Bush House Soundscapes


The closure of Bush House, home to the BBC World Service since December 1940, has provoked two wonderful soundscape projects.

Firstly, World Service studio manager Robin The Fog used recordings made in Bush House at night to create The Ghosts of Bush. “Here, atmospheric noises are slowed down and looped, with the help of some of the World Service’s ancient reel-to-reels, to form a piece of beautiful, warm spatial exploration. Chords swell and harmonic patterns emerge out of the building’s crepuscular creaking or Robin’s whistling, using the labyrinthine Portland stone corridors of the building, at one time the most expensive in the world, as a giant reverb tank.” (The Quietus, 2012).

Secondly, Creative Director of the re-launched Radiophonic Workshop Matthew Herbert created a soundscape for the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

Listen to Matthew discussing his Sonic Tribute To Bush House here
Listen/download The Ghosts of Bush here

Ludwig Koch and the Music of Nature

Ludwig Koch was once as famous as David Attenborough, as pioneering as ‘Blue Planet’ and as important as the BBC Natural History Unit. They all owe their existence to this German refugee who first recorded the music of nature. Through his archive and new field recordings the poet Sean Street tells the story of Ludwig Koch.

When Sean Street was recording in a store-room at the Science Museum for a Radio 4 archive programme he came across a grey crate, stencilled, as if it belonged to a band on tour, with KOCH on it. This was the disc-cutting machine which Ludwig Koch used for a decade to make the recordings of birds, mammals and insects that led to a new field of study, of broadcasting and the creation of the BBC’s Natural History Unit.

Sean and his producer then began investigating and discovered that Koch made the first ever wildlife recording, of a bird, when he was eight, in 1889 – and that it still exists in the BBC’s archives.

Koch was an effusive man and this led to several confrontations with Nazi officials, whom he despised. There is an extraordinary recording of him telling the story of a Berliner whose bullfinch sang ‘The Internationale’. He was carted off to prison and the bird ‘executed’. “Under dictatorship,” Koch observed, “even songbirds suffer”. He came to England, worked with Julian Huxley on theories of animal language, and recorded birds from the Scillies to Shetland.

In 1940 he joined the BBC and soon became a household name, beloved of comedians (there’s a great sketch by Peter Sellers parodying him at work) because of his resolute pronunciation of English as if it were German.

As well as being wonderful radio in itself his work was of great significance. It inspired producer Desmond Hawkins to start ‘The Naturalist’, (using Koch’s enchanting recording of a curlew as its signature tune). Sean Street uses his recordings and contributions of those who worked with him in what becomes a natural history programme in itself, with Koch the subject and Sean exploring his habits and habitat.

There is also an attempt to record curlews as he did so successfully, to shed light on the achievements of this courageous, influential and loveable genius. Today sound-recordists use tiny digital machines and sophisticated microphones. But there are other problems – traffic, planes, people – and fewer, shyer curlews.

Listen to the programme here
Producer: Julian May.

Out of Silence

Curiously, the word silent is an anagram of the word listen! In this edition of Something Understood the poet Seán Street reflects upon what can be heard in silence and the difference in its nature from stillness – the difference, perhaps, between doing and being.

Using poetry, prose and music, as well as some extracts of innovative international radio, Seán explores the positive and negative aspects of the subject, the ‘magic silence of possibility’, the peace and calm it brings in a noisy world, the silence of loneliness, alienation – and when keeping silent is sometimes tantamount to complicity. ‘The words “Silent” and “Listen” are anagrams of one another,’ says Seán. ‘That is perhaps very significant. I want to explore as far as I can the poetry that lies in silence, the point where sound and silence come together, as in the tolling of a bell, the place matter and spirit merge.’

With reference to the words of Rupert Brooke, John Berger and Rachel Muers and music by John Cage, Bob Chilcott, Jonathan Harvey, Erberhard Weber, Pink Floyd and Miles Davis.

Listen to the programme here
Produced by Alan Hall
A Falling Tree Production for BBC Radio 4

Music and Technology


Music has always evolved with technology but have the advances always been beneficial?

With news of the forthcoming release of an album entirely composed by a computer what will be left of the creative process for musicians?

Many other musicians have used the latest technology to ‘push the outside of the envelope’ of music, creating sounds and ways of listening previously unknown to man.

In a special edition of Click from the BBC Radio Theatre, presenter Gareth Mitchel and technology specialist Bill Thompson, focus on music and technology.

They are joined by a panel of experts, including the soundscape artist, Martyn Ware – founder member of The Human League and Heaven 17; the technophile composer Alexis Kirke, who has been called “the Philip K Dick of contemporary music”; and the experimenting pianist Sarah Nicolls, who plays on her own ‘Inside-Out Piano’ and triggers music via sensors on her muscles.

Listen to the programme here