Finding Delian Inspiration at the John Rylands Library

Below you can read a guest blog by two artists, Manuella Blackburn (composer) and Tracey Zengeni (visual artist), who are using the Delia Derbyshire Archive as a source of inspiration for their own creative work.  Delia Derbyshire (1937-2001) was a pioneer of electronic music, most often remembered for her work on Ron Grainer’s theme tune for Dr Who (1963).  The year 2017 marks what would have been Delia’s 80th birthday and to mark the occasion the charity Delia Derbyshire Day is organising a range of events. As part of these celebrations Tracey and Manuella will showcase their creative response to Delia’s work on 10 June 2017 at a Band on the Wall event organised by Delia Derbyshire Day.  To find out more visit

Tracey Zengeni and Manuella Blackburn
Tracey Zengeni (left) and Manuella Blackburn exploring the Delia Derbyshire Archive.

Tracey and I started getting to know the Delia Derbyshire archive at the John Rylands Reading Room, Deansgate. The sound archive is a fascinating collection of tracks, snippets and sonic ideas all inspiring in their own way. I’ve been particularly drawn to the rhythmic sonic patterns Delia has created. Some of these rhythms are beat-based and almost techno-like! I’m enjoying hearing Delia’s exploration of looped patterns, pulses and oscillations; these are quite humorous, bloopy and clever at the same time – I’d love to create something similar, a bit like pastiche to honour her quirky style.

Tracey and I have been discussing the interesting things about Delia’s style that is also reflected in her childhood artwork, also held at the John Rylands Special Collections. These juvenile papers show Delia working with quite block-like colours, the objects and images she draws always appear to be isolation, never surrounded by a backdrop – I see the parallel in her electronic music work too – sounds appear in series, one after the next, often void of background sounds or sustained texture – possibly a consequence of the technology of time, which would have been more conducive to linear sound creation. Some of her sound ideas feel like miniature experiments, for example, rhythms do not last for very long as she bluntly cuts to a new idea or collection of sound. This is fascinating and gives me inspiration for handling eclectic materials.

Delia Derbyshire Pattern Picture
Pattern picture created by Delia Derbyshire as a child. By kind permission of the Delia Derbyshire Estate.

Tracey enjoys seeing Delia’s use of colour in her artwork. This is something which can translate into Tracey’s painting – we discussed how bold, striking colours could appear in our new work together for the Delia Derbyshire Day commission we are working on.

Other sounds, which immediately jump out at me, are the extended sine tone materials that sound quite ethereal and sometimes slightly melancholy. These types of sound show a different side to Delia, and something that was quite unexpected from a listener’s perspective. I’m hoping to re-create some of these longer sounds in various pitches for Tracey to respond to in her live painting work. I’m thinking about stacking these longer sounds up to create a rich, layered effect all in keeping with the synthetic sound world Delia explores.


1 comment on “Finding Delian Inspiration at the John Rylands Library

  1. Fantastic, the JR Library are especially fortunate to have someone like Tracey there who can bring in such a rich depth of experience, insight, sensitivity, thought and skill to this project. Well done.

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