DD DAY 2021 Masterclass 5 – our commissioned artists unpack their process
Suzy Mangion, Katie Mason, Lacey Liang & Caro C
Welcome to the transcript from our fifth and final masterclass/expert talk session for our DD Day 2021 programme. This time we hear from 3 of our 4 commissioned artists who have been working collaboratively to produce new works inspired and and informed by Delia’s work, working methods and archive based in Manchester, UK. These selected North West England based artists talk to host Caro C about why and how Delia is an inspiration whilst also giving us a glimpse into Delia’s archive and their process of creating new work which will premiere on DD Day 2021 (23 November).
With grateful thanks to Arts Council England for supporting this year’s project, whose theme was imagination.
CARO: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the final masterclass expert talk for Delia Derbyshire Day 2021. So this is the last one for this year. This is a pilot initiative, part of our COVID creative response. We did a questionnaire for DD Day last year, a survey and one of the things that people wanted was expert talks, more sharing Delia knowledge and insight so we’ve done our best to make a start on that this year. I guess one nice thing is that we can have more of an international reach, rather than just our events based in Manchester or the UK.
So, thank you to our funders for this project this year, which are Arts Council England and The Granada Foundation. The Granada Foundation in particular are supporting our commissioned artists which are based in the North West region of England. Without further ado, I would like to introduce our artists. We have three of our four artists here this evening. MT Hall, Maddie is working on another project and doing an event this evening so she wasn’t able to make it but we’ll be representing her as much as possible, and her perspective. This year we have two commissions, with four artists. So with the two commissions we have paired up the artists. Suzy Mangion and Katie Mason is commission 1, then commission 2 is by Lacey Liang and MT Hall. If we start with commission 1, Suzy and Katie would you like to introduce yourselves, please?
KATIE: Yes, I’ll go. Hi, I’m Katie, an artist based in Manchester, a Visual Artist. I studied interactive arts at Manchester University and around that time I was interested in sculpture and installation and over the years I’ve worked with illustration, animation, model-making. I guess I’m a bit of a tinkerer really is probably how I could describe it, it’s not a technical term. But I like to kind of play with different materials and techniques and however an inspirational idea will come, I start with whatever is to hand, in my room, a new project.
Everything’s connected by an interest in objects and the stories they hold and tell. Also I’m quite interested in place and, alongside that, the stories that places hold and then the stories that they can tell us. At the moment I’m working in video and film which is what I’ve been doing for this project which I taught myself during lockdown. And so that’s kind of the direction that I’m going in at the moment and experimenting with that.
CARO: Fantastic. Thank you. Suzy?
SUZY: Hi, I’m Suzy Mangion, a music maker. I’m a composer, a singer/songwriter and also call myself and audio-visual historian. So, I will explain those things – the music thing, I have been making music since the late 1990s. Mostly based in Manchester. In the 2000s, I was in various bands. I was in a band called George for a while, that was a duo, that was my main project. I was in other bands too such as an electronica band, Spanish-based. I theoretically am still in a more folk-directed band called the Winter Journey in Manchester. I am also involved in cult bands like Piano Magic. Quite a long time ago we released an album on 4AD records – 20 years ago! We’ve just had the 20-year anniversary. I’ve got a lot of things that I’ve done before I started doing solo work. Then I stopped making music for quite a while and I went back to academic studies and did a PhD in surrealism and sound. And I spent a long time doing some very in-depth research about Dada and surrealist soundtracks. And now I’m back to music-making again.
I decided last year to release a lot of the music I’ve got stockpied and set up my own label. I haven’t done that yet! But it’s planned. It’s going to be called Turning in Circle. Katie has talked really well about her different modes of making. I kind of work in different modes and often I’ve put them on the same albums – but the next releases they won’t be like that. I have different things I’m interested in. I have electronic work and I’ve been involved with bands that were purely electronic and then I had this sort of alt folk and a singer/song writer side that was very sort of stripped down and I’m a pianist too. The things all overlap. Sometimes they come out separate. They are not separate projects, but I don’t work just in one particular genre of music. I’m at ease working in electronics and beats and things like that as much as I am just doing something which is voice…
CARO: Great, thank you. And Lacey?
