We’ve had a lot of unusual and inspiring albums this year on Society of Sound, not least Laura Mvula’s orchestral version of her debut, Sing To The Moon, or the otherworldly Tincian from 9Bach plus a magical recording of Sibelius’ Symphony No.2, but the eagerly-anticipated Radiophonic Workshop album is probably the most extraordinary.
Here it is, in the band’s own words, track by track:
Peter Howell and Paddy Kingsland were experimenting in the Wood Room, demonstrating how multiple tape recorders can be used to create long echoes…
2. Out There
Dick Mills and Kieron Pepper produced a large amount of raw radiophonica in a small, tape-based studio we set up during our stay at Real Word. Peter Howell used some of this material as featured sounds in this slightly ironic sci-fi piece – ironic, because it alludes to the conventional feature film expectations of large spaceships looming overhead and the Radiophonic Workshop’s enduring fascination with human-like robots. The composition has a definite echo of the early Radiophonic Workshop about it. The ghosts from Quatermass and the Pit haunt the piece and it explores the wide spectrum of sound from a very deep sub-bass to an ethereal high end. This one will really test the dynamic range of your speaker system.
3. ZiwZih ZiwZih Oo-Oo-Oo
This Robot hymn in praise of a power converter was composed by our friend, inspiration and foremother Delia Derbyshire for a 1966 episode of Out of the Unknown called The Prophet. The version presented here features additional arrangement and treatments by Paddy Kingsland and we had a great deal of fun adding analogue synths, effects and percussion to Delia’s original tape manipulations. It has become a popular staple of our live set.
Incubus, created for a concert at the Roundhouse in 2009, began as a montage of dreamlike textures and motifs created by Roger Limb during his 20 years at the Workshop – including a theme from a BBC programme entitled “The Trouble with Sex”! Much of this is textural, improvised around two pre-recorded ambient tracks created by Roger. The ‘band’ further developed these themes using electronics and live performance. Other worldly and occasionally disquieting but hopefully not quite the nightmarish creature Roger’s title might imply!
‘Ars sine scientia nihil est’, attributed to Jean Mignot in the 14th Century, seemed like a useful starting point for this short piece that delves into the Radiophonic world of manipulated word play and treated phonics. Why? Because for anyone working in our world of sound and manipulated audio, art without science really would be…nothing.
This track was originally composed as part of an hour-long live piece the Radiophonic Workshop performed back in 2002 for an event called Generic Sci-Fi Quarry. It borrows a chord sequence from a Doctor Who adventure “The Curse of Fenric” that Mark Ayres scored in 1989. It was created using classic analogue and digital synthesisers (no soft-synths here!) including the legendary Roland JX-3P and VP-330, along with some uniquely gritty samples from an old 12-bit Roland S-550. We’ve also added some additional synths, including the King Korg, some treated live piano and electric guitar and a heavily-modified Kieron Pepper.
This piece is in three sections:
(a) Doctor Who 1963. Delia Derbyshire, assisted by our very own Dick Mills, created the original Doctor Who theme using Ron Grainer’s hand-written notes back in 1963. It remains the high watermark of early British Radiophonica and is unbeatable. Yet, here we are… in creating this short remix of Delia’s work to kick-start “ egeneration”, we had to ask ourselves, “What would Delia do now”? No synthesisers or recognisable musical instruments are used for the additional elements added here. Instead the sounds and textures were created using a QuickTime transformation on random images painted in Photoshop. It’s a very Delia-like approach.
(b) Peter Howell asked himself a very straightforward question when devising the middle third of this piece: What happened before the Doctor Who titles? In other words he was trying to conjure a prequel to the well-known 1980 version of the signature tune – something to tell the story of the Doctor’s journey. “Before Who” starts in the cosmic primeval slime, and gradually evolves, letting tiny snatches of the theme escape along the way, until it climaxes in the same key and the same tempo as the opening of the familiar 1980 title music. The most difficult challenge was to gradually increase the tempo from its wispy slow beginnings to the final 135 bpm at which the titles begin. This acceleration has to be exponential not linear to convey maximum excitement. The Radiophonic Workshop now play this live at their concerts, which keeps everyone on their toes, especially the drummer Kieron Pepper!
(c) Delia Derbyshire believed that Peter Howell’s 1980 arrangement of the Doctor Who Theme was more faithful to Ron Grainer’s original score than hers was. We’ve used it to close our set since we began playing live. Here it is with live sound elements and radiophonically-mangled percussion.
In the Wood Room we used unconventional percussion arrangements with binaural microphones and sampling. In a back room studio Dick Mills supervised the making of tape-loops and a labyrinth of tape feedback to create analogue soundscapes as only he can. One stairwell had a particularly resonant sound so we sent Kieron out to hit it – a lot. Real World’s engineers captured the resulting beats using a Soundfield microphone and we processed and looped it. Outside, there are a couple of weirs in the small lake around the studio, so we recorded and processed those too. It’s all in here. If ever a piece was born uniquely in, and inspired by, the atmosphere and experience of a very special creative space, it’s this.