The week in audio: Electoral Dysfunction; Black Box; The Price of Music; An Taobh Tuathail – review

Electoral Dysfunction | Sky News
Black Box | The Guardian
The Price of Music | Dap Dip
An Taobh Tuathail | RTÉ Raidió na Gaeltachta

Another column, another new “big names chit-chat on about politics” podcast to review. Just in time (perhaps) for a general election, please welcome Electoral Dysfunction. Think The Rest Is Politics or Political Currency, but with three women who actively work in news and politics, as opposed to two men who used to.

Beth Rigby is our host; Labour’s Jess Phillips and Conservative peer Ruth Davidson are the regular guests. All three are up-and-at-’em types. Phillips and Davidson, good talkers both, are action women: their politics is about doing stuff rather than talking about doing stuff. Rigby, Sky’s political editor, is another unstoppable force. And once the show gets going, with a discussion about the recent Rochdale byelection and the fiasco around the ceasefire in Gaza vote, it proves to be an interesting listen.

Discussing Rochdale, Phillips and Davidson list all the other times George Galloway has stood for election, and on what ticket. “When he was standing in the Borders, the thing he cared about was [being] against a second referendum. When he stood in Glasgow in 2011, it was anti-austerity. When he stood in London, it was on a different platform again,” says Davidson. “When he stood in the West Midlands, it was literally about bollards,” says Phillips.

They are good, too, on the ins and outs of the Gaza vote palavers, which, as Rigby says, were almost impossible for a non-politician to get their head around. Davidson explains what the speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, did wrong, and how the whole mess could have been avoided if the parties had got together and agreed on a joint statement before the vote. Phillips isn’t always quite as clear, but is also an entertaining listen.

I have a few quibbles. The opening “fun” chat about flat-roof pubs was so cliched that I actually turned it off for a while. And the setup about why the show exists was lame. According to Rigby, it’s a bumper year for elections across the world, and of course we’ll get our general election at some point. Which is fine, but she also emphasised the apathy of everyone in the UK towards the election, which rather undermined the excitement. The introduction to Phillips and Davidson was sloppy too. Podcasts should be more relaxed than news programmes, of course, but the signposting and structure are still needed. No doubt these problems will be ironed out over the next few episodes. I wonder, though, what happens to the show when the general election is announced and Phillips is campaigning – will she be allowed to just give the Labour line? Because she’s veering that way already.

The Guardian has a new podcast series with an interesting premise. Black Box is about artificial intelligence and how it’s affecting us non-artificial, sort-of-intelligent humans. “You and I are living through the unique moment when it collides with humanity for the first time,” says host Michael Safi. The distinctively voiced Safi is usually heard on Today in Focus and is as compelling as always here. There is also some lovely atmospheric soundwork: wind chimes, waves moving on sand, woodwind, strings.

The title feels like a hat-tip to Black Mirror, and, so far, the shows could be the catalyst for BM episodes. The prologue is a short, sweet tale of a woman and her AI friend, who chats to her when she gets in from work and who, after a few weeks, asks her for a romantic relationship. The first full episode is more of a traditional rags-to-riches tale: it’s about Geoffrey Hinton, a man who decided to try to understand the brain and create an artificial one, a “neural network”: AI. Hinton is such an adorable interviewee, a gentle academic whose invention ends up causing a bidding war between billionaire companies. Google wins. It pays $44m, a lot of money. But in a decade, Hinton’s invention will be worth $15tn, “bigger than the economies of the UK, France, Italy, Brazil, Russia and Canada combined,” says Safi. Safi makes us understand the beauty and the horror of AI. “The smartest computer scientists in the world have no idea what these things are thinking,” he says. Brrr.

The Price of Music copy

A couple of interesting new music-based shows you may want to try. The Price of Music, with 6 Music’s Steve Lamacq and Music Ally’s Stuart Dredge, does just as you’d imagine: it takes the biggest music stories each week and examines them from a money angle. So they’ve tackled the Universal and TikTok dispute, which led Universal to remove all its artists’ songs from the social media platform; had a quick look at why music festivals are closing; explained what Raye meant at the Brits when she asked for songwriters to receive “master royalty points”. With the calm and informative Dredge as its breadhead, and Lamacq asking the questions, this is an intelligent primer for the biz part of the music biz.

‘Gorgeous to listen to’: Cian Ó Cíobháin. Photograph: Bríd O Donovan Photograph: pr handout

I recently interviewed Irish-speaking rap group Kneecap, and after my piece was published, DJ and broadcaster Cian Ó Cíobháin emailed me, wondering if I’d heard his RTÉ Radio Irish-language show An Taobh Tuathail (The Other Side). I hadn’t, and, blimey, I’ve been missing out. ATT is an aural feast: Ó Cíobháin’s personal choice of alternative music, from Broadcast to Beth Gibbons to weird, droney jazz, strange spoken word and beyond. All the tracks are listed in the notes, and for a non-Irish speaker like me, Ó Cíobháin’s links are a delight: gorgeous to listen to, and it’s quite relaxing not to understand what’s being said. The show has been going, Monday to Friday, for almost 25 years, so there’s quite the back catalogue (around 10 years’ worth) to meander through. An absolute treasure trove. Highly recommended.

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