Alchemists of Sound

Posted on 20 October 2003 in TV Programmes, Television (No comments)

BBC Four is a television station I never fail to be happy that I pay for. From it's world and folk music coverage, to it's comedy output including the genius that is Curb Your Enthusiasm.

And then there's the documentaries - an often eclectic mixture of subjects from the fall of communism to television.

So it came to pass that this evening I watched a programme I'd recorded last night about the legendary work of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

The Radiophonic Workshop quietly disappeared into history in 1995, rather than the fanfare send off it deserved. It's a bit late, but Alchemists of Sound saw the BBC finally celebrate one it's most interesting departments.

The story of the Radiophonic Workshop is a tale of music like few had ever heard - futuristic and modern theme tunes and sound effects created in the early days by splicing tape and playing the result back in varying speeds, and later with synthesisers and vocoders.

Produced by Victor Lewis-Smith's production company, Associated Redifussion, the programme was a loving tribute to a BBC department who brought us grand masterpieces as the theme tune to Doctor Who, to little titbits as the BBC Radio Sheffield jingle created with a set of cutlery.

The rather quirky presentation of the documentary was also interesting. Clocks set to 7:58 adorned the sets where interviewees were sat, whilst a strange bearded man lurked in the shadows. The clocks were an interesting visual metaphor - 7:58pm being 19:58, 1958 being the year the Radiophonic Workshop was created. No doubt the bearded man was another metaphor, although a bit too clever for me.

Whilst some may decry these rather odd touches, they added a quirky touch to a documentary about a rather quirky, but wonderful BBC department.

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