“This last weekend, I was intrigued enough to take myself to Coventry for a celebration of the would’ve been birthday of Delia Derbyshire, the co-founder of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, composer of the Dr Who theme and “unsung heroine of British electronic music.” Derbyshire sadly passed away in 2001 and this is the second Deliaphonic event to mark her legacy, this year at Coventry’s historic St John The Baptist Church.
Filmmaker Ian Helliwell started the night with a live set of squelchy analogue sounds and rhythms backed by a visual feast of video feedback, all shimmering colours and echoed abstract imagery in that distinctively retro Radiophonic ilk.
Next up, Ayse Hassan (of Savages and Kite Base) performed a synth solo set as Eysa. Mixing slinky electronica into instrumental and more lyrically led numbers, close in style to the more commercial end of Chris & Cosey, the music created a warmth within the cold stone of our 14th Century surroundings. She was accompanied by a visual mix of self-portraiture, shot live as she was performing, weaving abstract shapes with colour.
The final act was the Delia Derbyshire selling point - but sadly the biggest disappointment and I felt, the farthest from the Delia legacy.
Electric Storm was an album recorded in 1968 by Radiophonic composers Delia Derbyshire and Brian Hodgson, and physicist-bass player David Vorhaus under the name White Noise. It’s playful science experiment, swells and trills and freeform clatter, using state-of-the-art analogue production to meld the seriousness of its craft with a wicked sense of humour - the notorious My Game of Loving hears the frenzied moans of an orgy fading to snores - not a million miles from those old Stereo showcase records. It’s one of the first of its genre to take up the synthesized keyboard, and truly a landmark.
White Noise in its 2018 manifestation, the final band to perform of the evening, is Vorhaus and a mate performing a strange mix of muso jazz-funk with an artillery of hi-tech digital equipment - including a leather glove with sensors operating a laptop and a strange lit-up sitar being used for high speed solo runs up and down its frets. There were no visuals for this set so the screen has the monochrome face of Derbyshire from the event’s poster looming in high contrast down at its two musicians, one might’ve interpreted as a little vexed.
Though I understand that the Workshop and Derbyshire’s experiments were all about using the absolute latest in technology’s innovations and so those musicians like Vorhaus, still active, would want to keep that forward thinking alive, I can’t help being a little nostalgic for, well, nostalgia.
Vorhaus seemed to bury this hankering and his equipment was evidently the most up-to-the-minute, all singing, all dancing, all blinking, but shouldn’t an event like this cater to its younger crowd, to imbue them with some slither of that analogue era and the Radiophonic heyday that existed before they were born? To spit them back into the world with that dirtiest of audiophile’s vices, analogue porn, fully satisfied? The current incarnation of White Noise is not going to satisfy those desires, and the evening was left to Helliwell to take us back to that more innocent time.”
For upcoming Synthcurious events, head here.