How did Delia Derbyshire make her music? The Radiophonic Workshop equipment

by admin on December 14, 2012 · 0 comments

Well, Delia Derbyshire Day preparations are fully underway now with preview pieces now online such as Louder Than War blog and The F word blog.

And as part of this project I am – as are Ailís Ní Ríain and Naomi Kashiwagi – making a new piece inspired by hanging out with Delia’s amazing archive material held here in Manchester.

Delia Darlings Logo

And as a creative music maker using technology, I am particularly interested in how Delia made her music at The Radiophonic Workshop – especially the period pre-synths and drum machines.

I rely and often take for granted the panoply of tools I have at my fingertips and I have a very modest home/bedroom studio set up at home. Multi-track recording, a few bits of hardware and too many virtual instruments, processors and software effects galore. Yet in the 60’s and early 70’s most of these tools were simply not invented or readily available. I became increasingly curious about the how when I hear so many effects and multi-track loops going on in Delia’s electronic music.

So, beyond grilling the ever so patient and passionate archive guardian, I did some researching of the internet variety. An article in Sound on Sound Magazine called the Story of the Radiophonic Workshop was most illuminating for me.

Apparently Delia was a dab hand at crash sync-ing – beat matching 2 or 3 tape machines by hand/ear – no mixer, the original DJ! And engineering wise, she was multi-tracking literally by hand.

To start with they had minimal budget and equipment and a handful of clever and creative engineers who made and adapted kit for them. They had no synths, but lots of test oscillators and a wobbulator (sounds like they were doing dubstep back then as well as techno and synth pop). They really did have to be creative as well as technically savvy to create such experimental music that was also accessible (to millions through radio and TV).

DelianMode illus by Brigitte Archambault 4blog

Apparently Delia “claimed to have made the sounds [for Delian Mode and Blue veils and golden sands] by analysing the partials of her favourite metal lampshade and replicating them with sine-wave test oscillators.”

Talking of Delia the article explains:
“She had a degree in Music and Maths from Cambridge that may have accounted for her unusual and analytical approach to sound: she is reputed to have always carried a book of logarithm tables that she used in her work.”

And so my starting point has been sine tones mapped to frequency of pitches in a few pentatonic modes modulating through the circle of fifths. And then I sampled my voice singing these frequency mapped tones and chopped off the attack. See, it all makes perfect non-sense.

For more information do read the article in Sound on Sound and can also peruse Radiophonic workshop engineer Ray White’s web site which contains the most detailed account of the Radiophonic Workshop and its equipment.

I’m sure there are many of you that know so much more about The Radiophonic Workshop and Delia D’s working methods.

Do feel free to share if so :)

Delia Derbyshire Day 2013 from Delia Darlings on Vimeo.

Delia Derbyshire Day will take place in Manchester, UK on SAT 12 JAN 2013. We will present a mini-symposium featuring a screening of award-winning documentary The Delian Mode , a panel of esteemed Delia D experts and an archives listening session. Our three new music commissions will then be performed in the evening. Buy tickets for DD Day 2013 at Band On The Wall

Delia darlings Tour N England JAN 2013 from Delia Darlings on Vimeo.

And we also have our upcoming Northern England Delia Darlings Tour Dates in JAN 2013 – Liverpool, Sheffield & Newcastle


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