LACEY: I originally came from a graphic design background and have been working as a graphic designer for seven years now. One day I was creating something with software for a poster and then was like, wow, it’s really powerful stuff. And then I started to learn the software systematically and, especially with the lockdown, I just locked myself in my room. So I got the chance to experiment with different softwares like After-effects and Cinematography. Then I started to share my work on Instagram and some artists approached me and asked me if I would like to work with them and I was like “OK that is a pretty good idea”. So I started my freelancing from the end of last year and am still loving it.
CARO: Fantastic. Thank you, everyone. Then there’s Maddie, MT Hall – an artist, music producer and a DJ, she says she creates emotionally experimental electronic music and because she’s a visual artist as well, she’s really interested in creating dense sonic structures.
Strangely enough, both Lacey and Maddie are based in the Liverpool area which we didn’t know when they were selected. This was a public callout for artists who just had to be North West England based. So, myself, the trustees and Mandy Wigby as assistant project manager this year, tried to select the 4 artists. Obviously, we had our criteria and tried to decide the best pairing for artists and it just so happens that that was actually quite handy, especially for Lacey and Maddie to be able to meet in Liverpool in parks or outdoors, wasn’t it? So yes, I think Katie and Suzy you have never met in person have you?
KATIE: Not yet.
SUZY: Katie is going to get a shock when she sees me, I’m nine feet tall!
CARO: Yes, it’s very much of the times really how these artists have been working. And they have put so much into these commissions. They shared their extracts recently and we were, all of the trustees, myself and Mandy, were blown away. All the amount of work they have put in, it’s weaved in there. Obviously, that’s largely thanks to the consistent inspiration that is the late, great Delia Derbyshire. So, I would like to ask each of you how you discovered Delia and what it means to you to know about someone like this, especially a woman working in her field but also what it means for you to have her there in your lineage, if you like. So, Katie, are you OK if I start with you, please?
KATIE: Yes, sure. So I think I first heard about Delia when I was getting into electronic music initially. So I was probably in my early 20s or late teens and listening to Aphex Twin and Orbital. When Orbital covered the Doctor Who theme tune, obviously I knew that and loved it even though I wasn’t a Doctor Who fan, it’s iconic and very emotive. And spooky. So when they covered the Doctor Who theme tune, there was an article, or maybe it was on the radio, when they were talking about Delia Derbyshire was mentioned. That was the first time I heard her name. It was a massive surprise to know the kind of sound and what made the theme tune as iconic and especially as it is produced by a woman which I just didn’t know.
So I guess that was the first time I heard her name. Then over the years, her name would pop up. So it would be compilations of interesting, unusual electronic music, Outsider Path and things like that. I just started to read more about it and watched documentaries and listened to radio shows and found out a bit more about who she was and her techniques. I built up a picture. When I saw the call-out for this project, I thought it would be a really great opportunity to take what I already kind of find inspiring about her and interesting about her and intriguing as well, because she’s kind of this mysterious figure, almost in black and white all the time and her name’s kind of very sort of plain and English, but all this, the sound that she creates and the worlds that she creates is just completely somewhere else.
So yes, I guess it’s just been really interesting, really great to learn more about her.
I think the things that I found really inspiring as I’ve learnt more about her through this process is probably just her rebellious nature and spirit. When I’ve listened to interviews and things, she’s kind of got this infectious, creative vibe. I think she really pushed the boundaries of her time, especially as a woman. That’s really inspiring and even though she had this very meticulous, technical way of working, there was a DIY and a playful way in which she created work and approached making work. So that is definitely an inspiration for me.
CARO: Yes. Lovely. Thank you. Suzy?
SUZY: Well, I’ve brought these to show because this is how I, like lots of people, got them here, the 2002 re-issues of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop albums that Mark Ayres put out on the BBC. She’s not on this, but I play them both a lot. It’s the original 1968 (pink) album which has a lot of Delia Derbyshire on and there’s a picture of her on the back.
