The next music i’m featuring in my series exploring interesting free music is another soundtrack, again very short, this time from television. It’s something of an oddity, partly because it was never a ‘release’ in the usual sense of the word (and isn’t really available any longer), partly because it’s a blatant exercise in pastiche. Created by Peter Serafinowicz and Robert Popper, Look Around You is a comedy series, the first season of which (broadcast in 2002) was designed to parody the series of educational films shown to English schoolchildren during the 1980s. The season featured eight episodes (plus a double-length pilot) each focusing on one aspect of the natural – and, in one instance, supernatural – world: calcium, maths, water, germs, ghosts, sulphur, music, iron and the brain. The programmes purported to explore these themes scientifically through a variety of explanations and experiments, all of which were absolute, hilariously absurd nonsense. Every aspect of the show’s presentation was designed to replicate the style of those original films as faithfully as possible, and this extended to the music, created by Popper and Serafinowicz, who were cryptically credited as ‘Gelg’.
The series was broadcast by the BBC, and in keeping with their educational remit they hosted a parody Look Around You website, where viewers could in theory interact with the show’s creators in addition to extending and testing further the hapless “knowledge” gleaned from the programme. The website included a media section where it was possible to download eight excerpts from the soundtrack – simply titled ‘Piece One’ to ‘Piece Eight’ – comprising around 11½ minutes of music. Though each very short, they’re a lovely testament to the care taken by ‘Gelg’ to recreate and evoke an earlier time.
The majority of them revel in analogue synth patterns. Some are quick and lively, filled with dancing arpeggios, as in pieces one, three and five; three was used during the opening and closing narration of each show. Others are more slow and brooding, depending on the nature of the on-screen activities. These include piece two, which accompanied an experiment to summon a ghost, piece eight, which consists of edgy floating music with almost no low registers sounds at all, used as the underscore for an experiment where lab technicians collaborate with ghosts. and piece six, where gentle plinking chords accompany a demonstration of the startling effects resulting from drinking ‘sulphagne’ (sulphur mixed with champagne). The other two excerpts are acoustic: piece four featuring a simple burst of reggae (one of the announced but non-existent “next week” episodes would have explored reggae), piece seven a noodling guitar backdrop to a demented maths problem.
These eight tracks are admittedly a bit of a niche curiosity, but they’re a nice extension of the superb authenticity shown throughout the show. The Look Around You website has been archived since 2006 and many of the links no longer function, but the original eight sound files can be downloaded below. A word of warning: they were released as very low-resolution (128Kbps) MP3s, and some of them feature a surprising amount of audible hiss or dither effects; it’s possible the hiss has been deliberately exacerbated so as to play up the music’s supposed analogue origins, though the quantity of dither squelch is surprising, perhaps suggesting very rudimentary compression (neither the hiss nor the dither are audible when the music features in the actual programmes). Nonetheless, this all feeds into the show’s uniquely askew nostalgic soundworld.