Delia Derbyshire

Delia Derbyshire

Electronic Music Pioneer (1937-2001)

Born in Coventry, Delia’s later music and sound work would be influenced by her experiences of surviving the Blitz as a child. After attending Coventry Grammar School, she won a scholarship to study maths at Girton College, Cambridge and earned her degree in Mathematics and Music, a combination that enabled her later work of such musical precision and dexterity.

Hoping to go into the music industry, Delia approached Decca Records but was informed tersely that the company did not employ women in their recording studios. She joined the BBC in 1960 and two years later began working at their Radiophonic Workshop creating new sound effects and music for radio and television programmes. Not long after her arrival she recorded a theme song for a brand new science fiction programme called Doctor Who using sounds that are now iconic.

The Guardian referred to Delia as “the unsung heroine of British electronic music.” She was involved in some of the earliest electronic music events in the UK and influenced artists such as Paul McCartney, Yoko Ono and Pink Floyd. She isn’t technically a computer pioneer but we include her here as an example of a woman passionate about using the technology of her time to create something entirely new. The sounds she made early on in her career could subsequently be made easily using digital synthesizers but she had no such technology - although her work with Peter Zinovieff did bring her into contact with early computers, appearing on stage with him in 1968 in Partita for Unattended Computer. By the time of Delia’s return to music shortly before her death in 2001, she was still being innovative, dabbling in software that renders bitmap images into audio.

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