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Radiophonic Workshop comes out of the past

The BBC Radiophonic Workshop was one of the most creative and influential facilities in sound and music for television and radio. This month the New Radiophonic Workshop was launched as an online forum for creativity in sound.

The BBC Radiophonic Workshop was one of the most creative and influential facilities in sound and music for television and radio, inspiring countless electronica artists and technicians growing up in the 1960s, 70s and 80s. This month its spirit was revived as a new Radiophonic Workshop was launched as a virtual institution and online forum for creativity in sound. Fourteen years after the Workshops at the Maida Vale studios finally fell silent, experimental composer Matthew Herbert (pictured) has been appointed Creative Director of the New Radiophonic Workshop. Its new home is the website of The Space, the digital arts service created by the Arts Council and the BBC. Herbert is heading a team of seven musicians and audio practitioners, including sound designer James Mather, composer and instrument maker Max de Wardener and technologist Tony Churnside, a member of BBC R&D. The New Workshop has already completed its first commission, The Sound of The Space. This is a continuous loop of sound and spoken word, made up of audio clips taken from the last 25 projects uploaded to The Space. Herbert has also produced a piece of work to mark the departure of the BBC World Service from Bush House by recording the spaces and equipment in the old studios and offices. Herbert says that in its new virtual form the Radiophonic Workshop is “seeking to acknowledge and document the shift in broadcasting from an impervious, imperious presence to a more democratic, fluid and open system”. He adds that the original Workshop, which operated from 1958 to 1998 (although it was being wound down from 1995 onwards), mostly created sounds and music to represent the future and worlds of the imagination – the theme for Doctor Who being the obvious example – but the situation was different today. “We are in the future now,” he comments. “I can make music by stroking a piece of glass and then send it round the world in seconds.”

Herbert explains that bringing back the Radiophonic Workshop was his pitch to the Arts Council when it approached him to get involved with The Space. “They asked me to think about what sounds like,” he says. “I thought this would be the perfect project to re-launch the Radiophonic Workshop and they asked if I wanted to run it. That was quite scary because there’s such mythology surrounding the Workshop.”
 The New Radiophonic Workshop is looking to build on the democratisation of technology and get people involved in creating new sounds and music, in addition to the work of the core team. There is still a connection with the Workshop’s past and former members will be taking part in an event at the Southbank Centre on 7 October, The Radiophonic Workshop in Public.