They may still be smarting over their licence fee settlement, but the British Broadcasting Corporation still has enough cash to revive its legendary Radiophonic Workshop.
News of the workshop’s return comes as a huge surprise given its 14 years hiatus, with most of us assuming it had closed permanently. Established back in 1958, the BBC’s experimental audio department was a hotbed of experimentation in all things FX and synthesis, providing groundbreaking effects and music for long-running BBC series from The Goon Show through Tomorrow’s World to, most famously, Doctor Who.
At its height, the workshop was home not only to a range of seriously talented musicians and engineers, including Malcolm Clarke, Roger Limb, Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire, but also some seriously cool synths. Much of the workshop’s initial output was created using custom-built oscillators and sound processors – basically experimental scientific instruments – but later association with now-defunct British synth manufacturer EMS means that the workshop’s work is inextricably linked with legendary synths such as the VCS3 and the huge custom-modified Synthi 100 Delaware (pictured).
It closed its doors in March 1998 – a casualty of then Director General John Birt’s internal reforms. But its spirit has lived on, both among musicians and sound designers. UK sample godfather Ian Boddy is a particular fan of the workshop’s output, with a number of his Waveform products recreating the golden era of output.
Although it’s unclear what form the reborn RW will take (it will be online, instead of ‘confined to rooms full of equipment’), or exactly when it will open its virtual doors, we’ll be watching this space keenly for more…
Toybox. I want to take this tour!