Podcast Binge Listen – ‘Here Be Monsters’

After starting to listen to Here Be Monsters, I began noticing the phrase, or similar phrases, all over the place. There’s a Short Cut programme called Here Be Dragons, and articles and exhibitions have made use of the title. I can understand why. What other phrase so successfully conjures the mysterious, the uncertain, the acknowledgement that are places that cannot be mapped, and the desire to be an explorer in those unknowable waters?

The podcast, ‘Here Be Monsters’, describes itself as  ‘ a growing community of radio producers, artists, and listeners who are interested in pursuing their fears and facing the unknown’, lead by lead producer Jeff Emtman.  The podcast explores many things unknown in day to day life, from Clever Hans, a famous German horse with the ability to count, spell and answer questions, to the remembered experience of male circumcision and of being born, and small communities, such as extremist Churches and Juggalos. 

Initially I found the rhythm of the podcast difficult to settle into, and I had to spend some time understanding why. The stories and subjects are all interesting and intriguing, but I found it more difficult to become absorbed, and to take nuggets of interest and lumps of facts away from each podcast, to be pulled out, polished and admired over drinks with friends.

Then I realised, I had been listening to it wrong.

My ear has been trained by decades BBC Radio and more recently This American Life and Snap Judgement. I love all these and recommend them all, but they do all function in a similar way. There is a presenter or journalist who introduces the piece, probably telling you the structure of the half hour or hour of listening, what to expect, to be followed by narratives and interviews that generally follow a familiar and comforting narrative arc.

The Here Be Monsters podcasts do not act like this. There is a theme, and a exploration, but rarely a journalistic voice asking the probing questions, a strict structure or running time.  And this leads to Here Be Monsters’ real advantage, and what makes it special, different and distinct from other podcasts.

Here Be Monsters works best when, and because, it allows a single voice to speak. And not in a structured, themed, rehearsed way like The Moth, which I also love by the way.  Here Be Monsters has the confidence to allow its contributors to talk, to explain and to describe at their own pace, with their very distinctive indivudal voice.

For me, personally, without the journalistic sign posts and consistent same voice every week, it’s more difficult to listen to. I can’t do it when I’m working, but it’s perfect when I’m just sitting, contemplative, drinking a cup of tea.  A different voice, with different rhythms and vocabulary never heard before, demands more attention, like getting used to a new author or narrator each time you start a novel.  This is not a disadvantage, but a quirk of listening to this podcast. When those different voices are clear and powerful, it’s a really interesting, unusual and important listening experience.

The use of sound and music is also really integral and effective in creating the atmosphere of the podcast. Music and unusual sound is very effective at expressing that uncertain, unknowable area, that Here Be Monsters explores. It extends and fills the languid pauses, as people think and consider, before they continue to talk. It’s a slow and natural rhythm, of space and breath, that gives Here Be Monsters its character. You can imagine lying watching the clouds move overhead, or stretching into yoga positions while this podcast plays.  Take your time and attention in listening to this podcast.

My Favourite Episodes

My favourite episodes are those episodes with a very powerful voice. Try listening to

Puke Quits Trainriding

The Other One Percent

Jonathan’s Cadaver Paintings

and the many others that focus on a single experience – the titles often feature the name of the narrator.

Happy listening x


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