Sculptress of Sound

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Sculptress of Sound: The Lost Works of Delia Derbyshire is a 2010 radio documentary about Delia's Attic Tapes presented by Matthew Sweet, produced by Phil College and recorded in Manchester.

Its format is excerpts from a round table discussion between the presenter, Brian Hodgson, David Vorhaus, David Butler, Mark Ayres, Dick Mills as they listened to her tapes, with recordings of Daphne Oram, Desmond Briscoe, Peter Howell and Elizabeth Parker speaking.

It contains many clips of Delia's music and there is an excellent review of it Delian Moods on the Sparks In Electric Jelly blog.

Transcript

(Numbers in italics are time codes measured in seconds from the start of the programme)

Doctor Who melody sample

Presenter: "Delia was born in Coventry three years before the Luftwaffe attempted to wipe it off the map. She thought she was clever and Girton College, Cambridge agreed. She left with a degree in music and maths and an ambition to work in the recording business which took a blow in 1959 when Decca told her the studio was no place for a woman. The U.N. had no such scruples; Delia worked for them in Geneva before returning to London to take a job with a music publisher. But our story starts in 1960 when Delia joined the BBC as a trainee studio manager and it was then that she started asking questions about a mysterious department called the Radiophonic Workshop where boffins did avant garde things with tape spools."

160-183: Lush spangles (an effect from Anger of Achilles?)

Peter Howell: "Daphne Oram and Desmond Briscoe were the founders of the Workshop and they were studio managers in Drama Department in radio and they were given two old tape recorders to play with and they spent their time doing special sound sequences for dramas. But it sort of took off because it was in the era when radio drama was really at its height and they did a lot of sound sequences for those sort of things and they were the weird and the wonderful.

Desmond Briscoe: "We are essentially specialists in sound. The fact that if you take sound and organise it in certain ways and along certain lines and bearing in mind certain parameters what you produce of course is something which we tend to know generally as 'music'.

Presenter: "And so Delia applied to join these specialists in sound".

240-247: More lush spangles

Presenter: "From 1960 to the mid seventies Delia was part of the musical counterculture. She made bizarre pop tracks with Anthony Newley, composed hymns for robots and sound tracks for horror pictures. She created a soundscape for the world's first electronic music fashion show."

263:
Delia: "Any sound can be made into a radiophonic sound by the treatment it receives. The sort of sounds we usually use are electronic sounds of various sorts, and also sounds that are recorded, picked up by a microphone, everyday sounds and also musical instruments. All these are sources of sound."

290: backing from Moogies Bloogies begins, overdubbed with other stuff

Delia: "Those basic sounds aren't really interesting in their raw state like this; we have to shape them and mould them."

(John Peel's Voice clip)

(Shakespeare clip)

324:
Presenter: "By the mid 1970s, though, Delia was disillusioned with the direction that electronic music seemed to be taking. She always maintained that this was down to the arrival of something called the synthesizer. She wanted electronic music to be hand-made. So she left the workshop, gave up composing and withdrew from the profession."

342: "Without sound"

Presenter: "She worked in an art gallery, a book shop and for the gas board. She drank a lot of red wine. She never asked for anybody's sympathy."

370: "Just bound by blue ethereality, drifting unto my dream free"

Presenter: "The world lost Delia Derbyshire in 2001 but her legacy is still very much alive, not just in the Doctor Who theme but in a whole back-catalogue of lesser-known work she left behind, a catalogue that was recently augmented by Delia's personal collection of recordings which was presented to Manchester University by composer and Radiophonic Workshop Archivist Mark Ayres. But how did Mark acquire the collection in the first place?"

412:
Mark Ayres: "When Delia died her partner Clive discovered all these boxes in her attic, just numbers of tea chests and cardboard boxes all falling to bits, all full of tapes which one day had sticky labels on them but all the sticky labels had fallen off and were at the bottom of the boxes so we were just left with hundreds of reels of tapes and the labels, so it was a real jigsaw puzzle."

435: Tone sweeps

440:
Mark Ayres: "Initially Brian Hodgson took delivery of the tapes. Brian, of course, a lifelong friend of Delia's and colleague at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and he weeded out a lot of stuff because, basically, Delia seemed to have, when she left the BBC, just emptied her studio in to the back of a car so a lot of them were either blank tapes or just echo tapes and just bits of edits which weren't going anywhere or duplicates of things we already had. So Brian did an initial sort of weed through but I still ended up with about 300 reels of tapes. Then David Butler of Manchester University contacted me, initially with an interest to work on the Radiophonic Workshop catalogue in an academic capacity but I seized the opportunity to suggest that there was a much more interesting project that he might like to take on (laughs).

