29 June 2009

Delia Derbyshire

The other day, a friend of mine gave me a copy of The Dreams, by Delia Derbyshire and Barry Bermange. It’s samples of people talking about their dreams, set to a background of electronic music. The dreams are collected into groups of common elements, such as running away, falling, landscape, underwater, and colour. It’s pretty amazing listening, especially when you consider that it’s from 1964.

I didn’t realise it, but Delia was also responsible for the Doctor Who theme. That was composed by Ron Grainer, but it was Delia who turned his written notes into the phenomenal piece of music we all know and love. Apparently, when she played it to Ron, he said ‘Did I really write this?’ She answered ‘Most of it.’ He tried to get her credited as co-composer, but didn’t succeed.

She constructed the track using oscillators and magnetic tape editing. This involved recording the individual notes one by one onto magnetic tape, cutting the tape with a razor blade to get individual notes on little pieces of tape a few centimetres long, and sticking all the pieces of tape back together one by one to make up the tune. Ye gods.

Delia studied maths and music at Cambridge. She tried to get a job after that at Decca Records but was told they did not hire women. She ended up at the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop, and in 1966 she co-founded Unit Delta Plus, which was an organisation dedicated to creating and promoting electronic music. She’s pretty cool (and pretty sexy in that photo!). You can check out some of her stuff here.

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