DELIA & BRIAN: KPM 1104 & WHITE NOISE

It's the 50th Anniversary of the formation of that influential institution, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. It's over a decade ago since the doors on that Maida Vale studio closed for good but many of us regard it as one of the greatest achievements of the BBC, a fascinating meeting point for the demands of radio and television production and the anarchic, surreal and experimental thinking of its resident sound designers and composers such as Brian Hodgson, Delia Derbyshire, Dick Mills, Desmond Briscoe et al. Here's Dick and current custodian of what remains of the Worskhop, Mark Ayres, on BBC News having a natter about the good old days.



To acknowledge the anniversary, I'm more than delighted to review two quintessential albums for you Radiophonics, Delia and Brian fans out there.

KPM 1104 Electrosonic

Essentially, if you love all those weird synthesiser tonalities from 'Doctor Who' circa 1970 then this is for you. A series of very short mood pieces from Delia, Brian and Australian musician Don Harper composed for the library and probably used in countless television programmes of the era. 'Frontier Of Knowledge', the fourth track, sounds like it could fit in with 'Spearhead From Space' or 'Terror Of The Autons' and this and a later track 'Nightwalker' conjurs up those odd moments in the programme when armchairs would swallow people or troll dolls would go on the rampage. 'The Pattern Emerges' is an unnerving ascending and descending mood piece which is not quite as pastoral as the sleeve notes describe. 'Plodding Power' and 'Busy Microbes' again have that surreal ambience that the composers at the Workshop seemed to imbue all their cues with at the time.'Depression' is just like the theme for the Master but extended and given even more sinister undertones. This album also recalls the pioneering work on the radio adaptations of 'War Of The Worlds' or the special sound for plays such as 'The Stone Tape'.

At the time this was fairly cutting edge stuff, a spare, electronic musique concrete to match the likes of Wendy Carlos or Stockhausen and its influence goes beyond television and radio production and into pop and rock music composition, affecting artists as diverse as The Human League and Aphex Twin and seminal soundtracks such as John Carpenter's 'Assault On Precinct 13'. It may have a nostalgic charm but some of the tones and moods here remain very contemporary.

John Cavanagh (BBC Radio, Phosphene, author of The Piper at the Gates of Dawn) unearthed the Electrosonic tracks made in 1972, licensed these recordings and released them commercially for the first time on his Glo-Spot label. His sleeve notes are detailed and paint a lovely, personal picture of Delia in particular. This is a limited edition run of 1000 copies as I understand it.

Electrosonic (KPM 1104 originally released in 1972. Re-released 2006, Glo-spot 1104 CD)

White Noise - An Electric Storm

From the sublime to...well...the sublime with this 1969 album from White Noise. The album was brought to life by David Vorhaus, an American electronics student. He attended one of Delia Derbyshire's lectures, and then with her and Brian's help he decamped to Kaleidophon Studios in Camden to compose what is surely one of the great British sound experiments of all time.

An avant-garde whirlwind of sounds, effects, songs and synthesisers. 'Love Without Sound' is a sound clash of echoing vocals, dogs barking, weird electronic noises and a nursery rhyme reading. 'My Game Of Loving' is all French mutterings, Beach Boys style wall of sound stylings and an orgy. Yes, an orgy. Lots of panting, ooohing and aahhing that gets sped up and then merges with the plinky-plonk sounds and French whispering. It's as mad as a box of frogs. 'Here Come The Fleas' is bouncy electronics, cartoon sound effects and skiffle and a bit of avant-garde poetry. The kazoo electronic break is shattered by more dogs, bits of shouting and sirens. It's the equivalent of letting Spike Milligan loose in a room full of synthesisers and sampling machines. 'Firebird' moves into English pastoral psychedelia with treated drums, what sounds like a harpsichord and some distant female crooning laced with electronic stabs straight out of 'Forbidden Planet'.

The final half of the album moves into darker territory with what sounds like the Weed creatures from 'Fury From The Deep' dueting with Juliet Greco. Lovely electronic washes and organs. The 11 minute plus of 'The Visitations' is all Doctor Who sound effects, free form sound collages, synthetic screeching and swirling, pulsing heart beats which sounds like 'Quatermass And The Pit' meets Brian Eno via The Kinks. It's fantastic. The finale, 'The Black Mass' is off the wall, vari-speed incantations, organs and frenetic percussion, electronic buzzes and pulses and screams. There's even a sound effect in there that I recognise from 'Timeslip' and 'The Tomorrow People'.

This ocean of dark, poppy lullabies must have had an effect on bands like Hawkwind, Tangerine Dream, Can and Eno himself and later The Chemical Brothers, I would suggest. This remastered release comes with superb liner notes from Mark Powell who charts the history of the album and the subsequent careers of Delia, Brian and David.

White Noise - An Electric Storm (Originally released 1969 Island ILPS 9099 - re-released 2007 on Universal/Island Remasters CD 9843197)

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