With its swooping, haunting notes, the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop created one of the most instantly recognisable theme tunes in television history. The Doctor Who music is the best known example of how the BBC’s famous sound laboratory blazed a trail in electronic music from 1958 until its demise forty years later.
Fourteen years after the synthesisers fell silent The Space, www.thespace.org, the new digital arts service developed by the Arts Council and the BBC, has appointed experimental composer Matthew Herbert Creative Director of the New Radiophonic Workshop. His mission is to lead seven fellow cutting edge collaborators on an exploratory journey to discover new ways of making and presenting sound and music.
The New Radiophonic Workshop builds on the legacy of its predecessor, but rather than being confined to rooms full of equipment in the BBC’s Maida Vale studios, the new unit is a virtual institution, an online portal and forum for discussion around the challenges of creating new sounds, and bringing together music composition and software design.
The first commission from the New Radiophonic Workshop is The Sound of The Space, made up of the audio associated with the last 25 projects published on The Space ranging from the sounds of music, theatre and dance through to prose, poetry and discussions. These are then filtered to create a curious murmur of activity, rather than a cacophony of noise, designed to hum and change as more material appears.
The Sound Of The Space can be heard by clicking on the ‘listen to The Space’ button at the top of all the pages on The Space.
Matthew Herbert says, “It is the perfect time for the rebirth of the workshop – the rapid pace of change in technologies has meant our imaginations are struggling to keep up. By bringing together the people making the technology with people making the music, we are hoping to find engaging answers to some of the modern problems associated with the role of sound and music on the internet, in certain creative forms and within broadcasting.”
This morning (Wednesday 12 September) listeners to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme were also treated to new work from the New Radiophonic Workshop in the form of a piece of music to mark the BBC leaving Bush House. The music was made out of, and about the old broadcast equipment in Bush House.
Matthew says, “The closure of Bush House draws a line under what one aspect of the BBC used to be about: warrens of small rooms and big lumps of equipment hidden from the public. New Broadcasting House is the opposite - open and visible with technology taking up a much smaller footprint.
“In its original incarnation the Radiophonic Workshop was certainly highly representative of this first description. In its new location, as part of the virtual resource of thespace.org, the current iteration of the Radiophonic Workshop is seeking to acknowledge and document this shift in broadcasting from an impervious, imperious presence to a more democratic, fluid and open system.
“In this context, this piece of music for Bush House is a small footnote, an audio reminder of how far we have come in the last 100 years of listening.”
Listen to Matthew’s commission from Today here from 09.00 GMT
Visitors to The Space can also experience Matthew’s extraordinary and often brutal 2011 film One Pig, which takes the life of a farm animal from birth to butchery through music samples, and Workshop collaborator Yann Seznec’s, real-time interactive musical installation The Secret Sounds of Spores, which is a musical response to the movements of the mushroom spores.
There is also a 1965 film from Tomorrow’s World in which pioneering sound engineers from the original Radiophonic Workshop including Delia Derbyshire generate music from a plethora of electronic sounds and effects. Click here to watch this charming film from the BBC Archive.
Upcoming Radiophonic Workshop commissions and events:
Small, Smaller Smallest
A live remix of BBC Prom 44 which comments on the consumption of music using small handheld devices, the impact of free downloading on the relationship between the composer and audience and the role of the mobile phone at concerts.
12 volunteers recorded small sections of audio backstage, front of house and in the auditorium on mobile phones, ‘performing’ the recordings as part of the encore, with conductor André Ridder inviting the audience to send themselves a text message, creating a ripple of electronic applause.
NRW has been commissioned to create an online system to interact via a keyboard with Will Self’s digital essay Kafka’s Wound.
The Radiophonic Workshop in Public – Sunday 7 October, Southbank Centre
A day of talks, open sessions and events based around the work of the New Radiophonic Workshop. Previous members of the original BBC Radiophonic Workshop will discuss the heritage and legacy of the original sound lab. It will be an unmissable day for those interested in the future of sound as well as electronic music and its technologies.
The New Radiophonic Workshop members are:
Matthew Herbert, Creative Director
As head of Accidental Records, soundtrack composer for films including Life In A Day (Kevin Macdonald/Ridley Scott 2011), collaborator with such diverse people as Bjork, Heston Blumenthal, Caryl Churchill, Roisin Murphy, Dizzee Rascal, Antony Hegarty, Fergus Henderson and The Invisible or creating his own substantial body of work, Matthew Herbert is constantly exploring alternative ways to listen and think about how we create and listen to sound and music. His main tool for composition is through sampling so-called everyday sounds and in doing so collapsing the walls between pleasure and the political, between the realms of created sound and reality as it is experienced and suffered, between the drily conceptual and the warmly immersive. He has made records out of 3,500 people biting an apple at the same time, the sewers beneath London, the Houses of Parliament and most recently, the entire life cycle of a pig.
Sound designer for Harry Potter and Narnia series, Sherlock Holmes, Wallace and Gromit and Clash of The Titans, James has won numerous awards for his work including an EMMY, the BFCA Critic Award, a Golden Reel and a BAFTA nomination.
Theatre director Lyndsey Turner’s work includes Posh, Our Private Life, A Miracle and Contractions at the Royal Court; There Is A War and Edgar And Annabel at the National Theatre; The Way Of The World and Alice at Sheffield Crucible and Joseph K and Nocturnal at the Gate. Lyndsey is an Associate Director at Sheffield Theatres.
Max de Wardener
Composer, musician and instrument maker Max has collaborated with innovative musicians such as Plaid, Chartwell Dutiro, the Elysian quartet, Ed Finnis, Tom Arthurs, Leo Chadburn and Mara Carlyle. He is currently writing a piano concerto for Will Dutta and the Heritage Orchestra as well as a commission for a short orchestral piece for the LSO.
From collaborations with the London Philharmonic Orchestra and London Sinfonetta to East London grime mixtape production involving artists like Golden Silvers, Kwes, Man Like Me, Jack Penate and Toddla T. Mica’s musical output is as extensive as it is indiscriminate. Mica's own band - Micachu and The Shapes HAVE just released their second full length album.
Patrick Bergel: a creative technologist, entrepreneur, researcher and sound tamperer. Patrick previously founded mobile search startup L6, has carried out research into sound control surfaces and ubiquitous computing systems, and has lead creative digital projects for companies including Microsoft and Ray-Ban. Patrick is now an Honorary Research Associate at UCL (University College London) Dept. of Computer Science, and is founder and CEO of Animal Systems, the team behind audio-data platform Chirp.
A highly creative broadcast technologist and workshops Technical Director, Tony currently works for BBC Research and Development designing and creating next generation audio experiences and broadcasting systems. Tony regularly publishes academic papers and has presented his work all over the world. He has written articles for specialist publications such as Broadcast, Television and iTech and has appeared on BBC News, Sky News, ITN, NPR, BBC Radio 4 and BBC World Service.
Artist, musician, performer, and founder of creative studio Lucky Frame, Yann has created numerous interactive real-time musical installations that have taken many forms from utilising the natural kinetic power of mushroom spores to a playable musical pig sty.
About The Space
The Space is a new on-demand digital arts service available free of charge via the internet, smartphones, tablets and connected TV, on Freeview and Freeview HD.
The Space has been developed by the Arts Council in partnership with the BBC.
The Space will help transform the way people connect with and experience arts, music and film and give artists space to innovate and experiment.
The Space pilot service launched on 1 May and runs until the end of October, coinciding with and complementing the wealth of arts activity in 2012, including the London 2012 Festival and wider Cultural Olympiad.