Original soundtrack recordings for Caroline Catz’ acclaimed film of the electronic pioneer, inspired by research of her archive
It’s pretty universally recognised that electronic composer Delia Derbyshire added the arrangement and production trickery that turned Ron Grainer’s Doctor Who music into one of the BBC’s most iconic TV themes, and it’s comparatively common knowledge that she was involved in the psychedelic tape noise classic An Electric Storm by White Noise, but who knew that she had a preternatural intuition when it came to vinyl, being able to identify different passages or instruments just by looking at the grooves?
It’s a moment that comes up early in Caroline Catz’s docudrama Delia Derbyshire: The Myths & Legendary Tapes, and this near magical ability creates an unexpected connection between the subject and industrial pioneer Cosey Fanni Tutti, who has been known to delve into the arcane, who features heavily in the film, and whose soundtrack music is now released, albeit a little belatedly.
Much as the film is idiosyncratic, mixing biographical dramatisations with Tutti’s artistic responses and occasionally morphing into fantasy, the soundtrack is not simply a series of remixes, or an attempt to imitate Derbyshire’s techniques, but is inspired by the Derbyshire archive and her original studio notes. Tutti calls the outcome “an alliance of our sensibilities”, and trying to work out where the line between the two composers lies is futile – although there are samples of Derbyshire speaking on Snuff Chorus and Tatum Ergo, her fruity giggling voice sounding oddly like Camilla Pilkington-Smyth’s vocal fragments which were scattered across early Art Of Noise records. We also hear muffled vocals on An Individualist. Does this represent Derbyshire struggling to be heard in a male-dominated and deeply conservative Beeb? Or does it just sound cool?
There’s surprisingly little here that truly resembles the applied sound manipulation Derbyshire was asked to undertake for the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. The goofy tones of Four Bebe sound like vintage commercial library music, of the sort collected by Barry 7 on his Connectors compilations, and Psychedelic Projections, the album’s only example of a real beat, has the tropical bounce of synthesised exotica that might have provided the bed for a long forgotten travel show. Most of Animals is an intense steamy rasping drone, but it ends with the ersatz sounds of toucans, crickets, and elephants, like a more playful version of David Tudor’s synthesised Rainforest pieces and one can imagine a snippy BBC producer’s note “lose it all except the last 10 seconds”. The title of Cosmic Static Noise Wasps could easily be imagined as the sort of wild, abstract request made to the workshop by an adventurous producer (if not in Derbyshire’s era, this sort of thing must have been a daily occurrence for Paddy Kingsland soundtracking The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy).
The track does indeed capture the buzz of intergalactic bellicose vespids (probably) but it is also a deep and dense two minutes of sonic exploration. Much of this album is a beautiful showcase for creating enticing textures from minimal sources; check the spooky dynamo hum of Delia Tones or the sturdy aural barrier of the aptly named Ceiling Of Sickening Sound. The thoroughness of Tutti’s treatments is suggested by titles like Guitar (Twickenham Studio 3), which sounds nothing like a guitar but quite a lot like a cross between a cello and a cyber-tuba, and Cornet Lament, which might have once been a brass instrument but now comes across like a medieval reed instrument lost in the underworld (should have called it Shawm Of The Dead).
Perhaps the album is a little too long and disconnected for a single listening experience, and some listeners might find that the character of the music changes from track to track – cheeky one moment, unnerving the next – but this is possibly evidence of the record’s soundtrack origins (not to mention consistent with Throbbing Gristle’s approach). Regardless, it’s a wonderful selection to dip into. Pick up the disc, find a bit that looks tempting, and see where you end up – and if you can spot the space-wasps in advance, you might just be a sound-wrangling genius too.
• Cosey Fanni Tutti’s book RE-SISTERS: The Lives and Recordings of Delia Derbyshire, Margery Kempe and Cosey Fanni Tutti is out now through Faber.