Monday, July 21, 2008

planet of sound

i saw this item about "doctor who" theme creator delia derbyshire the other day on the news page of outpost gallifrey (or gallifrey one or whatever they call themselves). it seemed interesting, but it wasn't till after the doc sent it to me that i actually followed the link and fully checked it out. the BBC news story -- which focuses on a new archive of 267 tapes of her work found in her attic after she died in 2001 -- talks about how she was working at the BBC's radiophonic workshop in 1963 and was given the theme to work on. (that's her up there, at the beeb back in the day.)

the theme is credited to composer ron grainer, but the sound is all hers. as recounted in this bio on her official site:

On first hearing it Grainer was tickled pink: "Did I really write this?" he asked. "Most of it," replied Derbyshire.

and let's not forget that, like the TARDIS itself, the theme music has scarcely changed since 1963. why mess with perfection?

a really cool thing about the BBC news story is that it has sound clips, including one of "a piece of music that sounds like a contemporary dance track which was recorded, it is believed, in the late sixties." it does sound rather mind-blowingly contemporary.

she was a genius, but if she'd taken the status quo at face value, doctor who would likely have a very different-sounding theme song. in a way, it's surprising her name is even known.

In 1959, on approaching Decca records, Delia was told that the company DID NOT employ women in their recording studios, so she went to work for the UN in Geneva before returning to London to work for music publishers Boosey & Hawkes.

In 1960 Delia joined the BBC as a trainee studio manager. She excelled in this field, but when it became apparent that the fledgling Radiophonic Workshop was under the same operational umbrella, she asked for an attachment there - an unheard of request, but one which was, nonetheless,granted. Delia remained 'temporarily attached' for years, regularly deputising for the Head, and influencing many of her trainee colleagues.

delia's story is fascinating, so do check out the link to her site, and also this fansite/catalog (from whence i nicked a nice-sized version of the photo seen in the article). she worked with a lot of artists and also did sound for "happenings" and theatrical productions, including one of hamlet at the roundhouse in london in 1969 (sound clip at the BBC story link). ahaha. i'll bet david tennant's hamlet -- which opens thursday at the RSC in stratford-upon-avon -- won't have anywhere near as wiggy a soundscape.

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