480: Spoinky noises

490:
David Butler: "The strange thing about it was that all the tapes were in boxes of breakfast cereal, you'd got Bran Flakes, and in a way that seemed to kind of encapsulate Delia's music and the way it has reached out to audiences, particularly in Britain, and that is that you've got something that is innovative and experimental and very progressive in many ways but also is going into people's front rooms on a weekly basis. So there was something about that combination of the extraordinary and the ordinary, the mundane, which kind of seemed right in a way but also very odd.

530: "Science and Health" clip

Presenter: "Unless you are a student of electronica or an acolyte of Doctor Who, Delia Derbyshire is virtually unknown and in the early days that obscurity was a matter of BBC policy. Like those anonymous painters and sculptors who toiled in the renaissance, it was the Workshop that got the credit and not the individual. Here's David Butler again:

566:
David Butler: "There was this great admiration for what she was doing but there wasn't that official credit coming and in the archive there's a wonderful letter from Martin Esling, who was head of Drama and Sound at the BBC and this letter is from 1964, where he's writing to Desmond Briscoe praising Delia Derbyshire and asking "Could she be properly credited?" I'll read you a little bit from that memo because it's extremely revealing. So he says: "I've just been listening to the playback of the completed version of 'The Tower' and should like to express my deep appreciation for the excellent work done on this production by Delia Derbyshire and John Harrison. This play set them an extremely difficult task and they rose to the challenge with a degree of imaginative intuition and technical mastery which deserves the highest admiration and which will inevitably earn a lion's share of any success the production may eventually achieve. I only wish that it were possible for the names of contributors of this calibre to be mentioned in the credits in the Radio Times and on the air but, failing this, I should like to register the fact that I regard their contribution to this production as being at least of equal importance to that of the producer himself."

643:
Presenter: "Even now, programme makers aren't free to put everyone they want in the closing credits. There are no such rules, however, about having credits anywhere else in a show, so we'll sneak one in here. You're listening to "Sculptress of Sound" with music by Delia Derbyshire and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. There! I think she might have liked that!

663: Clip of Delia laughing

Presenter: "And so, as work continues here in Manchester on cataloguing and preserving the archive I'm meeting up with Mark Ayres and some of Delia's former colleagues to get a first-hand account of the woman behind the work and of course to hear some of that work itself.

680: "Talk Out" theme

Presenter: "So this, I guess, is a kind of convocation of Delia's friends and colleagues. David Vorhaus is here, Mark Ayres, Brian Hodgson and Dick Mills. I wonder if we could start by just gathering a few impressions of this woman. Who was Delia Derbyshire, Brian Hodgson?

713:
Brian Hodgson: "She was the most wonderful, infuriating person I've ever met in my life. We were either great friends or great enemies for the whole period and you never knew, even within the same few minutes, you could be great friends or great enemies. You never knew quite what you'd just said that upset her.

734:
Presenter: "Dick Mills, you worked alongside her at the Radiophonic Workshop. What impact did she make upon you?"

Dick Mills: "She was the ultimate planner down to the last detail. I was more helping her to put it into audible, tangible form. She had the plans in her head and multitudinous scraps of paper covered in spidery brown ink but it was great fun with her."

Presenter: "David Vorhaus, how did she come into your life?"

David Vorhaus: "I was going off to an orchestra practice one night and the conductor said 'Hey, there's this lecture on electronic music." For me it was fascinating, it was just a fantasy, electronic music so I shot into this thing and it was this amazing lady and this amazing gentleman here."

Presenter: "Brian"

David Vorhaus: "Brian, who were giving this lecture in a group called Unit Delta Plus and it just was the most amazing thing I'd ever heard. These people were really doing it."

Presenter: "But how would you describe her to someone who didn't know her and didn't know her work?"

David Vorhaus: "Very intelligent, very analytical as you had to be in those days, you really had to know what you were doing. But also very fiery and kind of a bit crazy. Hard to know what it was that would fire her off in one direction or another. She'd start on a sentence and go off on a tangent, and a tangent to the tangent and tangent to that, and long after everybody else completely lost touch with where they were she'd eventually come back to the point and so it was like this very fine line between genius and insanity.

