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Soundtrack Review

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Through A Glass Darkly


Composer: Peter Howell
Performed by: The Radiophonic Workshop
Label: Silva Screen Records
RRP: £13.9
SILED1544 (download)
Release Date: 09 April 2021

Silva Screen Records releases Through a Glass Darkly, the Electronic Prog Rock album by Peter Howell and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop first released in 1978 on the BBC label. It was rereleased on CD in August 2020 as part of a 6-disc set titled Four Albums 1968 – 1978. An 180-gram vinyl release followed in November 2020, and now the digital version is available in 2021. Howell had a good background in Psychedelic Folk bands before joining the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop in 1974. Part of his job included incidental music and sound design for the TV series Doctor Who, and in 1980 he was asked by the programme’s incoming producer John Nathan-Turner to update the iconic theme tune. This was used for Tom Baker’s last season and throughout Peter Davison’s tenure. Peter Howell is currently part of the revived independent Radiophonic Workshop, which has been playing festivals. He has also composed the score for the feature film, Possum...

We begin with the magnum opus of the album, 'In the Kingdom of Colours – Through a Glass Darkly'. There is a classical piano intro, but the whole thing is very Progressive Rock in style. Space noise, ringing, and ambient flourishes make these the kind of sounds which would have been used in Science Fiction film or TV during the 1950s to 1970s to signify a different reality or alien beings. This part is almost psychedelic. At times it becomes quite quirky, with childlike woodwind sequences. The time changes borrow from 1970s Rock. I feel it is very reminiscent of incidental music backing to scenes of nature. Synthesizers, drumming beats and mad piano come in late-on. 'Caches of Gold' has flute-like synthesizer sounds within a Jazzy structure (if you can ever say Jazz has structure!). 'Magenta Court' incorporates a stomping beat with trumpet samples. This at least has a groove, and a very electronic-sounding guitar. By the stage of 'Colour Rinse', I’m finding that the sounds created go right through me, rather than being absorbed. It’s somewhat annoying.

'Wind in the Wires' has an acoustic guitar sound. It’s a nice change of pace, but why do the electronic parts have to be so high-pitched and shrieky? The format works much better low and throbbing. 'The Astronauts' is the best track by far. I believe the 'Single Version' was used as the B-side to the Howell’s Doctor Who theme in the 1980s. It sounds more like a conventional Electro-Pop instrumental with a proper song structure – rather than all that make-it-up-as-you-go-along meandering nonsense. 'Moving Form' has wind and string sections join a harpsicord tune. 'Greenwich Chorus' uses a ticking/chiming metronome-type beat against music box tinkling and sampled voices. 'Mesmer' is a sort of Regency piece. 'Astronauts' (Single Version) has the slower intro edited out. We end with 'In the Kingdom of Colours – Through a Glass Darkly (Alternative Mix)', which I have to conclude doesn’t sound much different to the opening track.

I really wanted to like this album, as I’ve always appreciated the legacy of the Radiophonic Workshop. I’m also a long-time follower of the Classic Doctor Who series. However, this is about the music presented here. Aside from the fact I’m not a fan of Prog Rock, Through a Glass Darkly is very much a product of its time and I’m afraid it hasn’t stood that test of time very well. I love some Electronica, but much of this material grated with me. I’m not condemning everything Howell has done. Far from it. It’s just that this isn’t really to my taste.


Ty Power

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