At long last (just shy of 50 years to be exact), Saturday was Delia Derbyshire Day in Manchester. Considered the godmother of British electronic music, Derbyshire helped to create one of the most recognizable TV theme tunes of all time, the theme to Doctor Who. Written by Rob Grainer, the Doctor Who theme was then arranged by Delia Derbyshire as part of her groundbreaking 30-year career at the BBC.
Reporting on the day, Chloe Glover, in an excellent piece for The Guardian, writes how she turned organic and everyday material into some of the earliest modern British electronic compositions. Even though her work was played in the majority of British homes and minds for decades, sadly, she never became the true household name that she rightfully deserved to be.
Derbyshire, who was once told that, “…the recording studio is no place for a woman“, defied this incredibly archaic logic of the 1960’s by using voices, white noise, and everyday sounds picked up from microphones and musical instruments to make her soundscapes. She cut, mixed and spliced analog tapes used to record her efforts and employed studio equipment to loop and distort them as well as experimenting with square wave oscillators to help build intricately-timed rhythms to form the base of her pieces. It’s no wonder she not only found herself unknowingly inspiring numerous musicians throughout the year but also a favorite with the likes of Pink Floyd for sampling her music.
Her extensive archives are on permanent loan to the NOVARS institute at Manchester University for research from BBC Radiophonic Workshop archivist Mark Ayres. Incredibly, the tapes of her recordings were delivered to the university in unlabelled cereal boxes in 2007 after being found in her house following her death in 2001.
As the planet continues to steamroll towards the November 2013 50th anniversary celebration of Doctor Who, we celebrate the brilliance of Delia Derbyshire along with all those associated with the series for the past 50 years.