Delia Derbyshire X Unsung Heroine of Electronic

February 7, 2012 at 01:10 Leave a comment

Delia Derbyshire was born in Coventry, England, in 1937. Educated at Coventry Grammar School and Girton College, Cambridge, where she was awarded a degree in mathematics and music.

In 1960 Delia joined the BBC as a trainee studio manager. She excelled in this field and thought she had found her own private paradise where she could combine her interests in the theory and perception of sound; modes and tunings, and the communication of moods using purely electronic sources. Within a matter of months she had created her recording of Ron Grainer’s Doctor Who theme, one of the most famous and instantly recognisable TV themes ever. On first hearing it Grainer was tickled pink: “Did I really write this?” he asked. “Most of it,” replied Derbyshire.

Thus began what is still referred to as the Golden Age of the Radiophonic Workshop.

Derbyshire soon gained a reputation for successfully tackling the impossible. When asked to “make some TV title music using only animal sounds” – much thought and ingenuity resulted in Great Zoos of the World. Delia always managed to soften her purist mathematical approach with a sensitive interpretative touch – ‘very sexy’ said Michael Bakewell on first hearing her electronic music for Cyprian Queen.

On being told at the Workshop that her music was ‘too lascivious for 11 year olds’ and ‘too sophisticated for the BBC2 audience’, Delia found other fields where the directors were less inhibited – film, theatre, ‘happenings’ and original electronic music events, as well as pop music and avant garde psychedelia. To do this she encouraged the establishment of Unit Delta Plus, Kaleidophon and Electrophon, private electronic music studios where she worked with Peter Zinovieff [composer and inventor], David Vorhaus and Brian Hodgson.

Delia’s works from the 60s and 70s continue to be used on radio and TV some 30 years later, and her music has given her legendary status with releases in Sweden and Japan. She is also constantly mentioned, credited and covered by bands from Add n to (x) and Sonic Boom to Aphex Twin and The Chemical Brothers.

A recent Guardian article called her ‘the unsung heroine of British electronic music’, probably because of the way her infectious enthusiasm subtly cross-pollinated the minds of many creative people.

By the mid 1970s Derbyshire was disillusioned by the apparent future of electronic music and withdrew from the medium. In the musical dark ages to follow, she worked in a bookshop, an art gallery and a museum. In the mid 90s she noticed a change in the air and became aware of a return to the musical values she held so dear. Delia passed away in Northampton, England, on July 3rd 2001.

Get some of Delia Derbyshire unpublished recordings here!

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Entry filed under: Creativity, Music. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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