The Radiophonic Workshop - Burials in Several Earths (Room 13 Records)
10” boxset / CD
9 / 10
Review by Ioan.
To many, The Radiophonic Workshop need no introduction. But if you are a newcomer to this home of experimentation, noisescapes and innovation, then have a quick read of this before proceeding.
The Radiophonic Workshop was founded in 1958 by Desmond Briscoe and Daphne Oram as the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and was home to a maverick group of experimental composers, sound engineers and musical innovators. Based in a series of small studios within the corridors of the BBC Maida Vale complex, the Workshop set about exploring new ways of using - and abusing (!) – technology to create new sounds.
Drawing on the principles of musique concréte, found sounds, early electronics, oscillators, handmade synths and tape loops the Workshop created the other-worldly soundtrack to some of BBC television and radio’s most iconic programs: The Body in Question, Horizon, Quatermass, Newsround, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, Chronicle and the iconic Doctor Who Theme which is still the high-water mark for British electronic music nearly 50 years after it was recorded. Now, nearly two decades after the Workshop was decommissioned, original members Peter Howell, Roger Limb, Dr Dick Mills, Paddy Kingsland and long-time associate composer Mark Ayres are back working together.
From the start of the title track, the immediately recognisable dread inspiring layers of sound so associated with the Workshop are there and already they unsettle. The deep throbbing electronica could soundtrack any contemporary sci-fi or horror film and give John Murphy or Ben Salisbury and Geoff Barrow a run for their money. As it comes to a finish, the fear is somehow already entwined.
Things Buried in Water follows and is a piano led piece with big echoey stereophonic effects. Layered on top are ‘Numbers Station’ inspired sounds that transform into the haunting analog bleeps and spurts that the Workshop is so famed for. Gentle, watery effects bring the track back down to earth (so to speak).
Some Hope of Land is a set of experimental sounds that take the listener on bizarre and unsettling adventures. The effects ebb and flow with the playful analog sounds and the devastating electronica. Just beautifully weird.
Not come to light is the audio equivalent of a spaceship slowly landing on a seemingly uninhabited plant. There is an overwhelming creeping dread evoked by the electronica that is so seamlessly entwined with the historical emotions it’s music and effects created in the unprepared minds of the 50s and 60s listeners.
Final track The Stranger’s House has a John Carpenter esque keyboard progression that leads onto some guitar backing and a creeping piano accompaniment. And all throughout there is the ever present creep of the ominous metronome keeping time in the background. The track descends into unsettling, otherworldly sounds with the metronome speeding up and the electric guitar and piano taking us to the final finish line.
Across the six tracks, the width and breadth of experimentation and ability to take oneself off to different planes is both mind boggling and impressive. The Workshop are truly pioneers of soundscapes and effects, and everyone else simply paddles in their wake.