BBC Radiophonic Workshop

Chris Carter On Recording & Mixing ‘Chemistry Lesson’

“If there’s an influence on the album, it’s definitely ‘60s radiophonic,” explains Carter.… Read More Chris Carter On Recording & Mixing ‘Chemistry Lesson’

Inside The Radiophonic Workshop In 1976

The BBC shared this 1976 video, which features Roger Limb, of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, demonstrating how electronic music was made for TV and radio. … Read More Inside The Radiophonic Workshop In 1976

Unlocking unimaginable sounds with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop

The BBC Radiophonic Workshop now has its own cover band.

Arturia have done a new documentary on England’s proudest home for electronic sound, the legendary BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Founded in 1958, the laboratory had the wildly ambitious mission of producing any sound any BBC program might ask for – foley to sci-fi. That of course took on especially unusual possibilities thanks to this trippy show for kids about an eccentric time traveler, Doctor Who – and the inventiveness of the likes of Delia Derbyshire made sounds with brute-force tape manipulations that seem futuristic even today.

Derbyshire and Daphne Oram may no longer be with us, but surviving Radiophonic veterans Mark Ayres, Peter Howell, Dick Mills, Roger Limb, and Paddy Kingsland join in this film. Apart from watching way too much Who, I feel especially inspired by the Workshop thanks to growing up with Kingsland’s score for the radio Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and getting to work with my composition teacher Thea Musgrave, who spoke fondly of her own adventure working in the facility.

What’s interesting now is, apart from Ayres’ efforts to archive the exhaustive products of the lab, the gang have formed a live band to play greatest hits and experiment with new compositions. That generation’s efforts seem nicely aligned with younger artists’ own fascination with DIY technology – now mixing analog, acoustic, mechanical, and digital – and the growing interest in live electronics.

The plucky playground spirit of the early BBC seems right at home with today’s post-digital experimentalism:

We’d crash, bang, hit, stretch, reverse, and everything with tape. Most things were done with tape, cutting with razor blades, and putting things together. It was highly skilled and took weeks to make things. Whatever’s available, that’s what you’ve got to use.

Everything was highly original, because the sounds were all ‘found sounds’ so it might be a cork coming out of a bottle if it was a sort of theme tune, anything that twanged or clanged, scraping stuff, highly manipulated to get the final sound.

Of course, now with your phone a recording device, finding sounds is easier than ever.

That may mean that revisiting media archeology will prove a respite for those bored with presets and predictable outcomes. So, take a lesson from Delia:

When Delia Derbyshire did the Doctor Who theme, the bassline is basically a plucked string, a single plucked string. She’d record the single plucked string onto tape, make a loop of it, then record that onto another machine and you’d have a whole line of these notes, but then you’d vari-speed the loop so to create all the pitches, then you’d record those loops all onto the other tape, so you’d have half an hour of D’s and half an hour of E’s and half an hour of F’s, and that’s the way you’d go through it, that’s how you’d make music, you’d cut your notes from a piece of tape.

If you’ve got an Arturia MatrixBrute (you lucky sound pioneer, you), you can download a free sound pack from Arturia made by these BBC pioneers – and everyone can learn more about their work:

The post Unlocking unimaginable sounds with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop appeared first on CDM Create Digital Music.

Delia Derbyshire gets her own road

Here’s a sure new pilgrimage site for electronic music fans. Late great composer Delia Derbyshire of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop will have a street named after her in her hometown of Coventry, as reported by the BBC.

And because Delia is more than a composer, but a state of mind:

Pete Chambers BEM, director of The Coventry Music Museum, was among those to campaign for the recognition. He said: “Originally it was to be named Derbyshire Road, but I suggested “Way” instead, so it gave a double meaning, as Delia was a genius and strong personality and really did do things in her own way.”

Once you’ve Instagrammed yourself next to the Derbyshire Way sign, maybe you’ll want to visit The Coventry Music Museum. If you’re not a fan of ska, the museum pleasantly reminds you that 55% of the museum isn’t ska. If you are, well, apparently 45% is all about 2-tone music, including a “2-Tone Village,” a Caribbean restaurant, shops (including record shops), and a recreation of a 1980s bedroom.

