Thursday, 23 August 2012

Radio Reviews: 24 August

Before technology, we had to make our own noises, and they were often better

Written by Louis Barfe
Louis-Barfe-newBWNow, when most music has an electronic element, it might seem strange to refer to 'electronic music'. However, it is a very distinct genre, referring to music created largely from tape loops, tone generators and other synthesised sounds.

For many, the term will be synonymous with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, which produced a great deal of famous radio and TV music, including Delia Derbyshire's original version of the Doctor Who theme, but Britain had a thriving electronic music scene away from the BBC studios at Maida Vale too.

Introduced by stand-up comedian Stewart Lee, who billed himself as 'the only radio-friendly E-list celebrity the producers could find who had been to a Stockhausen concert', A Sound British Adventure paid homage to pioneers inside and outside the BBC. Many of the pioneers were demobbed servicemen and women, taking advantage of military surplus equipment to create noises that could be turned into music. The arrival of magnetic tape in the late 1940s made it possible to edit, reverse, speed up and slow down sounds.

Many of the most futuristic and ethereal sounds were created simply. The popping of a cork or snapping of a wooden ruler on a desk could be recorded, pitchshifted and, with painstaking editing, formed into a melody line.

Unsurprisingly, such dedicated activity attracted eccentrics. One of them, Desmond Leslie, is best remembered for a non-musical achievement, as he was the man who stepped forward from the audience of That Was The Week That Was in 1962 and punched Bernard Levin live on air. He was avenging a stinking review given by Levin to his wife, actress and singer Agnes Bernelle. So, it was nice to be reminded of the hinterland behind his ongoing notoriety.

So many television documentaries now are full of irrelevant interviewees and the same old clips, as well as being blighted by smirking narration. The people interviewed in this programme were either the composers themselves or acknowledged experts, and the clips were rare and interesting, while Lee's narration was unobtrusive and affectionate.

My only complaint is that half an hour for this documentary was too short.

Radio 4 morning documentaries, weekdays at 11am and 11.30am.


The Lady sends its condolences to the family and friends of Swindon 105.5FM's breakfast presenter Ron Travolta, who died of a heart attack last week. Travolta, real name Ron Inglis, was described by his fiancée Shirley Ludford, manager of the station, as 'larger than life, passionate and dedicated'.

Follow Louis on Twitter: @LadyWireless or email him at:

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