Forget about this," she says, "it's for interest only."
July 18, 2008 2:54 AM   Subscribe

A recently uncovered musical experiment by Delia Derbyshire predicted the sound of modern dance music three decades before it became fashionable.

Derbyshire (1937 - 2001) is best-known for her long-uncredited contribution to the Doctor Who theme. After her death in 2001 a set of 267 tapes were found in her attic, and among them was this oddly prescient gem. Wikipedia article on Derbyshire. Previously and more previously.
posted by le morte de bea arthur (37 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
posted by loquacious at 2:57 AM on July 18, 2008

Argh, I knew I shouldn't have listened to the sample clip 20 times.
posted by loquacious at 2:57 AM on July 18, 2008

Bit more here
posted by Blacksun at 3:13 AM on July 18, 2008

She was a bloody genius. And that piece doesn't just sound like 'modern dance music', it sounds very specifically like techno from Detroit (to my ears, anyway), which is even stranger.

A few other things by her have that sound, though - the first part of Liquid Energy always sounds as if it's about to break into a minimal techno tune, and if you stripped the melodies off songs like Computermatic, Quest or Pot Au Feu you'd find something like electro or early techno underneath (writing those out, a lot of her titles are very techno-ish as well!)
posted by jack_mo at 3:21 AM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

I saw a gorgeous documentary about the radiophonic workshop that featured her.

She was the bomb.
posted by chuckdarwin at 3:25 AM on July 18, 2008

I've heard some pretty similar stuff, but with slightly slower tempos from some of the other European electro library artists from the 60s-70s as well (Eddie Warner, Eric Swan, Cecil Leuter, etc).

But this track from Delia definitely is a closer fit to the modern techno sound; cool little piece, too bad it's not longer. Delia did have a knack for more "sci-fi" sounding electronics whereas a lot of her contemporaries couldn't shake the trend of those kitschy moog-exotica melodies or electro-samba rhythms that sound so dated now.
posted by p3t3 at 4:17 AM on July 18, 2008

Sounds like Aphex Twin. It really does.
posted by NiteMayr at 4:30 AM on July 18, 2008

ps for Americans: her last name is pronounced DARBYshire. I know it doesn't make sense; just go with it.
posted by chuckdarwin at 4:43 AM on July 18, 2008

"The sound of modern dance music," huh? It has just the one?

*sits quietly in the corner in a snit, refusing to make eye contact*
posted by sdodd at 4:49 AM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

From the link chuckdarwin posted

After my degree I went to the careers office. I said I was interested in sound, music and acoustics, to which they recommended a career in either deaf aids or depth sounding. So I applied for a job at Decca Records. The boss was at Lords watching cricket the day I had my appointment, but his deputy told me they didn't employ women in the recording studio.

I'm glad she persevered.
posted by rongorongo at 4:49 AM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

posted by fire&wings at 4:50 AM on July 18, 2008

Does it sound like modern dance music? Or is it just electronic and has a reasonable tempo to it?

I think the latter I'm afriad. Interesting non the less.
posted by 13twelve at 4:56 AM on July 18, 2008

Been trying to figure out what it reminds me of all morning - and now I have! Goldie's Timeless at about 5'15" in. I think the resemblance is quite startling.
posted by Blacksun at 4:58 AM on July 18, 2008

his deputy told me they didn't employ women in the recording studio.

Luckily, my daughters will never experience this level of direct gender discrimination (it's still rampant, but only at the higher levels like CEO, and it's more covert).

I will tell them this story tonight over dinner, and they'll think that it's just one of the silly things that daddy says. It's not REAL to them.

Thank fuck for that.
posted by chuckdarwin at 5:02 AM on July 18, 2008

Delia is the Ada Lovelace of electronic music. She is the pioneer. Like in Genesis... before her, there was nothing. I wish more of the world knew about her contributions. Delia Derbyshire was so profoundly prescient she should be taught about in schools. Hell, they should name schools after her.

In my eyes, she is the epitome of the sexy geek girl.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 5:06 AM on July 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

Fantastic! Brilliant music done by a fascinating person. In doing some Googling, I came across my new quote of the day, from Peter Zinovief:

"I ask Tchort - the god of machines - for a trouble free day and offer him the temporary sacrifice of the Synthi 100 which we won't be needing."

I'll try that with an old laptop, before I start coding next time.
posted by SNACKeR at 5:08 AM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

This just in: 30 year old tape confirms that all electronic music sounds the same.
posted by Eideteker at 5:37 AM on July 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

Sounds like Aphex Twin. It really does.

To me as well.

