the BBC Radiophonic Workshop

monsterbobby

bug powder
Hello there, am currently doing a bunch of research into the Radiophonic Workshop for my MMus dissertation. It's been mentioned in passing on here before, so i thought i might start a thread to gather people's thoughts and feelings on the music, legacy, influence, etc. Am perhaps particularly intersted in people's early memories of hearing electronic sounds (especially, but not exclusively, those produced at the radiophonic workshop) on radio and television..

thanks
 
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mms

sometimes
monsterbobby said:
Hello there, am currently doing a bunch of research into the Radiophonic Workshop for my MMus dissertation. It's been mentioned in passing on here before, so i thought i might start a thread to gather people's thoughts and feelings on the music, legacy, influence, etc. Am perhaps particularly intersted in people's early memories of hearing electronic sounds (especially, but not exclusively, those produced at the radiophonic workshop) on radio and television..

thanks

memories are as an otherworldy spectral sound that accompanied lots of quite scary/exciting programmes, a feeling more than actual music. Both memories of the programme and the music are vague, its not the kind of warm experience you have like remembering radio 2 in the princess on the way back from swimming etc.

Their influence is harder to grasp but i do think the notion that music can be very affecting, electronic and otherworldy is something that passed thru popular music, probably ending up quite naturally in hardcore and techno, just check something like lfo's lfo which is pretty much the doctor who theme writ large over a massive bassline and drums.

I think to alot of people (of my age anyway) radiophonic was the first electronic music thing they heard, and it kind of acts as audio roschach test for people.
For example my girlfriends sister remembers the sounds (before the images) being so terrifying she won't let her kids watch doctor who even now, the theme song being so part of british folklore now and so effective that she will sing the first few bars to her kids and they will be overjoyed and excited. (Which was probably her original reaction rather than the one she remembers thru the veil of protectiveness).

The same effect is probably responsible also for people thinking electronic music is cold weird and unemotional and created by boffins on computers, or not 'real' music in one sense.
 
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Really influential on me was the music they used to play over the test card or pages from ceefax/ 4-tel, which i used to listen to a lot, just leave the TV on the test card while i drew pictures or whatever. I guess they were just playing library albums or something, I'd love to know what....

Personally as a kid I was completely unaware that there was a difference between electronic sounds and acoustic sounds. Looking back at the records I bought as a kid, they are things like Kraftwerk, Herbie Hancock, Eurythmics etc etc, ie synthesisers not guitars... but I didn't know that at the time.
So it's hard to remember.
As a child experiencing everything for the first time, how are you to know that music is "electronic"?
 

shaun L

Member
doctor!

My main memory of the Radiophonic workshop is the soundtrack to 70s Dr Who... strange metallic drones and clangs that occupied an indiscernable zone between musical accompaniment and special effect. Fights were particularly exciting.... The music was obviously from the future- but it seemed entirely in keeping with the uncanny atmosphere of homegrown SF television.- I saw an episode of 70s Dr Who recently and was surprised by a) just how unusual the soundtrack was, and b) how unremarkable it all seemed during the 70s. I don't remember ever thinking as a child- "this sounds really weird"; complete mainstream acceptance of avant-sonics as noise blaring from the telly.
 

labrat

hot on the heels of love
I was thinking about the calibration performed by the Radiophonic Workshop only last week…..i’d bought the Tomorrow People soundtrack(big contribution from Delia Derbyshire) and aside from the theme tune it’s bracingly austere electronics all the way.
I suspect that subliminaly the “weird noises” in Dr Who etc. naturalised a soundworld for me and when I encountered the classical avant garde the music wasn’t as shocking as I’d been led to belive…..
I suspect it’s a similar story for many in the UK .

Have you seen that BBC 4 Radiophonic Workshop doc. It’s excellent!
 

Gabba Flamenco Crossover

High Sierra Skullfuck
Great link on the radiophonic workshop here.

