Posts Tagged ‘EMS’

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Delia Derbyshire: Early Electro Artist

February 11, 2009

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Delia Derbyshire was born in Coventry, England, in 1937. Educated at Coventry Grammar School and Girton College, Cambridge, where she was awarded a degree in mathematics and music.

In 1959, on approaching Decca records, Delia was told that the company DID NOT employ women in their recording studios, so she went to work for the UN in Geneva before returning to London to work for music publishers Boosey & Hawkes.

Derbyshire was born in Coventry, UK. Educated at Barr’s Hill School, Derbyshire then completed a degree in mathematics and music at Girton College, Cambridge.In 1959 she applied for a position at Decca Records only to be told that the company did not employ women in their recording studios.Instead she took a position at the UN in Geneva, soon returning to London to work for music publishers Boosey & Hawkes.

Some of her most acclaimed work was done in the 1960s in collaboration with the British artist and playwright Barry Bermange, for the Third Programme (the radio station which later evolved into BBC Radio 3). Besides the Doctor Who theme, Derbyshire also composed and produced scores, incidental pieces and themes for nearly 200 BBC Radio and BBC TV programmes. A selection of some of her best 1960s electronic music creations for the BBC can be found on the album BBC Radiophonic Music (BBC Records), which was re-released on CD in 2002. Several of the smaller pieces that Derbyshire created at the Radiophonic Workshop were used for many years as incidental music by the BBC and other broadcasters, including the ABC

Doctor Who

In 1963, Ron Grainer was asked to compose the theme tune to the Doctor Who series that began late in that year. As part of the BBC’s Radiophonic Workshop, Derbyshire developed his written notes into the version that was then used on the original show.

Ron Grainer was so amazed by her rendition of his notes that he attempted to get her a co-composer credit, but this was prevented by BBC bureaucracy, who preferred to keep the members of the Workshop anonymous. Derbyshire’s interpretation of Grainer’s theme used electronic oscillators and magnetic audio tape editing (including tape loops and reverse tape effects) to create an eerie and unearthly sound that was quite unlike anything that had been heard before. Derbyshire’s original Doctor Who theme is one of the first television themes to be created and produced by entirely electronic means.

In 1960 Delia joined the BBC as a trainee studio manager. She excelled in this field, but when it became apparent that the fledgling Radiophonic Workshop was under the same operational umbrella, she asked for an attachment there – an unheard of request, but one which was, nonetheless,granted. Delia remained ‘temporarily attached’ for years, regularly deputising for the Head, and influencing many of her trainee colleagues.

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This excerpt from an interview, originally conducted in December 1999, first appeared in Surface magazine in May 2000.

What was your route into music? Did you study music at school?

Delia Derbyshire: No, but I studied piano to performer level outside school. I went to Cambridge University to read mathematics, which was quite something for a working-class girl from Coventry, because Cambridge was at the time, and probably still is, the best place for mathematics in the country, if not the world. Tell that to the Americans! I managed to persuade the authorities to allow me to change to music, much against their judgement. 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.

This is the guy who turned down The Beatles, no doubt.

No doubt. I knew the BBC had a Research Department, and I knew that there was such a thing as the Radiophonic Workshop, that was credited with doing fantastic sounds for broadcast programs. People weren’t generally allowed to work at the Workshop for more than three months at a time. They thought it would send people crazy.

To begin with Delia thought she had found her own private paradise where she could combine her interests in the theory and perception of sound; modes and tunings, and the communication of moods using purely electronic sources. Within a matter of months she had created her recording of Ron Grainer’s Doctor Who theme, one of the most famous and instantly recognisable TV themes ever. On first hearing it Grainer was tickled pink: “Did I really write this?” he asked. “Most of it,” replied Derbyshire.

Talking about limited resources, I think one thing that appeals to us both about Peter Zinovieff‘s EMS VCS3 machine is that it’s really quite a limited selection of resources, but it’s got infinite possibilities of interconnection and patching.

Peter Zinovieff was doing the most interesting things. He didn’t claim to be a musician, he didn’t claim to be a composer. But imagine one of these beautiful London townhouses… the drawing room on the first floor was totally crammed with telephone relay equipment, where he was working on his random sequencers.
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Probabilistic stuff.

And I thought, golly, this is the way things should go. And, I think, it was my belief in Peter that encouraged Victoria [Zinovieff] to really believe in him. Because he was Russian aristocracy, and the circle in which he mingled regarded him as a dilettante. That was a beautifully interesting time, everything was mechanical. This was before voltage control. So we worked together for a couple of years.

Yes, as Unit Delta Plus?

Yes.

You set up the organisation to bring electronic music more to the fore in advertising and TV and film music?

We wanted to bring it to the public, yes.

How about these ‘happenings’ you were involved with? I know there was an event in 1966 at the Chalk Farm Roundhouse called Rave or Rave On, and Paul McCartney was top of the bill…

Oh yes, there were two of the Beatles there, Paul and George. It was basically a concert of pre-recorded electronic music.

