Over the last couple of months, I’ve been listening to the Nocturne Podcast, presented by Vanessa Lowe and produced by her and Kent Sparling. The podcast promises an exploration into all things ‘night’ – the stories of different ‘night owls’, recordings of Vanessa’s adventures into the night, and a look at some of the social and cultural issues of night and dark.
I’ve really enjoyed it. It’s interesting to hear Vanessa exploring night even though she’s someone who is not naturally very comfortable in the dark (I can relate to this!). So the podcasts are as much a story of her discovery of her own relationship with night, as well as finding out about the night itself. Nocturne evocatively illustrates the inherent contradictions of night. To quote the first episode: “sometimes it [night] is sparkling, or euphoric, or meditative”; but “there’s something about being up at night that’s making me feel a little cut off, or alone”. So the night that we experience in the podcasts is both a night of opportunity (for work, for creativity, for freedom, for adventure) and of danger (of violence, isolation, accident).
Each episode of around 20-30 minutes chronicles a different story or issue, exploring these through interviews and creating a narrative about the role that night plays in our lives. The stories are great – there’s the trucker who fell down a sinkhole in the dark, or the woman who has lived a nocturnal life due to her natural body clock. But I also enjoy the episodes which follow Vanessa’s explorations into the dark – the most recent episode ‘Into, Under, Through’, is probably my favourite so far. A simple premise of a short walk into the wood at night turns into a story of how darkness isolates us from the world we know, and makes the familiar unfamiliar.
As a social scientist interested in night, the podcasts provide an interesting range of stories and reflections. I love the way that for many of the Night Owls that Vanessa speaks to, the night becomes part of their identity – their sense of who they are. This was interesting, and something I hadn’t considered before. Vanessa’s nocturnal adventures seem to revolve around the question of how and why night can feel so different for her – is it a learnt effect of stories of nocturnal danger, both mystical and real? Or is it something about the inherent thickness that darkness pours over everything – the loss of the comforting blanket of day, light and vision? I hope we hear more of these trips in future podcasts. Through Nocturne I hear multiple different nights: night as the experience of darkness, night as a time of inactivity, night as an opportunity for play, night as a space of work. These different nights seem to overlap and intersect, and maybe that’s what produces the contradictions that the podcast finds. It’d be great to get more stories of these different types of night, and perhaps to also branch out into the crepuscular, or into dawns: how does day become night, and what happens in the in-between?
I’d recommend Nocturne to anyone who’s interested in night, its people and their stories. Vanessa and Kent are creating a rich archive of nocturnal tales and reflections, and this is a valuable contribution both artistically but also to those of us who take a professional interest in the night!