“…under [the BBC’s policy] Producer Choice, the workshop could not compete on price and its demise was inevitable.”
Oh the BBC radiophonic workshop! It’s 50 years since it began and ten since neoliberal management killed it. Some video clips and memories at the BBC here. Including the Dalek voice! (Which you could now recreate with this toy.)
Anyway it was a truly ground breaking nest of experimental sound that should be considered along with other pioneers, no accident this kind of experimentation being heard by mass audiences was via a subsidised organisation where innovation was allowed to flourish not murdered in the name of short term profits.
Ten years ago the workshop was disbanded due to costs but its reputation as a Heath Robinson-style, pioneering force in sound is as strong as ever, acknowledged by ambient DJs like Aphex Twin. Although much of its equipment has long been sold off, every sound and musical theme it created has been preserved. To mark its 50 years, there are plans for a CD box-set. Here Dick Mills and Mark Ayres, who both worked there, use the surviving equipment to revive four sounds from the past.
One pluck of a guitar string became the famous Dr Who bass line. Derbyshire and Mills sped it up and slowed it down to get the different notes, and these were cut to give it an extra twang on the front of every note.
“It slides up to the note every time if you listen carefully,” says Mills. “Delia fabricated the baseline out of two or three lines of tape. You’d be scrabbling around the floor saying ‘Where’s that half-inch of tape I wanted to play on the front of that note?'” Every sound generated by the workshop and used in radio or television is preserved, partly in thanks to archivist Mark Ayres, who worked there while a student.