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Thus began what is still referred to as the Golden Age of the Radiophonic Workshop. Initially set up as a service department for Radio Drama, it had always been run by someone with a drama background. Derbyshire was the first person there with any higher music qualifications, but as she wasn’t supposed to be doing music, much of her early work remained anonymous under the umbrella credit ‘special sound by BBC Radiophonic Workshop’.

Before long the Workshop’s TV output had overtaken work produced specifically for radio broadcast. Derbyshire was called upon to do music for drama and documentary programmes set in the distant past, the unseen future or deep in the human psyche – in fact any area where an orchestra would be out of place. Science, arts and educational programmes also benefited from her abstract style. Her work with Barry Bermange on the four Inventions for Radio is perhaps the best illustration of Delia’s intuitive way with soundscaping.

Derbyshire soon gained a reputation for successfully tackling the impossible. When asked to “make some TV title music using only animal sounds” – much thought and ingenuity resulted in Great Zoos of the World. Delia always managed to soften her purist mathematical approach with a sensitive interpretative touch – ‘very sexy’ said Michael Bakewell on first hearing her electronic music for Cyprian Queen.

Derbyshire also worked with the composers Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, Roberto Gerhard (on his 1965 Prix Italia winning ‘Anger of Achilles’), and Ianni Christou, doing sound treatments of their orchestral music. She was also assistant to Luciano Berio at the 1962 Dartington summer school.

On being told at the Workshop that her music was ‘too lascivious for 11 year olds’ and ‘too sophisticated for the BBC2 audience’, Delia found other fields where the directors were less inhibited – film, theatre, ‘happenings’ and original electronic music events, as well as pop music and avant garde psychedelia. To do this she encouraged the establishment of Unit Delta Plus, Kaleidophon and Electrophon, private electronic music studios where she worked with Peter Zinovieff [composer and inventor], David Vorhaus and Brian Hodgson.

Delia’s works from the 60s and 70s continue to be used on radio and TV some 30 years later, and her music has given her legendary status with releases in Sweden and Japan. She is also constantly mentioned, credited and covered by bands from Add n to (x) and Sonic Boom to Aphex Twin and The Chemical Brothers.

A recent Guardian article called her ‘the unsung heroine of British electronic music’, probably because of the way her infectious enthusiasm subtly cross-pollinated the minds of many creative people. She had exploratory encounters with Paul McCartney, Karlheinz Stockhausen, George Martin, Pink Floyd, Brian Jones, Anthony Newley, Ringo Starr and Harry Nilsson.

A complete list of her works has yet to be compiled, but amongst other things she has mentioned doing: Special works and soundtracks for the Brighton Festival, the City of London Festival, Yoko Ono’s “Wrapping Event”, the award winning “Circle of Light”, music for Peter Hall’s “Work is a 4 Letter Word” starring Cilla Black, The White Noise LP “An Electric Storm”, special sound and music for plays at the RSC Stratford, Greenwich Theatre, Hampstead Theatre and the Chalk Farm Roundhouse.

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White Noise - A must own

Derbyshire was also involved in several of the earliest electronic music events in England, including shows at the Watermill Theatre, Nr Newbury, the Chalk Farm Roundhouse [with Paul McCartney], The Royal Festival Hall and the first electronic music fashion show!

Work from Delia’s engagement at the BBC has also been published on numerous Radiophonic Workshop and Doctor Who LPs and CDs.

By the mid 1970s Derbyshire was disillusioned by the apparent future of electronic music and withdrew from the medium. In the musical dark ages to follow, she worked in a bookshop, an art gallery and a museum. In the mid 90s she noticed a change in the air and became aware of a return to the musical values she held so dear.

Delia passed away in Northampton, England, on July 3rd 2001.

Shortly before Delia died, she wrote the following: “Working with people like Sonic Boom on pure electronic music has re-invigorated me. He is from a later generation but has always had an affinity with the music of the 60s. One of our first points of contact – the visionary work of Peter Zinovieff, has touched us both, and has been an inspiration. Now without the constraints of doing ‘applied music’, my mind can fly free and pick-up where I left off.”

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Prog Rock Britannia! – BBC Documentary

January 6, 2009

kingcrimson

One of the most influential times in British music has recently been the the topic for a season of broadcasts from the BBC.

This series ran over the festive period and is repeated on BBC Four today and tomorrow.

It charts the growth and rise of the ‘Progressive’ musician starting with The Nice and Soft Machine moving onto King Crimson, ELP and of course The Pink Floyd.

Progressive rock (often shortened to progressive, prog, or prog rock) is a form of rock music that evolved in the late 1960s and early 1970s as part of a “mostly British attempt to elevate rock music to new levels of artistic credibility.” The term “art rock” is often used interchangeably with “progressive rock”, and while there are crossovers between the two genres they are not identical. Prog Rock was the first steps of pop musicans and rock and roll musicans begining to get bored playing 12 bar blues. This was the sound of musicians who wanted a little more from their music than repitition

Progressive rock bands pushed “rock’s technical and compositional boundaries” by going beyond the standard rock or popular verse-chorus-based song structures. Additionally, the arrangements often incorporated elements drawn from classical, jazz, and world music. Instrumentals were common, while songs with lyrics were sometimes conceptual, abstract, or based in fantasy. Progressive rock bands sometimes used “concept albums that made unified statements, usually telling an epic story or tackling a grand overarching theme.”

