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The Radiophonic Workshop – Burials In Several Earths

Room 13

The Radiophonic Workshop - Burials In Several EarthsEverybody knows The Radiophonic Workshop. Electronic musicians, eccentric polymaths and computer savants have been tinkering away in the bowels of Maida Vale on and off for the past sixty years, scaring and thrilling at equal turns with their wild and imaginative effects and soundtracks for BBC TV and radio shows. Most famous for genius Delia Derbyshire‘s work on the Dr Who theme, amongst various other 1970s and 1980s productions, things have been quiet on the Workshop front lately. Until now.

This is the first new recording from the Workshop since 1985 and since its decommissioning nearly twenty years ago. Four of the original members are present for this improvised two-disc set, along with The Human League and Heaven 17‘s Martyn Ware and mixing engineer Steve “Dub” Jones. The material is split into what feels like two distinct movements spread across the two discs and the first feels like the ghost of music. Apart from a few tranquil piano moments, this is almost the sound of abandonment.

Imagine in years to come, Maida Vale empty and desolate save for the Workshop’s Room 13 where the members are still buried deep within, unaware of the rest of their colleagues vanishing from the premises. As new sounds are produced and let loose, they wind along the now empty corridors, searching for recognition but gradually diminishing as the concrete consumes the sounds and lays them to rest. More follow and yet more, all vainly questing for an audience, but the doors are closed to the outside and those that are in the building are hanging from their hinges, the floors covered with detritus. The fatigue and sadness inherent in these abandoned rooms somehow infuse the lonely sounds with an aching melancholy; piano droplets leak, metal is brushed and air is forced through various tubes, the drum machines limp as mysterious sounds weave in and out of focus.

The members, if they stop playing or go outside for a breath of fresh air, discover the abandonment and walk off disconsolately, heading for Edgware Road or Kilburn, not looking back, shuffling sadly. Finally, everyone has left and the sounds are left to themselves, now batting against locked doors, gradually morphing into a melange of new sounds as if they have somehow become living things or have taken on the ability to exist outside of human interference. The abandoned building is now subtly alive.

The second disc is almost the antithesis of the first. Imagine all those characters having vanished into the landscape during the first disc happening across one another in some other random place, all infused with the desire to start recording again. Flashes of light and laughter infuse the proceedings. The electronics are insistent and childlike, burbling happily, random notes seeking one another out like a pack of fox cubs tumbling and twisting across a grassy field. Others are more robotic, marching on collapsing legs, stumbling through fords, the surge of water tinkling happily against their metallic coatings. At times there is a brief look back to the kind of swirling metallicisms that made us hide under the covers from Daleks or Cybermen, and when the guitars kick in, it is a real intravenous boost, almost shocking in its dramatic context.

The Radiophonic Workshop is alive again and kicking its way into the vanguard of experimental music in the twenty-first century. You wouldn’t really know that they had been away so long as the ideas that present themselves are as vibrant and visionary as we might expect from some digitally enhanced, bedroom-based whippersnappers. The Workshop still have it and let’s hope this leads to ever more exploratory work.

-Mr Olivetti-

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