Saturday, 2 May 2009

To An Independent Listener: the Delia Derbyshire installation

I was a lucky child, growing up in the 70's and 80's, for many reasons. But what i'm thinking about particularly is Dr Who. Not the Dr Who of today, which can be entertaining in it's own way, but rather the Dr Who of the 70's, with the wonderful Tom Baker, the jellybabies, quarries pretending to be alien landscapes and perhaps best of all, the theme music. I never wondered who was responsible for this fantastic, other-worldly music when I was little. But now I know it was a lady called Delia Derbyshire, although she doesn't get much credit for it.

Delia was part of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in the 60s, where a few little studios in Maida Vale were the home to a bunch of people who chopped up bits of reel-to-reel tape and spliced them together to make 'music' which was in some ways ahead of it's time, but also very at home in the space-age 60s.

A few months ago I heard a feature on Radio 4 about the rediscovery of the 'lost tapes' of Delia Derbyshire. I was entranced. I had heard a little of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop a few years ago, but it's rare for any of the recordings to be broadcast, as far as i'm aware. So I was surprised and delighted by the few little clips that were played: beautiful, melancholic, dreamy tracks; electronic dance music; strange sounds that transport you to another dimension.

Now I've had the chance to hear more of Delia's marvellous music, at an installation at the Bloc Studios, Eyre Street, Sheffield, as part of the Sensoria festival. The installation itself was minimal; a smallish room with one light, a screen showing a film of Delia's actual tapes and various letters she'd received about the broadcasts of her music etc, and a speaker.

As soon as I went in and sat down my imagination was taken on a wonderful ride by the music; from ethereal, floating sounds to repetitive electronic beats; at times relaxing and restful, then haunting and unnerving. The recording was on a loop and because I sat there with my eyes closed, lost and enveloped in the soundscape I also lost track of time, but I think it lasted around 25 minutes or so. I stayed well past the bit "where I came in" and I found it difficult to drag myself out of what felt like some sort of hypnosis. I was truly relaxed and my mind was probably somewhere else. It really was a wonderful experience.

There is something particularly primitive and pure about Delia's music that I really love; to me, it feels like emotions represented in sound-forms.

You can listen to some of the music on the Delia Derbyshire site:
and there's more on the BBC site as well:

A very nice person has put up the fantastic BBC Four documentary from 2003, Alchemists in Sound, this is part one: but they have put up the rest of the programme in 6 parts.

Sensoria Festival site:


  1. Damn, I can't believe I missed this. If you haven't already got it, there's a reissue of Electrosonic available on CD and vinyl:

  2. I think I saw that documentary back in 2003, or maybe it was repeated more recently. What a fab installation. Will have to mosey over and take a peek. :)

    Gemma x x

    P.S Luella says hi! :D

  3. Thank you Gemma! Yes it's a fab documentary isn't it? But i'm afraid that you're a tad too late for the installation, I went on the last day... :(

    Hello to Luella, I hope she is behaving herself!

    Joey xx

  4. so cool! thanks for posting this. all good wishes.


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