Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Delia Derbyshire

Pete Clemons with yet another article for the Coventry Telegraph, this time celebrating Delia derbyshire day who was born in Coventry and realised the Doctor Who theme electronical and much more...

Delia's Recipe of strange sounds.
Pete Clemons 

MENTION the name Delia Derbyshire and, quite naturally, most people will immediately remember her for her involvement in the creation of the theme tune for the classic TV programme Dr Who, created during the early part of the 1960s, and which has just recently celebrated a remarkable 50 years on our screens.

Through her day job at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Coundon born Delia Derbyshire was also an explorer within the world of electronic music. And as well as arranging the Dr Who theme tune, which is thought by many as being the best ever TV signature music ever, she was also heavily involved in the recording of an album which would become a cult classic on its release during the late 1960s.

That album 'White Noise - An Electric Storm' was begun during 1968 with recording continuing into 1969. It would eventually be released by Island Records during June 1969 and would go on to sell hundreds of thousands of copies worldwide. During its lifetime it would be name checked as having influenced artists as diverse as The Orb, Julian Cope, Jerry Dammers, Martin Bowes Attrition and many others.

White Noise came about when David Vorhaus, an American electronics student with a passion for experimental sound and classical music, attended a lecture by sound scientist Delia Derbyshire. The pair then hooked up with fellow workshop composer Brian Hodgson and percussionist, Paul Lytton. Vocalists John Whitman, Annie Bird, Val Shaw were also involved in the project.

Early recordings of the album were undertaken at the BBC workshop in Maida Vale during the night after all the staff had gone home. It seems as though the BBC were unaware that their equipment was being used for these purposes, at that time, although the organisation is now fully aware.

But the group could not continue this practice of 'borrowing' the BBC's resources for the whole album so they ended up creating their own studio. And as such the rest of the album was created in Kaleidophon Studios in Camden, London.

The final results were quite groundbreaking at the time. It was an experimental record built up with a collection of strange and wonderful songs. And it was created using a combination of tape recording techniques. It was also said that it used the first British synthesizer, the EMS Synthi VCS3, but having read a later interview with David Vorhaus I think that theory has now been cast into doubt.

The album does contain lyrics but the voice was also used to create some of the soundscapes. According to David Vorhaus 'I always used a lot of voices and if, for example, somebody screams in the background then that can be used as part of one of the waveforms. It makes the sound more interesting, without the listener actually knowing what they're hearing.' When the ideas were first submitted to Island Records, over a year prior to its release, you do kind of wonder why they invested in it. Having been a blue beat and reggae label at that time, it must have sounded like nothing they had ever released before. I can only assume that it may have been a case of right place right time. After all it was 1968 and the music industry was becoming more open to freedom. And Island Records, themselves, were introducing alternative music and, along with bands such as Traffic and Spooky Tooth to their catalogue. Regardless, White Noise became one of the first of this new crop of signings and the album became a cult classic.

The opening track on the album 'Love Without Sound' included, for example, speeded up tape edits of a double bass to create some astonishing sounds. The LP itself was in two halves. Side 1 was subtitled 'Phase in' with side 2 being known as 'Phase out.' .' The rest of side 1 of the record or tracks 2 to 5 on the CD is made up of the following titles 'My Game of Loving',' 'Here Come the Fleas',' 'Firebird' and 'Your Hidden Dreams.'.

The whole of side 2 of the album, tracks 6 and 7 on the CD, contains some of the most chilling music I think I have ever listened to. It really is quite powerful stuff. Track 6, titled, 'The Visitation' is about a road accident that leads to an out of body experience and that track alone took three months to complete.

The final track on the album also has its own story. It seems that Island Records had advanced the 'band' a considerable sum of money. But a year after the deal was complete Island was still waiting to see the results. So the label wrote to David Vorhaus demanding that they receive the album's master tapes within seven days or they would set about reclaiming their money. This resulted in the hurriedly recorded finale and fairly self explanatory 'A Black Mass: An Electric Storm in Hell.'.

By today's standards the album is quite short as the seven tracks clock in at around 36 minutes but at the same time it really is a must for those that are interested in electronic music, particularly in those early pioneering days.

It may not be the most conventional of records and it will not grab the attention of everybody. It is, however, a quite legendary and important album in the eyes of the small group of people as well as the critics alike. But make no mistake, Delia Derbyshire and her colleagues were true pioneers within their chosen field of work.

Delia Derbyshire continued to work for BBC until 1973 when she left London. She took on a variety of jobs that included being a radio operator for a team of people who were laying the national gas pipeline and also a bookshop manager. She did however make one more musical contribution. And that was collaboration with Sonic Boom which took place toward the end of the 1990s.

Delia passed away during July 2001. Yet even today, so revered is Delia Derbyshire, that a tour inspired by her work has been planned for the week of April 12. A female trio based in Manchester called the Delia Darlings have spent time with Delia's archives and have created music based on their findings and will be touring it around the country.

7 part video on Delia Derbyshire

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