The UK electronic music scene lost its pioneer Tristram Cary this week, so it’s the perfect time to look back again at the marvels of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. Low-budget but long-running Doctor Who is unlikely to be remembered for breaking new ground in, say, fancy props, sets, or visual effects (though they did plenty with what they had). But when it comes to sound and music, the BBC’s DIY approach to sound, ranging from Who to "serious" classical music (even my composition teacher Thea Musgrave worked there) remains significant today.
The BBC is again offering a look inside the storied workshop, now at its 50th birthday. (As their designs stand the test of five decades, I think perhaps electronic sound isn’t just about novelty after all.)
And one of their best finds? A lampshade.
Four sound effects that made TV history [ BBC News Magazine; happily this video works worldwide]
Thanks to Andy Tekkaz for the tip.
Yes, the green lampshade pictured above was Delia Derbyshire’s favorite toy to sample, a reminder that sometimes the non-electrified object is an electronic composer’s best friend. Other gems: the room for the largest synth the BBC ever owned, ominously titled "The Delaware" like some kind of WWII aircraft carrier, which wouldn’t fit through the door. Or room #12, in which the Doctor Who theme was born. Or what must be the world’s oddest home-built mixer, encased in plexiglass. Or, below, the suitcase synth the Workshop custom-built. (Note the prominence of EMS VCS3 synths, designed by Tristram Cary.) Updated: Okay, I was confused as well by the terminology "custom-built" in regards to the synth (evidently a Synthi-A), but then again, given the relationship between EMS and BBC, it’s possible the Radiophonic Workshop was the initial customer. Anyone have any idea?
Host and Radiophonic vet Dick Mills also settles any lingering controversy about how you make a Dalek voice: it’s what (I think) is a VCS3, a ring modulator tuned to 30 Hz, and a little bass attenuation (Dick corrects his colleague on that). If that doesn’t sound like a Dalek, you’re probably not shouting enough.