Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Music and Movement

This record came in to the Oxfam record department in Exeter the other day with a bunch of spoken word LPs. The second side is particularly interesting given that it is composed by Desmond Briscoe. Along with Daphne Oram, he was the co-founder of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and became its manager in 1960, a post which he held until the appropriately science-fictional year of 1984. Briscoe’s own music for the Workshop is relatively scarce during these years as his energies were mostly directed towards encouraging other composer/engineers to produce remarkable new sound manipulations. This means that he is rather eclipsed by better known figures such as Delia Derbyshire and John Baker, both of whom have achieved posthumous culthood. The music on this record, released in 1966, is particularly welcome, then.

Briscoe, who died towards the end of 2006, had developed an interest in electronic and concrete music through hearing the music of Pierre Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen in the 50s. His own early efforts include two radio collaborations with Samuel Beckett, All That Fall and Embers, and the unnerving sounds which invade the minds of the characters in Quatermass and the Pit. He also provided electronic sounds for several films and television programmes in the 60s and 70s, including Children of the Damned , the 1963 sequel to the John Wyndham based Village of the Damned; The Ipcress File, for which he presumably provided the pulsating electronic tones used to brainwash Michael Caine’s bespectacled spy (‘My name is Harry Palmer’); The Haunting, with its pounding and buckling doors and walls; The Stone Tape, another Nigel Kneale drama which could have been made for the Radiophonic Workshop with its tale of architecture as recording medium; and Phase IV, for which he provided the kind of music which might be made by an intelligent ant hive mind.

The music on this record is the kind of thing that children of a certain age (alright, my age) would have been encouraged to create interpretive dance movements to. There is a scene near the beginning of Georgy Girl which evokes the feel of these freeform imaginative workouts for body and mind. Lynn Redgrave leads the children a merry dance as they ‘do things in space’ to the electronic sounds of Tom Dissevelt (whose LPs Song of the Second Moon and Fantasy in Orbit are well worth seeking out). It’s all rather wonderful. The titles of the different tracks on this record provide a clue to the wonderful worlds which these sounds helped children to imaginatively conjure. A Wish / A Magic Journey, Smoke Rings, Witches, Wizards, Alchemists, Sorcerers, Imaginary Creatures, Underwater Adventure, and of course, Journey Into Space. So if you’re interested in discovering some of the more obscure corners of The Radiophonic Workshop and live in the Exeter area, check the racks of the Oxfam shop in South Street to see if it’s there. Or you can take a look on the Oxfam Online Store here: http://www.oxfam.co.uk/shop/Hub.aspx?catalog=HighStDonated&category=MusicandMovies

LATEST NEWS - it's on Oxfam's e-bay pages here until 31st May.

Meanwhile, imagine you’re on a spaceship, floating and weightless, the Earth a small blue dot dwindling into the vastness of space behind you. Wait ‘til the music starts children...now.

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