From the Library: Half A Century of Radiophonic/Electronica

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by Elrik Merlin on Wednesday, 1 April, 2009

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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