Exploring Aural Layers in Podcasts

Other threads on this blog have explored the importance of breaking open the aural mode into categorical tools. This post will look at how Radio Lab and To the Best of Our Knowledge layer different sounds to encourage their listeners to feel a certain way or to assist comprehension of a topic.

What is Radio Lab?

Radio Lab is about illuminating ideas using sound. The idea is that if you don’t have time to read, there are dishes to do, dinner to cook, so just listen. As you’re driving, walking, working, whatever, you can learn about science, philosophy, and the human experience.

Aural layers in Man vs. Machine

The idea behind this hour-long podcast is that technology could one day eclipse us in the same way that evolution and natural selection created an increasingly “better” human race. To be honest, I may have clicked on it not for the promising interest but because of the Garth Brooks song, “Man Against Machine.” The idea that people are most at odds with the marvels they created is fascinating. Analyzing the aural layering in this podcast teaches us a lot about creating flow and mood in our audio productions.

Taking a look an early slice from this podcast, there was one aural technique that would be helpful to sonic editors. While the two narrators discuss innovations in a musical group who layers West African drums with Morrocan rhythms, you hear each individually as they are being described. Then, they talk about the genius of their combination, the two layers can be heard simultaneously as the narrators explain.It’s a brilliant technique because it allows you to be educated by their speech and the music at the same time. It’s like watching a movie with the director’s commentary playing. The movie exists as it’s own and is explained and elaborated upon by the knowledgeable director. It enhances the experience. Layering the music with the narration also helps keep an inviting tone by providing background music as it supports what they’re talking about.

What is To the Best of Our Knowledge?

This radio show cracks open the ideas that shape the world. From war to art to morality, everything is fair game. They tackle two hour-long topics every week to bring color to the human condition.

Aural layers in Why Make Art

This podcast explores how art is seen as a juvenile activity and not as the philosophical exploration of human themes. We teach it in our elementary schools, but as people get older, art loses its curricular importance.


There’s a lot of catchy music that frames the abstract portion of this podcast. It gets the listener excited. It’s followed by simple narration. There’s no music in this portion which allows the listener to focus on the discussion. We’ve talked again and again about the importance of silence, but the power of a single voice with no distractions or support is impactful in a similar way. In a world that’s constantly making noise, one voice can be as deafening as silence. The musical portion at the beginning charges the reader up to just listen to one voice discussing the importance of art with another voice. The lesson here is about layering silence deliberately to emphasize a small number of voices.


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