Saturday, 29 May 2010

Non-Radiophonic Announcement: FdR

Regular readers with halfway decent memories may know that I have another weblog, 'Luna Parking', which is an online monograph to my musical hero, Francois de Roubaix.

As far as I can tell, no-one ever goes there but, if you did go there, right now, not only would you find some great individual tracks, you'd also find a whopping great hour long mix called 'Le Monde Est Profonde Est Humide' that's just been on the radio. Just saying, that's all.

RADIOPHONIC MONTH: Mo' Oramics

I’m not that interested in trains. Actually, I’m not interested in trains at all, but I am interested in Daphne Oram and I absolutely love her soundtrack to the 1963 Geoffrey Jones short film ‘Snow’.

All she's actually doing is mucking about with a re-recorded Sandy Nelson record and adding various filters, but its conceptually extremely clever, technically (at the time) very difficult and proves to be a perfect fit with what's on screen.

Anyway, here it is in all it's eight minute glory and, although I don't like trains , at least these are the nice chuff chuff leather seat and Jenny Agutter type rather than the piss slopping eardrum irritating plastic cylinders of slow death that they are these days. Harumph.

Friday, 28 May 2010

RADIOPHONIC MONTH: "Delia Derbyshire being..?"

In 2008, the Radiophonic Workshop celebrated it's 50th birthday. Or at least it would have done if the BBC hadn't killed it ten years earlier. Still, little things like details never bother the Corporation in their relentless urge to slap themselves on the back. Here, Workshop stalwart Dick Mills and keeper of the flame Mark Ayres do their level best to talk to the very important idiots that present shows like this.

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

RADIOPHONIC MONTH: The Quiet Man


Dick Mills specialised in backgrounds, atmospheres and sound effects and, perhaps because of the unflashy nature of his talent, remains the unsung hero of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, despite putting in more time (35 years!) and having more onscreen credits than anyone else.

He also knows a lot about tropical fish, but that’s outside our remit.

Mills joined the Workshop when it opened in 1958. Primarily a sound engineer, he was employed to simply look after all the begged, borrowed and stolen equipment crammed into its Maida Vale studio but it soon became apparent that he could do much more than that, and he began creating special sound effects for ‘Quatermass’ on TV and ‘The Goons’ on radio, two of the biggest shows in Britain at that time.

The reliable right hand man, Mills spent most of the sixties assisting his better known colleagues rather than taking the spotlight himself but, in 1972, he took over from Malcolm Hodgson as the man responsible for background effects and ‘special sound’ for ‘Dr. Who’ and, with a few exceptions, he continued to do this for every single episode until the programmes (first) demise in 1989.

Mills stayed at the Workshop for a few years after this, but work was harder to come by and less interesting now that synthesisers were common place. In 1993, nearing retirement age and seeing the final writing on the studio wall, Mills turned in his headphones and retired to his Cockatoo Cichlids and Bleeding Heart Tetras. He should be knighted.

Three tracks from the long career of Dick Mills. The inventive musique concrete of 'Crazy Dazy', the sinister ambience of ‘Thomas The Rhymer' and, from 1982, ‘Armagiddean War Games’ which, despite its title, is not a dub reggae track but rather an aggressive electronic soundscape.

Monday, 24 May 2010

RADIOPHONIC MONTH: What in the name of God?



As an adjunct to 'The Legend Of Hell House' post over at the ever excellent 'Toys and Techniques', I've put together a longer mix of the soundtrack; it's short on running time, low on stereo fidelity, high on creepy atmosphere and disembodied voices.

As you may know, the music and effects were produced by Dame Delia Derbyshire (I've just promoted her, she deserves it) and Brian Hodgson as part of their short-lived company, Electrophon Ltd. Sadly, this was the only film that they worked on.

Here's a trailer for the film as an added added bonus. Reduced to two and a half minutes, it verges on the comic in its intensity but I still think it's one of the most frightening films ever made, and I've watched loads.

Sunday, 23 May 2010

RADIOPHONIC MONTH: Paradise found


I like John Milton, I like radio drama and I like the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, so I'm quite fond of the Radio 4 version of 'Paradise Lost' with music and effects by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

Here is an extract from the second of forty one twelve minute segments.

In this episode the fallen angel Satan awakens in Hell and summons up his legions.

