Tomorrow's World video

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Tomorrow's World video - opening frame

Delia recorded a presentation of her musical techniques for a 1965 episode of the BBC science program Tomorrow's World. In it she first shows sine and square waves and white noise on an oscilloscope, then an example of recording a sound and changing its pitch by slowing it down and speeding it up, and lastly demonstrates the construction of a piece, Pot Au Feu, on multiple tape recorders.

Andy Votel says[1] of this video:

Bradford Museum of Film and Television has a vintage episode of Tomorrow's World featuring Delia Derbyshire explaining the musique-concrete methods adopted at the Radiophonic Workshop when creating those inimitable TV soundtracks. DD almost started dancing at one point. It was incredible...

Delia's part is preceded by Desmond Briscoe talking about the creation of the Radiophonic Workshop.


Desmond Briscoe: The Radiophonic workshop was set up in 1958 to provide a service for radio and television to provide special sound during science fiction to fantasy on the Third Programme. When sounds are shaped and [formed?] into patterns, the result tends to be musical. If you use tape machines and electronic apparatus and the sounds are of electronic origin then one is producing electronic music.

Delia: The first stage in the realisation of a piece of music is to construct the individual sounds that we're going to use. To do this we can, if we like, go to these sound generators here, electronic generators and we'll listen to three of the basic electronic sounds.

First is the simplest sound of all, which is a sine wave. You see here on the oscilloscope that it has a very simple form and has a very pure sound.

Now we'll listen to the same note but with a different quality. This is a square wave.

You see it's very square on the picture and it's rather harsh to listen to. This is because it has a lot of high harmonics and that's what gives the corners on the picture.

A more complex sound still is white noise but those basic sounds aren't really interesting in their raw state like this. To make them of value for a musical piece we have to shape them and mould them but using all of these we can build up any sound we can possibly imagine, almost, and we spend quite a lot of time trying to invent new sound and sounds that don't exist already, sounds that can't be produced by musical instruments.

We don't always go to electronic sound generators for our basic sources of sound. If the sound we want exists already in real life, say, we can go and record it. The sound I want for the rhythm of this piece, which needs to be a very short, dry, hollow, wooden sound. I can get from this [plock!] and then the sound for the punctuating chords I want the sound of a short wire string being plucked. That's at the speed we recorded it in the studio. We can get the lower sounds that we need for the rhythm by slowing down the tape and the higher sounds by speeding up the tape.

These particular pitches I can record on this machine here and then all we have to do is cut the notes to the right length. We can join them together on a loop and listen to them and then with the higher notes in the rhythm, again we join them together in a loop and play it in synchronisation with the first tape. and over this we can play the sound of the plucked string, which can either be in the form of a loop like this - this is in synchronisation - or in the form of a band on a tape.

What's you've seen now is one method by which we synchronise electronic sound with each other, but another technique is to combine tha tape of electronic sounds with the playing of live musicians. In this music by John Baker he's in the studio conducting the musicians in time with the electronic sounds which he is hearing on his headphones.