The Four Just Men

Surprised that we haven’t heard more from the unusual English group Langham Research Centre; they formed in 2003, and Tape Works Vol. 1 (NONCLASSICAL NONCLASS024) is in fact their only release to date, unless of course you include the realisations they made of John Cage compositions for Sub Rosa (Early Electronic And Tape Music) in 2014. These four – Felix Carey, Iain Chambers, Philip Tagney and Robert Worby – are evidently very deep sonic scientists and composers, in pursuit of a certain kind of truth or authenticity as they create their own new compositions, or perform / realise those of other significant 20th century composers (Lucier as well as Cage). One dimension of this authenticity is their use of the studio as a compositional instrument, and electing to work with all-analogue hardware, equipment from a pre-digital time. This means they are very skilled with microphones and quarter-inch tape machines, and based on the available evidence they are working pretty much in the “classic” musique concrète mode, involving much sound manipulation and editing. They also favour such devices as the sine wave oscillator.

All four of these Englishmen are involved in modern composition, including scores for TV and cinema, though Robert Worby might be known to some of you as former keyboard player (and technician) for The Mekons, that 1980s UK indie band who played their odd take on country-and-western filtered through warped imaginations and the occasional Marxist footnote in the lyrics. Langham Research Centre are also aware of, and explicitly informed by, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and this preoccupation shows up all over Tape Works Vol. 1. The methods and results are not far apart from what we hear on recordings of Derbyshire, Oram, Briscoe, Kingsland et al. Indeed they have created radio soundtracks which I’d like to know more about – one of them for a piece about Tesla, another inspired by J.G. Ballard. Further, narrative elements can be found here in titles like ‘The Undersized Shadow’ and ‘Roadside Picnic’, and the long piece ‘Quasar Melodics / The Voices Of Time’ is a glorious audio collage that Delia Derbyshire would have saluted, taking vox pop clips out of context, combining same with threatening electronic music, and creating sinister effects.

It’s much to their credit that this work never once sounds like pastiche, something which is a real problem which has dogged many of those who worship at the shrine of the Workshop, including even those with the best intentions – various Ghost Box projects, Ian Holloway (as The British Space Group), Howlround, and A Year In The Country. I’d like to think that Langham Research Centre are getting closer to the spirit and method of the Workshop, and are not simply building a laboratory full of fetishistic retro equipment. Their ideas are not trammelled up with a pursuit of nostalgia or an undiscerning love of all things 1970s, and they appear to be quite serious composers. This excellent survey of their work is highly welcome. From 13 February 2018.

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