The John Baker Tapes, Volume 1As one of the early geniuses who performed, composed and experimented as the legendary (and now sadly defunct) BBC Radiophonic Workshop, the late John Baker created offbeat music and special sounds that fitted in perfectly with the Workshop’s “house style” (if indeed it can be said to have had one), and yet Baker’s pieces have something that make them uniquely his: just a little bit of soul. Which is a good trick to pull off when you’re making sounds by manipulating tape recordings of “found sounds” into music.

This volume concentrates almost exclusively on his output from the Radiophonic Workshop, much of it consisting of work for the BBC’s regional radio stations. The station IDs (or, as they’re called here, “idents”) were different for Radio London than for Radio Sheffield, for example – all giving Baker an opportunity to make music out of things like the sound of water pouring from a bottle, a ruler tapping the edge of a table and so on.

Of all the Radiophonic Workshop’s mad acoustic scientists, Baker seemed to have a distinctly jazzy sensibility; some of his tracks here turn his unusual sounds into a whole new sub-genre of “crime jazz” soundtrack music, with a dark, sinister feel to them. Unlike some of his peers, Baker was unafraid to mix “real” instruments in with his radiophonic sounds, and it’s in these darkly jazzy tracks the sound of a sax or a real bass guitar can make all the difference in mood. Many of his radio idents are bubbly and cheerful, and there are a few cues, intended as underscores for radio dramas and other programs, that have their own distinctive feel.

One of the most interesting tracks is a recording of Baker himself, appearing on one of the radio programs for which he’d created some very distinctive music, responding to listeners’ queries about how the music was made. He dissects the piece of music down to individual elements (which may or may not have been on a true multitrack tape – often in the 1950s and early 1960s, the Workshop had to “multitrack” by manually starting different tape playback machines and hoping that they’d sync up – and having to start over if they didn’t).

I’ve eagerly snapped up the various BBC Radiophonic Workshop reissues and retrospectives issued in recent years, and I’m happy to report very little material repeated from those collections; even if 4 out of 4you’ve got a fairly exhaustive Radiophonic Workshop collection, much of this material will still be new to you, so volume 1 of The John Baker Tapes isn’t a waste of money. It’s an invaluable archive offering an educational insight into early advances in electronic music, as explored by one of its unsung innovators.

Order this CD

  1. Newstime BBC (0:23)
  2. Tros Y Gareg (Main Theme) (2:50)
  3. Tros Y Gareg (Idents) (0:21)
  4. 20th Century Focus (2:24)
  5. Vendetta: The Ice Cream Man (1:19)
  6. Woman’s Hour (Reading Your Letters) (1:47)
  7. Many A Slip (0:58)
  8. Look And Read (0:36)
  9. Building The Bomb (6:26)
  10. Au Printemps (2:28)
  11. Big Ben News Theme (0:33)
  12. Codename (1:03)
  13. Decimal Currency (0:20)
  14. Barnacle Bill (0:21)
  15. Dial M For Murder (2:25)
  16. Farm Management (0:31)
  17. Radio Sheffield (News Idents) (0:45)
  18. French Science And Technology (0:40)
  19. Good Morning Wales (Idents) (0:37)
  20. Heavy Plant Crossing (0:59)
  21. COI Technology Pavilion (9:31)
  22. John Baker Interview (Radio Nottingham) (2:34)
  23. Radio Nottingham Idents (0:34)
  24. Look North: Newstime (0:50)
  25. Man Alive: UFO (1:15)
  26. PM – Computers In Business (0:40)
  27. Submarines (1:59)
  28. Oranges And Lemons (Radio London) (2:37)
  29. Orbit (0:47)
  30. Places For People (0:47)
  31. Sling Your Hook (2:28)
  32. Suivez La Piste (0:49)
  33. Scene (Never Never) (1:40)
  34. Diary Of A Madman (3:54)
  35. The Two O’Clock Spot (0:58)
  36. Radio London: News Idents (0:25)
  37. The Caves Of Steel (3:12)
  38. The Locusts (0:47)
  39. Square Two (0:30)
  40. The Tape Recorder (1:11)
  41. Tom Tom (Theme) (0:43)
  42. Tom Tom (Idents) (0:15)
  43. Trial (Opening Theme) (0:35)
  44. Trial (Closing Theme) (1:22)
  45. Vendetta The Sugar Man (2:01)
  46. Spin Off (0:21)
  47. Radiophonic FX C (0:10)
  48. Radiophonic FX A (0:54)
  49. Radiophonic FX B (0:34)

Released by: Trunk Records
Release date: 2008
Total running time: 72:09