Radiolab co-host Jad Abumrad has fantasies of moving to Toronto.
“I have tons of family I’m very close to here,” the recent MacArthur “Genius Grant” fellow says in between bites of a sandwich he’s just been handed in the customs line at Billy Bishop Airport. It’s a brilliantly sunny fall afternoon, but he’s quick to point out that every visit he’s paid the city has been similarly timed to good weather.
Though a Big Smoke relocation isn’t in the cards for Mr. Abumrad’s immediate future, a different kind of Toronto milestone is: the first ever (and, so far, only) Canadian stop on his wildly beloved New York Public Radio program’s 21-city “Apocalyptical” tour on Saturday night at the Sony Centre for the Performing Arts. But, Mr. Abumrad assures, one needn’t fret about the potential bummer of a program built around questions of mass annihilation. For one, there will be puppets.
The specific catalyst was we were reading a book about extinctions and read a line in that book which took the story that I thought I knew about the extinction of the dinosaurs and totally flipped it on its head. That sent us on this wild goose chase. Suddenly we had this really big tale that we never intended to tell. And, more broadly, this feeling I think we all carry around these days that maybe humanity’s about to drive off a cliff.
Do you think a preoccupation with the end of days is an especially contemporary thing?
In any time of great change, I think there’s an awareness of the end, that it comes at any time. We’re in the middle of an extinction, there’s no question, but we’re also in the middle of a drastic change that goes back to the turn of the last century. There’s been so much writing, going back a hundred years, about the end. I’m sure it goes back to the first caveman who had a rock that could make fire, and there were five guys behind him going, ‘Oh look! The end!’ I don't know. I imagine it’s an ongoing human fascination that’s maybe acutely felt now.
When you say we’re in the middle of an extinction, to what specifically are you referring?
There’s been, I think, five mass extinctions of life on the planet, and I think most scientists agree that we’re in the middle of the sixth right now in terms of the number of species going extinct and the rate at which they’re going extinct. Extinctions happen in geologic time in the blink of an eye, but in our time they take awhile. But we’re in the middle of one right now, and there’s an awareness that comes out of that. A constant awareness of the end. It’s psychologically a weight we all carry around, but it makes for good storytelling.
Radiolab’s aesthetic involves a lot of quick cuts and sound effects. How much of that style do you get to translate into the live show?
All of it. Well, maybe not all of it. Almost totally. There will be some moments that are very radio-like, but created live while we improvise. I reduce the entire library of tape bits that we use, and based on our improvisations I can create those layers in the moment around our back-and-forths so that there are constantly things happening. The idea is that if someone closes their eyes, it should feel like the radio. And then if they open their eyes, they should feel completely out of the radio, into a new reality that’s about two dudes onstage with visuals. And there’ll be some puppets, which I’m excited about.
Radiolab’s Apocalyptical Tour is at the Sony Centre Saturday, 8 p.m., $40-$52. ticketmaster.ca