BBC Radiophonic Workshop


The BBC Radiophonic Workshop, one of the sound effects units of the BBC, was created in 1958 to produce effects and new music for radio. Charged with recreating the sounds of real and imagined life as the official sound effects unit for the BBC, the Radiophonic Workshop played a decisive and pioneering role in the development of pop and electronic music. Crammed into the basement of the BBC’s Maida Vale studios where it began life in 1958, the workshop developed a fascination for tape manipulation, musique concrete and primitive oscillators which helped pave the way for synthesizers and digital sampling.
The techniques initially used by the Radiophonic Workshop were closely related to those used in musique concrète; new sounds for programs were created by using recordings of everyday sounds such as voices, bells or gravel as raw material for “radiophonic” manipulations. In these manipulations, audio tape could be played back at different speeds (altering a sound’s pitch), reversed, cut and joined, or processed using reverb or equalisation. The most famous of the Workshop’s creations using ‘radiophonic’ techniques include the Doctor Who theme music, which Delia Derbyshire created using a plucked string, 12 oscillators and a lot of tape manipulation; and the sound of the TARDIS materialising and dematerialising, which was created by Brian Hodgson running his keys along the rusty bass strings of a broken piano, with the recording slowed down to make an even lower sound.
Reverberation was obtained using an echo chamber, a basement room with bare painted walls empty except for loudspeakers and microphones.