On Friday the BBC News website ran a piece about Delia Derbyshire. An electronic music pioneer, Derbyshire’s best known work is the original Doctor Who theme, which combined tape loops, sound samples and electrically generated tones. She worked at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop during the 1960s and early 70s, but also did freelance work, created library music, performed live and produced records such as the White Noise album An Electric Storm.
267 tapes – found in her attic after her death in 2001 – have been given to the Manchester University’s School of Arts, Histories and Cultures to create a digital archive of Derbyshire’s work. You can read more, and hear samples of her work, here.
A radio play from 2002, Blue Veils and Golden Sands, presented her in her later years as an alcoholic loner, angry at the lack of recognition and respect shown to her work. It’s quite a good play (released on CD in 2006 as part of Doctor Who at the BBC: The Plays) but I’d like to think it doesn’t show the real Delia – some who knew her claimed it to be a bleak interpretation of her life. But it’s certainly fair to say she’s never been given the same respect as – say – Brian Eno, even though her work was as ground-breaking and arguably more influential. After all, many electronic artists claim the Doctor Who theme to be a pivotal work in their musical development. And in 1963, that theme must have been totally mind-blowing…
Further reading and audio can by found at www.delia-derbyshire.org, and there are fan-made clips on youtube – here’s one for 1969’s Love Without Sound by White Noise.