I had heard her work before because obviously there was Doctor Who which I had on a vinyl as a child but I didn’t know who it was. And there was like this moment when I was an undergraduate in the late 1990s and I remember hearing, it must have been Radio Three late at night, I don’t know what programme, I just remember this thing came on the radio and I listened to it and it was an extract from the “Dreams” section of the Inventions for Radio. I hadn’t heard it until again this year but I remembered it, it was this wonderful eerie thing that I wasn’t expecting to hear. So she was somebody that I knew and heard her work but didn’t know anything about her before this came out. I have to say, I just loved it. It was the whole thing, it wasn’t just her work on these that I really liked, it was the whole lot of them together. But her pieces, they’re more eerie and abstract at times, but not always. One of the things I found really inspiring and that I love about her again is, she doesn’t play with just one style.
Over the years, I’ve learnt a lot more about electronic music and electroacoustic music and the history of it and all the 20th century composers that she would have been feeding into, plugging into and inspired by, as well as the pop scene. Then there’s these funny jokey pieces or these melodic pieces and she also played keyboard instruments. I think her main instrument was piano.
I do feel like when you start researching someone and you go into their archive and you do it in a different way, you get this odd sense of, it’s not a relationship with the person because you are going through their things but it’s something like that. I had done historical research before on artists, so I was familiar with the process.
In the past I’ve gone into people’s diaries or to an archive and you will have a box of stuff to rummage through. But through this, I feel like I’ve had this new insight into her but I feel like I don’t know her at all. It’s not like I go in and feel like I know this person I have a relationship with her, I just feel like I know more about them than I could and I know different things.
Just the breadth of her musical approach inspires me really. And I think she was on a par with the best of the European electronic composers of the 20th century and it must have been so hard for her to be not taken seriously or side-lined in terms of electronic music in Britain wasn’t taken seriously in the same way. That must have been very hard. That is something I’ve felt a lot more doing the research.
CARO: Lovely. Lacey, how did you discover the work of Delia?
LACEY: Actually I came across her so many times but initially it’s definitely the Doctor Who theme tune. I think that is how most people know about her. And I really, really love that electronic future-facing sound. But I hadn’t really started to do my research and find out who she is, who is the one behind this track. When I was browsing YouTube, I found one of her pieces. I was searching for a visualiser for some ideas and I think that piece, it was called Sea and I thought that’s quite interesting, so I searched Delia Derbyshire and like everything connected, oh she’s the one behind Doctor Who.
I just started to check her photos and her background and what she had been through. After that, I visited the archive. That is when I really sort of, opposite to Suzy, I feel like I know her. I felt like she was making music 50 years ago but for the people living now, or even in the future. So I really admire her focus and being able to constantly live in the future of electronic music. How she pushed the boundaries and was so innovative the whole time. She became an inspirational figure for me because she was living in a time where it was a male-dominated industry and she thrived. That’s a big motivation for me to fight the female stereotypes. So yes, I pushed my own boundaries in my own way.
CARO: Fantastic. Thank you. We were talking to Marta Salogni last month – Marta works with tape – and I couldn’t help appreciating even more how much time and physical skill went into just making one little melody or one little rhythm and just knowing her dedication was just so deep and strong wasn’t it, to just make the music, let alone all the other stuff that she must have had to encounter. Amazing.
So you all managed to visit the archive at John Rylands Library eventually once it was safe to be able to visit it here in Manchester – and I wonder if you could identify one or two particular pieces within the archive that created a bit of a springboard or starting point for you inspiration-wise with your commissions? Katie could you start us with anything in the archive in particular that piqued your interest?
KATIE: From my visit to the archive, I was looking through, in particular, Delia’s juvenile papers, a box of objects from her childhood schoolbooks and clippings, newspaper clippings, cotton wool-like bobbins, all sorts of things. To backup what everyone’s been saying, especially Lacey, you have this box of stuff and you just kind of sit there and go through it and it feels like you are almost not supposed to be doing that because it’s someone’s private things but you are there. Weirdly, I felt like she was there next to me sort of explaining why she kept this stuff for so long. As a hoarder as well, I can sort of really relate to this in particular.
