Robert Sandall and Mark Russell in front of the Watts Towers, Los Angeles
I was sad to hear today of the death of the radio presenter Robert Sandall. He co-presented the radio show Mixing It on BBC Radio 3 with Mark Russell for 17 years between 1990 and 2007. It was something of a third channel take on a Peel show, or an aural version of The Wire magazine; an eclectic mix of experimental music which spanned the range from left field pop through abstruse improvisation to modern classical and electronica, with plenty of less easily identifiable hybrids in between. The dual presenter format worked really well, with the two, who had been friends before the genesis of the show, able to engage in an exchange of ideas, which included the odd polite agreement to differ. They were relaxed and agreeable in each others company, and tuning in, you felt like you were being invited to join an interesting and ongoing conversation. There were many great sessions, the odd trip abroad to soak up the music of a particular city or country, and even a compilation CD. Broadly speaking, Russell seemed to come from the classical and more academic end of the spectrum, whereas Sandall approached from the pop perspective. Both were hugely well-informed and wide ranging in their musical reference points, however, but still managed to retain an enthusiasm for and excitement at the discovery of the new. It seemed like a perverse act of self-vandalism on the part of the Radio 3 controllers when they axed the show, a casual discarding of almost two decades worth of accumulated knowledge and experience. It moved over to Resonance for a while, but apparently the BBC got all proprietorial over the name, so they had to go under cover. It was certainly a show which played a significant part in broadening my musical horizons in the 90s. I had many tapes compiled from the programmes, with Robert and Mark’s voices retained to inform me of the artist and track title, and therefore becoming a regular and companionable accompaniment to my listening. This was before the days of computers and broadband (certainly well before the days of my possessing such technological accoutrements, anyway) with their attendant ability to sample a wide range of music, and to listen again to programmes if you didn’t catch them at the time of broadcast. And of course, the ready availability of home computers and laptops (in the West, at least) has in itself completely changed the nature of music, both recorded and performed, a transformation which Mixing It traced over its 17 year history.
There are still some playlists from the latter years of the show available to browse at the BBC Mixing site, and a random trawl highlights the variety of artists the show would feature; familiars and favourites such as Sufjan Stevens, Harry Partch, Fred Frith, Tod Dockstader, Jon Hassell, Charalambides, Rothko, The Residents, Max Eastley, and blimey, what’s this, and extract broadcast on 24th September 2004 of Peter Kember’s collaborations with Delia Derbyshire, made towards the end of her life, and going under the title of EAR and Delia. The last show was broadcast on 9th February and featured Sudden Infant, Twocsinak & DJ Sarah Wilson, Basquiat Strings and Seb Rochford, Deerhoof, Ergo Phizmiz, Do Make Say Think, and a collaboration between Yoko Ono and the Flaming Lips. There was also a session from Vikki Bennet’s project People Like Us (playing at the Arnolfini Gallery during the Bristol Harbourside Festival, by the by – under the title Genre Collage), whose work (though not the session, unfortunately) you can find over at Ubuweb. The final track was, appropriately enough, The Fall singing Over, Over. A lot may have changed during the years in which the show aired, but The Fall always remained a constant.