Recreating the sounds of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop
December 20, 2012 4:03 PM   Subscribe

Explore the BBC sound of the 1960s with 4 demos of Radiophonic equipment.

Built with the new Web Audio API standard, each demo comes with commented code, so you can learn how to build your own audio applications.

Gunfire Effects
The BBC Designs Department produced a successful electronic alternative which sounded realistic and was capable of being used for a broad range of sounds which could not be made naturally.

The versatile "wobbulator" was a sine-wave oscillator that could be frequency modulated. It consisted of a metal box with a few switches and one very large knob that could sweep the entire frequency range.

Tape Loops
Fragments of recorded sounds were manipulated and then spliced together to form compositions and tape loops ­ sometimes several metres long.

Ring Modulator*
The ring modulator works by taking two inputs and multiplying them together. In the original Ring Modulator a tape loop with a 30Hz sine wave tone was combined in real time as an actor spoke into a microphone. The diodes in the machine also gave the effect its characteristic distortion.

*The ring modulator is best known as the device used to create the terrifying voices of the Daleks and the Cybermen in Dr. Who.
posted by LinnTate (11 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite
Seems to require Google Chrome.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:16 PM on December 20, 2012

Imagine this artist with a cheap computer.
posted by Mblue at 4:17 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Seasonally related
posted by nathan_teske at 4:17 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

This is great! The Wobbulator is a fabulous introduction to frequency modulation for those who don't really know about it or understand it. And it sounds really good!

The Tape Loop one is big fun, loving the FINE ADJUST knob for random rhythm phasing goodness.

And the Ring Modulator: really interesting how some of the vowel sounds are radically altered by the effect: "Upgrading is compulsory" becomes(for example) "Oop-grahding ass com-pyool-su-way"

And yeah, Safari wouldn't run this. Well worth downloading Chrome for, kids!
posted by flapjax at midnite at 4:22 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Mblue: That's Delia Derbyshire, who, in addition to being a sonic genius all on her own, was one of the wizards at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
posted by Sys Rq at 4:27 PM on December 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

Thanks for the info Sys Rq!
posted by Mblue at 4:38 PM on December 20, 2012

The Ring Modulator voice reminds me of some of the sounds I get when messing with the online shortwave tuner found here.
posted by not_on_display at 5:12 PM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Listening to the original Doctor Who theme song has made me realize how much I miss it. I mean, the orchestral treatment is nice and dramatic, but for a slightly mad man from the future traveling largely alone (aside from a handful of alien companions) in space and time, it's a bit too crowded.
posted by smirkette at 6:50 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

If I remember correctly, the TARDIS noise is the sound of metal raked across piano strings, and the Doctor Who yetis made the sound of a toilet being flushed, played backwards and slowed down.

There's more to be found about Delia Derbyshire in the archives.
posted by dumdidumdum at 3:30 AM on December 21, 2012

the TARDIS noise is the sound of metal raked across piano strings

the TARDIS noise is the sound of a key raked along a piano string #nerdcore4life

Actually someone who knows more about this sort of thing than me told me that when they did the Dalek voices they forgot to write down the settings so when they had to do the them again they had to do a load of knob twiddling to get the right sound again.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:46 AM on December 21, 2012 [2 favorites]

It took me a while to figure out how to manipulate the turn-knobs -- you have to move your mouse up and down over the knob control.
posted by jabah at 5:52 AM on December 21, 2012

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