BBC Radiophonic Workshop, 1964


In the early hours of the morning at London’s Maida Vale Studios, Delia Derbyshire unravelled an entire reel of tape down the length of a long corridor. After finishing an almost-perfect track, she had identified a single note out of sync. The only way to correct it was to carefully inspect the entire tape by sight.

With cutting-edge sound recording, mixing technology, apps and hardware easily accessed in today’s world, this recollection seems a million miles from current sound engineering practices. However, it’s because of the work and innovation of people like Delia Derbyshire, a pioneering composer known for her TV soundtrack work – specifically Dr Who – that electro music was born.

Now a registered charity, Delia Derbyshire Day is a series of ongoing events organised, curated and attended by passionate sound engineers, friends and family of the pioneering composer. At its fourth outing at Band on the Wall, Delia Derbyshire Day includes video, live performance and a Q&A session with her colleagues from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop: Mark Ayres, Brian Hodgson and Dick Mills – the latter being lauded as one of the greatest sound engineers of his generation.

Further to musical performances and video screenings, the event sees visual artist Tracey Zengeni take to the stage to paint artwork live, responding in real-time to two of Derbyshire’s tracks.

A highlight of the evening is a dissection of the track ‘Blue Veils and Golden Sands’. The description of how Derbyshire made each note of the melody by singing, slowing down her voice, blacking out sections and overlaying with other DIY sounds, is truly fascinating. It’s incredible to dig into the detail of how one note can be manipulated to convey a strong mood, situation or even an entire culture.

With regards to Derbyshire herself, the evening presented glimpses of her as an artist and person. Through the recollections of her work colleagues, she is painted as a down-to-earth woman who “didn’t suffer fools gladly” and left an indelible print on the lives of those who knew and worked alongside her.

The event is closed with a performance by electro/percussion duo Architects of Rosslyn against the backdrop of artist Di Mainstone’s surreal ‘Dream Sequence’ video. The interaction of unusual percussive instruments and emotive electronic sounds in a live setting is mesmerising and highlights the importance of exploring the unconventional.

Delia Derbyshire Day reminds us that all things analogue, hard work, late nights, obsessive dedication to an art and the sheer determination of the likes of Delia Derbyshire are what gave birth to modern electronic music.

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