Thursday, February 4, 2010

Maddalena Fagandini - BBC Radiophonic Workshop

During WWII women start to get access to typically manly jobs. Hiring young girls as engineers and radio technicians allows radios to fill the gap left by men on war duty:

“ There was a tradition of using women as engineers and technical people in radio. This happened during the war when all the gentlemen went off to fight the war. There was quite a cut back after the war when the surviving gentlemen came back and wanted their jobs, of course, naturally, but it was still thought that women had done well.”

BBC's Radiophonic Workshop is one of the best examples of this revolution: Daphne Oram works there, after founding the department in the April of 1958, as well as Maddalena Fagandini, Delia Derbyshire and Elizabeth Parker. The first experiences realized by the radios' ladies owe a lot to musique concrète, born from Pierre Schaeffer imagination in 1948. This new wave gets profoundly rooted inside the BBC because of the lack of instruments available within the radio in order to produce electronic music. On the other hand, in order to produce concrete music, only a few environmental recordings are needed that will be edited later with filters. At a time when synthesizers were not created, Maida Vale Studios were equipped with old tape recorders, 12 test oscillators borrowed from other BBC departments and other small instruments that could generate noise. With the few money available to found the Workshop, the engineers buy used equipment from the Portobello market and in 1970, thanks to Peter Zinovieff, the BBC finally buys three VCS3 and one EMS Synthi 100 modular system. The lack of economic help o the workshop from the BBC is due in part to the success that the workshop achieves with the existing instruments and to the fact that this new way of making music gives rise to a number of concerns within the Fifties' general public; some doctors pointed out to the BBC directors that the workers engagement with the workshop should not be longer than three months. The continuous contact with those kind of sound would make the employee demented. The workshop's technical benightedness made some discontinue, other withstand. In 1959, Daphne Oram leaves the workshop and Maddalena Fagandini takes her place. After climbing out of the gutter from the BBC's italian department, Maddalena gets relocated to the Maida Vale Studios. She composes and realizes a few jingles and effects required by the scripts with was she has; she inevitably gets influenced by musique concrete. With a few oscillators she realizes the sound effects and the soundtrack for the rework of Cocteau's Orphée. With Delia Derbyshire, a fine master of mathematics and their application in music, joining the team, the workshop's activity undergoes a keen change and experimental production soars. In 1962 George Martin, at the time at the BBC's music library, records with Maddalena "Time Bit" under the "Ray Cathod" alias. This is the first single published by the Radio Workshop composed using an interval signal created by Maddalena herself. A few months later Martin discovers the Beatles. Revolver would be influenced heavily by Martin's experience at the workshop. Between 1965 and 1966, after the revolution carried by the first Moog synths, Maddalena decides to commit herself to TV productions. It is plain to see that from then on electronic music would become an independent discipline requiring specific training and instruments to it's perfumers.

“Interestingly it wasn’t me but the sounds themselves that were suggesting what to do. You learn that the secret is in the material itself and not a mathematical calculation in your head. Its there somewhere for you to listen and find it. It has its own rhythm. You push it around at your peril. You have to let it happen, let it be. Then you can play around with what you know about music to help construct sound which makes musical sense to people listening.” Maddalena Fagandini

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