The son of a scientist and a doctor, Jad Abumrad did most of his growing up in Tennessee, before studying creative writing and music composition at Oberlin College in Ohio. Following graduation, Abumrad wrote music for films, and reported and produced documentaries for a variety of local and national public radio programs, including On The Media, Studio 360 with Kurt Andersen, Morning Edition, All Things Considered and WNYC's "24 Hours at the Edge of Ground Zero."
While working on staff at WNYC, Abumrad began tinkering with an idea for a new kind of radio program. That idea evolved into one of public radio’s most popular shows today – Radiolab. Abumrad hosts the program with Robert Krulwich and also serves as one of its producers. The program won the prestigious George Foster Peabody Award and explores big questions in science, philosophy and mankind. Under Abumrad’s direction, the show uses a combination of deep-dive journalism, narrative storytelling, dialogue and music to craft compositions of exploration and discovery. Radiolab podcasts are downloaded over 4 million times each month and the program is carried on 437 stations across the nation.
Abumrad is also the Executive Producer and creator of Radiolab's More Perfect, a podcast that explores how cases deliberated inside the rarefied world of the Supreme Court affect our lives far away from the bench.
Abumrad was honored as a 2011 MacArthur Fellow (also known as the Genius Grant). The MacArthur Foundation website says: “Abumrad is inspiring boundless curiosity within a new generation of listeners and experimenting with sound to find ever more effective and entertaining ways to explain ideas and tell a story.”
Abumrad also produced and hosted The Ring & I, an insightful, funny, and lyrical look at the enduring power of Wagner's Ring Cycle. It aired nationally and internationally and earned ten awards, including the prestigious 2005 National Headliner Grand Award in Radio.
Jad offers some more context on the "Yellow Rain" segment from our new episode The Fact of the Matter.
Thanks to everyone who tuned in to watch our first-ever Google Hangout. We had a blast!
UPDATE: A more recent statement regarding Jonah Lehrer can be found here.
Recently, our friend and contributor Jonah Lehrer has come under fire for what some have called "self plagiarism."
The notion that Jonah is a "plagiarist" is beyond ridiculous. And the way in which some journalists are jumping up and down, claiming he's no longer a "writer" but an "idea man" or an example of "male arrogance"...that's just plain ugly. There are some useful conversations that can come from this, namely, what does it mean to be a print journalist in the 21st century? What are the rules? I'll let the print journalists have that conversation.
What I personally hope doesn't get lost in all the hand waving is Jonah Lehrer's body of work. He's one of the most stunningly original voices I've ever encountered. I knew it the moment I first read Proust Was A Neuroscientist. That's why we've had Jonah on the show 17 times, by my count. And that's why we will have him on again, and again, because he explores and explains with the best of them. And we like to work with the best.
Juana Molina lands on my very short list of Awesome. Nobody sings like her -- that raspy ever-so-slightly-but-delightfully-flat tone. And very few people make music that's simultaneously so inviting but so completely formless. Well, I shouldn't use the word completely. There's form there. It just not the usual snoozy song-structurey form. Her songs ebb and flow and and meander from one section to the next like water, organic but full of unexpected turns. Like sometimes she'll ditch the words and start to vocalize like a cat. I don't know why, but it works. Hope you dig this one. It's one of only about forty songs that frequent my list of Awesome.
A specific memory colors this song for me. About five years ago, my wife and I traveled to Japan for a wedding, and during the ceremony, the couple played a photo slide show of their Happy Moments (beach kissing, the proposal, painting the house, etc)... sort of your classic slightly-cheesy but sweet wedding video. But what made this one over the top beautiful and moving and at the same time funny was the accompanying music. This song. "I Saw the Bright Shinies." I downloaded it that night, and then a whole bunch of others from The Octopus Project. They're that rare math rock band that still remembers to rock. And they have a good sense of humor. I hope you enjoy this song. If you like it, definitely check out their new album, Hexadecagon.
I’m really proud to feature Max Richter for this week’s download. Max is my favorite film composer. He writes these beautiful small pieces that take you into the emotional depths of a moment or a character.
I use him as a guide for scoring this show. Constantly. Like: when I’m stuck scoring a piece and I just can't get the mood or feeling right (which is often) what I’ll do, to hit the reset button, is listen to Max Richter’s 24 Postcards In Full Colour and ask myself, what would Max do here? Sparse piano cords? Subterranean strings?
His music seems to live in the place our stories are always striving to get to – awe, mystery, transformation, illumination. Yeah, I’m pretty much a Max Richter-hack.
"Infra 1" is the first track from an album he released last year called Infra. It’s on the quieter, more fragile end of his spectrum, which is the stuff of his I tend to like most. I hope you enjoy this piece.
Zoe Keating is a friend of the show. We've performed live with her around a dozen times, give or take. And on our last tour (Symmetry), Zoe would often play this piece, Optimist, which she wrote for her son Alex when he was negative four months old. Every time, the audience fell into a trance. Those are the moments from the tour I really remember, getting to sit quietly on stage and watch the audience watch Zoe.
When I first heard this song, I went into one of those strange deliriums that happen to me once a decade, and I played the song fifteen times in a row, no joke. I’ve since heard from a few other people who’ve had the same reaction. There’s something narcotic about the way the song builds, and about what’s being described – people trying to fake their way to being good. But I won’t bore you with my thoughts. Just listen to it. Let me know if this song does to you what it does (still does, now 7 years later) to me.
Hello everyone. Jad here. I wanna tell you real quick about my experience hallucinating the sound of bees. And Fleetwood Mac.
Just wanted to let you know: Robert and I were interviewed for The Sound of Young America, a great public radio show hosted by Jesse Thorne. He's got a good radio voice, that one. And he uses that radio voice to ask insightful radio questions.