Colourful abstractions for “Mattachin” (1968)

Delia Derbyshire’s light and effervescent track Mattachin (from the 1968 album BBC Radiophonic Music) can be heard on the YouTube channel of PlanetNamedDesire, accompanied by a colourful sequence of abstract animations. The BBC Radiophonic Music album is available to purchase on Amazon’s UK website at the following link.

The patterns in the above video blend so well with Delia’s music that I initially thought she might have composed the track to accompany them. But PlanetNamedDesire explains (in a comment below the video) that he adapted the visuals from another source: the archives of the American filmmaker Harry Smith, whose early abstract animations have been published on DVD (more details are available at the Harry Smith Archives). The pulsing colours and translucent effects of his experimental work are a perfect match to the rhythms of Mattachin.

Delia spoke briefly about Mattachin in her interview with John Cavanagh for BBC Radio Scotland’s Original Masters programme (broadcast in October 1997). She was delighted to hear the track for the first time since 1968 but typically self-deprecating about its origins, explaining that she had assembled it over a lunchtime from what she called objets trouvées, “bits cut out of other things after editing.” Some of these sonic components derive from “Talk Out”, a signature tune that Delia had composed in 1964 for a BBC radio discussion programme (the track is available on the Radiophonic Workshop compilation 21, reissued by Silva Screen in 2016).

If you enjoyed the Mattachin animation, I would highly recommend also checking out the work of motion designer Peter Northcott. In particular, his circular graphic “Dots and Loops – 0015” really evokes the visual style of the early Radiophonic days, whilst echoing the warm, atmospheric quality conveyed by Harry Smith’s animations.


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Delia on Tomorrow’s World in 1965

On this day in 1965, Delia appeared on the BBC’s popular science programme Tomorrow’s World to explain the basis of electronic music. Clips from this episode have appeared in previous radiophonic documentaries such as BBC Four’s Alchemists of Sound and Kara Blake’s The Delian Mode, but as far as I know this is the first time since the original broadcast that the complete report has been shown. It’s great to see the BBC Archive sharing this rare clip.

The Tomorrow’s World report shows Delia working on a track called Pot au Feu, which was later released on the 1968 album BBC Radiophonic Music. It’s fascinating to see how she uses a complex mixture of acoustic ‘found sounds’ and pure electronic tones to create each layer.

Some of these tape loops are later reworked to great effect in Way Out, one of Delia’s tracks on the Standard Music Library’s album of electronic music. The ascending, three-note phrase heard from 4.34 in the Tomorrow’s World video is also reminiscent of the haunting intro to The Delian Mode, another of her acclaimed tracks from BBC Radiophonic Music. I guess it might be the same source sound, re-pitched and treated differently for an equally atmospheric effect.


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The Delian Mode and Henry Moore


Just reading the Doctor Who magazine special The Music of Doctor Who. Fascinating stuff – it’s beautifully presented and meticulously researched. I’m not sure if it’s still in print, but there are often copies available on eBay and elsewhere (the Who Shop currently have a few copies in stock).

One bit of info I thought might be of interest here is from Mark Ayres’ article The Sound of Music on the early days of the Radiophonic Workshop, in which he notes (on p. 15) that Delia Derbyshire composed her classic track The Delian Mode for Barry Bermange’s Inventions for Radio – The Dreams. According to BBC Genome this was originally transmitted 5th January 1964, on the BBC Third Programme.

I hadn’t heard this programme in full before, so searched online and listened to a clip from an off-air recording (as far as I know, there’s no official release of The Dreams). The Delian Mode appears in the section entitled The Sea.

One thing that stood out is that the music heard in The Dreams (from 1964) is presented in a slightly different mix than the commercial release of The Delian Mode (released in 1968 on the BBC Radiophonic Music LP). The released mix of the Delian Mode has several elements not heard in The Dreams, perhaps in order to thicken the arrangement in parts where the music would have originally complemented speech in the radio broadcast.

In researching the track, I’ve found that the released mix of The Delian Mode includes elements created by Delia for a 1968 documentary on Henry Moore, called I Think in Shapes, Not in Words (first broadcast by BBC 2 on 27th August 1968). Delia’s incidental music for this programme is based on the sound of Moore tapping one of the large hollow sculptures on display at the Tate Gallery’s retrospective of his work.

Two clips from this programme are available on the BBC website: Extract 1 contains Delia’s music (from 0.57 – 1.35), which reworks the metallic sound of the sculpture being struck into an eerie piece of musique concrète. Extract 2 shows Moore walking through the exhibit and tapping the sculpture, providing the source sound for Delia’s music.

The same metallic impact sample can also be heard from approximately 3.27 to 4.38 in The Delian Mode, as part of a loop used in the track’s closing section. I’m guessing that Delia edited these atmospheric sounds into the Delian Mode when the track was being prepared for release on the BBC Radiophonic Music LP later that same year. I haven’t been able to find any further info to support this as yet though.

There are various other differences between these mixes which I hope to document later, as part of a longer article on the Inventions for Radio. That’s beyond the scope of this blog entry though, and probably something I’ll return to in the new year.


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