The Radiophonic Workshop’s 5 Essential Radiophonic Pioneers

For our inaugural 5 Essential feature a month back, Bonafide’s savviest staffers selected a handful of new voices in the rap scene we felt deserving of veneration. In this second instalment, we’re switching things up and are delighted to be welcoming a guest entry from veteran sonic mavericks, The Radiophonic Workshop.

For those in need of an introduction, The Radiophonic Workshop were a group of experimental composers, sound engineers and musical innovators founded by Desmond Briscoe and Daphne Oramborn at the BBC in the late 1950’s. Their experimental tinkerings and sonic manipulations led to iconic soundtracks for many popular tv shows, most notably the Doctor Who theme. But they’ve also influenced countless musical behemoths; Pink Floyd and Prince through to Aphex Twin and Four Tet to name a few. 

What on earth does Radiophonic mean? You may ask. It was essentially a way of describing new possibilities born of creating and warping sound. It was music that you didn’t hear normally. It was truly experimental. It would become known as simply, ‘electronic music’.

Having released their first album in 30 years (Burials in Several Earths a haunting mesh of uncanny soundscapes and poetic oeuvres, check it out) TRW have offered us a hot list of those they themselves consider to be true innovators in sound. And here they are: The 5 Essential Radiophonic Pioneers according to The Radiophonic Workshop.


(The Radiophonic Workshop are at The British Library, this Friday 13th October featuring a full visual experience alongside guest DJ Tom Middleton and Martyn Ware of The Human League. More info here)

Treatise (Live in Prague 1967) – Cornelius Cardew
Cardew was one of that group of musical pioneers who came after the war, educated, inspired by the deconstructed musical experiments of Boulez and Stockhausen, Cage and Tudor, but who was able to bridge across all of the emerging disciplines from micropolytonalism to tape manipulations.

This track, Treatise isn’t radiophonic as such but does present some of the ideas that influenced the Workshop indirectly, including found sounds and the principles of musique concrete that shaped the Workshop’s early output for radio. Sonic Youth also covered this work.


Toupie dans le ciel (Erosphère) – François Bayle
Bayle was a true visionary in terms of electronic composition and someone whose work is one of the cornerstones of radiophonic work. He was schooled in the tradition of musique concrete and studied with Messiaen, Schaeffer and Karlheinz Stockhausen. It was during his time with the French national TV and then with the GRM (Groupe de Recherches Musicales) that he made much of his classic work – similar in many ways to the remit of the Workshop. The material that came from his own Studio Magison was extraordinarily daring.


The Tardis – Brian Hodgson
Brian is one of the great radiophonic composers and sound designers. The way he thought about sound and what it was possible to do with it set the agenda for what would become sound design as a discipline in its own right. He was also part of the influential White Noise project with David Vorhaus and Delia Derbyshire.


Festival Time – John Baker
John was a wonderful, slightly little eccentric and very English radiophonic composer. He understood tape manipulation in a way that brought humour and swing to it and in this piece you can hear his jazz feel coming through. Machines are not very good at ‘swing’ unless you tell them how to do it. John made tape loops dance and syncopate. Rhythms were very much part of his work.


Discreet Music – Brian Eno
Discreet Music is the album where the essence of electronic music as a specific mood tool was perfected. Eno’s music has the space and the elegance to be neither here nor not here. It lulls and soothes but has a very deep humanity about it. This is something not all electronic composers have. Eno has always understood the absurd beauty of it all and it is there in his work. Eno helped legitimise the idea of music as a mood enhancing drug and crossed the barriers between music and sound design.


The Radiophonic Workshop can be seen performing classics and pieces from Burial in Several Earth’s at The British Library, this Friday 13th October featuring a full visual experience alongside guest DJ Tom Middleton and Martyn Ware of The Human League. More info here.


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