Ahead of their Wow Machine event, part of The Hexagon Experiment at The Great Exhibition of the North 2018, Stealing Sheep tell us about their enthusiasm for electronic music pioneer Delia Derbyshire
We first heard about Delia Derbyshire when we worked with the radiophonic workshop on a live score for a 1970s animated sci-fi film, Fantastic Planet. They shared stories about her work in the BBC workshop and sent us some of her unheard foley recordings [the sound effects added to media in post-production] that were found in her attic.
Delia Derbyshire was an early pioneer of strange electronic music. She recorded “found sounds” during late night Abbey Road sessions. She cut up these tape loops meticulously to create rhythmic patterns that would now be categorised as minimal techno. She tweaked the “found sounds” with analogue effects pitch bending and tuning the sounds to create melodic movements in the music. From what we gather, she was always trying to find human qualities from the machines. Her mathematical brain aided this cut-up tape method.
Our method of writing music is very similar, it’s just that now this method is emulated by software – we do endless late-night sampling and programme the sounds to the keyboard, setting arpeggiated patterns and sampling each vowel or cowbell note to make interesting musical sounds. We can really appreciate how laborious the work Delia did must have been. Her looped compositions are so simple sounding but host a multitude of technical skills. We feel a special alliance with Delia’s approach because of her commitment to creating organic ‘emotional’ qualities.
We’ve enjoyed listening to Delia’s tapes and have resampled her foley in our work using her techniques. We programme the electronic drum kit with her ‘explosion’ fx to replace the kick drum and use ‘tree falling’ as a loose snare, ‘gunshot’ to create a cool off-beat and a ‘car engine’ starts with her bar to create groove. It’s interesting to approach music like this.
Delia’s influence is not just musical though. Her presence as an influential female electronic artist is very close to our hearts as we are always seeking female role models and idols that give us courage to do the same. Delia was highly creative but also very conflicted through her life. She was never recognised for her work during her lifetime.
Our WOW MACHINE involves her machine samples, creating organic rhythmic loops that are symbiotically synchronised to choreographed dancers. The music is thematic and vibrant but also goes to deep mysterious places, the dancing is robotic and unifying. It’s an emotional journey but also a visually fantastical one. We have referenced Delia Derbyshire as our pioneering woman through history but also taken a lot of inspiration from Kraftwerk and are hoping that as a female-powered techno electronica outfit we’ll reveal our own kind of magical mystery tour.
The Hexagon Experiment, which is presented by Brighter Sound, is part of The Great Exhibition of the North 2018. Six free Friday night experiments at venues across Newcastle feature live music, conversations and original commissions from pioneering women at the forefront of music, art and science. Wow Machine, Stealing Sheep’s tribute to Delia Derbyshire takes place on 31 August. More details here.