The Radiophonic Workshop: "It was like being paid to have fun"
From Dr Who to Pink Floyd, the work and influence of the Radiophonic Workshop has resonated far and wide. Now, 32 years after their last album, the Workshop are back with a brand new album
Given its dedication to the advancement of sound, it’s ironic that the BBC Radiophonic Workshop took its cue from a piece of literature dating back centuries. On the wall of Room 13 at BBC’s Maida Vale Studios, its nerve centre of operations, hung a framed segment of Sir Francis Bacon’s New Atlantis, an unfinished novel written in 1624.
“We have also sound-houses, where we practise and demonstrate all sounds, and their generation,” it began, before offering a vision that promised “instruments of music likewise to you unknown” and “diverse tremblings and warblings of sounds”. Rediscovered by Daphne Oram when she co-founded the Workshop in 1958, the text was adopted as an operative manifesto by everyone who worked there.
Over the next 40 years, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop served as a nexus of experimental sound design, creating a vast and unique library of work that took electronica, musique concrète and tape manipulation into the outer reaches. The TV and radio shows for which they composed included Dr Who, The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, Quatermass And The Pit, The Hobbit, Chronicle, Horizon and Tomorrow’s World. There was also a huge range of commissions for schools and educational programmes.