825:
Presenter: "What are you impressions of her, Mark Ayres?"

Mark Ayres: "As David says, she was very analytical and she was very analytical in terms of every aspect of her life, largely in terms of sound. I was aware in telephone conversations that we'd have a long telephone conversation, it would just suddenly finish. The phone would just go dead. And a week later the phone would ring again and it would be Delia and she'd start talking and I'd not have a clue what we were talking about. And then I realised after a few weeks that in fact she would pick the conversation exactly to the word where she'd dropped it off and so I had to make notes about what we were talking about so that, when the phone rang and it was Delia again, I remembered where to pick up and I discovered, in fact, after she diedn that that's what she used to do. She used to sit by the phone with a pad making notes as she went along, largely on what she thought you meant through the tone of your voice rather than from what you actually said. Could be very difficult on occasions but, as others have said, totally wonderful."

884:
Presenter: "We're going to listen to some now and I want to start by playing you an extract from a BBC radio programme from 1964. A copy of the whole programme exists in Delia's collection. It's called 'Information Please'. It's one of those question-and-answer programmes in which everything is rather scripted, which is how a lot radio used to be, I guess. We're gonna start with the theme tune which, in itself, I think, illustrates just how different TV and radio music was to the world that Delia was doing.

911: 'Information Please' theme, questions:''

"How is electronic music produced?"

"How long does it take to paint the Forth Bridge?"

"How do comedy writer pairs work?"

"Where does pigskin come from as we don't skin a pig?"

Presenter: "Now that really marks the difference, doesn't it, between what came before and what came after. What are you responses to that? David?"

David Vorhaus: "Well, I couldn't be more opposite to that!"

Brian Hodgson: "It's very interesting, actually, because we even speak differently. Even listening to recordings of oneself from that period, we spoke in a completely different way."

Dick Mills: "The BBC was very formalised and expected their listeners, perhaps not to sit to attention, but lets have some, er.."

Hodgson: "at least, to pay attention."

Mills: "Yes, to pay attention."

Presenter: "But does what we've listened to there show something about a world which the Workshop was beginning to resist in some way?"

Brian Hodgson: "Yes. It was not the world we were actually operating in."

Presenter: "Well, let's hear Delia beginning that process of explanation. This is the answer that she gives to the listener's question. It's sort of a 'Points of View' type show, this, so you'll hear an actress reading out the letter that prompted Delia's appearance in the program. At least, I think she's an actor."

Actress in scottish accent: "We often hear in mystery or science fiction plays strange eerie music which I understand is not produced by ordinary musical instruments but electronically. How is that done? Miss Anne Macmillan of Perth"

1964 presenter: "So, to explain how these strange come about we've come to a most interesting department of the BBC, their Radiophonic Workshop where, for instance, the title music of Doctor Who and many other special sounds and incidental music for sound and television plays are produced. And to explain how this done we have with us Miss Delia Derbyshire, a very versatile girl who has a good technical knowledge combined with a musical training and a sense of dramatic ability. (To Delia) So, in this Workshop you can turn practically any sound into a form of music.

Delia: "Yes, if we take the Greenwich pips, for example, we can speed them up and slow them down and alter the quality and we can, by mixing various tracks together, make a little piece."

1066-1092: First London Lemons theme

1964 presenter: "Well, that was a very nice arrangement and I can distinctly recognise the theme of it, the 'Oranges and Lemon" themes. I'd never expected to hear it with the Greenwich pips as the instrument, as it were. Well, thank you very much for your explanations and for the very interesting things you've shown me while I've been in your workshop here. Hey, what are you doing to my voice, Miss Derbyshire?"

Delia: "I've turned you into a fish!"

1964 presenter: "Thank you very much indeed, Miss Derbyshire."

1119:
Presenter: "It's like something, it is something literally from another era, isn't it? But the way that interviewer talk to her is so incredibly patronising, isn't it? 'Here's one of the nice gells from Bletchley Park', that sort of idea. What do you think that clip says about the BBC's attitude to what the Workshop was doing? Dick?"

Dick Mills: "Well, I think the gentleman there was rather relieved it had a sense of humour in it. I'm not quite sure if he got the actual pun, that the tune 'Oranges and Lemons' were made from the pips of those respective fruits. That was a bit lost on him! But it's very strange asking anybody about something new that you don't actually comprehend yourself. You expect the people to explain to you in words of one syllable. It's also very peculiar, to my mind, that Delia had this very cultured voice and at some stage it almost sounds as if she's sending them up with her reply.

