Sunday, January 24, 2010

Delia Derbyshire (1937-2001)

Delia Ann Derbyshire (May 5th, 1937- June 3rd, 2001)
Born in Coventry in 1937, Delia's first approach to abstract sound was the one generated by air raid sirens when the Luftwaffe was dropping bombs during a long 1940's night. This occasion, remembered as one of the most tragic during WWII, remained one of the first tokens of electronic music.

Delia's interests in sound's theory and perception, in the use of purely electronic sources was probably the result of her studies in mathematic and music at Cambridge. According to Delia, sound perception can dominate over any mathematical theory, but the knowledge of this one can break mathematical rules themselves.

After unsuccessfully applying for a job at Decca studios, that at the time did not include women in their staff, she found an occupation at Boosey & Hawkes, music editors, and ended at the "Radiophonic Workshop". BBC's workshop initially was a department working for Radio Dramas and when Delia joined it, for her high musical experience, R.W. was entering it's golden age. After composing numerous themes and sound effects under the "Radiophonic Workshop" signature, Ron Grainer's Doctor Who's theme (1963) gave her renown. Doctor Who's opening theme was one of the first opening theme produced with electronic means; Delia used oscillator, loop and reverse, a job that took her entire nights over weeks. After recording the single notes from electronic sources, the tape was cut and patiently rejoined. This is how Delia remembers the making of the longest tape ever seen at the Radiophonic Workshop:

“It went out through the double doors and then through the next pair; just opposite the ladies toilet and reception. The longest corridor in London, with the longest tape loop!”

In the 60's she starts to work with Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Roberto Gerhard, Iann Christou and she becomes Luciano Berios' assistant at the Darlington Summer School. She got involved with the first electronic events in the United Kingdom at the Watermill Theatre, the Nr Newbury, Chalk Farm Roundhouse [with Paul McCartney] and the Royal Festival Hall. Without any doubt Delia was becoming one of the most interesting protagonist of experimental and psychedelic music: she creates the music theme for Yoko Ono's "Wrapping Event", she works with Guy Woolfend and between 1966 and 1967 she creates the Unit Delta Plus with Brian Hogson and Peter Zinovieff in order to promote electronic music outside radio and television scenes. The three of them exhibited at the Million Volt Light and Sound Rave where the Beatles (paul and Ringo) played Sound of Light, a legendary concert of pre-recorded electronic music. Always with Brian Hogson and with David Vorhaus too, she realized as White Noise "An Electric Storm" (1968). Thank to Petre Zinovieff's studio she met Stockhausen, Pink Floyd and Brian Jones; Barry Miles, Paul McCartney biographer, tells about a never occurred collaboration between Delia and the Beatles for "Yesterday"'s creation. From 1947 she stopped music composing, up until the 90's when she starts to work with Peter Kember to a new album that will n ever be published. Her works for the radio and television in the sixties and the seventies will be used for over thirty years. As of today Delia Derbyshire had been referred to, interviewed and covered by musicians like Sonic Boom, Alphex Twin and The Chemical Brothers.

“I just have a passion to make abstract sounds. A deep-rooted physical passion.” Delia Derbyshire

(Translation: Matteo Salval)

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