There was this really old notebook, a sketch book with flying ducks on the front that was really beautiful intrigued me to begin with. There was a page with dried flower pressings from a Robert Burns monument gardens trip and there’s something really special, for me, about the time and the place that she took these clippings. It meant something to her, she told a story of that particular day, and then they have been preserved for all this time. They have then made their way to the John Rylands Library and they were sitting with me on that day. Something about that was just really moving and also it’s something about nature in place that I wanted to include in our film. Obviously we’ll find out that it’s about Gilsland in Cumbria where Delia moved to after leaving the BBC. I think it just adds to that kind of interest of time and place and the sort of atmosphere of the place. Yes, that was the piece that kickstarted my process.
Also in the same box of papers was this coloured illustration that Delia made as a child. I think it looks as though it’s from maybe an art class. There were quite a few water colour paintings and pencil drawings that I was really drawn to. This one in particular I think is interesting because, as it being really beautiful, there’s the colours and the fragility of the actual paper as an object, it could be seen as showing a bit of her future technique, the repetition in it and how neat it is. It could be seen as a glimpse into the sort of a techniques that she used in her creative life.
CARO: Wonderful. Thank you. I remember Tracey Zengeni, a commissioned artist for 2017, chose a similar, slightly different from that one, with the birds. I think it was the colours as well, the bold colours that really struck her. Also I think it’s the fact that Delia was very visual, a visual artist in some sense. She worked to support the visual a lot with TV, film, theatre…I think she talks about working on the Inventions for Radio as almost like painting a picture. Those items in the archive really reinforce that, her sense of the link to the visual as well.
KATIE: Definitely, yes.
CARO: Yes. Fantastic. Suzy, can I go to you, please?
SUZY: Yes. I don’t have any pictures; I’m just going to be reading from a notebook, my extensive scribbles from going to the archive. Like Caro said, what’s lovely about this research is it’s just springboards, you see something and it gives you an idea and you can just go with it.
One of the things that gave me the most ideas for the film I’ve made with Katie that’s called Location: Gilsland – it’s like got the educational structure from the 1970’s – it’s those little fragmented things by the Radiophonic Workshop that really fascinated me. So the thing I’ve chosen is an annual report from the Radiophonic Workshop. And I am going to say it was 1964 or around that time. This is really bad scholarship but it’s nice for me to not have to justify my sources for once! It listed all the output of the workshop for that year with the titles of the pieces. But just like quantifying them like a list. It didn’t put on the composers, didn’t say what they were for really. And so there was just this wonderful list of names like the names you get on a Radiophonic Workshop album.
I just wrote down as many as I could. Then the titles in our film, the section titles in our film have all taken from these. We don’t know what they were, whether they were radio or TV, which ones Delia did, which ones anyone else did. I’ll read some so you can get a sense of how they are. The distinct chill – something cries out, out of this spark, looks stranger, I measured the skies. That’s one we used; people might know that. If you were me, the dark tower, let’s join in, nature, moon rocket, the right wavelength, living language, modest atmosphere with monsters, now read on, rain for the flood, north beat. I mean I just feel like I’m reading some bad beat poetry here. But I just love this list of them because I just felt like I wanted to do a tune for every one of these.
CARO: They are evocative titles.
SUZY: That is why they worked wasn’t it? It was like, this is the title, maybe if you have the right wavelength, it’s going to be accompanying a man making a jar of sweets, I don’t know!
Oh, and you have a few days to think of something.
CARO: I think I remember reading in the archive how they called it the “theatre for the mind” in terms of that being their job, to create the theatre for the imagination, especially with radio because you didn’t have the visual. In a sense just hearing those titles conjures up images and sounds too.
SUZY: I found it so too – the auditing of it, the titles…There was also a piece that was quite inspiring for me in the audio archive. Delia didn’t use voices that much. I don’t think people think of her as somebody that used voices, but there is this recording, singing voices, and I wanted to put singing somewhere in my work even though it’s only in one piece. There’s this track called “It’s Raining Women’s Voices”. Anyone who has visited the audio archive, you’ll know they haven’t been able to have someone properly catalogue it yet and work out what everything is and give details about it so I don’t really know what this was from. I assume it was a radio play, it could have been sound effects. It’s a Polinaire poem and there’s a female singer, singing. She’s singing the word of the poem sort of scaling down vocally and it’s very arresting and textural and really reminded me of Luciano Berio’s work and I know that Delia was aware of Berio’s work. It gave me a glimpse as well of different ways that she worked too. I don’t have any context around this extract, what it was for- but that was something that I had in mind when we scored a section where there’s a waterfall in our film and that’s where I wanted to put the voices in. I have it so that everything’s coming down descending and overlapping because I was thinking of the raining women’s voices tumbling down.
