The Radiophonic Workshop – How We Made ‘Radiophonica’

The April 2017 edition (28) of Electronic Sound features an interview with the Radiophonic Workshop, and a limited edition bundle includes a gatefold CD of rare and unreleased tracks. Here, we talk through the tracks on the CD with the members of the Workshop and find out what strange alchemy made them happen.

Orders yours now, here, while stocks remain. There are limited amounts left and we’re expecting it to sell out soon.

THE RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP — ‘Unreal (Radiophonica Mix)’
Back in 2014, the Society Of Sound label offered the Radiophonic Workshop 10 days at Peter Gabriel’s Real World studios in Wiltshire. In the range of spaces and studio control rooms they recreated the Workshop of yore, complete with ancient synths, tape machines running loops, old oscillators, and the latest in music technology for good measure. The sessions yielded a wealth of new material, experiments and ideas, as well as allowing the group to work up some of their existing material, found sounds and recordings. ‘Unreal’ is a short track based on material drawn from those sessions. Essentially a live performance, the mix presented here comprises elements taken from recordings of several concerts, edited together and processed in the studio.

THE RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP — ‘Burials in Several Earths (Edit)’
‘Burials In Several Earths’ is the title of the latest album from the Radiophonic Workshop – one of a number of side projects and collaborations they have been working on – and the first to be issued on their own Room 13 imprint (via Warp). This edit combines excerpts from three tracks on the album, “Things Buried In Water’, “Some Hope Of Land’ and ‘Burials In Several Earths’.

Exclusive to this collection, this is a stripped-down alternative mix of the promotional edit from the new album recorded with the help of Martyn Ware (of Human League and Heaven 17 fame) and Steve “Dub” Jones (whose production and engineering credits include Depeche Mode, New Order, Underworld, The Chemical Brothers and The Prodigy, to name just a few).

A number of tapes, diaries and papers were discovered in Delia Derbyshire’s home after she died in July 2001, a lost treasure trove of so-called “make-up” reels and source tapes that Delia had used in innovative projects outside of the BBC, in theatre, films and TV. Delia was the first person to compose an electronic soundtrack for a fashion show and saw the early significance of textures and drones to create mood through sound design. The found tapes were entrusted to Radiophonic Workshop archivist Mark Ayres by Delia’s estate who, in turn, made them available to Dr David Butler at the University of Manchester, who is curating, preserving and digitising this extremely rare material for future generations and scholarly research. ‘Wolves & Sheep’ is a work that has been created using some of these make-up reels – edited, organised, lightly tweaked and mixed by the Radiophonic Workshop.

Delia Derbyshire’s work was based on found sounds – recorded, processed, cut and edited into structured, organised patterns of sound. Growing up in Coventry during the Second World War, Delia became very aware of the mechanical sounds of war and the rhythms of production machinery. ‘Objet Trouvé’, French for “found sound”, was a phrase that Delia was fond of using to describe her own work, which took its cue from the French school of composers such as Pierre Henry and Pierre Schaeffer, both of whom were similarly experimenting with cut up found sounds.

DOT PRODUCT – ‘Delta Minus’
Adam Winchester and Chris Jarman were given access to a selection of Delia Derbyshire’s unreleased quarter-inch mark-up tapes for this exclusive Dot Product collaboration. Their unique way of using found sound to create audio sculpture is an extension of the approach pioneered by Pierre Schaeffer, Tristram Cary, David Vorhaus and, of course, Delia Derbyshire and Dick Mills at the Radiophonic Workshop. For Dot Product, there is a clear lineage between their approach and the pre-digital pioneers. “Delia’s work with White Noise, Unit Delta Plus and The Radiophonic Workshop has been a significant influence on our sound,” they say. “Our writing process involves capturing audio from unusual sources with the use of bespoke microphones and electro-magnetic pick-ups. These sonic artefacts are then tracked to tape, manipulated further, and arranged into a musical narrative. There are no synthesisers, drum machines, or traditional instruments involved in our work.” Dot Product’s second album, ‘2080’, is out now on Osiris Music.

The Workshop’s Real World sessions also featured some work recorded in binaural audio to capture the true perspectives of the spaces they worked in (listen through headphones for full effect!). This included forays into nature using a set of binaural spectacles with microphones attached to them to capture the perspective of the wearer, in sound rather than sight. During that time, the group also recreated “the labyrinth”, a multiple tape-delay loop system that creates cascades of sound which can then be manipulated through a mixing console. ‘On’ features the Workshop’s Peter Howell recreating the labyrinth in real time using his own voice and Paddy Kingsland’s Theremin as the sound sources.

‘Out There’ further explores textures created within the labyrinth by veteran Workshop member Dick Mills and drummer Kieron Pepper with assistance from Real World engineers. It is composed from manipulated found sounds collected on field recordings, combined with synthesisers. Mixed by Peter Howell and Mark Ayres.

‘Ziwzih Ziwzih Oo-Oo-Oo’ was composed at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop by Delia Derbyshire in 1966 for ‘The Prophet’ (an adaptation of Isaac Asimov’s short sci-fi story ‘Reason’), an episode of anthology series, ‘Out Of The Unknown’. The piece has become a favourite of Workshop fans over the years and demonstrates Delia Derbyshire’s talents as the “sculptress of sound” at her most inventive. It has become a staple (in an arrangement by Paddy Kingsland) of the Radiophonic Workshop’s live set too. This version was recorded as a “warm up” on the Workshop’s first night at Real World studios following a visit to the local pub!

Back in 1983, BBC2 began a series of programmes aimed at bringing home computing to a mass audience. The series was based around the BBC Micro, a home computer designed by Acorn Computing to encourage UK citizens to embrace computing technology and teach basic programming. A million cassette copies of ‘Scramble’ later and the BBC Micro had run its course, but not before bumbling computer illiterate Ian McNaught-Davis had won the hearts of the nation’s would-be geeks. The show’s theme featured ‘Tron’-style graphics and a Vangelis-like theme tune by the Workshop’s Roger Limb. ‘Incubus’ is a recent work by Roger that resamples some of these old themes and sets them in the context of a dystopian landscape (a familiar theme of Roger Limb). In daemonology and British legend, an Incubus is a trickster daemon figure with powers to seduce women. “No comment,” says Roger.

“I’m fascinated by standing stones, stone circles and our ancient prehistory as a people,” says Roger Limb, who joined the Radiophonic Workshop in 1972. “The Rollrights are a stone circle in Oxfordshire and to the north of the circle is a set of standing stones, huge stones hidden in a wood. They are meant to be the stone guardians, the so-called Whispering Knights. When myself, Paddy Kingsland, Steve [Jones], and the two Toms [Middleton and Szirtes] set to work on these improvisations, we had no real sense of what we were trying to achieve other than being led by the music and the sounds of the machines. It was very much how Delia used to work. Sometimes it helps to have a visual idea in mind, sometimes not. When Paddy and I listened back, there was an erie quality that reminded me of the ancient realm, the spectral realm, hence the title ‘Whispering Stones’.”

Issue 28 and Radiophonic Workshop CD Bundle

Limited edition, and low in stock. Get this special bundle while you still can!


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