Public Service Broadcasting – Playing through History

Another artist I have been taking inspiration from is Public Service Broadcasting (PSB). PSB use archival voice samples from films taken from the British Film Institute (BFI) and create themed pieces that tell a relating to the samples. Their first album ‘Inform – Educate – Entertain’ used samples relating to various 20th Century events including the creation of the Spitfire, the first expedition of Mount Everest and the invention of colour television. The group then took on a more specific concept on their second LP ‘The Race for Space’. This album documents in brief the competition between the USA and Russia in being the front-runners in manned space exploration.


‘Inform, Educate, Entertain’ artwork taken from


The band, J. Willgoose Esq. and Wrigglesworth, use elements of various musical styles and structures to create congruence between the voice samples and the music. In the eponymous opening track of ‘The Race for Space’ we have a choral backdrop to President Kennedy’s speech about facing the challenges of the 20th Century and in ‘Gagarin’ on the same album we have a funk tinged hero’s theme about the first man in space.


Image of Yuri Gagarin taken from


What I find inspiring about the band’s work is that congruence and also development of material to reflect the journey of the events they are portraying. Towards the end of ‘Gagarin’ we hear minor guitar broken chords that as Willgoose says himself in the liner notes for the album foreshadow the sadness of Yuri Gagarin’s untimely death just seven years after his historical accomplishment.


In terms of how voice samples are arranged in the work, we hear a lot of repetition of thematically identifying phrases, such as “a spitfire bird” in ‘Spitfire’ and “the whole planet knew him and loved him” in ‘Gagarin’. We also hear a sense of progression and movement of the plot through use of chronological descriptions.


Image of Spitfire taken from


The attention to chronology is not used at the expense of the pacing and artistic statements of their records, however. Between the triumphs of ‘Gagarin’ and ‘E.V.A’, a piece about cosmonaut Alexei Leonov’s embarking on the first space-walk in ‘The Race for Space’, we have a NASA report about the death of three astronauts in training for the Apollo 1 mission, which of course does not accurately portray the chronology of the events. This incongruity according to Willgoose is to depict the “constant threat of danger” involved in manned space exploration. In this track, ‘Fire in the Cockpit’, the music does most of the talking. The distorted mission control communication is almost inaudible against white noise and harrowing strings. This is in contrast to the ebullient news bulletins that make up the sample arrangements in the songs at either side of it.


In two of my pieces I have also used voice samples to tell a story. In my piece using the sampled voice of Viktor Frankl, I intersperse Frankl’s speech and my sung vocals to describe materialism and Frankl’s concept of idealism as a sort of “real realism” where we end up further in our lives if we are idealists and care about greater things than money. I have also used repetition of certain phrases in my piece in order to create a sense of tension. For example, the repetition of the phrase “make a lot of money” at the start of the track allows for a sense of insistence and pressure that we may feel to do as this phrase suggests. It also serves to ridicule such a philosophy.



In my ‘plunderphonic’ piece I engineer an argument between both US and UK politicians on the topic of military intervention in Syria. We hear the voices bickering with each other and then they all appear together in a cacophony that reflects the “noise” we might believe to be coming from the politicians and the media regarding the situation. The use of certain samples to cue changes in the music is something I have also aimed to be part of my pieces. In the ‘plunderphonic’ piece there are two important instances of this. The first is David Cameron’s rhetorical question regarding military intervention in Syria “If not now, when?” which leads into a more abrasive section that includes the layering of all of the politicians’ voices together. The second example is soon-to-be President Trump’s assertion that “we need to get ISIS” which is followed by a single ride cymbal hit and a much heavier, more menacing section of music that serves to unravel the rest of the piece.


PSB also punctuate sections of music and indeed transitions between tracks with appropriate samples. In ‘If War Should Come’ from ‘The War Room’ EP we hear Neville Chamberlain announce the beginning of World War II with the words “I have to tell you now – this country is at war” whilst accompanied by a melancholy solo acoustic guitar. This captures the gravity of the situation and its sadness signalling the end of the piece and setting up rest of the EP; which describes the challenges that Britain faced in WWII.


‘The War Room’ Artwork taken from


PSB share my love of eclecticism, which is clear in the various compositional approaches and styles in their music. They embrace both electronics and electric and acoustic instrumentation, combinations of which I also like to use in my work. This allows a greater scope of what they can achieve sonically and thus thematically in their music.


PSB also have a great sense of aesthetics, playing live with the images from the BFI films they sample from projected behind them. It makes a great deal of sense having the images of the very events they are retelling the stories of behind them as they play. PSB seem to be in the knack of following the job description of the title of their first album by informing, educating and ultimately entertaining. These are criteria that would not be foolish to aspire towards in my own work.


Sandy Power

Public Service Broadcasting – Playing through History