Presenter: "What was her attitude to that kind of authority? David?"

David Vorhaus: "She was pretty liberated in her own mind. She was Womens' Lib decades before it existed so that would definitely set her off. A lot of things would set her off but that certainly would."

1211-1216: Second London Lemons theme

Presenter: "So let's try and find out a little more about the woman who created these sounds. Here's another former member of the Radiophonic Workshop, Elizabeth Parker, remembering her first sighting of the legendary Delia Derbyshire."

1228:
Elizabeth Parker: "I saw her walking up to Portland Place, at least I saw this figure with a great flowing cloak and an enormous hat and I thought 'That has to be Delia.' We were going to a Radiophonic Workshop party and when we got inside, lo and behold, it was her and very elegant, very beautiful and a very distinctive voice too."

Delia: "I think my forte, well, apart from having an analytical mind to do electronic sound, at the opposite end I'm very good at writing extended melody. Most of the programmes that I did were either in the far distant future, the far distant past or in the mind."

1270: Two bursts of wobbulator

Presenter: "So let's try and build up a picture of this woman. I think, my image of her is fixed by some early sixties photographs of her where she looks rather like Joan Bakewell. She has this air of technical efficiency about her. How dedicated was she to her work, David?"

David Vorhaus: "It varies. Sometimes she was totally into something, quite obsessive about it and other days she wouldn't want to know, she just wouldn't go near it and it was very hard to know why, what it was that triggered these on/off phases.

Brian Hodgson: "If Delia had an idea in her head she would go after it. I mean, she was riding home one night. We worked in Maida Vale, she lived just round the corner in Clifton Villas and she was riding a bicycle in those days so she set off, she was writing this song, I think for 'Poets in Prison', a thing for the City of London Festival and she was riding away and she was thinking, she got it all sorted out and then suddenly she came to and she was in Vauxhall on the other side of the river. She had not a clue how she'd got there but she'd cycled all the way though Central London without being conscious from the moment she got on the bike at Maida Vale except for this piece she was writing."

1355: Start of "Rorate Coeli" from "Amor Dei"

Delia: "When I was doing the Inventions with Barry Bermange he wanted sounds which would sound like a Gothic altarpiece. 'Oh,' I said, 'yes. What a good idea. But what do you really mean? What sort of sounds?' He said 'Well, give me a pencil and paper'. I did, and with great care and elaboration he drew me a beautiful Gothic altarpiece and said 'That's the sort of sound I want'.

Presenter: "Was that a typical sort of commission?"

Dick Mills: "I couldn't describe it better. Delia actually saw sound as pictures and then she got analysing with a Gothic altarpiece where the probably go up, soar up to a point and all this filigree bit and, yeah, she could work to that. I mean, that was one of the best unsung periods of her radiophonic life, working in radio as opposed to things for television, where she was the sole contributing atmosphere setter."

Presenter: "It's interesting, the process by which she transformed a one-line request from a producer into something as textured and elaborate as that."

Brian Hodgson: "That was the genius. That was what it's all about."

Dick Mills: "The other part of genius is knowing when to stop because, if you took that further, as people do when they get their hands on things that can do things, you overcomplicate it. You've just got to keep it simple/stupid."

David Vorhaus: "Yeah, that's so right."

Presenter: "This seems a good point to hear one of Delia's compositions. This is "Firebird" from the 1969 'White Noise' album "An Electric Storm".

1464-1515: Start of "Firebird"

David Vorhaus: "Our very first tune!" (laughs)

Presenter: "What do you recall of it? In fact, who were White Noise? Can you tell me about how that collaboration came about?"

David Vorhaus: "White Noise was Delia, Brian and me. I would sneak into the BBC in the middle of the night. I think this is common knowledge now, don't need to keep it secret any more, and I was never employed by the Beeb. We didn't have out own studios and just wanted to try writing a couple of songs, and that was the first. Delia and I actually wrote that together."

(Firebird continues...)

Presenter: "So is this, when we listen to this, do we think of this as Delia Derbyshire unfettered by the constraints of working for the BBC?"

David Vorhaus: "Absolutely. It was the three of us, it really was. Brian kind of excludes himself but he was totally essential, and even if he wasn't, Delia and I actually wrote that together. Most of the stuff I wrote the tunes but we equally made all the sounds and Brian was more into making the sounds than the tunes, for the electronic music and the voiceovers."

