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Posts Tagged ‘BBC

“Ladies and gentlemen, this is the most terrifying thing I have ever witnessed!”*…

As a teenager I was completely suckered in by a television documentary hoax (Forgotten Silver, by Peter Jackson pre-Lord of the Rings). For many years it was quite a sore spot for me that I was duped. I imagine the many people who believed that The War of the Worlds depicted an actual Martian invasion felt the same way. And twelve years before Orson Welles’ famous 1938 radio play another hoax on the airwaves was terrifying the innocent public.

Broadcasting the Barricades by the mystery writer [and Catholic priest] Ronald Knox was performed on BBC Radio in early 1926. Styled like a news report, it described a Bolshevik revolution running through the streets of London. Government ministers were captured and strung up; the Savoy Hotel and the Palace of Westminster were both blown up (thus toppling the Clock Tower and Big Ben too).

Now, there were plenty of clues that it was a hoax. Not least of which was that they told everyone it was not real at the start. Not everyone caught that [as was the case with World of the Worlds], or the many announcements to the same effect on the same channel later that night. Complicating matters, a snowstorm prevented the next day’s newspapers getting out of London, stoking fears that the capital city was in ruins or occupied by revolutionary forces. And 1926 UK was a tense place already: four months after Broadcasting the Barricades, 1.7 million workers joined a general strike in support of locked out coal miners…

The radio hoax that presaged– and inspired– Orson Welles’ The War of the Worlds: “From the Barricades.”

The BBC’s own account of the occasion (the source of the image above) is here. And here is the amusing tale of an Australian variation on the theme, broadcast a year after Knox’s pioneering effort.

Oh, and Forgotten Silver is wonderful!

* “Reporter Carl Phillips” (Frank Readick), The War of the Worlds

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As we check our sources, we might recall that it was on this date in 1843 that John Browne Bell published the first of his London-based newspaper, The News of the World. Bell’s competitive strategy was to focus on the sensational and the lurid– basically, crime and vice… a strategy that served him and subsequent owners, most recently Rupert Murdoch and News Corp., extremely well. Indeed, its long suit in celebrity scoops, gossip, and populist news– especially its somewhat prurient focus on sex scandals– gained it the nickname News of the Screws.

In 2011, 25 years after Murdoch had made it into the Sunday edition of his paper The Sun, The News of the World was closed… sort of. In its last decade it had developed a reputation for exposing celebrities’ drug use, sexual peccadilloes, or criminal acts, by using insiders and journalists in disguise to provide video or photographic evidence, and covert phone hacking in ongoing police investigations. Many of these allegations proved true. On July 4, 2011 it was revealed that, nearly a decade earlier, a private investigator hired by the newspaper had intercepted the voicemail of missing British teenager Milly Dowler, who was later found murdered. Amid a public backlash and the withdrawal of advertising, News International announced the closure of the newspaper three days later.

After a brief hiatus, the fun continued in The Sunday Sun (with many former News of the World staffers), but without several senior News of the World editors, who were arrested and indicted for illegal wiretapping, bribing police officers for information, and other offenses.

Front-page of the first issue

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“Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable”*…

 

FL covid

 

Data visualizations that make no sense...

cheese

weather

flights

work from home

More at “WTF Visualizations.”

* Mark Twain

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As we celebrate clarity, we might spare a thought for the mathematician, biologist, historian of science, literary critic, poet, and inventor Jacob Bronowski; he died on this date in 1974.  Bronowski is probably best remembered as the writer (and host) of the epochal 1973 BBC television documentary series (and accompanying book), The Ascent of Man (the title of which was a play on the title of Darwin’s second book on evolution, The Descent of Man)… the thirteen-part series, a survey of the history of science–  from rock tools to relativity– and its place in civilizations, is still an extraordinary treat.  It’s available at libraries, on DVD, or (occasionally) on streaming services.

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“Don’t just do something, sit there”*…

 

cows

You’ve heard of slow food and slow fashion. Now the BBC is spreading the gospel of slow radio.

The British public broadcaster’s Radio 3 programming this autumn will invite listeners to relax to the sounds of Irish cows being herded up a mountain and leaves crunching on walks through the country. Radio 3 controller Alan Davey tells The Guardian this “meditative, slightly old fashioned” radio will provide audiences with “a chance for quiet mindfulness.”

That sounds a lot like autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR), or the pleasant calming sensation many people feel when listening to a range of gentle everyday noises, from softly spoken words to someone raking a zen garden…

More on soothing sound at: “The BBC is getting into ASMR.”  And for those who can’t receive Radio Three…

* Buddhist saying

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As we’re muse on mindfulness, we might recall that it was on this date in 1597 that Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra, then a tax collector in the province of Grenada, was imprisoned in the Carcel Real, the royal prison in Seville, Spain.  Apparently a subordinate had deposited tax receipts with an untrustworthy banker.