Not sure how directly influential RW has been on current/recent UK music - outside of self consciously retro people like stereolab, there isnt much music of the last 20 years that wears it's influence overtly. Selected Ambient Works 1 is the exception - very very RW & inspired a generation of electronic musicians, but more culturally I think (as in stimulation to just get involved in the scene) than musically - certainly, very little subsequent electronic music sounds much like SAW1 even from Richard James's output, never mind anyone elses.

The RW composers were generally formally trained musicians in the classical/art tradition - totally au fait with the early/mid c20 avant garde, aware of related developments in the 50s/60s arts scene: but working within formidable technical constraints. Compared to electronic musicians in the US (eg walter carlos), their equipment choice was limited and working practices often fudged in the grand british tradition, but that was part of their sound & they knew it (strong comparisons with the beatles recording practices vs 60s american pop here, & McCartney was an RW fan). Contrast to today, where electronic musicians generally have unlimited technical capability even on a home PC, but zero formal training - it produces a completely different type of music. Technical approach always informs the creative end results.

I think there's a wider issue about the decline of the art school tradition and the consequent severing of the links between high art & low culture that fired so much creative & cultural life in the UK between WW2 & thatcher. In fact could this could turn out to be thatcher's biggest long-term legacy? She didnt understand (and didnt want to understand) the UKs creative ecosystem, and in trying to pull the country up by it's bootstraps she actually fucked up the most economically potent part of the UK skills base. I mean, look at the 60s - our manufacturing was shite, our empire was gone; the one area in which we genuinely led the world was creative endeavor (how much money have EMI made off the beatles & pink floyd). I would love it if the dole scum creative misfits she spent 10 years getting rid of turned out to have been doing more for the economy than the gammon cheeked city boys all along. Actual or aspiring authors take note, there's a great book in this!

Oops, rambling post :eek: must be cos I've been up all night. Anyway, radiophonic workshop, great! etc.
 

owen

Well-known member
semi-legendary radiophonic discussion by robin carmody <a href="http://www.elidor.freeserve.co.uk/radiophonic.htm">over here</a> with various useful links, tho unfortunately the wire sinker one doesn't work

oh and bobs, i will burn you a copy of that tomorrow people thing eventually :p
 

blunt

shot by both sides
As for childhood memories, it of course has to be Doctor Who, for all the obvious reasons. That, and assorted children's radio dramas with long forgotten names that made the interminable car journeys to my grandparent's more than a little bit magical.

In terms of legacy, I think the emergence of the Radiophonic Workshop is pretty crucial. When it started, sonic experimentalism was fairly mired in an open, and seemingly intractable, debate about the relative merits of musique concrète vs elektronische Musik.

You had, on the one hand, Pierre Schaeffer at the RTF in France extolling the virtues of working with found sounds; and on the other, you had Herbert Eimert (and later Stockhausen) at the WDR's Studio für Elektronische Musik in Germany declaring such practices retrograde and uninspired when confronted with the endless possibilities of synthesised sound.

It's to the Radiophonic Workshop's credit that they ditched such political and philosophical posturing in favour of a more open approach. Why not use both found and synthesised sounds? Why not take found sounds as your source material and then fuck with it? In short: why choose?

In real terms, the Radiophonic Workshop undoubtedly acclimatised the British people to the possibilities of sound, not just in a narrative sense (ie. its importance in the creation of atmosphere and mood), but also sound in and of itself (ie. what is sound? what is music? what, if anything, is the difference?). I would certainly regard it as significant that, when the means of production began to be opened up to the masses in the late 80s and early 90s, it was British musicians and bedroom producers that blazed the trail (in the same way that I know the Studio für Elektronische Musik to have been a strong influence on Kraftwerk in the 70s).

Obviously, that last sentence is purest conjecture, eh? ;) But I'd be intrigued to know to what degree the key players from the period would credit their own childhood experiences of BBC radio & TV programming as an early, and even ongoing, inspiration.

Would certainly love to read the fruits of your labours, monsterbobby; but I guess that seems a long way off right now...

