David Vorhaus on White Noise's "An Electric Storm"

N. Macdonald
(C) 2001


Transcriber's note

The video footage is quite hard to get from the original site. The links in the index point you at, for example,
which does not exist. Instead, you must manually download the video files from (in our example)
Oh, and you need that crufty pile of spyware "RealPlayer" to see them too. I wouldn't bother... there is nothing to see except David Vorhaus sitting talking. However, the DrWho clip does give a fuzzy view of the room and equipment where Delia Derbyshire worked at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.

In the following text, where I could not make out a word I have put my best guess [in square brackets]. The sign [...] instead means that a few mumbled or irrelevant words have been omitted at that point.

Martin Guy, June 2004

Early days in one's career

Yeah, I mean, the pinnacle of one's career as a bass player would be to join the London Symphony Orchestra and play Beethoven's Fifth every other night. I didn't really fancy that as a career so I flew off to be a physicist and I think I was still doing my postgrad degree when I went to an amateur orchestra and the conducter said "Hey hey hey, in the next room there's a lecture on electronic music" Woo-OO! and it turned out to be the people that ran the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Brian Hodgson and Delia Derbyshire, and they really seemed to know what they were talking about, doing the real thing and we just got chatting after and we just got on like a house on fire. We started playing about a week later and I guess they were interested in an upstart like me because I could build the gear that they were always dreaming about and obviously my interest in them was, the world's your oyster, the real thing and it just started from there.

Record deal

[...] I was still sort of planning at being a physicist then and I just snuck into the BBC having met these people. Sneak in there in the middle of the night and did a couple of tracks with my best friend at school singing them, really just for fun. The whole thing was really just meant to be a kind of joke, you know, to see what would come out, although we took them to a couple of record companies, again just for fun, and one of them was Chris Blackwell of Island and he said "You've got a good album there". I was completely green then and I thought "I wanna do a hit single, you know?" He said "You're crazy, man, this isn't singles material. This is album material! It's underground music." I always thought in those days that underground music was sort of junky stuff with tons of noise and edits, and I thought "No, I can do a professional album. I want to do a proper single, you know, and make it a hit. And I mean he was utterly right. The kind of music I was into was really pretty weird stuff anyway. I was totally green and knew nothing about the singles market and thought "You know, the world will change and listen to my freaky stuff" or whatever and I kept telling this guy I wanted to do a single and he kept telling me I was off my rocker and pointed out we wouldn't make a lot of money anyway cos singles are just really publicity for an album and it worked out something like a halfpenny a copy and we worked out what an average hit would make then, which was about three thousand pounds, this was in '68 after all, and so he finally writes out a cheque for three thousand pounds and said "Okay, here, you've had your hit single. Now you do an album" and that was an offer I couldn't refuse and I guess that's where the music really started. It still made us not very serious about it, but fun, yes.

A lot of those tracks were just things we kind of dreamed up and got various people I sort of met on the streets and things to sing bits and speak bits and laugh and cry for bits. It was all kind of friends and people I'd bump into: "Oh, your voice sounds interesting. Come up and make some sounds in my studio. And it's a great pick-up line. Works a treat, that! In fact "My Game of Loving", appropriate title too for this thing, had just about everybody I met in it over that month of two. A French girl did one version, then a German girl, then a Swedish girl. Each version a different country. They're all for real. In fact there was even an electronic orgy in it and a real orgy and you'd be hard-pressed even now to tell which was the real one. All right, there was snoring at the end. There had to be some sort of a jokey kind of side to it. Yeah, I never took it really that, very seriously.

A million tape edits

Synthesizers didn't exist then. Actually, I think Bob Moog had made his first synth but there was nothing in Europe, so I had the very first thing that was ever built in Europe and I'd already finished White Noise by then. No, it was all done by cutting bits of tape together. In fact I actually had a ninety-minute sound film on a tape recorder, a lovely tape recorder, about seven or eight of them all in a row, all intimately locked together electronically, i.e. they all ran off the same mains and one big switch would start the lot so you just mark up the places on the different tapes and off they'd go together. That's an eight-track for you! Every note was literally cut together, so if you had Da-da-da-daaa-da: the first note, a cut, cut the end, a bit of space, then a second note, cut, cut, another bit of space, so you had eight edits there for a half-second bit in monophonics.

It would certainly be true to say that there are more edits on that album than in anything else ever made. Unquestionably one for the Guinness Book of Records. [...] Possibly more edits on that album than all other albums ever made put together. Quite possibly.

(Interviewer: Can you put a ballpark number on it? Roughly how many edits?)

Well, let's say there were an average of four edits per foot, say about six edits per second on those tapes, thirteen-minute tapes ["thirty-"?] for an average spool, and there were two piles of these things stacked sideways, the way you're not meant to stack 'em, from the floor to the ceiling. So we're talking about three or four hundred spools of tape times thirteen minutes. Oof! We're talking about big numbers. It's around the million mark I'd say. So how many pieces of tissue paper between here and the moon? Probably roughly the same sort of number. A lot.

[Transcriber's note: 300 tapes x 13 minutes per tape x 60 seconds per minute x 6 edits per second works out at 1,404,000 edits. 400 tapes would make it 1,872,000 edits.]

The 'Hell' track

Oh yeah, we actually got through about three quarters of an album in the year of hard graft and then we got... Chris Blackwell had left by this time and some complete idiots were in charge of Island. In fact we just got an abrupt letter from them after not hearing from them for an age saying that we haven't heard from you for so long and blablah and unless we receive this album within seven days afterwards we are going to take action to recover the money advanced. So that was not very nice, not very nice at all. Right! We'll give it to you in a day! We'll finish it tonight! So the last track using half of the second side we mutually didn't want to make. I just put together a drum loop and got a friend of mine Paul Lytton who's actually quite a hot jazz drummer now. He was a dentist then, from just doing drums on the side he's now a fully pro jazz act. [He] came and played drums to the loop to pull the whole thing out and this became the Hell track and we just got every freaky, nasty sound we could find and started screaming our heads off over the top and tearing people to bits. Enough is enough! Audio? You've heard of it now! Literally within the night; delivered it the next day and there you have it.
Transcribed from Niall Macdonald's video footage by Martin Guy <martinwguy@gmail.com>, June 2004.
Last corrected: 2 July 2004.