In the same year, the BBC also produced a dramatisation of 'Paradise Regained' but, sadly, aside from the theme music, it has no Radiophonic input. Worth a listen though: Milton rocks.

The minimal and unobtrusive music and atmospheres were composed by Elizabeth Parker, a University Of East Anglia music graduate with a masters in electronics who joined the Workshop in 1980 and stayed until the bitter end.

The illustration is by William Blake, a man of such genius that I am actually embarrassed to share a page with him.

Friday, 21 May 2010

RADIOPHONIC MONTH: Musical Scales (Two)

Part two of the 'Musical Scales' documentary, originally included as a bonus feature on the DVD release of 'Dr. Who & The Silurians'.

Thursday, 20 May 2010

RADIOPHONIC MONTH: Musical Scales (One)

Part one of an interesting if frustratingly brief featurette about Dr. Who music, focussing on the Jon Pertwee era and featuring some tantalising bits of archive material.

Note to potential film makers: I am prepared to watch a documentary about the Radiophonic Workshop of ANY length, so make it as detailed and definitive as you like and I'll book the requisite amount of days off work.

Tuesday, 18 May 2010

RADIOPHONIC MONTH: Oh, what an atmosphere

















Listening to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s 1976 album ‘Out Of This World’ was probably my first avant garde experience.

Split into four sections, each providing ‘atmospheres and soundtracks’ for a particular theme, at first I just loved the cover (and what’s not to love? All human and inhuman life is there) as I found the short, sometimes formless blasts of electronic noise were too far from my experience of conventional music for me to really understand.

Once my ears got used to it, I became obsessed with the creepy and occasionally disturbing sounds of ‘Suspense and the Supernatural’, which slotted in nicely with my other over-riding interests of the time: Hammer Films, horror comics and dark and musty wax museums (yes, in hindsight, I was obviously a pretty disturbed child).

Now, as an only moderately disturbed adult, I’m more drawn to the longer, ambient tracks that are part of ‘The Elements’ suite. Many of the great and the good of the Workshop are represented here: Delia Derbyshire, David Cain, John Baker, and the music is evocative and often very beautiful.

It’s difficult to pick out individual tracks as many of them are only a few seconds long, so I’ve whipped up a little ten minute mix from across the whole LP that should give you a flavour of what I’m on about.

I’m still obsessed with Hammer Films, horror comics and dark and musty wax museums, by the way, so there may be some scary bits en route.

Download it here, approximate track listing in comments.

Monday, 17 May 2010

RADIOPHONIC MONTH: From the depths


Whilst The Master watches ‘The Clangers’
webbed fingers rub at large eyes –

the long, wet sleep is over

O shell-less turtles dressed like tea bags
why have you swapped the globigerina ooze for sand,
the comforting sea for hostile land?

Shuffle back into the surf, Sea Devil
you missed your window and there’s nothing you can do
except to return to the deep
and go to sleep


Extract from ‘Dear Devil’ from 'The Doctor Is Dead' by Malcolm Douglas, Tangent Books, 1974

Please watch this clip - pure Radiophonic magic, at teatime, on a Saturday. Some great cape action kicking off all over, too.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

RADIOPHONIC MONTH: Speech Like Sound

On 14th October 1976, Electronic Music Studios (EMS) released the EMS Vocoder 5000.

This is a recording taken from a reel to reel tape designed to show what it can do.

Very popular, EMS vocoder models later provided voices for the extremely annoying Metal Mickey and (via a ring modulator) for the evil Cylons in the original Battlestar Galactica series.

Perma-permed Brummie pop genius Jeff Lynne also made extensive use of the machine, most notably on his magnum opus 'Mr. Blue Sky'.

All hail the Vocoder!

Thursday, 13 May 2010

RADIOPHONIC MONTH: How primitive can you get?

It's lunch time, 1979. 'Pebble Mill' is on and Vince Hill will be singing soon but, incredibly, there's a feature on the Radiophonic Workshop! It's not entirely accurate, but it's pretty cool.


