I’m obviously getting better at Danish as I understood and greatly enjoyed a lot of Friday’s excellent Unga Bunga electronic music radio show on P3.
The show touched on Delia Derbyshire, a mathematician and composer best known for her work on the original Dr Who themetune (she took Ron Grainer’s original theme and recreated it using purely electronic sources) during her time at the BBC’s effects unit, the Radiophonic Workshop.
According to Wikipedia, Mr Grainer was so taken with her version that he asked she be given a co-composer’s credit, ‘but this was prevented by BBC bureaucracy, who preferred to keep the members of the Workshop anonymous.’
There is more detail on DeliaDerbyshire.org, an excellent site set up to provide information about her life and work: ‘On first hearing it Grainer was tickled pink: “Did I really write this?” he asked. “Most of it,” replied Derbyshire.’
Ms Derbyshire, who died in 2001, is a deeply fascinating figure. Regarded as a pioneer of electronic music and deeply revered by aficionados around the world, she seems to have fallen out of love with the genre she helped to establish, only to become re-invigorated toward the end of her life when she sensed a return to her more free-form ideals.
From the Guardian’s obituary: ‘By 1973 Delia had become progressively more unhappy with her life at the workshop and she left to join me at Electrophon, an electronic music studio I had set up in Covent Garden. There, unfortunately, she found little relief from her unhappiness and decided to leave London. She became involved, bizarrely, in the laying of the national gas main as a radio operator, she worked in a Cumbrian art gallery, and she worked in a bookshop.’
And from DeliaDerbyshire.org: ‘Shortly before Delia died, she wrote the following: “Working with people like Sonic Boom on pure electronic music has re-invigorated me. He is from a later generation but has always had an affinity with the music of the 60s. One of our first points of contact – the visionary work of Peter Zinovieff, has touched us both, and has been an inspiration. Now without the constraints of doing ‘applied music’, my mind can fly free and pick-up where I left off.”
These are two of the best examples of Ms Derbyshire’s work I could find on the net.
The first is her iconic rendering of the Dr Who theme, and the second a sequence from a 1964 project called The Dreams, a collaboration with the poet Barry Bermange, in which she splices recordings of people recounting their dreams with her own electronic compositions: