Friday, 2 September 2011

Desert Island Disc #2

And then there's this.

Today, in Britain at least, it's so familiar that you might take it for granted. You might find it difficult to remember a time when this music was considered mysterious, alien and terrifying. Difficult, that is, unless you ever watched Doctor Who as a child and experienced the delicious sting of panic as the opening theme began. Too late now to run and hide, the show was starting and you were caught!

For viewers in the '60s and '70s, unfamiliar with the musique concrète avant garde, it was utterly unearthly. Devoid of recognisable sounds, the recording was literally physically constructed: each note was painstakingly produced from white noise, plucked piano strings or oscilloscope harmonics, before being modified, cut and edited by hand into vast lengths of analogue tape that ran out of the Radiophonic Workshop and up the corridor. With no multi-track equipment, the different tracks were mixed manually by synchronising individual tape players - that is, simultaneously hitting the 'play' button on multiple machines!

The writing credit belongs to Ron Grainer, but the genius behind this extraordinary arrangement was Delia Derbyshire. This original version of hers from 1963 is still bizarre, remarkable and like nothing else in British popular culture.

And... it's the first piece of music I ever bought.

On a shopping trip, my mother allowed us to choose one record each. My sister, Hannah, chose a double A-Side release of "How Much Is That Doggy In The Window" and "Polly Wolly Doodle", I think. And I found a seven inch single of the (relatively) new arrangement with a grinning Peter Davison on the cover. I was five years old or so - it's difficult to be sure because I can't find any catalogue details for this particular release. Since I can't track it down, I can't tell you what the B-Side was called either, but Han and I called it "Running Through the Jungle" music, by which we meant (self-evidently) a spacey, alien jungle because this was Doctor Who after all. We would play it and run around and around the front room until it stopped or we got dizzy and fell over, whichever came first..

If I could find it, I'd post that, but I can't so it'll have to be this instead!


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