But more likely of interest to readers of this site, there’s Delia’s tape recorder in the permanent collection.

Even better, it seems (from their somewhat spotty website) they have the infamous “tatty green lampshade.”

I think Delia Derbyshire is the only composer in history to have a lampshade associated with her approach to timbre, let alone extensive frequency analyses of that particular lampshade. (Cool. iPad app, anyone? iLampshade?)

For more:

Other UK stops for fans of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop pioneers? The Science Museum London is a must, natch, as it has a display of Daphne Oram’s machine:

Photo: BBC.


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Synth Secrets Of The Dr. Who Theme

This vintage video takes a look at story behind the BBC Radiophonic Workshop‘s arrangement of the classic Ron Grainer Dr. Who theme.  While the original version was created with a setup closer to a classical tape music studio, this version makes use of 70’s era gear, like the Yamaha CS-80, ARP Odyssey and Roland SVC-350. via House… Read More Synth Secrets Of The Dr. Who Theme

New Version Of Daphne Oram Book, An Individual Note, Planned

The Daphne Oram Trust has launched a Kickstarter project to fund a new printing of electronic music pioneer Daphne Oram’s 1972 book on ‘music sound and electronics’, An Individual Note. The book offers a look at the technology and ideas behind creating … Continue reading

After 40 Years, You Can Hear Daphne Oram’s Lost Mini-Oramics Synthesizer

In the 1960’s, electronic music pioneer Daphne Oram, above, the first Director of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, created a unique synthesizer, the Oramics Machine. The Oramics Machine was a huge device, which moved film strips past a series of photo-electric cells. The … Continue reading

BBC Radiophonic Album Reissue Announced

Light in the Attic records has announced that it is reissuing a vintage collection of work by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The 1979 collection BBC Radiophonic Workshop: 21 will be reissued on June 24th. Here’s what they have to say about … Continue reading

Daphne Oram & The Sound Of The Future

This vintage short film takes a look inside early 60’s home studio of British electronic music pioneer Daphne Oram and offers a glimpse of the Sound of the Future.  Video Summary: “This converted oast-house in Kent is really a kind of studio … Continue reading

Watch a 1986 TV story on house music, plus too many documentaries

In our last episode of “watching things on the Internet instead of doing real work,” we were enjoying a full-length 90s electronic music documentary and a bunch of music videos.

Well, here we are at yet another weekend. And hopefully we can give you some video watching pleasure yet again, in those moments when you aren’t, well, hopefully, making music.

Leading the pack is a 1986 story from Chicago TV news back when house music was in its early days, as spotted by Dancing Astronauts. And it’s an astounding document, featuring Danny “Sweet-D” Wilson, Farley “Jackmaster” Funk, Steve “Silk” Hurley, and Keith Nunnally. Two big takeaways. One, it’s interesting to note that London was already catching onto house even when these artists were relatively obscure in sweet home Chicago. Europe and the UK, always ahead of American audiences when it comes to American music – note the British announced proudly wearing an enormous American flag shirt.

Two, it’s fantastic to see this stuff being made live. Why that shouldn’t be more commonplace in 2015, I have no idea. Steve Hurly and Jackmaster Funk constructing a track is inspiring and fresh nearly two decades later.

But there’s more, of course. With no particular theme, here’s a bunch of documentary stuff to queue up.

If you’d rather go to pioneering electronic composition in place of 80s dance music, here are two documentaries on the incomparable Delia Derbyshire of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, via OpenCulture (which just happened to pop into my inbox today):

The Delian Mode (Kara Blake, 2009) von anaimiaktion

And the classic:

Better Living Through Circuitry is a 1999 documentary, available for full-length viewing (and spotted in comments).

Generation of Sound also covers the 90s dance scene:

And it seems every genre has its own YouTube documentary:

As does Berlin club Tresor:

And Richie Hawtin:

Returning to pioneering electronic music, it’s fascinating to get the 1983 perspective on electronic process (and perhaps it’s a sign of the maturity of the field now that a lot of this is today readily accessible):

And this seminal UK electronic doc:

And here’s a playlist with some of those, plus many more.

Tell your friends and family I’m really sorry.

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