woman called Jeanne Calment who was 122 when she died in 1997. The story of her life is intriguing — she met Vincent Van Gogh and hosted Nazi soldiers as lodgers during WW2 — but it is the exploration of recent academic disputes around her true age that set this episode apart. The continuing furore over Calment in gerontological circles reveals a long-running international feud about relative levels of life expectancy in France and Russia (44m18s)


Ice Bound

Episode: “The Isdal Woman” | Podcast: Death in Ice Valley | 32m26s

Opening of a ten-part investigation into the identity of a dead woman found in a Norwegian valley in November 1970. No one has ever come forward to claim her as a friend or relative. Beyond the few objects found with the burnt body, there was no clue to who she was. Journalists from the BBC and Norwegian state broadcaster NRK now think that with advances in forensics and global communications they have a chance of finding the answer. Theories range from Cold War espionage to undocumented slavery. The production style is heavily influenced by fictional Scandi noir series like The Bridge but the journalistic attention to detail is nonetheless impressive (32m26s)