Oh, and: nice thread :)
 

mms

sometimes
Gabba Flamenco Crossover said:
Great link on the radiophonic workshop here.

Not sure how directly influential RW has been on current/recent UK music - outside of self consciously retro people like stereolab,
etc.

do you think stereolab are 'conciously retro' - this is a kind of weird thing for me- same thing goes for people like broadcast.

It's not that they're retro, they're not repeating what is a well trodden way of making the music buying public react, like indie 2006, its that they're kind of analogue utopian, they take their cues from times when technology made it look like anything is possible and would make human beings have a wonderful future beyond their mundane workaday lives.

This echoes thru doctor who and radiophonic thru to the original selling point of mcdonalds 'to unlock housewives from their role in the kitchen by producing nutrious fast food, for example.
This stuff is all over say raymond scotts manhattan research cds - outrageous electronics mixed with utopian messages about the future (through investment in its consumer products of course).

In this way i think just the sonics of abstract electronic music has seeped through british culture as a vast hopeful but irrational spectre, maybe not just these collector guys like ver lab who worship it but the ravers etc too, an abstraction from the norm .. mind you this is all rushed out speculation :p
 
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bruno

est malade
wendy-walter carlos, something like a rendition of the nutcracker suite, very eerie, the soundtrack to one childhood nightmare. another opportunity to blame my parents for everything, of course. the second memory is of doctor who. the whole thing had that drab englishness to it and the theme was so strange and futuristic, a disturbing contrast. i suppose i coincide a bit with mms' girlfriend's sister's experience, or at least in no way did i feel 'overjoyed'. it was alien. it may be that with electronic sounds permeating every aspect of life now the otherworldliness of the doctor who theme is lost. you can find much scarier sounds in video games, and children laugh to those.
 

Gabba Flamenco Crossover

High Sierra Skullfuck
mms said:
do you think stereolab are 'conciously retro' - this is a kind of weird thing for me- same thing goes for people like broadcast.

Yeah, I would say that stereolab are self-conciously retro. They made thier music within terms of reference dictated by older records and movements, and deliberately trying to ape their sounds and stylistic nuances as opposed to just their general approach.

'Retro' isn't a pejoritive term; it can be creative - early punk's rockabilly fixation for example. Electroclash was a timely idea when it first appeared. I like stereolab a lot, and in most cases I enjoy their records more than those of their supposed antecedents.

mms said:
In this way i think just the sonics of abstract electronic music has seeped through british culture as a vast hopeful but irrational spectre, maybe not just these collector guys like ver lab who worship it but the ravers etc too, an abstraction from the norm .. mind you this is all rushed out speculation :p

Seconded - probably RW's biggest legacy was cultivating a taste for (or at least a tolerance to) electronic music in the british public, without which rave couldnt have happened. I'd also agree that through their cultural reach, RW may have had a role in encoding the ideals of the 'utopian state' into the generation that grew up in the 70s - ideals which were repressed during thatcherism and re-emerged in rave's 'positivity' era.
 

Rambler

Awanturnik
The thing that was unusual, I think, about the RW was that it was a major, institutionally-funded studio (as most of them had to be at that stage, equipment being so rare and expensive) that was put to the service of popular culture (ie, TV). Does anyone know if this was unique, or did similar things come out of the studios in Cologne, Paris, Columbia, etc?
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
Ah, the old BBC RPW....

...I've got a great CD (probably discussed at length elsewhere in this thread, sorry if that's the case) called 'An Electric Storm', by White Noise, which was (largely) David Vorhaus, plus RPW personel Delia 'Dr. Who' Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson. It's absolutely great, very atmospheric despite sounding heavily dated - more so than, say, Kraftwerk, I think, but then the album predates Kraftwerk's most popular records by a whole decade (1968).

