Technology steadily increased throughout the period from the 1950s through to the 1960s with audio technology and the emergence of television. Audio work was now needed to support the visual images on screen and sound design for television at the BBC emerged as a creative force in designing sound to enhance visual images.
The BBC Radiophonic workshop emerged in 1958 and was innovative in much of their sound design work and use of emerging technologies. Much of their work can be looked on as being a hybrid between more abstract musical forms and experiments in early synthesiser music and technology.
The workshop was primarily designed to provide sound effects for radio dramas but proved to be so successful that by 1963, the workshop was providing the theme tune to the Doctor Who series for TV.
Delia Derbyshire was at the forefront of much of the work and the Radiophonic workshop is synonymous with innovations in sound design and creativity.
Synthesiser technology also developed throughout this time whereby new sounds were being created using oscillators, voltage controlled amplifiers and filters with a keyboard interface being incorporated to control the sounds and add an element of portability to the synth for the first time. The barriers between sound, musical instrumentation would gradually become blurred as innovators integrated unusual synthesiser sounds into musical creations. In the mid 1970s , Brian Eno created several “ambient” albums which single handedly created a whole genre of music referred to as ambient music.
Eno’s idea of ambient music almost flipped the Futurist idea of taking everyday sounds and creating music from them by putting forward the idea that a low level music should be in our everyday environment as part of the décor or architecture.
His “Music For Airports” album is a strong example of this idea. This ambient musical form is designed to be part of the everyday environment but not in an obtrusive way and not for the purpose of being listened to in its own right. Eno’s work proved to be hugely influential in creating an ambient genre of music which developed greatly in the 1990s and up to this day.
Digital audio technology developed further with the launch in 1986 of the Akai S900 digital sampler. This sampler would be a staple part of many studios for the next 15-20 years and opened the door of sampling to many in an affordable package. The ambient music of the 1990’s and onwards embraced many of the ideas of the Futurists (everyday sound being incorporated and manipulated into musical forms) and combined this with the new digital audio technological innovations afforded by companies such as Akai, E Mu and Roland.
Digital audio technology has developed at an accelerated rate from the turn of the millennium with storage and processing space and speeds at an all time high. The hardware samplers of the 1990’s and beyond have, in the main, been superseded by software samplers which exist as standalone programs within a DAW.
These software samplers make recording, editing and manipulation of samples far easier than previously possible. Previously complex and time consuming processes such as pitch shifting and time stretching can be performed almost instantaneously and this has been a revolution in terms of software applications such as Ableton and Reason. Samples within these programs can now be automatically tempo matched together which would previously have taken time to do using the hardware samplers and this now allows producers a quick way to create and manipulate sound.
As digital audio technology progresses, there are sure to be more innovations in what can be done to recorded sound in terms of storage , manipulation and reproduction of sound. The concept of sampling parts of a sound, re interpretating it into a new musical form and creating something new from it ,has, and will , in the foreseeable future be at the forefront of music production and innovation.
You may wonder why the 90's era is missing.
The next post will be solely dedicated to this inspiring part of sampling and modern musical culture.From Public Enemy to My Bloody Valentine