Delia Derbyshire

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Lure of the Space Goddess

Last month I was up in Notts visiting family, making the most of being on a Flash-enabled computer. I spent a whole evening discovering Delia Derbyshire footage on U-Tube. She is the most awesome thing. The voice of an angel...

These videos feature her early electronic music, complete with photos of her working with some very funky valve oscillators. The equipment used in the studio is very large, with some rackmount devices looking like they're about 12U high! I can only speculate how rudimentary and obscure the tech was back in the 1960's, all hand-built tube gear. It's interesting that Delia shunned the 'modern' advances brought about by solid state technology in the shape of the early Moog synthesisers, instead favouring tape manipulation and musique-concrete techniques, which undoubtedly set apart her unique sounds of rare character.

As well as the classic original 1963 Dr. Who Theme Music which she realised at The BBC Radiophonic Workshop from Ron Grainer's score (big band versions also exist), she also made the original TV music for The Tomorrow People (article) and many other works (hear some here). Her chilling piece "Dreams" is simply astounding in its atmosphere. I didn't realise she was also a member of The White Noise, who made a very curious album called "An Electric Storm" that I initially found rather disturbing (no wonder!), but now I've rediscovered its startling invention with fresh ears. 1969?!? Unbelievable.

Nowadays anyone who thinks that electronic music is a male-only domain is just plain wrong - synths are hardly the most macho instruments. Yet in 1959 Delia was refused a job at Decca who said "we don't employ women in our music studios". She changed all that. Daphne Oram was another woman pioneering electronic music in the BBC in those early days with her Oramics system; hear her piece "Pulse Persephone". In America, Suzanne Ciani worked extensively with the Buchla modular synthesiser and is seen here with patchcord necklaces :-) A more recent synth heroine is the space-faring goddess ZIA, whose experiments with alternate tunings had a major effect on me.

Delia has found a place in my celestial supergroup, and become another obsession, along with Vivienne McAuliffe... (to be featured here soon)

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© copyright Malcolm Smith 2008-08-30 - last updated 2010-04-25 - links verified 2008-08-30