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Tuesday, 11 May 2010

RADIOPHONIC MONTH: Bound by blue ethereality

White Noise were formed in 1968 by American David Vorhaus, a classical bass player who was fascinated by electronics and the science of sound. In a brilliant move that reminds me of when Bobby Robson signed Arnold Muhren and Franz Thijssen to Ipswich Town in the seventies, transforming the team, his first recruits to the band were Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson, Radiophonic Workshop stalwarts fresh from the sadly abortive Unit Delta Plus project.

Initially intending to record a single, Island Records boss Chris Blackwell was so impressed with the two tracks produced that he asked them to make an album, perhaps unaware of just how difficult and time-consuming an undertaking that was in the days of having to invent instruments and editing tape with a white pencil and a razor blade.

A year later, they had put together an additional four tracks and Island’s patience was beginning to run out. In desperation, they went against the grain and recorded the seventh and last album track live in the studio. The result of that session, ‘Black Mass’, is absolutely terrifying and was used variously by Arthur Lee of Love as an LSD trip enhancer (which is a bit like using Burzum to cure a headache) and as the basis for the occult ritual music in ‘Dracula: AD 1972’. I’m not linking to a clip here as it scares me and I don’t want to be dealing with any civil suits because it’s scared you and you can’t sleep anymore.

Instead, here is 'Love Without Sound', one of the poppier tracks from the album (this was intended to be the A side of the single). A brilliant collage of tapes, proto-synths and real instrumentation and voices, all sped up and slowed down and messed about with to create a really complex but actually fairly commercial space age pop tune.

'The Visitations', on the other hand, is a near twelve minute track that, in best Shangri-La’s / Twinkle fashion, tells the story of love destroyed by a fatal motorcycle crash. Where the song differs from the earlier death discs, however, is that here the dead have a say, trying desperately to communicate from beyond the grave…an amazing electronic tour de force that took three months to record, this is probably the best track on the LP and should to be listened to on headphones for the full, creepy effect.

Derbyshire and Hodgson didn’t stay with the group after the album was released (it only sold 200 copies initially), but Vorhaus persevered and White Noise are still in existence today. Vorhaus has never quite emulated the genius of the incredible debut ‘dream team’ album, but he thoroughly deserves his place in electronic music history for his long career and the inestimable influence his brainchild has had on several generations of musicians over the last forty years.

Sunday, 9 May 2010

RADIOPHONIC MONTH: There is a God! There must be a God!

It's not often I can say 'by popular demand' but, in the case of 'Amor Dei' it seems one track just wasn't enough.

So, here's the rest: 'A Capella Liturgica'; 'I'd Like To Believe In God But...', and, finally, 'There IS A God!'.

Fill your moonboots.

Saturday, 8 May 2010

RADIOPHONIC MONTH: Plastic men

An Auton bursts through plate glass, dressed like Leslie Phillips after a bath -

his awful, empty eyes scan a bus queue
facsimile fingers flip and shoot out sudden, searing death -

they won’t get the number 47 now
their tea will go uneaten

Fear the Auton, and make it dead again
but do not hate this plastic puppet
for the violence is not of his volition
this mayhem is not his mess

It is the Nestene Consciousness.


'Auton' from 'The Doctor Is Dead' by Malcolm Douglas, Tangent Books, 1974.

Music by Dudley Simpson.

Friday, 7 May 2010

RADIOPHONIC MONTH: Live From The Green Cathedral

A scene from the 1976 Dr. Who serial 'The Seeds Of Doom'. Please note: the fantastically arch star of 'The Fiend' , Tony Beckley; Boycie out of 'Only Fools & Horses', and Geoffrey Burgon's ear splitting incidental music.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

RADIOPHONIC MONTH: Something which makes flowers grow

Barry Bermange is an artist, playwright, poet and actor. Fond of experimentation and Kafka, in 1964/5 Bermange created a series of audio collages he called ‘Inventions For Radio’ for the BBC Third Programme (now Radio 3).

The ’Inventions’ took the form of a number of recorded interviews with individuals on a given subject (Dreams, God, Dying, The Afterlife), which were then chopped up into soundbites and then woven together to form a narrative.

The human voices were further augmented by some filters and effects and by an electronic background and sound effects from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in the form of our very own Miss Delia Derbyshire.

