Although this confirms that Birmingham’s Broadcast was not necessarily an underdog, their third album Tender buttons did not draw. By this point in 2005, they had grown from a five-member band to core members James Cargill and Trish Keenan. Tender buttons was followed by the 2009 collaboration album Broadcast and the Newsgroup Investigate Witch Cults in the Age of Radio. Then Keenan died in January 2011. Broadcast’s final release became the film’s soundtrack. Berber sound studio.
On the superficial level, Broadcast’s progress can be seen as a push into obscurity; the reversal of what initially appeared to be a standard trajectory. Of course, the broadcast was never on the hunt for sales, but in the beginning what they were doing got more and more of an audience. Consciously fusing library music, Delia Derbyshire, American sixties experimental eccentrics, the United States of America and many others were never an obvious commercial audience. Nevertheless, there are these graphic statistics.
Throughout though, there was a shadow narrative – one more in keeping with what can be called the post-commercial years. Like sigur rós and Stereolab, tours were often accompanied by releases that could only be purchased at shows, such as the explicitly titled 3-inch CDs Microtronics Volume 01: Stereo Recorded Music for Links and Bridges (2003) and Microtronics Volume 02: Stereo Recorded Music for Links and Bridges (2005). The 2009 Extended EP Mother is the milky way, another tour CD, excitingly merged field recordings, concrete music and fragmented songs. Few people heard it since 750 copies were made. There were also radio sessions, which provided the opportunity to take a different studio approach to material that would be or had been recorded for release.
Now, mother is the milky way (photo top right) becomes readily available for reissue. Next to that, Microtronics Volumes 01 & 02 collects the two sets of recordings on an LP. There is also Maida Vale Sessionsa double album of four BBC radio sessions recorded between October 1996 and August 2003.
The BBC album depicts two line-ups from the five-piece broadcast (despite its Keenan-only cover images) as they chose to be aimed at radio listeners rather than record buyers – entries from breathtaking auditory diary which, after the broadcast, could soon be in the rearview mirror. The second session, from March 1, 1997, includes “The Book Lovers” and “Come on Let’s go”. Both have become prominent entries in the broadcast canon, and here each is less cluttered than the released counterparts. It’s not that they feel alive, but that they’re spikier by choice. Despite its version of Nico’s “Sixy Forty”, the final session, August 19, 2003, is inscrutable and most unknowable. At this point, while not yet a duo, it was impossible to determine what was inside Broadcast. They defined their own world, with rules as unfathomable as those governing the alternate realities captured by Tarkovsky. stalker.
A key driver of spread was a penchant for pre-digital electronic music from (or intended for) soundtracks. Microtronics embraces it with enthusiasm. The 21 tracks each last between 55 seconds and just over two minutes. None is a song or could be developed into a song. Booms, bumps, rattles and rhythms intertwine to create distinct pieces that indeed would have worked well as links and bridges between late sixties or early seventies television programs. A fan-only listening experience. Although stylistically different, completing them may have been relevant to acquiring the disciplines necessary for Berber sound studio album.
Likewise, although from another point of view, the incredible mother is the milky way is a form of illusory soundtrack: a disjunctive chronicle of crossing a landscape marked by snippets of voices, ambient noise and music that seems to have been recorded through the ether, like the tapes Electronic Vocal Phenomena by Konstantin Raudive. At the start, there is a hint of the Beatles’ “Blue Jay Way”. Then there are crackling, folk-influenced snippets: Was Anne Briggs in the distance reciting what was needed to enact a mist-shrouded ritual. The place mentioned by mother is the milky way is not comfortable with himself. See it as a bolder companion for…Radio Age Witch Cults.
While the three albums may be peripheral to the broadcast’s narrative, they are not. Instead, they complete the picture. Even so, it’s hard to see if the broadcast can ever stop being an enigma.