In a state of meditation with closed eyes and open ears, I sat and listened to ten relaxation cassettes made for a different world. From the very beginning, Night Vale Presents’ fictional podcast, Within the Wires, creates a sense of mystery and deep unease in the listener as it becomes more and more apparent that we are not the intended audience for these messages of “relaxation,” nor is history quite the way we remember it. Produced by the same team of innovative writers responsible for the widely popular Welcome to Night Vale, Within the Wires presents a story in the form of audio archives, uniquely positioning the listener as somewhat of an archivist trying to understand events shrouded by the disorienting distance of history.
Although Within the Wires released its first season in 2016, its fourth is now being released on iTunes in bi-monthly intervals for those listeners willing to wait in between episodes, making this review somewhat relevant timewise (but it should be noted that I am not one of those patient people, so I can’t vouch for the fourth season here). In this review, I will focus my attention on the first three seasons in particular because those can now be listened to in their entirety, which I believe is the most immersive way to experience the story that it has to tell.
Writers Jeffrey Cranor and Janina Matthewson are masters of vivid description, made all the more beautifully unsettling when narrated by Janina herself in the first season’s cassettes. I will say, however, this this style of narration may not be for everyone, as others have been lost by the nontraditional “archivist” approach that doesn’t lead the listener down a clear path from beginning, middle, to end. When giving this podcast a try, I would encourage reserving your full attention to experience the story as if it were really a collection of relaxation cassettes. For those of you who already enjoy carving out a time of day for meditation, adding Within the Wires to your routine for awhile can be an exciting new focus for your mind. And, although the voice actor and context changes with following seasons (Season 2 takes the form of art museum audio guides, and Season 3 tells its story through dictated letters from a beaurocrat to his secretary), I still find that total silence and concentration is the best way to experience the podcast. For fear of giving away too much information that is far more enjoyable to experience first hand, I’ll stop my description here to discuss fiction podcasts in general for those unfamiliar.
Unlike an audio book or a TV show, the way I describe Within the Wires is as an episodic version of a strange short story one might read for an English class in high school, the kind that sticks in your mind long after it has left your eyes. Or, in this case, your ears. If this is the first fictional podcast that you ever try and you’d like to hear more, then I’d highly recommend some of Night Vale Presents’ other podcasts like Alice Isn’t Dead (now completed and perfect for a long road trip) or the ever-continuing Welcome to Night Vale, which is always a good listen.