Progressive rock songs either avoid common popular music song structures of verse-chorus-bridge, or blur the formal distinctions by extending sections or inserting musical interludes, often with exaggerated dynamics to heighten contrast between sections. Classical forms are often inserted or substituted, sometimes yielding entire suites, building on the traditional medleys of earlier rock bands. Progressive rock songs also often have extended instrumental passages, marrying the classical solo tradition with the improvisational traditions of jazz and psychedelic rock. All of these tend to add length to progressive rock songs, which may last longer than twenty minutes….Sounds Great Doesn’t it!

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Another super cool aspect of Prog is the avid use of technology to aid their timbral exploration. Progressive rock bands were often early adopters of new electronic musical instruments and technologies. Emerson Lake and Palmer pioneered use of the Moog synthesizer, and the mellotron was a signature sound of early progressive bands such as the Moody Blues, King Crimson, and Genesis. Pink Floyd utilized an EMS Synthi A synthesizer equipped with a sequencer on their track “On the Run” from their 1973 album “Dark Side of the Moon“. In the late 1970s, Robert Fripp, of King Crimson, and Brian Eno developed an analog tape loops effect (Frippertronics). In the 1980s, Frank Zappa used the Synclavier for composing and recording, and King Crimson utilized MIDI-enabled guitars, a Chapman Stick, and electronic percussion.

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10 string chapman stick

The whole genre obviously imploded and was finally killed off by a combination of Rick Wakeman performing  ‘On Ice’ style shows and the new wave of punk (which was created by ex prog fans).

Prog the early days

Allmusic cites Bob Dylan‘s poetry, The Mothers of Invention‘s Freak Out! and the BeatlesSgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band as showing the “earliest rumblings of progressive and art rock”while progressiverock.com cites the latter as its “starting point”, although earlier albums such as Rubber Soul and Revolver had begun incorporating Eastern music and instruments not common in rock music. This would later be followed by progressive-rock acts such as Yes and King Crimson. However, Piero Scaruffi claims that “technically speaking … progressive-rock began in 1967 with Cream and The Nice”, which he describes as “groups that reacted to the simple, melodic, three-minute pop of the early Beatles”, and notes that if “a more stringent definition, one that considers ambition and pretentiousness” is used, this “would push the birth date [back] to the Pretty Things‘ S.F. Sorrow (1968) and the Who‘s Tommy (1969).”

Freak Out!, released in 1966, had been a mixture of progressive rock, punk and avant-garde layered sounds. In the same year, the band “1-2-3″, later renamed Clouds, began experimenting with song structures, improvisation, and multi-layered arrangements. In March of that year, The Byrds released “Eight Miles High”, a pioneering psychedelic rock single with lead guitar heavily influenced by the jazz soloing style of John Coltrane. Later that year, The Who released “A Quick One While He’s Away”, the first example of the rock opera form, and considered by some to have been the first prog epic.

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There is so much to cover in this topic it impossible to cram it all here. Mike Oldfield’s  ‘Tubular Bells‘ was a breakthough track demonstarting the poswer of the studio. Mike played every instrument himself onthe recording and the song became a staple stone for sound technology enthusiasts everywhere.

Tubular Bells stayed in the British charts for over five years, reaching the number 1 spot after more than a year and taking there for one week the place of his second album, Hergest Ridge, thereby becoming one of only three artists in the UK to knock himself off the first spot. It sold more than two million copies in the UK alone and according to some reports 15 to 17 million copies worldwide. The album went gold in the USA and Mike Oldfield received a Grammy Award for the best Instrumental Composition in 1975.


In 1967, Jeff Beck released the single “Beck’s Bolero”, inspired by Maurice Ravel‘s Bolero, and, later that year, Procol Harum released the Bach-influenced single “A Whiter Shade of Pale”. Also in 1967, the Moody Blues released Days of Future Passed, combining classical-inspired orchestral music with traditional rock instrumentation and song structures. Pink Floyd’s first album, The Piper at the Gates of Dawn, contained the nearly ten-minute improvisational psychedelic instrumental “Interstellar Overdrive”. In 1968, Big Brother and the Holding Company incorporated Bach’s prelude from The Well-Tempered Clavier into their cover of George Gershwin‘s “Summertime”.

2009 promises alot following yet another British invasion of Prog bands. A scene taking influences also from post punk and experimental music has emerged spearheaded by bands such as a.P.A.t.T., Kling Klang, The Laze and Stig.

Here is footage of some of the more over looked genius’ not featured in the BBC documentary.These are the American and European counterparts. These artists have all strived to make advancements in their art, whilst maintaining a ridiculous air.

Prog Rock Britannia Tonight.

  1. 06 Jan 2009
    23:15
  2. 07 Jan 2009
    03:15