CARO: Wonderful. Thank you. Lacey?
LACEY: I was particularly inspired by how Delia worked because I’m a very unorganised person. So when I work, I’m more using a linear like approach so I just work from the beginning to the end. When I saw her working notes, I saw how she constructed the structure from the beginning but also took a step back to see the whole thing. There is this working letter from her co-worker when she was in BBC. I enjoyed seeing how she worked with image, working with themes and how she planned everything from the start. I thought it was so meticulous, very organised how she worked and that just influenced my approach for this project because I sort of tried to replicate the way she worked. I will show you how I worked with my visuals in a bit.
CARO: Wonderful. I think that is one of the beauties of being able to visit the archive, it’s almost seeing inside someone’s head isn’t it?! I think as artists you start to realise it reflects something back on yourself where you start to realise more about how you work, Did you know you were unorganised before you started working on this or was this something you learnt more about yourself in this process?
LACEY: Yes, I learned this along the way!
CARO: Yes, I think it’s the same for most artists, seeing it reflected. It’s one of the reasons I instigated Delia Derbyshire Day, I thought it would be interesting to look back at women artists who’re documented. She has the archive and is valued in that way as she should be, then we can then look back and start to reflect on our own process – how do we work? how don’t we work? I think that could hopefully help us to develop as well. So almost looking back to help us look forward, in a sense.
I wonder if we could move on to talking about your commissions. We are going to have about eight to ten minutes for each artist to talk about their process and a little bit of a clip of their work. So this is the first public preview of their works which will be premiered on 23rd November, our Delia Derbyshire Day.
Katie, do you want to start us with telling us a bit more about your commission and a trailer or extract?
KATIE: I prepared a presentation which starts with the trailer, an extended trailer of “Location: Gilsland” which is the short film Suzy and I have worked on. The film explains the background and how we got to this point. And yes, I’ll probably just go ahead and play it because I’ll end up explaining it meaning you will have to listen to it twice.
SUZY: I haven’t seen this, I’m excited.
CARO: So the title of the piece is “Location: Gilsland” and it’s a short film with audio and music and duration is or will be?
KATIE: The duration of the whole film will be 12 minutes and it’s made up of four sections. It’s laid out a bit like an educational programme with continuity in-between each piece. So it’s a little bit like you are seeing a set of different programmes, a series. But the trailer doesn’t give too much away. I thought I would try and keep it as mysterious as possible. On the 23rd you will be able to see the full thing.
CARO: Fantastic. Can I just ask – you actually went to Gilsland – tell us about your field trip to the location of Gilsland. I understand you also met with Madelon Hooykaas online to find out more about Delia’s time there?
KATIE: I think that was shortly after I’d actually gone up to Gilsland. I did a bit of research about Gilsland before and we talked about how we wanted the atmosphere of the film to be and what we wanted to get across.
About the visit: I planned out the areas I wanted to film, but only as much as you can research an area prior to going there, you can’t factor everything in. For example, it rained a lot and it’s quite remote. The atmosphere was quite wild. It was just a really interesting trip and the whole time I think I was just thinking of what Delia would think of it and whether she’d, you know, be thinking about what she would think of me walking around in my anorak with my assistant, with a brolly over me just filming these things in Gilsland.
There is a bit of a sense of humour to it as well. I think it’s quite a playful look at that era as well of programmes and the music that matched. So it was a great trip and I’ve got so much footage. I got everything I wanted from it for definite and a lot more. It’s an eerie place actually. So yes, we then had a meeting, a Zoom meeting with Madelon Hooykaas, quite soon after I visited Gilsland, we spoke to her about her experiences visiting Delia when she lived there. Also, the projects that they worked on together, the compositions that Delia made for her and Elsa Stansfield’s art films. It was really interesting to hear about how they worked together.
