Hello, Good Evening and Remain Indoors! Or Mindful of Social Distancing Protocols! You may or may not know the BBC Radiophonic Workshop by name, but, if you don’t, you probably know at least some of their work:
Among other things, they’ve worked on most of the music for Doctor Who (and almost all the sound effects, including the Sonic Screwdriver), and some other other projects, mostly in the sci-fi vein, and while they’re no longer officially affiliated with Auntie Beeb, they’re still going (even if some of the most famous members are dead), still working to push the limits of electronic music, and now, they’re outdoing themselves with a new piece called Latency, that will use the Internet itself as an instrument.
And no, this isn’t a case of them deciding a small black box is the entire Internet like in one notorious episode of The It Crowd, it’s a bit more complicated than that. It involves Zoom, like many interpersonal interactions these days. You, see, there’s a natural latency inherent in the technology. While it’s nowhere near the sort of latency that would have been in the video phone scene in 2001: A Space Odyssey if Kubrick hadn’t chosen to edit the gaps out and even managing to make it look seamless in His infinite wisdom (what with the tech being 20-50-plus years advanced, and not having to deal with sending these technology into space), the latency is still enough (even if it is in milliseconds) to make it almost impossible to properly sync up all the instruments (which is why most show that rely on Zoom are pre-recorded).
Bob Earland and Paddy Kingsland decided that the delay could actually be extended from a few milliseconds to several seconds, and, as a result, they will play in sequence rather than parallel, like most musical groups do.
Quoth Bob Earland: “We had the bright idea of using that latency to make a loop of music. The sound gets sent to someone, and they add to it, and it keeps going round. So you’re not relying on everyone being on the same clock. … It does feel like live playing, it’s just that every person has a little bubble of time in which they’re playing live.”
Peter Howell added: “The idea [of playing the internet] reflected our time. We’re all subject to the internet now in a way that we never thought we would be. And Bob and Paddy came up with an idea that is literally using what we’re all relying on for a creative purpose, using something that we’ve all taken for granted but in an artistic way.”
Roger Limb described the piece as: “What I enjoyed was waiting to hear what I’ve done on the previous round, coming up in about five seconds, listening to it, and then reacting to myself.”
The performance will be on the Radiophonic Workshop’s Youtube channel and will premiere on November 22. While they’ve released a couple videos in anticipation of the premiere, this may be the one that captures the feel of the piece, (said the blind monk touching the elephant’s trunk to the other blind monk touching its tail):
I waited a while before writing this, mostly because I wasn’t sure what it was going to be. I had a gut feeling that I was going to compare this to the works of Steve Reich, but will this be the Steve Reich who created a loop of a street preacher saying “It’s Gonna Rain” and explored all the stereophonic possibilities of that one phrase slowly going out of sync with itself? Or was it going to be one of his more accessible works, like Different Trains or Drumming? Well, while I’m not sure what the piece is going to sound like, I’m starting to think it’s more akin to Terry Riley, starting with a simple loop and building on it:
Then again, I could be way off on that. There’s only one way to find out: by tuning in to the Radiophonic Workshop’s Youtube page on November 22.