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REVIEW // Lowlines

Review of Lowlines podcast


REVIEW // Lowlines

A brand-new collaboration between Social Broadcasts, Scenery Studios and food entrepreneur Petra Barran, Lowlines is intense soundscape escapism…

Described as a ‘sonic scrapbook and a passport to roam’ Lowlines follows Petra Barran as she travels solo through the Americas. What pulled me to listen to the series was the production process – the original audio was recorded on the fly by Petra, who’s described as a ‘novice presenter and producer… without an itinerary to record’. It was only in post-production that Social Broadcasts and Scenery Studios used the (sometimes very) raw tape to pull together a narrative.

Producer Lucia Scazzocchio, Host Petra Barran and Executive producer Lina Prestwood

Producer Lucia Scazzocchio, Host Petra Barran and Executive producer Lina Prestwood

This style of production was sold as unusual, but it’s something a lot of novice presenters/producers – myself included – will recognise, particularly when it comes to travelling through your headphones. The resulting mix of musings, field recordings, original music and conversation is a style we find in a lot of travel podcasts. But if I draw comparisons to a more intentionally crafted production – such as QCODE’s Thru series, which has a similar ‘journey of discovery’ premise – Lowlines feels more like a reflection on a trip rather than a story of a trip. Whilst thru-hiker, Cody Hofmockel, went into his journey as a journalist wanting a narrative, Petra set out to find a narrative after her journey.

I recognise this need to seek understanding after the process, rather than letting the recording process add a shape to your trip itself. The result with Lowlines is that Petra’s recordings do invite escapism to the Americas, but not the type of escapism that allows the listener to forget the world. Instead, it asks us to imagine ourselves in the location as a whole: in the first episode ‘Second Line’ we don’t just get the tourist view of New Orleans with the Jazz parades, we get the reminder from a resident that this is a funeral procession. We get to really hear the heart of the city with a conversation in someones’ living room.

Despite the focus on soundscapes, the moments that stick in my mind are the parts with very little noise: it is Petra’s description of New Orleans from the air as ‘a mass of tiny little scabs’ – something that could be offensive but paints the image perfectly; it is the man working on a Louisiana levee who sounds slightly defeated as the almost unspoken threat of a Katrina-level disaster lingers in the conversation.

It’s the weight to these kinds of conversations that stops the listener from sinking into the soundscapes too deeply. Host Petra does acknowledge this heaviness to the content: at the end of the second episode, she ends an audio diary by going to watch The Kardashians in her hotel room. It’s a needed moment, because I found certain layers of sound and conversation quite intense.

Overall, the description of a sonic scrapbook feels like an apt one – listening to the series as a whole could be a bombardment of too much to take in, and there’s pieces that I found more interesting that others. But we get a collage of moments that are important to Petra. Listeners might not find resonance in everything they are offered, but everyone would be able to take something away.

Lowlines cover art

The first episode of Lowlines, ‘Second Line (New Orleans)’, is available now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and other popular podcast apps >> 


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