Sunday, 13 March 2016

An Electric Storm: Daphne, Delia and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop

Ned Netherwood
Obverse Books

With extensive access to the Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire archives, and interviews with associates and members of the original BBC Radiophonic Workshop, this book contains all you need to know about the innovative and experimental geniuses who were responsible for a golden age of electronic music in Britain and some of the most famous sounds to be heard on UK television.

The author of this brand new book detailing the history and the releases of BBC Radiophonic Workshop produces a very enjoyable webzine called Was Ist Das.  It's filled with knowledgeable and insightful reviews written in an engaging and warm style and is one of the best experimental music zines online.  I have two reason for mentioning this. Firstly, to get you to check it out but also so I can point out to you that this book is essentially a fanzine.  A long one admittedly but essentially a fanzine.

Netherwood is obviously a fan and the book comes alive during the second (slightly more than) half of the book where he reviews a great number of the releases from the workshop - although there are some glaring omissions including the recently released 50th anniversary box sets.

The main problem lies in the first (slightly less than) half of the book where he fits the entire 40 year history of the Workshop and the 17 years since into a mere 97 pages.  Much of the first decade goes by in a series of brief descriptions of a number of the employees.  Relationships, recordings, equipment, techniques, gossip, collaborations, hirings and firings are all, at best, glossed over in a headlong rush to the end.

It's a real shame.  The only other readily available book on the Workshop is Louis Neibur's 'Special Sound: The Creation and Legacy of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop' which is informative regarding the gear and the notation but his writing is as cold as a polar bears unmentionables.  Netherwood's writing is the opposite but his book is utterly lacking in the rigour of it's predecessor.

So, is this worth getting?  Yes, absolutely.  It'll be particularly rewarding if you're a newcomer to the unparallelled joys of Delia, John, Paddy and co but long term fans are unlikely to find anything new here, particularly in the first section.  It's a worthwhile and noble effort but one that I think needed more development and much more information.  I keep coming back to the simple equation of 57 years into 97 pages which speaks volumes about the level of detail contained within.

One day someone will marry Neibur's academic rigour with Netherwood's fan driven readability to produce the biography the Workshop deserves but until then this one and it's predecessor will suffice.

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