Private Dreams and Public Nightmares (1957) is an early BBC experiment in radiophonic sound, predating the establishment of the Radiophonic Workshop. It was created by Frederick Bradnum and Daphne Oram (pictured) and produced by Donald McWhinnie.
Donald McWhinnie introduces the work, which starts at 4:20.
“This programme is an experiment. An exploration. It’s been put together with enormous enthusiasm and equipment designed for other purposes. The basis of it is an unlimited supply of magnetic tape, recording machine, razor blade, and some thing to stick the bits together with. And a group of technicians who think that nothing is too much trouble – provided that it works.
“You take a sound. Any sound. Record it and then change its nature by a multiplicity of operations. Record it at different speeds. Play it backwards. Add it to itself over and over again. You adjust filters, echos, acoustic qualities. You combine segments of magnetic tape. By these means and many others you can create sounds which no one has ever heard before. Sounds which have indefinable and unique qualities of their own. A vast and subtle symphony can be composed from the noise of a pin dropping. In fact one of the most vibrant and elemental sounding noises in tonight’s programme started life as an extremely tinny cowbell.
“It’s a sort of modern magic. Many of you may be familiar with it. They’ve been exploiting it on the continent for years. But strangely enough we’ve held aloof. Partly from distrust. Is it simply a new toy? Partly through complacency. Ignorance too. We’re saying at last that we think there’s some thing in it. But we aren’t calling it ‘musique concrète’. In fact we’ve decided not to use the word music at all. Some musicians believe that it can become an art form itself. Others are sceptical. That’s not our immediate concern. We’re interested in its application to radio writing – dramatic or poetic – adding a new dimension. A form that is essentially radio.
“Properly used, radiophonic effects have no relationship with any existing sound. They’re free of irrelevent associations. They have an emotional life of their own. And they could be a new and invaluable strand in the texture of radio and theatre and cinema and television.”