Delia Derbyshire / May 5, 1937 - July 3, 2001

The English electronic music composer Delia Derbyshire may be best known for her eerie Doctor Who theme song but she held a creative chair at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop for over ten years, contributing to hundreds of productions.

From Coventry, she played piano and violin as a child and expressed interest in mathematics and sound. After flat rejections from record companies that refused to hire a woman for the studio (ahem, Decca), she found some work with Luciano Berio in '62, as well as joining the BBC that year. There she and her colleagues composed for various science & learning programs, horror movies, robot soundtracks, etc. Lots of visiting rock stars (Paul McCartney, Brian Jones and others) would pop in and she would show them how to realize their sound art pieces.

She liked to treat sound made off of "found" objects (it could be anything from lamps to bottles to strings), used feedback as music, worked with oscillators and gadgets and hand-spliced her tapes (as was the practice in those days before computers). She would speed the tapes up and down, changing the pitch as appropriate for the piece.

The Doctor Who theme, although originally composed by Ron Grainer, was pretty much a Derbyshire creation. Grainer was quite impressed and campaigned (unsuccessfully) for her to receive a co-writing credit with the BBC. But she never did receive as much as a dime of royalties for her work on Doctor Who, which had been released as a single and re-released on many compilations through the years. (She also contributed sounds to the action in specific episodes as well).

After leaving the Beeb, she started working in a private studio with some fellow creative minds of Radiophonic as Unit Delta Plus. They made an important and pioneering electronic music album An Electric Storm (credited to White Noise, released on Island in '69). She collaborated with theatre projects, filmmakers, poets, schools, fashion shows, photographers and other art happenings, adding sounds to the various works.

She was a major inspiration on folks from the Beatles and Pink Floyd (who have sampled her work in their music) to Stereolab, Yoko Ono (a collaborator of Delia's) and others. Late in her life she co-produced records by Sonic Boom's project Experimental Audio Research. She is now justly considered an important pioneer in sound art, audio collage, tape music, noise and electronic music.

"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 to give a whooshing sound. So the camels rode off into the sunset with my voice in their hooves and a green lampshade on their backs."

Older Post Newer Post

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published