BBC radiophonic Workshop: Tape Loops & Tape Replay Setups
Elizabeth Parker and Paddy Kingsland from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in 1979 demonstrate the use of tape loops and tape-replay setups. We hear Elizabeth Parker’s “bubble music” and Paddy Kingsland on the electric guitar with twin Studer tape recorders.
This excerpt is from the BBC documentary The New Sound of Music produced in 1979.
Tape Loops BBC Radiophonic Workshop
Paddy Kingsland demonstrates twin Studer recorders in a delay-replay setup that some might refer to as “Frippertronics’ – named after Robert Fripp I believe. Fripp may have used twin Revox machines in a similar way for some of his compositions. It is an interesting setup, possibly described in some Workshop writings from the 1960s.
The BBC Radiophonic Workshop, one of the sound effects units of the BBC,
was created in 1958 to produce effects and new music for radio.
It was closed in March 1998, although much of its traditional work had already been outsourced by 1995.
The original Radiophonic Workshop was based in the BBC’s Maida Vale Studios
in Delaware Road, London.
We have more on the Radiophonic workshop elsewhere in this blog –
The techniques initially used by the Radiophonic Workshop were closely related to those used in musique concrète; new sounds for programs were created by using recordings of everyday sounds such as voices, bells or gravel as raw material for “radiophonic” manipulations. In these manipulations, audio tape could be played back at different speeds (altering a sound’s pitch), reversed, cut and joined, or processed using reverb or equalisation. The most famous of the Workshop’s creations using ‘radiophonic’ techniques include the Doctor Who theme music, which Delia Derbyshire created using a plucked string, 12 oscillators and a lot of tape manipulation; and the sound of the TARDIS (the Doctor’s time machine) materialising and dematerialising, which was created by Brian Hodgson running his keys along the rusty bass strings of a broken piano, with the recording slowed down to make an even lower sound.
Much of the equipment used by the Workshop in the earlier years of its operation in the late 1950s was semi-professional and was passed down from other departments, though two giant professional tape-recorders (which appeared to lose all sound above 10 kHz) made an early centrepiece. Reverberation was obtained using an echo chamber, a basement room with bare painted walls empty except for loudspeakers and microphones. Due to the considerable technical challenges faced by the Workshop and BBC traditions, staff initially worked in pairs with one person assigned to the technical aspects of the work and the other to the artistic direction.