Brian Hodgson: "That terrible, sixties, camp, dead motorbike bit".

Presenter: "Don't do yourself down."

David Vorhaus: "No, exactly, as I was going to say, it's and every bit as important and absolutely essential to have someone like that."

Presenter: "OK, well, I think it's time we examined the piece that she remains famous for now

1615:
Delia: (from intro to a tape) "OK, coming up"

1618: Start of Doctor Who theme

Delia: "The first producer of Doctor Who, Verity Lambert, she had in her mind Les Structures Sonores, this group from Paris. Their music sounded really electronic but in fact they were all acoustic instruments and because the Radiophonic Workshop was a below-the-line cost she came to the Radiophonic Workshop and the boss recommended Ron Grainer because he had done something called "Giants of Steam". Ron saw the visual titles, as usual something like a black and white negative, and he took the timings and went away and wrote the score."

1678:
Delia: "It was a magic experience because I couldn't see from the music how it was going to sound."

Brian Hodgson: "Dick and Delia were sort of secreted away and we were just hearing things coming through doors. It wasn't till the actual playback that we were all really quite taken aback because no one had actually done anything quite like that before. It just had never happened. Even Ron when he first heard it was completely gobsmacked. He said 'Did I really write that?" and Delia said 'Yes, most of it' because she'd added her own things. But the way she'd just taken the idea - it was very simple, it was a scribble on a piece of manuscript paper, it wasn't a proper score - she'd taken that and gone away and creates an icon."

Dick Mills: "It's not necessarily meant to portray time travel or space or anything like that. It just is. Now, the problem with it, of course, with hindsight, people said 'Oh, it's wonderful! I expect you had fun doing it.' Well, yes, we had fun doing it. Physically it was laborious because each of those notes were hand-cut, it was made in three different layers and it necessitates playing three tape machines at once and, as each of us has only got two hands, there was two of us, we had to go "Ready, steady, go" and hope it all fitted. And of course there were mistakes. We had a bum note at one stage and now, with three spools of tape with more sticky joins than you could throw a stick at, how are you going to find a wrong note? Enter Maida Vale's corridor which stretches from reception down to Warwick Avenue tube station, it seems like. All we did, Delia and I took the three reels of tape out into the corridor and unwound them, walked along going dum-di-dum dum-di-dum and where a sticky joint was out of place, that was the bum note."

Presenter: "Is the power of this music something to do with our sense that its elements are kind of hewn from nature?"

Mark Ayres: "I think absolutely that's right. I think the fantastic thing about the Doctor Who theme, almost uniquely, is that it totally obscures its own technique. You listen to it and you cannot tell, by listening to it, how it was done. It is obviously not played. It's obviously not played on real instruments. It's obviously not performed on synthesizers because it has a performance sound element to it which doesn't sound performed if you see what I mean."

Dick Mills: "It's got imperfections in it".

Mark Ayres: "It's got lots of imperfections. It is organic. Because it is cut from individual pieces of tape, it's not sequences, it's not quantised, it's not perfect in pitch, it's not perfect in timing, it just is, and it;s fantastic and it's unique and it still stands up."

David Vorhaus: "It's really become a musical icon. I'd say it's built in to every musician's psyche, every person's. It's built in to our subconscious."

Presenter: "So, Mark, you're going to deconstruct the Doctor Who theme for us and show us the elements from which it's composed."

Mark Ayres: "OK. There are two sounds which make up the bass. One of them is this, which is a kind of swoop organ sound which gives the grace notes of the bass line

1884: swoop organ sound

Mark Ayres: "And then there's the plucked string sound which is what you normally think of as being the bass line"

1896: Plucked string sound

Mark Ayres: "That's a sampled string pluck and every so often you can hear very subliminally a suboctave which is being mixed in to emphasize certain notes and when you mix those two together you get the bass line that we're all familiar with.

1920: bass line

Mark Ayres: "Then there's the melody sound which is all the manually-operated swoops and individual notes of the wobbulator cut together there's couple of different elements overlaid here, put through delay and echo to glue it all together.

1941: melody sound

Mark Ayres: "Added to that there are some higher harmonics which emphasize the higher partials"

1956: Higher harmonics of melody

Mark Ayres: "And again you can mix those two together"

1966: Melody with higher harmonics

Presenter: "What's that sound that we heard then?"

