There are not that many prominent women in the history of recorded sound. Indeed there are not that many women working in recording studios even today. Boffins and creatives have tended to have the odd Y chromosone or two. The recording studio can be like a gang hut. A step from Lord of the Flies in one direction and a hop and a skip from a soldering iron in the other. Not a place for a lady then….at least that was what the head of Decca Recording Studios in London thought in the late 1950’s. When recording enthusiast Delia Derbyshire applied for a job, she was told unequivocably that Decca did not employ women in their recording studios. (An executive from Decca Records would also famously turn down The Beatles a couple of years later as they thought guitar bands were on the way out…..)
Like The Beatles, Delia was not one to be put off easily. She landed herself a job at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in 1962 and went on to create some of the most experimental music of the 1960’s and in doing so turned the recording studio itself into a star. The workshop is best known for having created the most famous theme music on British TV, Doctor Who. But there was way more to its story and that of Delia Derbyshire, one of its central characters.
In 1966, she founded a music entity/pop group called Unit Delta Plus with fellow Radiophonic Workshop member Brian Hodgson and EMS founder Peter Zinovieff. This organisation pre-dated the British Electrical Foundation by 15 years and Kraftwerk by 4 years and was a vehicle to create and promote electronic music. They played at The Million Volt Light and Sound Rave at which The Beatles’ “Carnival of Light” had its only public performance in 1967. Delia also helped set up the Kaleidophon studio in Camden Town with Hodson and fellow electronic musician David Vorhaus. The studio produced electronic music for various London theatres and, in 1968, the three founders made an album as the band White Noise.
Here is part one of an excellent radio documentary about Delia with appropriate images (you can find the other parts on youtube)
And here is a fascinating snippet of Delia playing the tape machines:
And finally here is Electric Storm by White Noise.
The History of Recorded Music is a major documentary series that has had a long and eventful gestation and has been “in post production” for some time; a description which can cover a multiple of sins from a stage in the production process through to the shelving of a project for whatever reason. It aims to tell the story of both the evolution of technology and the industry. I was involved a little bit on a couple of occasions and I got to see what a complicated process it is to make this kind of television series especially as it required many many rights clearances. I also know just how much hard work – and money – a number of people have put into the project. I wish them luck in completing the series.
I do have a concern after watching the trailer (below) which I would like the producers to consider as they complete the work. The trailer presents the history of recorded music to be an almost entirely American story. I appreciate that trailers are made for specific audiences, but this one shows no interviews with people from outside the US, I spotted one clip of a UK act (The Beatles) and an Irish act (U2) and a couple of UK acts (Led Zeppelin, Radiohead) mentioned by the talking heads. And that’s it. 95%++ US only. It even says that Edison invented recording, a fact disputed by the story of the Phonautograph covered on this very site this very week! The USA did play the prominent part in the history of recorded sound, but there is a big world out there beyond their national borders and a lot of interesting and significant stories in the history of recorded music; from Gaisberg to Blumlein to George Martin to Sex Pistols to Kraftwerk to Techno Music to Classical Music (which drove a lot of recording technology innovation) to mention just a few Euro-centric tales. I hope the documentary finds time to include some of them. My biggest frustration with Forest Gump is that the music back drop chosen to represent the 60’s and 70’s included very little if any non-American music. It irritates me so much that I can’t watch the movie because of its one-eyed approach. I hope the documentary itself when it gets completed does not repeat that mistake.