Forgotten Album: White Noise An Electric Storm

Mandi Goodier

In 1969, one year before Kraftwerk’s seminal debut, White Noise unleashed An Electric Storm, with electronic noises and catchy songs bound to stir the listener.


White Noise: An Electric Storm
Release date: June 1969
Label: Island

5 star

Formed by members of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop (the sound effects department), the idea behind White Noise (1969) is immediately clear—electronic effects and samples used to melodic, dramatic and occasionally uncomfortable ends. Initially intended to be a two song single release, record label Island urged White Noise to create a full album. One year later, created in the Kaleidophon Studio—essentially a flat in Camden Town—White Noise released An Electric Storm, which went on to influence generations of electronic musicians.

Just because something is uncomfortable doesn't mean it shouldn't be endured. Through the layering clash of sound effects in Love Without Sound, the screaming orgasmic noises of My Game of Loving, to the dark monastic chanting of Black Mass: An Electric Storm in Hell, discomfort is rife throughout, making for intense listening. 

"I use voices a lot too, but not as conventional vocals. I always use a lot of voices, and if somebody having an orgasm in the background is used as part of one of the waveforms, it makes the sound more interesting, without the listener actually knowing what they're hearing."

-  David Vorhaus

It might sound a bit chaotic and nonsensical, but what can't be ignored is its intelligence. Created by three people with a deep understanding of music: David Vorhaus, a classical bass player whose background lies in physics and electro engineering, Delia Derbyshire, who had (under)famously electrified the Doctor Who theme tune some 5 years earlier (1963), and Brian Hodgson, a composer and sound technician who, alongside Derbyshire, co-founded Unit Delta Plus (created in order to make and promote electronic music).

They knew what they were doing; they were pushing electronic music into a new arena and bizarre soundscapes alone could not achieve this, fortunately this album is full of incredibly crafted songs.

The naivety and fragility of the vocals are not unlike The Velvet Underground, and there too are parallels here in terms of melodies—Ferryboat Bill (1968) and The Murder Mystery (1969) immediately spring to mind. Vocals come as a sort of strange relief for the listener, who might occasionally find themselves slightly lost and yearning for something more familiar; the vocals help to direct strange noises into accessible (if not sinister) pop songs. The result is astounding and completely unlike anything achieved before. Let's not forgot this is 1969. The Summer of Love. Hippies were turning up on mass to watch the Stones in Hyde Park. The Beatles had just released Abbey Road. Art was pushing the human body to its limits. Drugs were free-flowing. We were amidst a sexual revolution. This was the age of creativity. 

Unfortunately the album at the time was a flop. But over the years it has managed to sell hundreds of thousands of copies becoming a cult classic, cited time and time again by contemporary electronic musicians.

Notes:
Kaleidophon – production
David Vorhaus – production co-ordinator
Delia Derbyshire, Brian Hodgson – electronic sound realisation
Paul Lytton – percussion
John Whitman, Annie Bird, Val Shaw – vocals

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