‘Inventions for Radio One: Within Dreams’ is split into five parts, each covering a specific type of dream experience: Running, Falling, Land, Sea and Colour. Delia’s eerie musique concrete is, unsurprisingly, excellent, but overall the piece is rather repetitive and the similarity of so many of the stories underlines how commonplace and generic most people’s ‘really weird’ dreams actually are (I may be somewhat prejudiced here: I HATE listening to people describe their dreams). My apologies for the slightly murky quality of the audio here: it was taped off the radio.

‘Inventions for Radio Two: Amor Dei’ is about people’s belief in God and is a fascinating and rather moving experience, even for an irreligious heathen like me. Without dogma or finger pointing, the interviewees speak simply and poignantly about faith. Here, God is not a fact of life; rather it is a factor in their lives, albeit one that defines them as individuals.

Bermange asked Delia to come up with ‘a gothic altarpiece of sound’ to accompany the narrative and she does just that, providing an electronic soundtrack that mixes elements of church music, plain song and the baroque to create a suitably mysterious and spiritual atmospheric setting. Here is the first section, 'Conceptions Of God'.

Please let me know if you have recordings of the other two ‘Inventions for Radio’ (‘3: The Evenings of Certain Lives’ and ‘4: The After-Life’) as I’ve never heard them and I would very much like to.

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

RADIOPHONIC MONTH: The thunder seeks, the lightning takes

Readers of a certain age may very well remember movement and dance classes from their early education. Some may still be traumatised by them.

Basically involving getting kids to do stuff they wouldn't normally do to music they wouldn’t normally listen to, a typical lesson might involve crouching on the floor and pretending to be an acorn that grows into a sapling then a great, tall oak tree blowing in the breeze or some shit like that.

I can distinctly remember undergoing this ordeal on a visit to the Mercury Theatre in Colchester in about 1975. We were asked variously to be a bird, a fish and a wild animal in the jungle as a hairy man with no shoes and socks on clapped his hands to signify when to change. All went well until the wild animal instruction at which point a scrap broke out between a lion and an angry rhino. Time has dissolved the memory of what music was playing as we went through this exercise but I know for sure it wasn’t anywhere near as interesting as ‘The Seasons’.

‘The Seasons’ was released in 1969, collecting music from the BBC Radio For Schools programme ‘Drama Workshop’ which had been broadcast the year before. The music is by David Cain (a mathematics graduate and Early Music enthusiast who had been with the Radiophonic Workshop since 1967) and poetry by Ronald Duncan and Derek Bowskill, who also narrates.

Listening to it now, it’s difficult to imagine that this was particularly fun listening for the primary school kids that the record was targeted at. The music is dark and inaccessible in tone and style, sounding more like an electronic score for ‘The Seventh Seal’ than music for children to express themselves to. The poetic recitation is also problematic: obscure, wordy, pretentious and portentous, it’s intoned in an austere, authoritative voice by Bowskill who relentlessly nags at the corners of your mind until you give in and become his mime bitch.

Highly sought after these days and a major influence on new-fangled Hauntological groups, ‘The Seasons’ isn’t an LP that you would listen to all the way through on a regular basis (it would drive you crackers very quickly) but, in small, rationed doses it bursts out of the speakers and takes you into a very odd world where art and music and scaring kids all merge into one and you feel like falling to the floor and being slowly awakened by the first dawn rays of the Winter sun.

Now, please head over to our comrades at 'A Sound Awareness' for a link to somewhere special where you can download the whole LP.

Saturday, 1 May 2010

RADIOPHONIC MONTH: Sound House music


As you should bloody know by now, the whole of May is Radio-
phonic Month on this here weblog. Now, we’re assuming that you know what that means simply by virtue of your innate intelligence and obvious good taste but you may be a little sketchy on some of the details.

We Also Have Sound Houses’ is a 1983 BBC Radio 4 documentary that was made to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and outlines the illustrious history of the Workshop to date.

It’s a fascinating and informative document made at a time when all of the principals (and principles) of the Workshop were alive and the Workshop was still a viable institution that the BBC were actually proud of.

Obviously, the documentary doesn’t forsee that work would be increasingly outsourced to cut costs or that the Workshop itself would be ignominiously packed away in 1998 but that’s actually a good thing, because that would make me sad and angry.

Happily, the Workshop’s legend is too strong to be diminished by short sighted bureaucrats, and its ongoing place in history is assured. If I ever see John Birt, however, I'm going to kick his head in.