The BBC Radiophonic Workshop made the famous science fiction theme tune and worked with the Beatles. Now it is preparing to make history
The Radiophonic Workshop has always broken new sonic ground, from the Doctor Who theme to the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Now they’re at it again – this time using the internet as a musical instrument.
A performance of Latency will take place at a special online event on 22 November using a technique inspired by lockdown Zoom calls. The band includes composers from the original BBC Radiophonic Workshop, which created soundtracks for most BBC shows from the 60s to the 90s and influenced generations of musicians from Paul McCartney, Pink Floyd and Mike Oldfield to Aphex Twin, Orbital and Mary Epworth.
“The idea [of playing the internet] reflected our time,” said workshop member Peter Howell. “We’re all subject to the internet now in a way that we never thought we would be. And Bob and Paddy came up with an idea that is literally using what we’re all relying on for a creative purpose, using something that we’ve all taken for granted but in an artistic way.”
The internet has an unpredictable natural lag, or latency, caused by the milliseconds it takes for electrical signals from one computer to reach another, as anyone using Zoom has experienced.
The trick that Earland and Kingsland discovered was that they could extend the internet’s delay from a few milliseconds into several seconds. Instead of trying to play at the same time, the Radiophonic Workshop will play one after another – in sequence, rather than in parallel.
“We had the bright idea of using that latency to make a loop of music,” Earland said. “The sound gets sent to someone, and they add to it, and it keeps going round. So you’re not relying on everyone being on the same clock.”By James Tapper, from The Guardian, 15 Nov