BBC Radiophonic Workshop Pioneers Will Use Internet Latency to Create Music

“We had the bright idea of using latency to make a loop of music.”

BBC‘s Radiophonic Workshop is the team behind the iconic themes from Doctor Who and The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy as well as the storied Beatles song “Carnival of Light,” which was never released and remains in the possession of Paul McCartney

Now, the Radiophonic Workshop seeks to make history once again. They’ll hold a special livestreamed performance of “Latency,” a virtual performance inspired by Zoom meetings that uses latency to create musical loops and improvised performances. 

The brains behind the “Latency” concept, Bob Earland and Paddy Kingsland, were inspired by the struggle of playing in synchronicity during virtual musical performances during the global COVID-19 lockdown period. Rather than taking on the impossible task of correcting the latency issue, Earland and Kingsland instead opted to extend the delay from a few milliseconds to several seconds. This choice allows the musicians to create loops in real time and improvise musical sections one after another. 

“We had the bright idea of using that latency to make a loop of music,” Earland said. “The sound gets sent to someone, and they add to it, and it keeps going round. So you’re not relying on everyone being on the same clock.”

That idea was brought on by similar findings of the late Delia Derbyshire, who created echoes and loops using a similar technique pre-Internet, with reel-to-reel tape machines serving as the basis for latency. “She was very accomplished using the gear, the old tape machines,” added Kingsland. “And she was very good at the things that happened by chance, the happy accidents.”

“Latency” will be performed on November 22nd one day before Delia Derbyshire Day, a day in honor of the late Derbyshire, who created the sound of Doctor Who‘s theme song. Doctor Who debuted on the same day in 1963.

To watch the Radiophonic Workshop’s “Latency” performance, visit the BBC’s official website.

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