David Bowie is… An Interview with Robert Worby

Learning and Interpretation
May 22, 2013

As part of the film the V&A and UAL are making with Ravens Wood, Bowie’s old school in Bromley, UAL invited composer and musician Robert Worby, a visiting lecturer at London College of Communication, to meet and work with the Ravenswood school music students making the music for the film:

It’s been many years since I’ve thought about David Bowie – these days I’m involved with other kinds of music – but when Caroline Stevenson, from University of the Arts London’s widening participation department, asked me to contribute to the film project inspired by the V&A’s ‘David Bowie is’ exhibition, I was intrigued and delighted.

I knew Bowie’s early albums well; Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars and Aladdin Sane all had a big impact on me. Mike Garfield’s piano solo at the end of the title track of Aladdin Sane chimed with my interests in what was then called ‘free jazz’, but has since transformed into ‘improvisation’. I had records by Cecil Taylor, Derek Bailey and Evan Parker as well as bands like Soft Machine but the idea that anybody would play like that on a pop record seemed very much out of place. Listening to Garfield’s solo now, it seems tame compared with those musicians I’ve mentioned but at the time it caused many listeners to lift the stylus off the LP and move on to the following track Drive-in Saturday.

Oblique Strategies

A pack of Oblique Strategy cards © Robert Worby

I first met Eno when he came into Regent’s Park recording studio to lend a hand with a session of demo recordings being made by Michael Nyman with whom I was working. Eno had published a pack of cards called ‘Oblique Strategies’ which he was encouraging musicians to use and he kindly gave me a copy that afternoon. It’s this first edition of the cards we’ll be using during this project. The first card we drew when I was at Ravens Wood last week said ‘Look at the order in which you do things’.

I no longer have any strong connections with rock music because my interests in electronic and experimental music overwhelmed all other musical interests. I’m currently working with the Langham Research Centre who use old technology to make electronic music – tape machines, sine-wave oscillators, shortwave radios and the like. We’re currently doing lots of concerts and we’re about to record an LP of classic electronic works from the 1950s by John Cage.

Langhem Research Centre

Langhem research Centre © Robert Worby

As I was writing this blog I drew another card from the Oblique Strategies pack. It read ‘Ghost Echoes’. This seems relevant given I’m revisiting Bowie while, at the same time, as I write this, I’m giving a concert at the Barbican using the technology that was prevalent when Bowie and Eno were working together.

Ghost Echoes - Obliques Strategy Card

“Ghost Echoes” Obliques Strategy instruction © Robert Worby

About the author

Learning and Interpretation
May 22, 2013

I'm Team Leader for Digital Programmes at the V&A and run events, workshops, talks and festivals with artists and designers who use and experiment with digital tools, processes and manufacturing.

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