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Experimental Voices #2: Delia Derbyshire


Experimental Voices #2: Delia Derbyshire

Most of you have heard a song Delia Derbyshire recorded, and you don't know it. Here it is:


Delia Derbyshire was a bright girl who at the age of four taught other children to read. At age eight she began studying the piano. In 1959 she graduated from Cambridge University with a BA in music & mathematics, at a time when there were only ten women on the entire campus. Seeking work in the music industry she was told she should look for work in the fields of depth sounding or deaf aids. Decca Records turned her down because they didn't employ women in their recording studios. She ended up working for the United Nations, teaching piano & mathematic to diplomat's children.

Eventually she made her way to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, where she composed countless scores, themes, and sound effects for television programs. Her first recording was the Dr. Who Theme, the first television theme ever produced entirely of electronic sounds. When the composer, Ron Grainer heard her recording of his composition, it was so radical he asked "Did I write that?"

Another score she created for the BBC was that for Blue Veils and Golden Sands. Listening to this number you can imagine how far away from traditional film music this must have seemed in 1960:

In 1966 she collaborated with singer, composer and actor Anthony Newley to create Moogie Bloogies. This was an unusual project for Newley, known primarily for pop hits and penning two hit West End musicals. The single was never released until 2014.

Teaming with fellow BBC Radiophonic Workshop member Brian Hodgson and Peter Zinovieff to form White Noise, a highly experimental electronic unit. Their debut album featured this freaky track:

Also around this time Derbyshire teamed again with Hodgson and Don Harper to create production music for the KPM 1000 series of recordings. Production music, or library music is instrumental music recorded to be used in television and film productions. This track from the KPM 1000 Series: Electrosonic album is certainly pure Delia:

In 1975 she retired from music, earning a living working at a bookshop and art gallery. She returned to music briefly in the 2000s, creating source sounds for this composition:


She died of renal failure brought on by alcoholism in 2001. She might be relegated to obscurity if it weren't for a couple of documentaries, one produced by the BBC itself, and the other Sisters With Transistors, chronicling the pioneering efforts of several women electronic composers.


Derbyshire's work features in my WEIRDEST OF THE WEIRD playlist, a mega-playlist full of weird, bizarre and unusual artists. Thanks for reading, and if you have any thoughts on Delia Derbyshire's work, I'd love to hear it.

1 Reply

Oh wow, thank you for highlighting this @XPerryMental! You're right, I've never known of Delia Derbyshire but with your post I had the chance to! 

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