Richard Mainwaring

As if the punning title wasn’t enough, Richard Mainwaring’s idiosyncratic tour through the world of music and frequency brought plenty of entertainment to the City of Literature strand of this year’s Norfolk and Norwich Festival.

The BBC One Show contributor’s new book is a series of investigations into the power of the heard and the unheard, with plenty of surprising facts and bad jokes in the process.

Mainwaring’s thesis is based on the idea of an ‘infinite piano’, starting out with the keyboard we are used to but stretching out in either direction to the shrillest highs to the most sickening lows, both well outside of what the human ear can detect. He takes a rather poetic interpretation of the science in places – though both waves, there are big differences between sound and light, for example, but that doesn’t stop it being fun.

On stage in the Spiegeltent he ran through a selection of the publication’s stories including Newton’s fiddling with the colours of the rainbow and how you might be able to ‘play a rainbow’ by transposing the frequencies of each colour down into the range audible to humans. Spoiler alert: it’s not as pleasant as you might hope.

Slightly more fitting is the sound of rat’s whiskers. It turns out that the furry pests hairs are attuned to different sounds and used to help build a picture of their surroundings. These are close – but not quite the same – as the musical notes we recognise, and were put to chilling work in an unnerving rendition of possible plague song Ring a Ring o’ Roses.

Mainwaring is self-effacing about it how he came to be on TV or authoring a book, but he has an infectious enthusiasm and clear ability to communicate – even if that means cutting a few corners on the science along the way.

  • The Norfolk & Norwich Festival runs from 13-29 May 2022. For more information visit