Brian Hodgson: "We think it was probably this strange mouth organy thing that had keys on it, 'Melodica' I think they called it, and the combination of the two actually makes it sound as if there's an acoustic. I think that's one of the really incredible things about the Doctor Who theme: it was all electronic but it sounds as if it's got an acoustic."

Mark Ayres: "The rhythm is provided by a couple of tracks of filtered white noise."

2001: Filtered white noise

Brian Hodgson: "This was, in the graphics: the clouds seem to come towards you."

Dick Mills: "Yes. We were trying, I remember now, we were trying to give it a sort of doppler effect. As it comes towards you the pitch goes up, the goes behind you. One of those tracks is forward so you get a sort of pssss noise with a hiss on it and the other one was reversed so it went ssssp ssssp ssssp but then we put echo on that as well so you didn't get any sort of hard drop-off ends."

2041: sssp ppps sounds

Mark Ayres: "And then we can slowly build it up from the bass line track by track."

2050: bass, then + white noise, then + harmonics, then plus melody

Dick Mills: "It's just like being in a room with Delia, isn't it? It really is."

2091: The Delaware version of the Doctor Who theme.

Delia: "Every time a new producer came or new director came they wanted to tart up the title music and they wanted to put an extra two bars here, put some extra feedback on the high frequencies, they kept on tarting it up out of existence. I was really very shocked with what I had to do in the course of so-called duty."

Presenter: "Brian, I think you need to comment on this on this spirit of resistance that Delia is showing here to being asked to kind of tinker with what we all consider a pretty perfect creation."

Brian Hodgson: "Delia had uttered sheer perfection with it. She absolutely detested any alterations. The one she really detested was the awful one we did on the Delaware just to see if we could do it."

2151: Twangy noises

Brian Hodgson: "It was my idea and, as I said, it's one of those sort of ideas that should have been strangled at birth because we were all embarrassed by how it ended up. Delia utterly disowned it just as she disapproved of the even later versions of the theme apart from Peter Howell's. It was, for her, an act of sacrilege to tinker with what she had so carefully created and Ron had so carefully written."

Presenter: "Well, the Doctor Who theme was just the tip of a very large iceberg of Delia's work. Somewhere below the waves is 'Blue Veils and Golden Sands'."

2192: Most of "Blue Veils and Golden Sands"

Presenter: "What are the elements that she used in that piece of music?"

Mark Ayres: "The lampshade is the kind of bell-like tone, the singing-like sound is Delia's voice massively filtered and changed in pitch and [recartons?] were sequenced on tape." (dreamily:) "Raw tones mixed up all on separate pieces of tape and mixed together."

Presenter: "This is one of her great pieces, really, this, isn't it?"

Dick Mills: "Yes, but you've all missed the point. What you've just heard is the sound of a mirage."

Mark Ayres: "It was called 'The Last Caravans' and it was part of 'The World About Us' series for television.

Dick Mills: "Certainly it conjured up empty spaces and that little top of the dune where suddenly all the sand goes swswssswss of the top, you know, sails across, and out of it comes these plodding camel feet."

Presenter: "In the mid sixties Delia collaborated with the poet Barry Bermange on a sequence of radio programmes called 'Inventions for Radio'. Here she's created an ambient sound to back his recording of real people discussing the onset of old age."

2318-2454: Part of The Evenings of Certain Lives: "Time" (presenter talks over the top of the first sound).

Presenter: "This is radio at its most pure"

Mark Ayres: "I think it's absolutely fantastic. The voices, the editing is stunning, the way it's all put together and the backing fits it totally like a glove. It is that slow time dragging opening then the voice comes in over the top of it and you feel it drags a bit and then suddenly it speeds up and the voice speeds up and they start talking about timing and the way the backing just lifts you and pulls you through it."

Presenter: "But also for us, listening to this years onward it's like listening in on a seance or something. These people seem like ghosts.

Dick Mills: "Not when you're my age, they don't! (General laughter). Listening to that again, and I did hear a lot of while Delia and Barry were working on it, it's suddenly occurred to me. I think I know what the sound is meant to be behind that, apart from the obvious heartbeat. I think it's a sort of a very, very slow motion Westminster chime. Not the actual ding-dong ding-dong phrase but the mellowness of the chiming of the notes. It's just like a big grandfather clock, sort of going very, very slowly and time's passing away. I never thought of it that way before."

Brian Hodgson: "No, I hadn't, but you're quite right."

