Finding placeness in a physical site can be stimulating, exhilarating, meditative, even awe-inspiring. But what about finding it nowhere? Does placeness have to be somewhere? Can it appear out of thin air? One of the great potential arslocii spots can be found in radio – if it is special. Theater of the mind. But don’t expect it to happen often. It won’t.
As we wrote previously, sound can create a sense of place. And we all have experienced music that, on first listening or after multiple encounters, transports us. It’s like time travel, returning us to a time and place where we first heard it. Music has that power of memory. The best bit, though, is how music can be transcendent, lifting our minds above our earthly cares.
But what happens when someone is so knowledgeable about music that he/she can program it to create placeness? There are a select few people on the radio who are painting or sculpting a place, an emotional, sensual and mind-engaging place that is formed by a masterful sense of their materials and built into an experience that we can share in a meaningful way. Creating a space out of sound waves. Thin air made solid.
This happy occurrence has made me a believer in the aural arslocii phenomenon on two radio broadcast programs. Luckily, both can be heard streaming online also.
One of them has been going on for thirty-plus years, offered by WXPN, a radio station originating at the University of Pennsylvania. It is called Sleepy Hollow, and it airs only on weekends and for just three hours on each of its two mornings, although in the past several years it has added a couple of hours on Sunday at the early side of the program. The mix of music is eclectic, spanning decades as well as cultures. The common thread is its tone: soothing sounds to awaken and delight the mind as the early-morning body shakes off sleep. It is not sleep-inducing but rather a gentle massage of the senses done with finesse by the three DJs – Chuck Elliott, Keith Brand and John Diliberto – each creating a show. And, especially, in a world of overformatted, focus-group-styled radio hammering away at your pocketbook and head, like so much television does, Sleepy Hollow is yippie radio – maybe, softly said, yippee.
Some of us are old enough to remember when, in the late Sixties, some unique, off-the-wall FM-radio stations insinuated themselves into the commercial mix and started a music revolution. Progressive rock was a kind of anti-programming, a free-form format that promoted albums over single releases and stayed away from top-40 rock. Sleepy Hollow follows that singular and lonely path to this day. To quote its own website: “ …from Miles Davis, Tom Waits and Joni Mitchell to Chet Baker, Norah Jones and Nick Drake – Sleepy Hollow is a place where mood and music combine to create a warm and relaxing weekend morning experience.” Arslocii.
A babe in comparison, at not quite seven years old, is Radio Deluxe, which I bumped into on WAMC in New York state. Another personalized mix of jazz, stage, standards and surprises, it’s hosted and curated by John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey, the husband/wife duo whose combined knowledge of popular-musical culture is an encyclopedic treasure trove. They also offer great banter from their lofty Manhattan apartment, “high atop Lexington Avenue, here in the deluxe living room.” While Jessica, a singer, prefers vocalists and John, primarily a jazz guitarist, leans towards instrumentals, a perfect blend is the result. From their website, quoting Christopher Loudon, of Jazz Times: “Among radio’s greatest pleasures is each weekly installment of Radio Deluxe, two hours of great jazz and smart, sassy repartee from John Pizzarelli and Jessica Molaskey, the hippest husband-and-wife team since Louis Prima and Keely Smith.”
Each of their shows is a tribute to musicians and is a joy to be privy to. The adept team manages to create a physical space for us listeners, and while we are being entertained and enriched we are catching a glimpse of what it is like to be immersed in their musical world. Placeness. The thing is, they are both accomplished musicians and they have created a show to honor others who came before them as well as give glimpses of their own talents. They set the tone as well as the bar with their unique radio program and give us a little history lesson, to boot. Some weeks it is the two hosts, other times there are guest musicians giving the sense of a “live” component.
As listeners, we are brought into their living room, imagining ourselves seated around the piano or a blazing fireplace, enjoying the sounds, the conversation and, maybe even, the cocktails. In one show, you can actually hear one of the guests in the background asking John for more ice – and he actually answers. It brings us another tick closer to our imaginings of what the renowned parties at Gershwin’s must have been like, only this is more intimate, because we are guests, too. Jessica and John are serious about the music, and they make us laugh. Sound waves made palpable. Oh, yes, and they and their show are oh so deluxe and, through them, so are we.