Manchester Music: Delia Derbyshire Day at Band on the Wall

Natalie Bradbury

The Delia Darlings celebrate the legacy of sound pioneer & Dr. Who theme tuner, Delia Derbyshire

With its futuristic bleeping, mysterious whooshing, ominous organ and chugging guitars, the theme tune made for the Dr Who series in 1963 is one of the most distinctive pieces of music ever created for television. Long attributed solely to composer Ron Grainer, the contribution made by sound pioneer Delia Derbyshire, a member of the innovative BBC Radiophonic Workshop, has often been overlooked. But now a Manchester-based group, dubbing themselves the “Delia Darlings”, are to celebrate her work and legacy with a mini-symposium at Band on the Wall, timed to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the series.

Coventry-born Derbyshire was also behind many other sonic experiments and sound effects, which she termed ‘psycho-acoustics’, and the Delia Derbyshire Day seeks to reappraise her on-going influence on electronic, experimental and popular music. The event, which runs this Saturday, includes a screening of award-winning film The Delian Mode, followed by a Q&A with director Kara Blake, and a panel discussion featuring experts on Derbyshire’s intriguing life and work. This will be followed by performances of new commissions undertaken by the Delia Darlings – comprising contemporary classical composer Ailís Ní Ríain, experimental electronic producer and found sound manipulator Caro C, and gramophone-glitching artist Naomi Kashiwagi – who have all created new works based on their adventures in the Delia Derbyshire archive, accompanied by live visuals from Kara Blake.

Derbyshire pioneered sonic experimentation, which she termed ‘psycho-acoustics’

Derbyshire’s archive, which contains original tapes and other materials, is held by the University of Manchester. David Butler, senior lecturer in screen studies at the university, and who helped bring the archive to Manchester, said that the Delia Darlings were among the first to delve extensively into the archive. “It’s always been our hope that Delia’s tapes and written archive would provide the inspiration for new works responding to her life and extraordinary music,” he says.

Caro C’s piece uses some of Derbyshire’s voice old school exercise books as inspiration. Caro explained that she was inspired by how visionary the music of sound pioneers such as Delia Derbyshire was at the time, and the level of “technical ingenuity, time and dedication required to do what they did”. In today’s age of laptop software, which makes it easy to experiment with new sounds, Derbyshire’s efforts are more worthy of respect than ever. “We felt increasing the visibility of her amazing work as a pioneer in the UK was still of relevance today,” says Caro C – head to Band on the Wall this weekend to test the hypothesis.

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