'Radiolab' hosts Jad Abumrad, left, and Robert Krulwich (Marco Lau)
“Apocalyptical” sounds a bit, well, heavy and morose.
But “Radiolab” executive producer Ellen Horne assures “Radiolab Live,” with hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, coming Monday to the Michigan Theater and Tuesday to the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts, will take the audience in a far more entertaining direction.
“I think people can expect a kind of a playful jaunt through history, from global earth history and dinosaur history and personal history,” says Horne by phone during rehearsals in Hartford, Conn.
In case you’re unfamiliar with “Radiolab,” the WNYC production that airs on National Public Radio is a blend of storytelling, science and music, covering a wide range of topics.
How did they come up with the “Apocalyptical” theme?
Horne says the production team became fascinated with the concept of endings after coming across two stories about the ending of things.
“So we’re thinking about ‘The End’ in a capital T capital E way,” says Horne. “And apocalypse was something that came to mind.
“But then we also wanted to argue with the idea of ‘The End.’ And we were thinking a lot about endings being cyclical. And so it really was a marriage of the idea of something being cyclical and apocalyptical.”
Horne goes on to explain that the team of science journalists specifically became interested in the concept of endings from the fields of neuroscience, geology and archeology.
“It’s really how we look back at geological times,” she says. “We look at it through a series of events. And if that event has an ending it gives rise to the next period of time in geological history. So that was one of the things that is really part of the show.”
If those concepts were discussed over the air, there would be a great deal of audio editing, Horne offers, to blend comments of the hosts, subject matter experts and “real-people” interviews to provide a seamless conversational flow.
Throw in sound affects and music at just the right places, and you have the magic of “Radiolab.”
But, according to Horne, turning a radio show into a live touring show is more than just incorporating the radio format onto the stage.
In their planning, Horne says they pondered over who would be their ideal musician to tour with, and at the top of their list was percussionist Glenn Kotche of the rock band Wilco.
Kotche also performs with upright bassist Darin Gray as the duo On Fillmore.
“We tend to use a lot of extended techniques and get a lot of different, provocative sounds out of our instruments, so it suited us perfectly to this,” says Kotche. “We’re doing part music and kind of Foley or sound design work, providing music cues for certain things that are happening in the storyline.”
The duo, along with electric guitarist Sarah Lipstate, shares the stage with Abumrad and Krulwich the entire show.
“We’re really excited for this show,” Horne says. “The band has the most complicated and exciting score that we’ve worked with. It’s an all-original score and the musicians are like a dream team for us.”
“Over the years,” she adds, “we’re really into our fourth live show, we started to play a lot more with the interaction between Jad, Robert and the audience and a lot more between the different elements that being live kind of allows you to explore, like visuals and music.”
For visual elements, there are projected screens, puppets and “we have all sorts of surprise elements that really take the show and it explodes off the stage, hopefully in exciting and surprising ways,” Horne says.
'Radiolab Live: Apocalyptical'
■8 p.m. Monday
603 E. Liberty, Ann Arbor
Tickets $35 and $45
■8 p.m. Tuesday
Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts
350 Madison, Detroit
Tickets $32 and $42
Andrea Daniel is a freelance reporter.