Delia Derbyshire Day returns to Manchester for its second year


Delia Derbyshire cutting tapes

A one day event to honour one of the hidden pioneers of British electronic music is set to take place in Manchester this Spring.

Delia Day, dedicated to the life and work of Delia Derbyshire, the woman responsible for realisation of the Doctor Who Theme, will take place at the Anthony Burgess Institute on April 12.

The second event of its kind, it will build upon a long term project by several musicians to explore the breadth of her work, which began just over 12 months ago after they discovered her archives at the University of Manchester.logodeliadarlings

Known as the Delia Darlings, they hope the event will encourage more people into making experimental electronic music and highlight the talents of her and other early female sound engineers, such as Daphne Oram.

Delia, who grew up in a working class family in Preston and Coventry amidst World War Two, went on to become a leading figure in the BBC’s innovative Radiophonic Workshop, where she helped popularise electronic music through numerous TV and radio scores.

A developer of an avant garde technique called musique concrète, she created electronic music by mixing and distorting natural sounds.

Doctor Who Theme Tune

Not hindered by the lack of the electronic music making equipment readily available now, she manually cut and spliced reels of tape together and used square wave oscillators to form astonishing compositions, that were decades ahead of their time.

She worked for  just over a decade at the Radiophonic workshop, where she produced hundreds of compositions, including Blue Veils and Golden Sands, Ziwzih Ziwzih Oo-Oo-Oo and Great Zoo.


Delia demonstrates the tools used to make her compositions

At the same time she worked for a number of outside organisations, producing scores for the Royal Shakespeare Company and working under different aliases in collectives such as White Noise and Unit Delta Plus, which also included Radiophonic employee, Brian Hodgson.

There she organised and performed at an early electronic music festival, the Concert of Electronic Music in 1966.

The pair also exhibited at  The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave, where The Beatles’ Carnival of Light had its only public playing.

She quit the Radiophonic workshop in 1972 due to differing views about the direction she thought that electronic music should head in and withdrew from the industry.

Ziwzih Ziwzih OO-OO-OO

However, unable to completely leave her passion behind, she made a comeback in 2001 on Sonic Boom’s Experimental Audio Research.

Unsurprisingly, her work has influenced several musicians,  such as Aphex Twin, and Orbital,  and been sampled by Pink Floyd and The Timelords (aka the KLF).


One of her workshops

Yet,  although much of her work has been heard by many, her identity has remained relatively concealed beyond small music circles.

Caro C (Caroline Churchill), Ailís Ni Riain, custodian of her archives and lecturer David Butler, and artist Sarah Hill will put on a series of workshops and talks and unveil special commissions at the event to bring her legacy to the attention of a wider public.

Funded by the Arts Council, it will mark the second phase of the project, which toured touring the North over the past year after a sell-out launch event at Manchester’s Band on the Wall.

Talking about the event and Delia’s work, Caro said: “I hope people will be able to gain some insight magic and inspiration from Delia’s work and archive and appreciate how her music is still very relevant and exciting today.

David Butler inspects one of her reel to reel tapes in the archive

David Butler inspects one of her reel to reel tapes in the archive

“For those who came last year, I hope they will enjoy hearing more audio from the Delia archive and find out more about Delia’s more avant-garde work and collaborations for radio thanks to Teresa Winter who is sharing her research with us.

“Myself and Ailis Ni Riain have also developed commissions, as has home made instrument maker Daniel Weaver and creative technologist and visual artist Andrea Pazos.

On the back of the new stage of the project, Caro hopes to arrange more England tour dates this year further afield in places such as London, Bristol and Norwich and Oxford.

Speaking about what her music can offer the public, she said: “It’s a lot more free,

Caro C (Caroline Churchill). Image courtesy of Delia Darlings

Caro C (Caroline Churchill). Image courtesy of Delia Darlings

daring and experimental sonically than what you hear nowadays. Listening to her archives I got really humbled by how graceful the sound was, especially her production efforts, in a pre-synthesiser age.

“She had to create tones and overtones without relying on advanced machinery. I think we’ve lost that grace in a lot of modern music -there’s too much technology and processes. It warps the original ideas.

“Over the last year I’ve improved my own knowledge of her music, her working methods and the interesting collaborations she did…and uncovered many other women who were active in the electronic music world.

Delia in the studio

Delia in the studio

She will also continue to take Delia’s unconventional techniques into more primary school classrooms, following successful stints at schools in Moss Side and Gorton, to inspire future generations of musicians.

She said: “It seems lots of children can relate to her playful and creative TV themes, such as Dr Who theme, Door to Door and Great Zoos of the world.

“They enjoy learning about her working methods and exploring them for themselves, eg. by making electronic music loops from found sound recordings that they have made themselves. “More than one young person has told me they would like to do a job like Delia’s when they grow up, have become inspired to become a musician and that Delia is inspiring.

“I think Delia’s somewhat unconventional skills and work inspires young people to think creatively, dare to be rare and if they apply themselves to what they want to do, they can have a job they enjoy- and hopefully that anything is possible!”

You can buy tickets for £10 from Skiddle here.


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