Thursday, October 23, 2003

Last night I watched a wonderful programme on the BBC radiophonic workshop. It was a unit which provided all the strange and spooky electronic music for BBC TV and radio shows from the late 1950's onwards. This was in the days before synthesisers and samplers, so they had to invent new ways of making music, mainly by using banks of tape machines, which they loop or cut up to create the desired sounds. The most famous example of their work in this country is the theme music for Dr Who, but the programme was packed with examples of their work, many of which bought back very distant memories of TV viewing in my youth.

Much of the music still sounded amazingly contemporary and inventive and it was interesting to hear about the flood of complaints which some of their "music" attracted at the time. It seemed that things were never quite the same once more sophisticated machinery became available to them. The lack of equipment prompted amazing ingenuity and creativity which was sadly lost when things changed in the 1970's. A few months ago the BBC broadcast a play focusing on the enigmatic Delia Derbyshire, one of the most creative members of the team, it charted he disillusionment with the changing face of the BBC, which prompted her early departure from the team. It also focused on her delight and amazement when years later she was hailed as a inspiration by the likes of Stereolab and Aphex Twin.

The pleasure I took from watching that programme, was a stark contrast to the sadness I felt earlier in the day, when I read about the death of Elliott Smith. I became aware of his work when Elvis Costello mentioned the Either/Or album in his list of albums of the year for 1997. I picked up a copy, which took a couple plays before the full scope of his talent crept up on me. We then saw him supporting Belle and Sebastian in Nottingham, well heard rather than saw, as he was sitting on a chair, so I only really saw the top of his hat. We also saw him hanging around at The Bowlie (although he was not performing), where our friend Stuart had a brief chat with him. The subsequent albums were good but he never became the star, which he was tipped to be, in hindsight that appears to be down his determination to remain his own man, coupled with the drink and drugs problems which I was unaware off before yesterday's shocking development.


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