The thing that I found most interesting Madelon sharing her stories of her trips to Gilsland and the things that they got up to. We were chatting as though to an old friend at that point which I found really nice and we heard about the stories of walking to the pub and playing darts. We were really interested in that because our film is kind of in the forest and with the waterfall and like going through all the nature surrounding Gilsland. We had questions as to whether she was really interested in all of this wild nature surrounding Gilsland, just to think about the reasons that she moved there, or why there in particular.
It seemed like we couldn’t get to the bottom of why that area in particular. I don’t think she was particularly interested in rambling or doing any of the big hikes around the area, but still we focused on the nature around Gilsland. I don’t know Suzy if you want to add anything about the meeting we had with Madelon?
SUZY: It was really nice because not only had Madelon remembered lots about her visits there, it also put everything into perspective. By putting together this idea and looking at the archive, me and Katie were constructing this idea about Delia’s time there, and then talking to a real person kind of scotched that. It’s a good reminder of how you start to imagine things about someone’s life that you can’t really know. We can’t assume that Madelon has the definitive answer either. We know that when they visited they went on walks only to the pub. She got the job and it was there and so she went there. It intrigued me in the archive that the cuttings and things she kept as a child, you know, as a 12-year-old, and the scrap books, were all about country villages, thatched cottages and pressed flowers and things like this. So at one point as a child, she had this romantic country imagination, maybe that was completely lost, not of interest to her as an adult but maybe it was and we’ll never know how she really felt about living up there.
KATIE: Yes. Definitely. I think it helped us to realise which direction we were going to go in with it as well because it was less about what was maybe happening in her personal life while she was living there, or the reasons she wanted to escape London. It’s more about using that area as a sort of backdrop to our film.
CARO: And you’re following the the theme for this year – imagination. You all had a kind of double challenge of responding to the archive and to Delia’s work at the same time as the theme of imagination. So, as Suzy said, the lovely thing about being an artist in this situation is that you don’t have to know all the answers at the same time as we don’t claim to have the answers. It just means we can enjoy the questions, doesn’t it? I think you were talking about, if Gilsland in Cumbria wanted a hauntology tourist film, they have got one.
KATIE: Yes, they have got that for sure!
SUZY: It was really interesting as well, Madelon talked about the working relationship she had. She was part of a film-making duo. They were video art pioneers, her and Elsa Stansfield, and Delia had previously worked with Elsa Stansfield. They worked on several pieces together. It’s another side to Delia’s output that I personally find really interesting and find them quite abstract soundtracks but very, very involved. She wasn’t there doing what she did for the Radiophonic which was just like, there’s the thing and move on. They had a working relationship over two to three films – but on Madelon’s film they did two films together.
CARO: Shall we have a look at the extract you want to share with us?
–Extract from Location: Gilsland playing–
KATIE: That was the extended version which was put together especially for the masterclass tonight so I hope you enjoyed that and I hope it gives you more of an idea of what to expect from the full film which will be shown on the 23rd.
Now a final part – bits of my sketch book. I don’t usually show people these because they are a bit of a mess. But I think you can kind of get an idea of the way my mind works through these things. So, it’s basically one big brainstorm. I like to sit in and take in as much as possible about whatever it is I’m trying to do a project about or look into. The theme is imagination and Delia speaks to the imagination. She was able to transport people from their everyday lives to these other worlds just through her sounds.
This was the main inspiration for the project, wanting to create a sort of unreality, and the extraordinary out of the ordinary. During the research period, Suzy and I would be meeting up regularly and sharing ideas, points of interest, things that we thought would be a good lead to go down and we quickly realised that we had quite a lot in common, especially a shared interest for sort of vintage 60s and 70s TV idents, advertising, educational programmes, Ceefax and Teletext, the world of Arthur C Clarke, just to name a few.
We had a general idea of what we wanted the film to look like. We needed to then try and put it into some kind of context and find something that could anchor all of the ideas together. A thread that we thought we’d weave into the fabric of the film was a shared interest in the years after Delia left the BBC in 1973 onwards.
