In terms of musicality, BBC Radiophonic Workshop - 21 isn’t likely to be the sort of thing one puts on for groovy background tunes at a party. Honestly, the 21 record is really more of a historical document than an album, featuring as it does a vaguely chronological collection of pieces from the first 21 years of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop’s history on the a-side. Given that the majority of the Workshop’s early work wasn’t so much musical as background effects, what you have here is far more experimental tones. It’s musique concrete, rather than concrete melodies.
Granted, one does get the occasional musical theme: Delia Derbyshire’s immortal theme for Dr. Who makes the cut, obviously, but so does Peter Howell’s “Greenwich Chorus,” used as the theme for The Body in Question. Main themes such as these are rather rare, however. For the most part, few of the tracks break the two-minute mark, if 60 seconds.
One can either put this on as a way to demonstrate what one used to do with tape and a razor blade and very steady hands before electronic instruments such as the synthesizer made their appearance on the scene, or simply as a way to drive one’s cats absolutely batty. If you’ve ever spun Bebe and Louis Barron’s Forbidden Planet score, 21’s first side is like that, but even more diversified.
The second side is more melodic, utilizing as it did the then-latest technological marvels for composition. It sounds delightfully old-fashioned at this remove, but at the time, we're sure it was as if the future was pouring out of your speakers. As it is, the fact that the Workshop used these synthesizers and keyboards in such a restrained manner is what keeps them from being absolute antiques. There’s a sense of pushing things to their limits in terms of what they can do, but these men and women were professionals, by God, and they knew how to act like it.
This reissue sounds amazing. It’s crystal clear, and there’s no sense of some of these recordings pushing 60 years old. The artwork and liner notes are identical to the original release, although we’re fairly certain the lilac colored vinyl on which it’s pressed is a new bit of flair. If you don't already own this, and consider yourself a student of scores and genre music, this is a must-own.
BBC RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP – 21 (1979) / COMPOSER: BBC RADIOPHONIC WORKSHOP / PUBLISHER: SILVA SCREEN / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW