She was never starstruck and cheerfully devoted as much time to encouraging young students as to talking with celebrities. She even had an encounter with a very young Pink Floyd – Floyd visited the workshop and she took them in a taxi to see Zinovieff’s setup. Floyd and these other artists were highly curious about the new techniques for creating avante-garde sounds and what it might add to their music.
Derbyshire utilised both real-life and ‘artificial’ electronic sounds in her compositions using a musical style known as Musique Concrète. It was French composer, Pierre Schaeffer who first coined the term during the 1940s whilst employed at ORTF – Office de Radiodiffusion Télévision Française at Radio France, the French equivalent of the BBC. Musique Concrète embodies the idea that concrete sounds from objects ‘found’ in the real world can be used like jig-saw pieces to construct an entire composition. The invention of magnetic tape – that is plastic tape with iron oxide powder lacquered to it – made it practical to manipulate found sounds to create Musique Concrète compositions.
In it’s early days the equipment at the Radiophonic Workshop was minimal. Delia would utilise any found object that took her fancy, that might be capable of generating interesting sound textures she could weave into the fabric of her compositions. The Workshop had accrued quite a collection of noise making paraphernalia such as bells, bottles, stringed things, clocks, copper hot water cylinder and even a broken old upright piano (used for the TARDIS dematerialisation sound); objects that could generate interesting whooshes, clanks, whirring and the myriad of other sounds heard on a drama or documentary soundtrack. One of Delia’s most cherished found sounds was that of an old industrial metal lampshade which produced a bell-like chime when tapped and she was also fond of using stringed instruments such as in the Doctor Who theme bass line.
Along with natural sound sources Delia would utilise old electronic test equipment that the Workshop had inherited from other departments in the BBC. For example, signal oscillators on which she ‘played’ the ‘swoopy’ sounding melody line on the Doctor Who theme by manually adjusting the frequency control knob – reference marks would be made on the instrument panel around the frequency dial with a Chinagraph pencil to indicate the approprate notes in a scale. She also used white noise generators frequently, again these can be heard in the Dr Who theme as sinister “swishes” and “swirls”. The Radiophonic Workshop also possessed a Brüel & Kjær type 1022 Beat Frequency Oscillator a device originally designed for electrical and electro-acoustical measurements and acoustic research but was also capable generating interesting wobbling sine waves at frequencies from 20Hz to 20kHz – a very expensive piece of kit but it does make very “spacey” sounds.