Delia Derbyshire is the unsung heroine of British electronic music. Her works from the 60s and 70s for the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and for various projects continue to be used on radio and TV over 30 years later, amazing longevity for the genre. She was born in Coventry, England in 1937 and earned a degree in mathematics and music from Cambridge University.
In 1960 Delia joined the BBC as a trainee studio manager, setting playlists and DJing. She excelled, but when the fledgling Radiophonic Workshop was put under the same operational umbrella, she asked for an transfer.
Set up to create sound affects and musical themes for radio dramas, the Radiophonic Workshop had been run by someone with a drama background. Derbyshire was the first Radiophonic employee with formal music qualifications, but she wasn't supposed to be creating music. Thankfully, she ignored such restrictions, and ushered in what is still referred to as the Golden Age of the Radiophonic Workshop.
Delia had found a paradise where she could combine her interests in the theory and perception of sound, modes and tunings, and the communication of moods using purely electronic sources. Within a matter of months she had created her recording of Ron Grainer's Doctor Who theme, one of the most famous and instantly recognisable TV themes ever. On first hearing it Grainer was tickled pink: "Did I really write this?" he asked. "Most of it," replied Derbyshire. Despite her success, much of her early work was anonymously credited 'special sound by BBC Radiophonic Workshop'.
Before long the Workshop's TV output had overtaken work produced specifically for radio broadcast. Derbyshire was called upon to do music for drama and documentary programs set in the distant past, the unseen future or deep in the human psyche - all areas in which an orchestra would sound out of place. Science, arts and educational programs also benefited from her abstract style.
Creatively constrained by the Workshop, Delia found other fields where the directors were less inhibited - film, theatre, 'happenings' and original electronic music events, as well as pop music and avant garde psychedelia. To do this she encouraged the establishment of private electronic music studios where she worked with composer and inventor Peter Zinovieff, David Vorhaus and Brian Hodgson.
A complete list of her works has yet to be compiled, but pieces of note include: Special works and soundtracks for the Brighton Festival, the City of London Festival, Yoko Ono's "Wrapping Event", the award winning "Circle of Light", music for Peter Hall's "Work is a 4 Letter Word" starring Cilla Black, The White Noise LP "An Electric Storm", special sound and music for plays at the RSC Stratford, Greenwich Theatre, Hampstead Theatre and the Chalk Farm Roundhouse.
Delia passed away in Northampton, England, on July 3rd 2001.
For more, go to http://www.delia-derbyshire.org/.
Featuring selections from Raymond Scott, Pierre Henry, Bruce Haack, Dick Hyman, Jean-Jacques Perrey, Morton Subotnick, the Silver Apples and other electronica pioneers.
Notes by Mike