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In contrast with most European countries, the English weren’t that keen on building studios for electronic music. It is a fact that is all the more surprising, because the English were always found to be people with an open ear to new developments. Nevertheless in 1958 good old British Broadcasting Cooperation (BBC) found it necessary to build their Radiophonic Workshop.
Desmond Briscoe opened the studio on April 1st. With support from drama producers he and Daphne Oram started out on a journey with as only goal producing of imaginative sounds for radio. It wasn’t only electronic; just about any sounds creation was possible. But Oram and Biscoe also created long tracks with electronic and treated sounds. These were the most forward Radiophonic examples. The Radiophonic Workshops became popular, not only amongst radio makers, but also amongst schools. They needed sounds for their children’s imaginations. More and more the Workshop was asked to create sounds, for commercials, radio, drama and documentation. Absolute highlight was a new series for radio which started 1963, named Doctor Who. The theme from Ron Grainer and Della Derbyshire became the Workshops landmark. The series, which would only run for 13 weeks they were told, needed lots of imaginative sounds. The sound of the Tardis created by Brian Hodgson was that new that everyone talked about. More and more sounds and electronics were created for Doctor Who.
Of course the success attracted creative people 'such as David Cain, John Baker, Dick Mills and many others. Until 1970 the studios main ‘instruments’ were tape manipulation and conventional oscillators, but also included a self-built sampler machine. Later on they used the EMS VCS 3 synthesiser, the first English built synthesizer. From that point on others like the Yamaha CS-80 and the Fairlight CMS were used as well. After the series Doctor Who ended (now also on television and as movie) the Workshop became more and more a special effects supplier. But with machines becoming smaller and cheaper other composers outside the studios took over. In the end there wasn’t enough money to carry on and the Radiophonic Workshop was closed in March 1998. Most of the then working composers found their own routes to carry on their activities.
Linked with the Workshop, but working in his own studio was Tristram Cary (1925-2008). He studied composition and played cello and piano. After 1947 he developed his own electronic music studio in London. He had almost no money but the electronic things he needed weren’t that expensive, because there was a lot of war surplus left. In 1954 the BBC commissioned him for ‘sounds’ needed for The Japanese Fishermen, a play to be broadcasted. That led to a new commission, this time from movie director Alexander MacKendrick who needed sounds for his comedy The Lady Killers. From 1967 onwards Cary started to work completely electronic and gave lessons at the electronically studio of the Royal College of Music. Cary met Peter Zinovieff and David Cockerell who were busy creating musical instruments at the Electronic Music Studios (EMS). The group started giving electronic music concerts in London, which were performed by Cary. EMS produced their own synthesizers, the VCS 3 (the Putney) and later on the Synthi A, sequencers and vocoders. Carey moved to Melbourne, unhappy with the pressure of his work. He moved his studio to Adelaide and started giving lessons. When he was 61 he decided to return to freelance music jobs.

Compared to the synthesizers coming out of the US, the relatively small VCS 3 was immediately used by Pink Floyd and the German synthesizer users such as Klaus Schulze and Tangerine Dream.
Parallel to the development of structured electronics as a form of Art, with a capital A, so Art-rock groups increasingly tended to use electronics in their music. Music in the second half of the sixties was a journey, sometimes trip, into the unknown, searching for new horizons. The Beatles were experimenting with sound effects and tapes played backwards and so were other groups. Particularly outstanding were the sound explorations by Pink Floyd, who used electronic effects and quadraphonic sound to explore an area where the normal listener had never been before. Their experimental album Ummagumma made a huge impact on various musicians. Considering this background it’s not strange that Pink Floyd made use of the VCS 3 on their most successful album ever: Dark Side of the Moon. The sounds created with the VCS 3 were credited as ‘far out’.
Not only Pink Floyd used synthesizers and electronics. The symphonic rock groups, such as Emerson, Lake and Palmer had the BIG Moog on stage, but I must say it didn’t make a huge impact on their music, thereby putting the instrument with endless possibilities down to the level of any ordinairy instrument. Another bubbling user of the VCS 3 was Tim Blake, connoisseur and guest teacher for EMS. He used the VCS 3 as space and bubbling machine in the band Gong.
In contrary to the German scene, Britain never had a synthesizer scene. But they used synthesizers in all kinds of music to create the special effects. There was maybe one exception: David Vorhaus. He created a remarkable album: An Electric Strom for his ‘band’: White Noise. The record, constructed with a little help from the Radiophonic Workshop, linked pop music to avant garde. At the time of its release the sound was so new that hardly anyone liked it, except for a few adventurous minds. Even today it’s an outstanding and maybe even timeless record.

But that wasn't all, luckily for the English they had Brian Eno. Eno created all by his own a new sound spectrum, called ambient music. Using synthesizers he made atmospheric sounds with slow pulses. It was music for relaxation, airports and other activities. With people around him he created Fourth World Music: a combination of ethnics, electronics and drones. Exciting music which goes on even today, since Norwegian Niels Petter Molvaer is kind of a follower of this stream. It ought to be said that this ambient music ,wasn’t really new. French composer Erik Satie created his musique d’ameublement, a kind of ambient music avant la lettre. In addation to his own music, Eno helped creating sound atmospherics as a producer for bands like U2 and Talking Heads.

Another record made by Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy had a significant impact: Rainbow Dome Music. Slow developing music with watery sounds cleared the path for future groups such as The Orb. They created sounds, used samples of all kinds and made their own version of electronic music. That gave birth to a new stream of electronics used by groups including The Future Sound of London.
The most exciting music nowadays comes from musicians mostly linked to the Touch music label. This includes sounds from nature set to electronics, guitars treated by effects and laptops or a collection of old vinyl records, sampled and treated to new musical processes. Although the label is English, the sound creators often aren’t: Oren Ambarchi (USA), Christian Fennesz (Austria), Biosphere (Norway), Hilder Gudnad˘ttir (Iceland), Jana Winderen (Norway). Philip Jeck and Chris Watson (England) and many others. Their music is without any doubt more than fascinating.


Daphne Oram at Radiophonic Workshop


Della Derbyshire at Radiophonic Workshop


Tristram Cary


EMS -London

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Floyd's David Gilmour with VCS 3 in Abbey Road


David Vorhaus with Kaleidophon Controller


The Orb


Christian Fennesz