The original composers of the Doctor Who theme are about to turn the internet into one giant musical instrument. They plan to debut Latency, their new musical composition this week… on the internet, of course. The BBC Radiophonic Workshop has been a major contribution to pop music since the 1960s. The late Delia Derbyshire composed and arranged the original Doctor Who theme with a combination of a theremin, guitar, and tape-sampling, decades before tape-sampling became widely used in pop music in the 1990s.
The workshop has composed many of the theme music for BBC shows through the decades, including for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. They have always prided themselves on technological innovation in music and their methods are often taken up by many others, including DJs, engineers, pop music producers, and so on. They have influenced everyone from Paul McCartney to Pink Floyd to Aphex Twin to Orbital.
Beyond "Doctor Who": Making Music in Lockdown
The composers took inspiration from the Zoom calls they made during the pandemic, using the natural lag of online calls to make "a loop of music".
"The sound gets sent to someone and they add to it, and it keeps going round," Bob Earland explained to the Guardian. "So you're not relying on everyone being on the same clock."
Roger Limb said the loop presented a new way of responding to what he previously came up with. "What I enjoyed was waiting to hear what I've done on the previous round, coming up in about five seconds, listening to it, and then reacting to myself," he said.
Bob Earland and Paddy Kingsland had been trying to work out how to make music together while being forced to stay at home during lockdown. Bands and orchestras have to pre-record shows because it is almost impossible to synchronize instruments in different locations, often using zoom. The biggest problem is the internet's natural lag, or latency, which is caused by the milliseconds it takes for electronic signals from one computer to reach another, a common occurrence on zoom call. Thus, the piece Latency was born.
Earland and Kingsland worked out a trick: they could extend the internet's delay from a few milliseconds into several seconds. Instead of trying to play at the same time, the Radiophonic Workshop members will play one segment after another in sequence, rather than in parallel.
Radiophonic Workshop member Peter Howell added: "The idea reflected our time. We're all subject to the internet now in a way that we never thought we would be. And Bob and Paddy came up with an idea that is literally using what we're all relying on for a creative purpose, using something that we've all taken for granted but in an artistic way."
The Radiophonic Workshop will perform Latency along with other compositions on their YouTube channel next week at 8 pm UK Time on Sunday, November 22nd. The next day will be the anniversary of the premiere date of Doctor Who back in 1963, and the BBC has also dubbed it "Delia Derbyshire Day" in celebration of her contributions to music and culture.