Research Data Leeds Repository

Tape Leaders - Excavating early British electronic music

Helliwell, Ian (2016) Tape Leaders - Excavating early British electronic music. University of Leeds. [Dataset]

This item is part of the Alternative Histories of Electronic Music collection.

Dataset description

Exposure and acknowledgement for early British electronic and tape music has always been scant, with only a small number of celebrated composers coming to represent an area in which so many others participated. During more than six years of research for the book Tape Leaders, a different, rich and varied picture has emerged, revealing over 100 electronic music makers active in Britain before 1970. How have a handful of composers been given recognition, while dozens of others have been eclipsed and languish in obscurity? Why have historians and academics failed to properly investigate this forgotten period, and left so much of its rediscovery to small record labels and maverick, independent researchers? A significant body of experimental amateur work remains almost totally lost in the mists of time. A great deal of this output will inevitably have been less than world class, but should it therefore be ignored and literally consigned to the dustbin? It is sad to say that many tapes have been thrown away, equipment sold off and analogue studios dismantled, and efforts to properly document and salvage this British electronic music heritage have been woefully inadequate. Unlike British folk music, where the importance of documentation and preservation was recognised decades ago, the same cannot be said for its electronic music counterpart. It could be argued that the British amateur tape club movement and its intersection with electronic sound and musique concrete, in fact represents the real ‘folk’ music of the second half of the 20th century, and it is the failure of this to be identified which has partly led to it being so undervalued, its existence ignored and the danger it will be lost forever. There are perhaps a number of other reasons for the lack of acknowledgement for early British electronic music as a whole. These include hostile critical receptions; professional composers’ instrumental and vocal music overshadowing their electronic output; private and home studio work not being taken as seriously as that created at broadcasting stations or university studios; an ambivalence about tape music amongst the composers themselves; the tendency of critics and commentators to promote and write about only the ‘key players’ while ignoring everyone else; a perception in the public mind that electronics equalled harsh or weird sci-fi noise, and was thus not to be taken seriously as music; and a gradual shift as time went on, away from the new experimental sounds, towards something much safer and more palatable for general audiences. A further explanation also presents itself - with a whole area of musical history unexplored for decades, and many of the participants now dead, tapes having been lost or discarded and memories long faded away - the job of ‘electronic archaeology’ becomes a monumental task, and apparently not one that professional researchers appear willing to take on. The conventional wisdom - that a handful of composers along with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, represents more or less the whole story of early British electronic music - has been allowed to continue unchallenged for decades. The establishment consensus and focus on just a small number of names, is surely long overdue for reappraisal.

Subjects: W000 - Creative arts & design > W300 - Music
W000 - Creative arts & design > W300 - Music > W310 - Musicianship/performance studies > W316 - Electronic/electro-acoustic music performance
Divisions: Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures > School of Music
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Date deposited: 27 Jul 2017 19:43



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