This week: a murder in the Irish countryside, sound art, and real estate.
Let’s take a quick trip to Ireland.
West Cork was initially released as an Audible exclusive in the summer of 2018, during a stretch when the audiobook giant first started dipping its toe in developing original podcast-style programming.
These days, Audible is neck-deep in the original content pool, pursuing a volume-driven strategy that involves signing Hollywood talent. But back in 2018, the platform’s creative pursuits were a lot more tentative and considerably more interesting. Esther Perel’s Where Should We Begin? is nowadays a growing podcast franchise distributed by Spotify, but it began life as an original Audible commission. Jon Ronson, the author behind books like The Psychopath Test and So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed, collaborated with the producer Lina Misitzis, of This American Life and Oh Hello: The P’dcast, on two long-form audio projects for Audible Originals set in the porn industry: The Butterfly Effect and The Last Days of August.
But one of the best shows to come out of this era was West Cork, and starting this week, the series is being re-released by Acast for wide distribution on almost any podcast platform — complete with a new epilogue, due out soon! — which means you don’t have to be a paid subscriber to Audible to pick up this stellar true crime tale.
Produced by the documentarian Jennifer Forde and investigative journalist Sam Bungey, West Cork presents an investigation into the unsolved death of Sophie Toscan du Plantier, a French film producer who was found murdered in 1996 around the Irish town of Schull. Du Plantier’s death is said to be a widely known case and a persistent source of public fascination in Ireland. This might be a very rough equivalence, but my sense is that it is to the Irish imagination what Robert Durst is to the New Yorker’s.
The series checks off the requisite boxes you’d expect from the true-crime genre: Forde and Bungey run down various theories and rabbit holes; there are twists, including a big one revealed pretty early on; and there’s some fascinating access to a prime suspect in the case. But West Cork stands out for the thoughtfulness of its approach and the strength of its milieu. This is a show that’s uncommonly connected to the substance of the place that’s been rocked by the crime: from the narration to the rich field recordings, Forde and Bungey paints a vivid picture of the pastoral Irish countryside as they move through the story.
In a Walled City
If you find yourself in the mood for something more experimental — or at least, something very strange — you should consider checking out a few episodes of In A Walled City, which … takes some explanation.
In A Walled City is a small side project by Jon Bernstein, the composer and musician best known for his work on Welcome to Night Vale and Alice Isn’t Dead. This is ostensibly a fiction podcast, though it’s perhaps better described as a sound-art anthology that draws on music, poetry, noise, and a whole lot of industrial-goth energy to create an assortment of nonlinear dream-like experiences. (As someone whose teenage years were shaped by Nine Inch Nails, it hits.) No, I wouldn’t blame you if you thought it’s pretentious — but in an expansive podcast universe that feels overwhelmingly literal, any serious swing at mixing things up warrants the pretension.
Finding your way into In A Walled City might be a little challenging; it reminds me a little bit of how you’d wanna dip your toe magic mushrooms: You need to be in the right mindset and the right setting. In any case, I’d recommend starting out with “Staves of Smoke,” the sixth entry, which comes with an accompanying blog post by Bernstein discussing the context and inspiration behind the piece: In short, it draws from feelings experience watching the fires that engulfed the American West paint the sky red last summer. Heavy stuff.
• The whole business with the Ever Given getting stuck in the Suez Canal reminded me of this very nerdy audio documentary series by Alexis Madrigal called Containers, which is about global trade. It’s interesting stuff, I promise!
• Over at Hot Pod, we ran a story about House Party, a chatcast about news and pop culture as it relates to real estate.
• Dissect returns for its eighth season this week, taking its scalpel to Kanye West’s Yeezus.
And that’s a wrap for 1.5x Speed! Hope you enjoyed it. We’re back next week, but in the meantime: Send podcast recommendations, feedback, or just say hello at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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