The journey begins like most journeys do — with the roar of jet engines circling over Detroit Metro. From there you drop by Belle Isle Beach, where kids splash in the low waves, to Hamtramck’s Detroit Zen Center and a kayak ride to Turnip Rock in Lake Huron. All of it takes about ten minutes or several hours, depending on how much time you want to give it.
The program is one of 12 audio journeys from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, providing virtual travel via field recordings from around the world. A half century ago, the Workshop was tasked with producing effects and music for British radio and TV, and employed pioneers of electronic music including Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire. Relaunched in 2012 with creative director and fellow electronic music producer Matthew Herbert, the Workshop’s “Radiophonic Travel Agency” features interactive trips through locations ranging from Brighton, the cities of Iran, Venice, a swim across the English Channel and — here — “Detroit and the Great Lakes.”
Rebecca Goldberg was first introduced to the project in the pages of the UK magazine Electronic Sound. “In Spring 2021 they printed a blurb about the New BBC Radiophonic Workshop and their Travel Agency program. I got very excited when I read that they were looking for field recordists to submit samples of their work to be included. I am constantly using field recordings in my original productions and was indeed familiar with the history of the original BBC Radiophonic Workshop and its groundbreaking work in experimental and electronic music.”
Goldberg says she wanted to “hone in on some areas that sound very familiar to Detroiters/Michiganders and could give outsiders an authentic glimpse of what it sounds like to be here.”
There are a total of 13 field recordings from Detroit and around the state of Michigan. A few of the locations, like the Old Presque Isle Lighthouse Bell, are well-known as landmarks, but it was crucial to Goldberg to “capture the variety in our soundscapes to parallel the diversity of our inhabitants.” Honey Bee Market – La Colmena “opened in 1956 and still continues to satisfy the appetite of their loyal Hispanic base while accommodating the burgeoning Southwest Detroit community. The Rivera Court at the Detroit Institute of Arts is an absolute must-visit for anyone in and coming to the city of Detroit. It is distinctly known as a visual space adorned in the frescoes of artist Diego Rivera, but it also has a very unique and soothing soundscape.”
“The path is random and actually changes depending on your destination choices that pop up along the way via the Travel Agency site.”
Given how good our minds are at finding patterns in random noise, it wasn’t clear to me how much Goldberg (who has written original scores for films, including Le Voyage Dans La Lune and Gojira) edited or ‘composed’ the field recordings. The section from Belle Isle Beach, for instance, is a slice of not just Detroit summer fun but Detroit’s music scene as radios from beachgoers fade in and out in the spectrum of the recording. Goldberg says though that the recordings are “completely raw, unedited, uncut.”
“I am a firm believer in first takes and try not to overthink when it comes to recording. Soundscapes are in flux and are dependent on so many factors out of my control, like weather, traffic patterns, amount of people in a public space, etc. You never know what you might capture and also never know what you might have missed. For me this is the thrill of field recording.
“With the example of Belle Isle Beach, I purposely chose the 4th of July holiday to take my recording as I knew that the beach would be packed with people! This is the Belle Isle I love and wanted to showcase: the hot summer day where everyone flocks to the beach early to get a good spot for their picnic, where we collectively gather to cool off, hang out, listen to music and spend time together.”
The journey — or a journey — begins at theradiophonicworkshop.com.