Monday, January 15, 2007

BBC Radiophonic Workshop | I

"What is the noise supposed to be that precedes the two-o'-clock Television News? It sounds like a nightmare in a railway train!" – F. M. M., Shrewibury (Letter to Radio Times, 10th November 1960).

Two weeks, no line. I've been beating around this theme considering the right direction to approach from, the volume would be enough for the comprehensive observation, start point, adequate end. Finally, feeling myself a senescent and exhausted writer with no word in reserve, I type something masturbating my own interest.
Well, the passage in quotation marks, meant to be an epigraph, is a reaction of the bearer on BBC Radiophonic Workshop activity results. "Radiophonic Workshop? Do they repair radio sets?" – one more reaction of the contemporary. "The trouble with the future is that you never fully know about it until you’ve passed it…" – Roger Limb.
"In 1957, a small group of BBC producers and studio managers began using ‘radiophonic’ techniques to create pioneering music and drama programmes. The process consisted of recording real sounds, such as those created by the human voice, bottles, bells, musical instruments, percussion devices or even boxes of gravel or pebbles. These were then manipulated to produce entirely new material. Tape machines provided reverse playback, speed and pitch changes, or were used to create sound loops, whilst reverberation and equalisation could modify the sound quality. Various elements of the work were edited together using tape-splicing techniques, often note-by-note. This was a time-consuming business, requiring endless skill and patience, but the results were often very impressive. These processes, similar to musique concrète, created or enhanced the atmosphere in a programme, but weren’t considered an ‘art in itself’. The leading light of the group was Daphne Oram (take a look at her Radiophonic archive shooted by Mark Pilkington... she left on January 5, 2003), a studio manager who was also trained in music, together with Desmond Briscoe and Norman Bain.
The BBC, having seen the potential of this new aspect of broadcasting, established a Radiophonic Effects Committee. This decided to set up a Radiophonic Workshop, using outdated equipment from the BBC’s Redundant Plant, as well as £2,000 that was to be spent on additional requirements.
The Workshop was initially established in a large area created within Rooms 13 and 14 of the BBC’s studio complex at Maida Vale."
It will take long tell the whole story, moreover it will consist of further copy-paste of the extraordiary detailed source... Ray White's text.
For those who cannot fix on letters: Alchemists of Sound – BBC' trifling pardon for no credit, no CD, no honored attention neither to the Radiophonics inter vivos, nor to the legacy they had left.
To be continued...


o- said...

great great stuff ! the unknown roots of some of my favourite music !!

Ray said...

The Radiophonic article is now at

with a photo gallery at


Thanks for the comments, guys. Thanks for the addenda.