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Special Sound: The Creation and Legacy of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (Oxford Music/Media Series) Hardcover – October 14, 2010

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"Louis Niebur has accomplished a feat of virtuoso research that places in a wholly original context the extraordinary accomplishments of such pioneers as Maddalena Fagandini, Daphne Oram, and the fabulous Delia Derbyshire. Special Sound: The Creation and Legacy of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop is elegantly organized and incisively written, a musicological 'page-turner' that elucidates a crucial period in the evolution of British technology and aesthetics. This volume should be required reading for anyone interested in British culture, music, and technical innovation during the mid-twentieth century."-Byron Adams, Professor of Music, University of California, Riverside


"This stunning and thorough book exploring the BBC Radiophonic Workshop investigates not only broadcasting and programme-making, but also the rise of electronic music in the UK. Dr. Niebur's passion for sounds of radio and television invigorates engaging and often entertaining writing. Moreover, it is transporting to hear such unique sounds, while reading about them."-Jenny Doctor, Senior Lecturer, University of York


"Niebur's research into this early history of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop is wickedly illuminating." --Times Higher Education


"With Special Sound, Louis Niebur achieves a remarkable feat in subtly allying the private concept and design of a bygone BBC Radiophonic Workshop---from its inception, the Workshop implemented a largely closed-door policy to outside composers--with active political, social and academic debates. Niebur presents a gentle, nostalgic veneer to Special Sound's theorising, making the work both accessible for the general reader and analytical enough for the specialist...Special Sound is a trip down memory lane for the BBC enthusiast; a unified lucid investigation for the scholar; and a museum of materials, data and analyses for all who applaud a living legacy. The Workshop is dead. Long live the workshop." --MAKE Magazine


About the Author


Louis Niebur is Assistant Professor of Musicology at the University of Nevada, Reno.
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Product Details

  • Series: Oxford Music/Media Series
  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (October 14, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195368401
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195368406
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 0.9 x 6.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #6,742,102 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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10 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Kyle A. Wright on November 16, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
The BBC Radiophonic Workshop was established in the late 1950s to create "special sound" for BBC radio (and later TV) productions. Initially working with tape and primitive electronics, the workshop created some of the earliest electronic sound effects and music, all for various BBC productions (most famously "Dr. Who"). They continued in this for 40 years, often pioneering the way with synthesizers and MIDI systems.

Most likely due to the fact that they were not part of the academic music establishment at the time, the workshop's history has rarely been written about - the only real exception (to my knowledge) being Desmond Briscoe's impossible-to-find history of the workshop's first 25 years. Louis Niebur therefore sets out here to provide an account of the workshop's founding, the work they did, and their legacy.

The text itself clocks in at just over 200 pages and reads very much like a thesis with lots of end-notes and phrases like "In the next section I will present...." There's also a lot of repetition (re-introducing people and pieces) and overload (including exhaustive accounts of newspaper reviews), particularly in the first half of the book. Some content would have been better served as an appendix.

Nieber devotes a large portion of the book to discussions of the sociological & cultural issues surrounding the creation of the workshop and interactions within it, lengthy note-by-note dissections of pieces, analysis of pieces to their radio/tv contexts in terms of film theory, and lots of guesswork as to the composers' motives behind their compositions and choice of sound. These can get really tedious, and you have to wonder if he's just trying to fill up pages.
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