Dick Mills: "You see, Delia can get a rhythm out of the phraseology of the speech. Barry Bermange would never have said 'Let's repeat certain phrases here and there.' Delia picked up on each of those characters' own rhythms and, you know, juxtaposed them to give her the argument about - it goes faster, then 'I don't think about time'."

Brian Hodgson (or Presenter?): "So she turned the voices of those people into music in the way that she did with the sound of something hitting a lampshade."

Dick Mills: "Exactly, exactly! Yes, yes, yeah."

2560: Two chords, presumably from the same piece.

Presenter: "In 1971 Delia was asked to create the music for the centenary of the Institute of Electrical Engineers, the I.E.E."

Delia: "I began by interpreting the actual letters, I.E.E. one hundred, in two different ways. The first one in a morse code version using the morse for I.E.E.100. This I found extremely dull, rhythmically, and so I decided to use the full stops in between the I and the two E's because full stop has a nice sound to it: it goes di-dah di-dah di-dah."

2614: Start of I.E.E.100

2627:
Delia: "I wanted to have, as well as a rhythmic motive, to have musical motive running throughout the whole piece and so I interpreted the letters again into musical terms. 'I' becomes B, the 'E' remains and 100 I've used in the roman form of C."

2652: Another clip of I.E.E.100

Presenter: "This is high theory, this, isn't it? We were talking about her analytical interest; this is maths transposed into music."

David Vorhaus: "Music is maths. They're one and the same. Music is basically can all be turned into simple mathematics and it's really just a fluke of history as amazing as evolution that the perfect tuning is so close to equal tempered tuning that you hardly notice the difference."

2695: Clip of I.E.E.100 melody on a single oscillator with portamento.

Mark Ayres: "But there you can hear Delia describing her composition process, her thought process in incredible details and how every aspect of the composition from rhytm to pitch to tone colour to timbre is all mathematically derived. She's working everything out. And then, as she says, the aim is to produce something very simple and sweet-sounding and that was Delia all over: start with this incredible analysis, a very complicated thought process and then produce something utterly bewitching and utterly beguiling and utterly simple."

Presenter: "One of the real rarities in the archive collection is a recording that demonstrates how Delia generated and shaped the sounds from which she built her music. This is the master tape we're going to listen to now, the master tape for her work on the programme 'Tutankhamun's Egypt'."

2751:
Delia: "Egypt, lot one. Er, this is the master opening titles, the final version. Thirty seconds approximately with tail to go into museum. Ok, coming up."

2767: Opening titles for Tutankhamun's Egypt

2790:
Presenter talks over the tail of the track: "When we heard there was Delia's recorded notes to the producer about these sounds that she was creating. Was that a common practice, to do this kind of thing?"

Brian Hodgson: If you had specific plans of exactly where it went, you didn't have time to talk to the producer and I think at that time Delia would be lagging behind the process of putting the programme together so the tapes would have been rushed over by cab, so she would put on it where it was to go because she wouldn't have time to edit it and she wouldn't have time to communicate exactly where it was in the picture.

2826:
Delia: "This is M1 of Egypt programme one which goes from zero feet to one hundred and fifty-five."

Presenter: "What does it tell us about her working practice that we have this tape with her voice recorded on it in that way?"

Dick Mills: "Again, she's communicating very directly in sound whereas perhaps most of would write notes. She's wanting to communicate immediately and directly."

David Vorhaus: "But also that it was rushed. She was finishing something very very late on and it had to go over and probably go on that afternoon."

2857:
Delia: "In fact there is rather more than you need here, about two and a half minutes. Maybe you'd like to fit it, erm, where it fits."

2866: More trumpeting from Tutankhamun's Egypt

Presenter: "Well, the archive also contains many of the raw elements of Delia's work, so what we're going to do now is hear an extract from the completed version of a piece called 'The Dance' from a Schools' programme with the title 'Noah'."

2888: Start of 'Dance from Noah'

2908:
Presenter: "And now let's listen to some of the raw tracks that were combined to make that final tune."

2912: Flute/pipe melody

2923: Plucked counterpoint

2927: Tenor counterpoint

2938: Bass

Mark Ayres: "Well, it's the individual building blocks and it's the way that electronic music and popular music is put together as a matter of course anyway, track by track. In these days, as we said with the Doctor Who theme, there were no multitrack recorders so everything was a separate strip of tape and then manually synchronised at the end. But again, it was a pioneering use of the technology that was available, to create virtual multitracks at the time so that one person could put together an entire piece - a single person orchestration one-man band type of thing."

