It is easy to forget in this age of instant gratification and multi-channel bewilderment how revolutionary the BBC remains, broadcasting to the world with its philosophy of informing, educating and entertaining. It’s only apt that the group who took their name from this very notion, Public Service Broadcasting, were commissioned to write This New Noise, a new hour-long piece for the 2022 Proms at the Royal Albert Hall to celebrate the organisation’s 100th anniversary.
J Willgoose Esq and his sonic technicians delivered yet another sophisticated sound collage to celebrate this momentous occasion. This writer was in the audience that night, yet compared to some of the recent PSB performances, to these ears, it felt somewhat flat and formulaic. However, what is captured on tape is a revelation; the majestic sweep of the music and use of found voices, cut-ups and commentary work – the latter including Good Omens actor Michael Sheen and newscaster Reeta Chakrabarti – so well, it possibly is the most edifying PSB release to date, proof that their music needs the time to truly appreciate.
There are no radical departures; the quiet/loud template is followed perfectly, with waves of guitars and keyboards supported by the BBC Concert Orchestra, led by Jules Buckley. An Unusual Man explores the character of original BBC chairman Lord Reith – Buckley’s orchestrations, emotional, soaring, yet sparing offer added heft. Folk star Seth Lakeman sings A Cello Sings In Daventry, which features the translated words of German poet Robert Seitz, who tuned into the first broadcasts in Berlin and was sufficiently moved to capture the moment in verse.
Listeners are taken on a guided tour of the venerable ‘temple of the arts and muses’ on Broadcasting House, with commentary courtesy of the 1935 GPO film BBC: The Voice of Britain. When the beat drops and the orchestra kick in, it is rather breathtaking. Orchestral motorik? Yes please.
It’s the sweetness in Willgoose’s writing and arrangements that always satisfies, humanising the sometimes faceless nature of the work – for example, on the gentle coda of the nine-minute The Microphone (The Fleet Is Lit Up).
The final words that conclude the last track, What Of The Future (In Touch With The Infinite) are: ‘And like so much moonshine, it vanished forever’. It’s a statement that resonates with all the ongoing hoo-haa about the role of the BBC and the issue of the licence fee in this streaming age. This New Noise is an enlightening, vital listen, underlining the importance of the institution so taken for granted and often treated as a political football.