“My most beautiful sound at the time was a tatty green BBC lampshade,” she recalled. “It was the wrong colour, but it had a beautiful ringing sound to it. I hit the lampshade, recorded that, faded it up into the ringing part without the percussive start…..
I analysed the sound into all of its partials and frequencies, and took the 12 strongest, and reconstructed the sound on the workshop’s famous 12 oscillators…”
I randomly stumbled across some music by Delia Derbyshire in my music library over the holidays and it got me thinking about what is it that made her work so incredibly evocative – it has a form & effect that I struggle to find a contemporary equivalent… So I went on a bit of a Delia listening binge, partly for pleasure but also constantly thinking not so much about how she created her sounds, but about her incredible compositional skills: the form of her work.
As I read more about her I came across this great article on the Sparks In Electric Jelly which is well worth a read, and at the end mentions the beautifully written obituary in the Guardian which is where that quote is from & is worth a read.
Her work creating the theme to the original Doctor Who series is legendary: the results AND the very clever process of creating it! When I think back to my childhood the original Doctor Who scared the hell out of me: I have a vivid memory of watching an episode on our black & white TV (which means it was pre-1974, as we got our first colour TV for the Commonwealth Games held in Christchurch that year) and hiding behind an armchair because it was freaking me out, but I still wanted to watch it! But here’s the thing: even if I was too scared to watch it, the unworldly & occasionally terrifying sounds from Doctor Who made it around the armchair and into my little brain!
But if you only know her work from the classic Doctor Who theme, then you are in for a treat: I highly reccomend you do some listening at Ubu which quite a collection of MP3s HERE including the BBC documentary Sculptress Of Sound – The Lost Works Of Delia Derbyshire which is a great introduction – download this. Also check out the official archive site for her HERE
There is also a great Youtube playlist of her works HERE – so great to see her manually triggering tape machines, in time with the loop/s playing!
Around the same time I was reading a thread on MW about phasers and someone posted a link to this great article: History of Electronic Sound Modification written by Harold Bode no less (the bilbiography of that article is also a goldmine of information and links) and it got me thinking about the relationship between process and form, what we’ve gained AND lost with digital in terms of process, but almost & really far more importantly what it is doing to form: the shape of the work created…
Thank you Delia, your work transcends time & technology…
Some links & resources:
– Delia Derbyshire Official archive
– Delia Derbyshire – an audiological chronology
(this WikiDelia extends the Chronology by having a page for each piece, album, person with whom she worked, event she participated in and so on, as well as one for each of the 250+ tapes and 1000+ papers found in her attic after she died)
– Sign the petition to have her work released
– The Electronic Church of St Delia on Facebook
– The Delian Mode (a documentary by Kara Blake, 2009)
– an interview from 1997
– article discussing basic techniques
– great SOS article about the BBC Radiophonic Workshop
– BBC article Lost tapes of the Dr Who composer with example sounds
– its a shame there is no box set compiling all of her work…
Heres a basic listening list, based on undoubtedly dodgy sources‘
An Electric Storm:
The Naked Sun:
O Fat White Woman:
Derbyshire-Delia_Sculptress Of Sound_BBC-Documentary
previously: I love Tina Weymouth