The Radiophonic Workshop ‘Possum’ (Room 13)

Who would have thought it? A career spanning over 50 years, and it’s only now we get The Radiophonic Workshop’s first feature film score. Not only that, it’s the first time they’ve all collaborated on a major soundtrack. Masters of the television theme (‘Doctor Who’, ‘Quatermass And The Pit’ to name only two), it’s almost unbelievable that it’s only now, in 2018, that we’re getting their first big screen score. And my word, was it worth the wait.

For the uninitiated (and come on, you’re Electronic Sound readers, you should know by now), The Radiophonic Workshop are Mark Ayres, Dick Mills, Roger Limb, Peter Howell and Paddy Kingsland, all veterans of the BBC’s famous sound studio, having put their musical talents to work at different stages of its lifetime. They’re joined on percussion duties by relative newcomer Kieron Pepper, who has drummed for the likes of The Prodigy during his time.

‘Possum’, then, is the soundtrack to the film of the same name, the directorial debut of comedian and actor Matthew Holness. You may well know Holness as the co-creator of noughties horror parody show ‘Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace’, in which he played the title role. He’s also had parts in ‘The Office’, ‘Friday Night Dinner’ and ‘Toast Of London’, but ‘Possum’ takes him into darker territory.

Starring Sean Harris and Alun Armstrong, ‘Possum’ follows the story of a disgraced puppeteer (Harris) who returns to his childhood home in Norfolk to destroy his hideous puppet Possum and to confront his deranged stepfather (Armstrong), and, “the secrets that have tortured him his entire life”. Which sounds like perfect fodder for the Workshop, who make the bold claim that ‘Possum’ is “the most significant work of their career”.

“The unearthly sounds of this form of radiophonic music are well-suited to atmospheres of paranoia, fear and haunting,” they say. “In the best tradition of horror and suspense, this soundtrack adds to the extraordinarily claustrophobic atmosphere between the two central characters, with dark scampering and threatening moans.”

They even brought out the big guns for this score, using elements and drones from the Delia Derbyshire archives. These components, which were found on tapes stored in boxes in her attic, have been restored to create the basis of the soundtrack. Some of these previously unheard drones appeared on ‘Strange Beacons’, which featured on our exclusive Workshop seven-inch recently. 

But we digress. “This soundtrack is a testament to The Radiophonic Workshop’s mastery of sound,” declares Matthew Holness. “At once unnerving, atmospheric, and deeply moving.” 

He’s not wrong. ‘Possum’ is a many-layered beast – the deeper you go, the darker the monster gets. The opening beats of ‘Verse 1 And Main Titles’ are deceptively calm, and could be plucked from the opening of an ITV children’s tea-time programme. But it mutates into something more sinister, with echoing scratches and guttural, salival swallows backed by a creaking groan. 

This is peak Workshop, the masters at their very best – like a colourful artwork, the paint cracking and stripping away to reveal a more sinister landscape underneath. ‘Smoke Balloons’ melds synth shivers with a tinny hum, quivering into distant, echoey knocks. The Workshop also let their more avant side come out to play, with the almost two and a half minutes of ‘The Fox Story’ a tinnitus-esque whine that manages to convey a brooding dread. They masterfully weave emotion into their bowel-ejecting sounds as well; ‘Buried’, with its haunting, windy moans, contains a mournful flute melody that spirals into the deeper recesses of solemnity.

‘Someone At The Door’ speaks for itself, a thump-thump-thump mixed with gurgling atmospherics that gets the job done in a mere 52 seconds. The Most Terrifying Two And A Half Minutes accolade goes to the triptych of ‘Behind The Door/Mummy And Daddy/Possum-Man’. Starting off like a carousel run by Satan himself, it morphs into a disarmingly pleasant, yet downbeat tune, before exploding into a scratchy, horrifying percussive blast in the last 20 seconds.

With ‘Possum’, The Radiophonic Workshop have reached new, unnerving heights. They have translated their body of 20th century soundtrack work, and fine-tuned it perfectly for the world of 21st century horror. ‘Possum’ is ominous, terrifying, weird, alien, unnerving – it will deceptively lull you into a false sense of security with a playful melody, before exposing your worst fears with a piercing, rumbling growl. 

Door double-locked and lights firmly left on for the time being. For a debut feature film soundtrack, it doesn’t get much better than this.


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