From the Library: Half A Century of Radiophonic/Electronica

Today marks the anniver­sary of the open­ing – and of the end – of the BBC Radio­phon­ic Work­shop, one of the most amaz­ing resources ever cre­at­ed by a broad­cast­ing organ­i­sa­tion. It opened on April 1, 1958… and was ill-advis­ed­ly closed, as a result of BBC man­age­ment short-sight­ed­ness, on April 1, 1998, hav­ing pro­vid­ed inno­v­a­tive music and musique con­crète sounds for BBC radio and TV pro­grammes for four decades.

Today’s pro­gramme, there­fore, fea­tures a selec­tion of clas­sic elec­tron­i­ca from the past 50 years, includ­ing Wendy Car­los, Paul Beaver & Bernie Krause (joint­ly and sev­er­al­ly) and Mort Gar­son (in the shape of The Zodi­ac by The Cos­mic Sounds, a work that cer­tain­ly shows its age). You’ll also hear the work of Tom Dis­sevelt and Kid Bal­tan in the rare stereo ver­sion of Song of the Sec­ond Moon, and com­put­er music pro­grammed on an IBM 7090 in the ear­ly 1960s in Music from Math­e­mat­ics. Plus some clas­sic Kraftwerk in the orig­i­nal Ger­man, and the elec­tron­ic sym­phon­ic works of Lar­ry Fast, aka Syn­er­gy – which remind me of watch­ing ear­ly Laseri­um shows in the Grif­fith Park Plan­e­tar­i­um in the mid-70s.

And, of course, you’ll hear music from the hey­day of the BBC Radio­phon­ic Work­shop, includ­ing David Cain, John Bak­er, Mal­colm Clarke, Bri­an Hodg­son, Delia Der­byshire, Peter How­ell, Pad­dy Kings­land and many more.

In addi­tion we will be broad­cast­ing five spe­cial pro­grammes dur­ing the course of the day (all times SLT):

  • 12noon Pri­vate Dreams and Pub­lic Night­mares, a “Radio­phon­ic Poem” by Fred­er­ick Brad­num, pro­duced by Daphne Oram and Desmond Briscoe and broad­cast in Octo­ber 1957. This was one of the pro­grammes that led to the estab­lish­ment of the Work­shop by Oram and Briscoe the fol­low­ing year. The pic­ture above shows Daphne Oram work­ing on a tape loop for Pri­vate Dreams… while Fred­er­ick Brad­num looks on.
  • 2pm Elec­tron­ic Music Syn­the­sis­ers — Part 1. A doc­u­men­tary on the devel­op­ment and use of the syn­the­sis­er, cre­at­ed by Pyra­me­dia Pro­duc­tions in the ear­ly 1970s.
  • 4pm Elec­tron­ic Music Syn­the­sis­ers — Part 2. An addi­tion­al sec­tion to the above, pro­duced a year or so lat­er.
  • 6pm Wee Have Also Sound Houses, a BBC radio doc­u­men­tary on the Work­shop’s past and present, pro­duced in 1979, when the Work­shop was in its hey­day.
  • 8pm Blue Veils and Gold­en Sands, a 2002 radio play by Mar­tyn Wade drama­tis­ing aspects of the life of Radio­phon­ic Work­shop com­pos­er Delia Der­byshire.

Today’s pro­gramme is ded­i­cat­ed to all the com­posers at the Radio­phon­ic Work­shop over the years, some of whom I have been pleased to count as friends. Your work will not be for­got­ten.

Read an engi­neer­ing his­to­ry of the Radio­phon­ic Work­shop by Ray White, and view his exten­sive Radio­phon­ic Work­shop Gallery of pho­tographs com­piled from many sources.

From the Library is pro­duced in con­junc­tion with the Cale­don Library; today’s pro­gramme was pro­duced by Elrik Mer­lin. You can lis­ten to it on our Main Stream as fol­lows:

If you want to have the Radio Riel Main Stream play­ing on your par­cel, please set the media music URL to: You can also paste this URL into a music play­er like iTunes or Winamp.

To lis­ten off-world, sim­ply click here.

• Fol­low Elrik Mer­lin on Twit­ter: @ElrikMerlin

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