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00000761B/103-8013193-2059835?v=glance&n=5174
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Noise_(band)

Anyone else heard/got this little gem?
 

mms

sometimes
Mr. Tea said:
...I've got a great CD (probably discussed at length elsewhere in this thread, sorry if that's the case) called 'An Electric Storm', by White Noise, which was (largely) David Vorhaus, plus RPW personel Delia 'Dr. Who' Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson. It's absolutely great, very atmospheric despite sounding heavily dated - more so than, say, Kraftwerk, I think, but then the album predates Kraftwerk's most popular records by a whole decade (1968).

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00000761B/103-8013193-2059835?v=glance&n=5174
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Noise_(band)

Anyone else heard/got this little gem?

yes it's a masterpiece - one of my fave records - there are sequels and vorhaus also did the music to the excellent saul bass feature 'phase 4' .
it reminds me of a more laviscious erotic contrast to the stuff perrey and kinsley were doing with pop songs in france at the time, it's a very sexy druggy record - very much a countercultural artifact, recreated sounds of orgies, sordid unclean houses, satanic masses, terror etc. Good Stuff!
 

IdleRich

IdleRich
It's really scary when they start making all those desperate sounding "erotic" grunts.
I've heard that the sequel is nowhere near as good - anyone know?
 

Mr. Tea

Shub-Niggurath, Please
mms said:
yes it's a masterpiece - one of my fave records - there are sequels and vorhaus also did the music to the excellent saul bass feature 'phase 4' .
it reminds me of a more laviscious erotic contrast to the stuff perrey and kinsley were doing with pop songs in france at the time, it's a very sexy druggy record - very much a countercultural artifact, recreated sounds of orgies, sordid unclean houses, satanic masses, terror etc. Good Stuff!


Oh yeah, it's fantastic - almost certainly the most 'psychedelic' record I own. Lots of analogue squelches and burbles that, in a way, turn up 20 years later in Brian Dougan's Stakker/Humanoid material, I think.

Do the later White Noise albums come close to the original in terms of quality, do you think? I've only heard Electric Storm.
 

monsterbobby

bug powder
thanks for all this. The idea that no-one really noticed it at the time, but the use of all these electronic sounds as background music on tv and radio (perhaps esp. in educational/children's programming) naturalised alien sound sources and thus paved the way for some sort of 'collective unconscious' (dreadful phrase i know, but i can't think of a better way of expressing what i mean right now) to accept synth pop, rave etc. seems to come up a lot when i talk to people about this stuff.

Also, liked the phrase "analogue utopian" used above. makes me think of the "wee have also soundhouses" quote from Bacon's New Atlantis that's used on the back of one of the RW's records, and, of course, all Ernst Bloch's ideas about the utopian function of music.

btw, didyou know that after setting up the RW and becoming the first ever female director of an electronic music studio, Daphne Oram went to the Brussels World Fair in 1958. The same Brussels World Fair where Le Corbusier and Xenakis had their Philips Pavilion with the hyperbolic parabaloids, xenakis's piece Concret PH and Varese's Poeme Electronique. When she returned to the UK she immediately cashed in her pension and left the BBC to set up her own home studio. something about this story is fascinating me at the moment. I can picture this imaginary meeting between Oram and Xenakis and Varese that convinced Oram that she can no longer work within the confines of a big corporation like the Beeb...
 

cnwb

New member
IdleRich said:
It's really scary when they start making all those desperate sounding "erotic" grunts.
I've heard that the sequel is nowhere near as good - anyone know?

I always have to skip that track ("The Game of Loving"), for fear that the guy in the next office will think I'm watching porn. Mind you, I have no idea what he thinks of me when he hears something like "Black Mass: Electric Storm in Hell" seeping through the walls.
 

jambo

slip inside my schlafsack
John Berger's Ways Of Seeing was on BBC4 recently. Really good insightful, intelligent television in a way you hardly ever see any more. Anyway, the fourth and final part, pertaining to the use of images in publicity, has some sound work by Delia D - she actually gets a proper credit as well.

Can be found on youtube - well worth a bleedin' watch.

http://uk.youtube.com/watch?v=mmgGT3th_oI
 
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