Happy birthday Radiophonic Workshop! Not the first specialist electronic music studio in the world, but one of the most innovative and certainly the most influential. Even if you’ve never heard of it, the sheer range of extraordinary sounds the Workshop inserted into the national musical unconscious over the four decades of its life is unarguable - from that Doctor Who theme to Quatermass and the Pit. Hundreds of radio and TV programmes and dozens of albums of special effects.
The Workshop got started in its Maida Vale home on this day in 1958, although its various engineers and artists were already working together and creating sounds for programmes using the simple tools of the day. Naturally enough, the Third Programme was critical to the early history of the workshop and the one of the earliest programmes to make use of its exotic, synthetic sounds was a fifty-minute ‘radiophonic poem’ by BBC radio drama producer Frederick Bradnum (that’s him in the bottom photo), broadcast in October of the previous year (earlier still was a Third Programme Beckett commission). In the pictures you’ll see Daphne Oram, Donald McWhinnie, Desmond Briscoe, Richard Bird and Frederick Bradnum. Click the pictures for the original, more detailed, captions.
Here’s a useful history of the Workshop and an article about the many female composers and engineers who worked there. BBC Research & Development have rebuilt some of the audio tools used by the Workshop online and a group of engineers and musicians have started a New Radiophonic Workshop.