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Dr Who's music workshop to get a digital makeover


The haunting sounds conjured by the BBC Radiophonic Workshop evoked the ambience of alien worlds and influenced contemporary artists from Orbital to Radiohead.

Now the unit, hailed as a pioneer of experimental electronic music, is to be reborn under a new digital partnership between the BBC and the Arts Council. Established in 1958, the workshop produced sound effects and incidental music for radio and television series including Blake's 7 and The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.

Its most famous creation remains the swooping Doctor Who theme music, produced in 1963 by Delia Derbyshire, who painstakingly cut and pasted sections of analogue tape containing oscillator test tones. The workshop also generated the whooshing sound of the Tardis materialising.

While electronic groups such as Kraftwerk built on the workshop's early use of synthesisers, the unit itself was closed in 1998. Derbyshire died in 2001. Yet their work has been re-released and sampled by generations of musicians and the surviving members performed a one-off concert in 2009 in response to demand from fans.

Yesterday it was announced the renamed New Radiophonic Workshop will compose fresh work as one of the highlights of The Space, a new freely-available digital arts service. Part of the London 2012 Festival, The Space will offer a platform for contemporary artists as well as historically important archive film, accessed on mobile and tablet devices and Freeview.

The New Radiophonic Workshop (NRW) will be led by Matthew Herbert, the electronic composer who has collaborated with Björk and been nominated for an Ivor Novello award for his soundtrack work. "What the [original] workshop achieved was the pinnacle of electronic music in this country, and it is all the more extraordinary given that it was conceived in the 50s," Herbert told The Independent yesterday.

He is already working on his first NRW commission. "The first thing is to define the sound of 'The Space'. There is a black hole in the internet and that is 'sound'," he said. "I'm interested in bringing together musicians and software technicians. You can tell stories in sound that you can't do with images."

He would like original members of the workshop to contribute. "We are interested in bringing them with us but we are also keen to find new, young people working in technology," he said.