|Title||Hauntological Nostalgia: the lost futures of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop|
University of Westminster Researcher Network Third Annual Conference, 18th June 2019
This paper will make the case for research into the continued relevance of old media in a contemporary context where, according to Acland, “new cultural phenomena rely on encounters with the old” (2007). In particular, I will explore the peculiar nostalgia evoked by the music of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop for a utopian future that has been irrevocably lost; a future contextualised in Britain by the post-war consensus and its attendant narratives of public service broadcasting, state planning and benevolent social engineering.
I will illustrate the role of the workshop’s music in the cultural experience defined as ‘hauntology’ by Simon Reynolds and Mark Fisher. The ghostly connotations of the term refer to a longing for modernist cultural forms that are situated outside the perceived Americanisation of Britain, especially through rock and pop music, and in the political economic context that followed the election of Margaret Thatcher in 1979, who arguably brought about a greater alignment of Britain with the US by launching a programme of denationalisation and adopting market-based reforms of public institutions like the BBC that would eventually lead to the decommissioning of the workshop itself in March 1998.
I want to examine the ongoing fascination of the workshop’s theme tunes, jingles and ‘special sound’ for television and radio, along with its influence on the hauntological music of contemporary artists as an attempt to recuperate a sense of national technocratic optimism lost in the face of late-capitalism’s dissolution of values associated with the post-war modernisation of Britain, such as the belief in a paternalistic state and the general socialisation of culture through the progressive and managed use of technology. Such artists draw heavily on sounds and cultural reference points encountered through soundtracks and media related to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, such as the use of found sounds, analogue media, library music, public information films, and science fiction and horror programmes from the period in which BBC broadcasting dominated the British media landscape.