Forced to slow down, Cervantes took good advantage of his free time: he started plotting (but probably not actually writing) “El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quijote de La Mancha” (“The Ingenious Nobleman Sir Quixote of La Mancha“)– or as we have come to know it, Don Quixote.  As Somerset Maugham said,”casting my mind’s eye over the whole of fiction, the only absolutely original creation that I can think of is Don Quixote.”

cervantes source

 

Written by LW

September 15, 2018 at 1:01 am

“I can kind of envision maybe one person with a lot of machines, tapes, and electronics set up, singing or speaking and using machines”*…

 

radiophonics

 

In 1957, just before the broadcast of a radio show called Private Dreams and Public Nightmares, a warning was sent to BBC engineers. “Don’t attempt to alter anything that sounds strange,” it said. “It’s meant to sound that way.” The BBC was also worried about the public. Donald McWhinnie, the programme’s maker, made an explanatory statement, ending with the cheerful signoff: “One thought does occur – would it not be more illuminating to play the whole thing backwards?”

Radiophonic sound was now in the public domain. A year later, to the bewilderment of many, the BBC dedicated a whole workshop to this avant-garde stuff, even giving it a home in an old ice rink: Maida Vale Studios. Years later, the Queen, shaking hands with the Workshop’s creator, Desmond Briscoe, would confirm its universal success with the words: “Ah yes, Doctor Who.”**

But what is radiophonic sound – and why did it need a workshop? Radiophonics owes everything to the invention of the tape recorder. Once you could capture sound, using a workable material, you could play with it: slow it down until it thundered, feed it back on itself until it shrieked and echoed, or simply slice bits out. However extreme these experiments became, there was always something eerily familiar to the ear, because they were made from real objects or events…

The story of the BBC’s storied Radiophonics Workshop: “Now for a lampshade solo: how the Radiophonic Workshop built the future of sound.”

* Jim Morrison in a 1969 interview, when asked about the future of music

** For the story of the remarkable Delia Derbyshire [left in the photo above], who arranged and performed (on an oscilloscope) Ron Grainger’s composition for the theme of Doctor Who, see here and here.  And not that you need reminding, hear the original Doctor Who theme here.

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As we appreciate audio, we might recall that it was on this date in 1981, with the words “Ladies and Gentlemen, rock and roll,” that MTV premiered.  The first video featured on the new cable channel was The Buggles’ “Video Killed the Radio Star.”  Indeed.

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Written by LW

August 1, 2018 at 1:01 am

“There is in souls a sympathy with sounds”*…

 

A Marconi-Stille recording machine, which the BBC helped to develop. It used thin steel for tape, a single spool of which weighed more than 20lb. (Photo taken in 1936)

In the worlds of television. audio, and film production, The BBC Sound Archive is legendary.  Founded in 1936, its holdings date back to the late 19th century and include many rare items, including contemporary speeches by public and political figures, folk music, British dialects and sound effects– along with most BBC Radio programs.  The pace of collection has flagged a bit under recent budget pressures; still, the archive is 350,000 hours of material in total duration.

The public has had some access to the archive through the British Library.  But now there is a more direct channel: the BBC has made 16,000 sound effects available (for personal, educational or research use) for download directly on its web site. From “Drilling and reaming machine operating, with occasional pauses” to “Tropical Forest, West Africa at dawn.” there’s (literally) a world there to hear.

* William Cowper

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As we lend an ear, we might recall that it was on this date in 1888, that Nikola Tesla was issued several patents relating to the induction magnetic motor, alternating current (AC) sychronous motor, AC transmission, and electricity distribution (Nos. 381,968-70; 382,279-82).

In his extraordinary career, Tesla patented over 110 innovations, ranging from these (which he deployed at Niagara Falls among other spots; in the long run, Tesla was right and Edison– proponent of direct current/DC, and vicious opponent of Tesla– wrong: AC became the standard) to the first wireless remote control.  Tesla designed and began planning a “worldwide wireless communications system” that was backed by JP Morgan…  until Morgan lost confidence and pulled out.  “Cyberspace,” as described by the likes of Bill Gibson and Neal Stephenson, was largely prefigured in Tesla’s plan.  Often mis-remembered (as a fringe figure, almost a looney), if at all, Tesla was a remarkable genius, whose talent ran far, far ahead of his luck.  He died penniless in 1943.

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Written by LW

May 1, 2018 at 1:01 am

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