The Dr. Who theme is also a pretty rockin' ancestor of techno, if you listen to it in the right way.
posted by carter at 5:42 AM on July 18, 2008

I think the old Doctor Who Theme is a work of genius, actually. I hate the new one.
posted by chuckdarwin at 5:54 AM on July 18, 2008

NiteMayr wrote: Sounds like Aphex Twin. It really does.

Other way around.
posted by jack_mo at 5:55 AM on July 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

Sounds pretty crappy. It doesn't have a good beat, and you can't dance to it.
posted by tadellin at 7:18 AM on July 18, 2008

Maybe one of the other tapes contains an early precursor of acid house, complete with an improvised proto-303 acid-squelch bass line
posted by acb at 7:30 AM on July 18, 2008

Your favorite sound clip of a yet to be embraced style of music sucks.
posted by premortem at 7:37 AM on July 18, 2008

Another vote for sounds a bit like Aphex Twin, or possibly Autechre.
posted by googly at 7:53 AM on July 18, 2008

Funny. I can imagine someone hearing this in 1963 (or whenever it's from) and saying "This is what people will be listening to 200 years from now!" Hard to believe that it would already be kind of passe just 35 or so years later.
posted by decoherence at 8:01 AM on July 18, 2008

Here is another page about the discovery from the BBC. It contains links to some of the other bits of music that were found in her attic.
posted by rongorongo at 8:42 AM on July 18, 2008

The first thing that popped into my head when I heard it was very early Cabaret Voltaire.
posted by davebush at 8:45 AM on July 18, 2008

Cool link. Even cooler is the video on the BBC website I found while looking at it. It's of a 62 year old Capuchin monk who is in a heavy metal band. He rules.
posted by Darth Fedor at 9:32 AM on July 18, 2008


It is vaguely Detroit-ish, and Derbyshire posted are always welcome, but I'm not hearing the "OMG SHE INVNETED TEH TEHCNO".

On being told ... that her music was 'too lascivious for 11 year olds' and 'too sophisticated for the BBC2 audience'...
That's the best combination of musical criticisms ever.
posted by greenie2600 at 9:43 AM on July 18, 2008

Pronounced DARBYsheh technically. No shire at all
posted by A189Nut at 11:28 AM on July 18, 2008

"No, later than that. It would be '67 or '68. It was about the same time that she met John Lennon. Because when we were having our or… oh... orgy on the carpet. We had a… golly, my goodness! So yes, she did her Bottoms film. And we did the soundtrack for the shorter film, which was the wrapping of the lions in Trafalgar Square, which was a happening. I also did the music for Peter Hall's first feature film, Work is a Four Letter Word. I did the electronic part of the music… the bloopy bits when they'd taken the magic mushrooms."

She had sex with Yoko?
posted by A189Nut at 11:33 AM on July 18, 2008

'too lascivious for 11 year olds' and 'too sophisticated for the BBC2 audience'...
Shouldn't that be: 'too sophisticated for 11 year olds and too lascivious for the BBC2 audience'?
posted by binturong at 11:42 AM on July 18, 2008

I like her comments in the interview about the connections between her music and mathematics and nature. I think the ecstasy of dance music (no real pun intended) comes from shutting off your intellect and letting the visceral take over. I think the rhythms and sounds in the extract evoke the womb experience -- the regular rapid thump of an excited heartbeat overlaid by the gloopy, irregular noises of the digestive and excretory systems. Whatever, it certainly feels primal when your body and the music are one.
posted by binturong at 11:51 AM on July 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

She seems like a fascinating person, and born 20 years later, she'd obviously be a electronica producer, but that clip is really too short to be a precursor of anything. The fundamental innovation of dance music was the creation of a (potentially) endless beat through beatmatching. 40 seconds of bleeps isn't techno. 8 minutes of bleeps might be. 4 hours of it certainly is.

It's interesting as an artifact of electronic music, but in the late 60s electronic music was hardly anything new.
posted by empath at 6:09 PM on July 18, 2008

Anyone else notice that the BBC audio player volume goes up to 11? :-)

Good stuff though, she deserves a spot on "Ishkur's Guide to Electronic Music"

Cut and paste for an electronic music education.
posted by limited slip at 9:08 PM on July 18, 2008

Apparently both Aphex Twin & Autechre were fans
posted by criticalbill at 2:38 AM on July 19, 2008

For anyone still watching this thread (a day later I am still all about Delia), there is a horror movie floating about called The Legend Of Hell House (1973) that has a fantastic soundtrack by Delia and Brian Hodgson, and stars Roddy McDowall.
posted by SNACKeR at 4:27 PM on July 19, 2008

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