The New Sound Of Music

A 1979 BBC documentary about the history of electronic music.

“Is this the music of the future, or a case of the emperor’s new clothes?”

So asks TV’s Mr Science, Michael Rodd of 1968’s Queen Elizabeth Hall performance of Partita for Unattended Computer, created by Peter Zinovieff. Given that the question appears in a 1979 BBC documentary, you might think that the question had perhaps already been answered by that point. After all, electronic music had already been around for some time – the programme looks at the Doctor Who theme and the work of the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop, as well as referencing Pink Floyd and opening with footage of Rick Wakeman hammering away during a Yes concert. But despite the increasing use of synthesisers and electronics by prog acts and experimental artists from David Vorhaus (shown here creating works on his Maniac and Kaleidophon inventions) and Throbbing Gristle (unsurprisingly absent here) in the 1970s, the documentary still seems to be exploring the cutting edge of musical creation. Of course, electronic music was about to break big even as this dry buy fascinating documentary was broadcast, and has probably proved itself to have staying power, even if the sort of hardcore electronics shown here remain a niche interest.

Anyway, this is good stuff, as removed from the flashily empty documentaries of modern BBC broadcasts as you could imagine, and full of very serious-looking engineers creating fascinating sounds.

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