Friday, 21 September 2012

Shock of the New Music

Slumped in front of BBC4 the other evening I caught a re-run of Shock of the New, Australian art critic Robert Hughes' 1980 polemical TV series on the story of modern art. It had been so long since my last encounter with the programme that I had completely forgotten it's opening titles from the same team as early 80s Dr Who; graphics by Sid Sutton and wonderful radiophonic opening by the great Peter Howell. (The rest of the show uses Eno's Music for Airports and Music for Films).

Shock of the New was an excellent series, the more pugnacious younger sibling to John Berger's Ways of Seeing, swirling historical fact with contentious opinion, determined to engage or enrage the viewer. Just watch the first minute if you're not up for an intellectual drubbing from Hughes.

This put me in mind of The New Sound of Music, a terrific documentary on the development of electronic sound. Presenter Alan Partridge, sorry, Michael Rodd, demonstrates the basics of tape manipulation and oscillators, moving from the Victorian barrel organ, via Robert Moog and others, to focus on the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, allowing us a wonderful glimpse of their great composers at work: Peter Howell, Malcolm Clarke (he's got the look), Roger Limb (nice jumper), Paddy Kingsland and Dick Mills, plus electronic oddballs Peter Zinovieff and David Voorhaus. It would benefit form Delia Derbyshire or Daphne Oram's presence but the rest is all good.

Opinion is divided on the BBCs recent decision to revive/rape the corpse of the Radiophonic Workshop online. None of the old guard appears to be involved and the muso snobs have already decided that RW2.0 is a pointless venture in nostalgia. Let's wait and see whether this Next Generation can continue the work of there forebears to boldly go where no composer has gone before.

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