One of the highlights of LEAF’s first edition was the incredible live performance by the unsung pioneers of British electronic music, the (née BBC) Radiophonic Workshop. It therefore brings us great pleasure to welcome them back to the festival, where two of their staple members, Roger Limb and Paddy Kingsland, will take part in an onstage Q&A as part of LEAF Cinema’s screening of 2006 doc Pierre Henry: The Art of Sounds. They’ll be discussing a career that saw the Workshop produce some 3000 hours of recorded material, including the iconic Doctor Who theme and sounds and music for shows such as Blake’s 7 and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy.
We chatted to Roger and Paddy ahead of the event about their whirlwind introduction to the live festival scene, their thoughts on Musique Concrete, and their reaction to their influence on today’s wave of electronic musicians…
The Radiophonic Workshop effectively ceased to exist from 1998. What drew you back after all these years?
RL: We all continued to pursue careers in music and recording after the Workshop was shut down (in 1998). We were in touch from time to time as you do and we slowly became aware that there was a residual interest in the music and sound that came out of the Workshop over the years. So when a proposal was aired about new material and concerts featuring some of the music we’d created over the years we thought “Why not?” WE have been inspired by the reaction we get and what began very tentatively has become something very exciting. We are all working on new material and it has helped us to connect with people who have been inspired by some of the things we did.
PK – I left the Workshop in 1981 so had been away from it for almost 28 years when we did the first reunion show at the Roundhouse in 2009 as part of the Short Circuit Festival. It was our first ‘gig’ as such, and a frightening prospect at the time. But it worked well so it gave us the confidence to take it further. Albeit 4 years later!
What have been the highlights of the past 18 months or so of touring, performing and recording?
RL – And rehearsing! It takes a lot of rehearsal time to get all this equipment to do what we need it to. I think the highlights have been the way the group has gelled into a very efficient musical unit despite members coming from such different musical backgrounds. Remember that the Workshop was very much about us as unique composers. We rarely worked together even though we were in the same department. You’d see people at lunch in the canteen perhaps but then it was back to our studios where we worked. The reception we have got from audiences has been hugely rewarding. It has brought us a chance to travel and visit unfamiliar places in the UK and Europe and to play at some of the great festival institutions such as Glastonbury. If anyone had told me we the Radiophonic Workshop would play at Glastonbury I would have laughed at them. To be part of the festival circuit was fabulous, whether it was the mud and rain of Glastonbury or the heat of high summer at WOMAD.
PK – For me working with the new members of the team and being inspired by their energy and commitment has been a richly rewarding and unexpected bonus. Glastonbury was huge amounts of fun and I personally loved doing Festival number 6. It is unique. We’ve done it twice now. WOMAD was another highlight. The sound system was extraordinary and we actually managed that one in surround sound. It was also great to visit BBC Maida Vale again to record a session for Marc Riley at Radio 6. It is strange to walk through those doors again after all these years. It really hasn’t changed much and they still had some of the old gear there in a cupboard too.
Tell us a little about your take on Pierre Henry. Why do you think he has been such an influence on electronic musicians?
RL – He was one of the true pioneers of electronic music; of musique concrete in particular. His influence comes, I think, from his wide and eclectic musical taste; the way he has incorporated found sounds into the sound palate of rock music and electronica for example and the bold reappraisal of music from the Classical repertoire all add to his significance and his originality.
PK- I think his early work with Pierre Shaeffer tells us a great deal about his contribution to the birth of electronic music. Le Voile d’Orphee is amazing and rather wonderful especially when you consider the context. He made it in 1953, five years before the Workshop came into existence.
LEAF’s ‘Beats on Film’ strand celebrates electronic music in cinema. What’s your favourite depiction of or use of electronic or dance music in film?
PK- I think the score for the BBC series Silent Witness by Sheridan Tongue is very effective because it adds so much to the overall emotional tone of the show without detracting from the production as a whole, making it a true collaboration. Good music to picture and sound design should be seamless and perfectly in sympathy with the intention of the director.
RL – Electronics, sampling, computers and some of the software based electronic techniques have revolutionised the way the rhythms of dance music are created in the studio. Elsewhere, especially in the world of film and TV electronic music has to be carefully handled, but when it’s done subtly it works beautifully. It still has to be created and thought about. I think what we did and still do at the Workshop has always been focused around composition and the way sound works with visual imagery to make us feel something. It is an extraordinary process really.
Can you tell us about some of the projects and recordings you’re working on at the moment?
RL – With the Radiophonic Workshop we’re working on tracks for the album and writing commissioned material for some of our 2015 gigs. The aim is to finish the new record with possibly more recording and collaborations in the autumn. The Radiophonic Workshop are working with artists such as Ghostpoet, Martyn Ware, Paul Hartnoll, Andrew Weatherall, Tom Middleton and others.
PK – I think we’re all doing side projects as well as recording radiophonic material. I have a new track called Wireless – a homage to British radio pioneers – that has a bit of Radiophonic twist. I am also working on an animation project and an album of gospel songs. It’s all as diverse as it ever was at the Workshop.
Pierre Henry: The Art of Sounds + The Delian Mode + The Secret World of Foley + Radiophonic Workshop Q&A takes place at the Genesis Cinema, Whitechapel, 7.45 – 10.15pm on Saturday 7th March. Tickets are £10 from Ticket Tannoy.