Presenter: "One of the elements of the Dance from Noah has a very strange quality to it. It was composed in the late sixties, we know, but it sounds like something that could be danced to in a club right now."

2987: Rhythm track from 'Dance from Noah'

Presenter: "David Butler from Manchester University."

David Butler: "When the archive was first announced in July 2008, several short extracts from the archive were played on the BBC on 'P.M.' and the one that got the most astonishing reaction was the extract we played of the rhythm track of the Dance from Noah. Within twenty four hours we were inundated with emails from all around the world as well as the reaction from the media on P.M. itself. They played the piece to Paul Hartnoll of Orbital."

Dick Mills: "Quite amazing, actually, because that could be coming out next week on Warp records. Yes, it sounds sort of old but it could be something off of a recent Walltech(?) record or something like that."

David Butler: "In America there's a forum about digital music and there was somebody posting on there and they called 'hoax' and believed that this thing couldn't possibly have been done in 1971, that the technology wasn't available, that Delia wasn't working in that style or whatever and so I went on there and explained: "No, it's genuine, it's legitimate." So that particular piece seems to have sent shock waves around the electronic music community and I think you can hear why."

Presenter: "There's still more to be recovered from this treasure box of cassettes and reels of magnetic tape. The world of Delia Derbyshire is not yet mapped and who knows what strange landscapes remain to be discovered?"

3100: Something from Electrosonic... which piece?

Presenter: "Over the next few years the University of Manchester will continue to restore and catalogue Delia's work. Hopefully it will be possible to make its secrets available to students for the first time. And then the blue veil will be lifted and that music, that strange music which defies the listener to say when or where or how it was made will be where it belongs: in the air, moving through time and space and I think that would surely would have pleased her."

Mark Ayres: "I think she would think it simultaneously rather wonderful and rather funny. I think she'd be tickled pink but also extraordinarily amused that people were poring over it and that she had become this legendary Delia Derbyshire."

Dick Mills: "No, it's in exxamining this enigma I'm sure people have thought with getting back to her most famous of infamous piece, how would she feel about a trace of her bein included in the modern signature tune? Now, there's a little bit of me, knowing Delia, that says she'd hate it but there's another piece of me that says, well, sectetly she'd have a little smile about it, but then she'd sit down and analyse why she felt that way as well because that's what she was."

Presenter: "But does she remain an enigma to you?"

Brian Hodgson: "Yes. I've tried to work out throughout the whole of my life and my friendship with her what it was that attracted me and drove me mad at the same time and I've never really found a satisfactory answer. It was almost as if she was retreating over a very, very long time and Delia never unpacked. From the moment she left Clifton Villas I don't think she ever unpacked a single case, a box or anything and that's why the archive is there: because she never unpacked it."

Dick Mills: "It's almost as though her mind was always in transit, which gets me back to: she enjoyed the journey rather than the destination."

Brian Hodgson: "It would be so nice if she could be up there listening to hear you doing this thing. She would be so chuffed."

Mark Ayres: "So thrilled."

3248:
Delia: "I did all sorts of things I was told I couldn't do and, yes, I think I've always been an independent thinker but I must say that I go back to first principles when it comes to music. I go back to the Greeks and the original, simple harmonic series. I think that's a very healthy thing to do for anyone."

Presenter: "Delia Derbyshire *was* a rebel. She was spiky. She was uncompromising. She was a utopian who believed that creative freedom was ore important than getting work. That idealism didn't always make life easy for her but it's the reason why at least one of her works has achieved a kind of immortality. She might have hated what some people did to that strange, thrumming tune she conjured in the endless corridor at Maida Vale Studios but what she imported into it remains indestructible. When the first tie machine is built and its inventor pulls the lever and goes speeding off into the unknown, who knows what kind of sound will fill her ears? Until that moment, Delia Derbyshire's work is the nearest we will get to going on an adventure in time and space."

3322:
Delia: "(Laughs) Well, anyway, you can hear I'm tickled pink."

Doctor Who end credits theme with cliffhanger scream.

3380:
Announcer: "Sculptress of Sound: the lost works of Delia Derbyshire" was presented by Matthew Sweet, it was produced by Phil College and was a Made in Manchester production for BBC Radio Four."

3390: end

Availability

References

  1. Sculptress of Sound on bbc.co.uk
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