She relocated to a small village in Cumbria by Hadrian’s Wall at the border of Scotland. This period of her life is often referred to as her wilderness years and it’s sometimes thought that she became unproductive and dropped out of her creative life. We know this now not to be true. She was involved in a lot of artistic projects and working with different artists during that period.
Our intention was really not to look at the questions as to why she moved there, or what happened in her personal life around that time, but rather taking Gilsland as a springboard and inspiration for our film. So, the research period continued. Now with a focus on Gilsland. I found myself delving into the world of Gilsland blogs and websites and speaking to the authors of these blogs which was really, really useful as they had lots of information about local history, folklore, lots of images to share with me and to point me in the direction of points of interest.
You will have to wait until November the 23rd to learn more about the special locations, but the next stage was for Suzy and I to talk through each of these locations and section them off and talk about what kind of atmosphere we’d imagined would be in each of these places. This informed some of the ways Suzy composed and the way that I formed together a plan of how I was going to film.
The next stage in the process was to book the trip and to plan the filming. I did a very detailed filming schedule to last over the two days that we were there. I used that as a Plan B. My plan A was to go to these locations and kind of absorb the atmosphere and use my imagination to guide my shots and to direct my filming. I feel that place has its history and its atmosphere and I wanted to convey that. Equipment-wise, I took my iPhone 11 which I filmed everything on, a steady camera holder, a terrorist pod, a sketch book, some pens and crayons, Sellotape and scissors, plastic bags to lean on. I also had Suzy’s music demos, sketches of her compositions to refer to, to listen to. I also invested in a new bit of kit which was an underwater camera case. I wanted to be as prepared as possible equipment-wise and mentally so I could capture Gilsland in as many ways as I possibly could giving me as much footage to play with and to expand on when I got it home. I called this tool kit my Delian lens, and kept referring to this idea as I was thinking about how to make the ordinary meet the extraordinary.
I collected rubbings from bark and leaves and also collected flowers and dried them. I wanted to bring a piece of Gilsland directly into my film, paused in time, frozen in time. This idea was of course directly inspired by the dried flowers from Delia’s archive too. When I got back, I put the hours and hours of footage into imovie software which nearly crashed it, but I got a hard drive and managed to back that up. From there, I sifted through all of the footage and the clips and tried to pick out the best bits of the things that I wanted to work with. Suzy and I put together a general framework timeline for the film into its different chapters. So I arranged a general two-minute each for each section from there.
Once a structure had been formed for each section from the footage, I then had the task of creating the unreality, the other world and the Delian edge, the Delian filter to put the footage through, which is when the fun began. I tried to think of the story each place was telling me or that I imagined and then what I could bring into that to try to bring that to life.
Alongside my flowers and rubbings, I went on the hunt for some farm footage. Suzy introduced me to the Internet archive and in particular, the Prelinger archives, a library of amateur and home movies, corporate films, government films, that are licence free, some of them, and in the public domain which is a really useful source.
Similarly, WikiCommon is an amazing website with free-to-use images which I used in the title. As long as you credit each photographer, then it’s licence free. I applied for a media licence from the ordnance survey maps website which was an absolutely essential tool to give the effect of an educational programme about location. A combination of experimenting with this found footage, special effects, careful editing, and the guidance of Suzy’s early versions of her compositions, all brought an off kilter feel to the village of Gilsland and shined a different light on it.
CARO: Fantastic, thank you. I know you were saying how you actually contacted the ordnance survey people and them being happy for you to work with some of their material.
KATIE: At first I was playing with Google maps and then realised that I should probably stop there because I don’t think that would be a good company to be sued by! So yes, I just contacted them and they were really open for people using them for art projects and film and all sorts of things.
CARO: Fantastic. Good to know. Suzy could you give us some insight?
SUZY: Katie’s done a brilliant job of talking through so much of what the film was about, so I am just going to talk about one of the tracks. It’s the one that you have heard in the trailer, the theme tune, because, you know, I love theme tunes and it’s about Delia Derbyshire and The Radiophonic Workshop. It was the first thing I wrote actually, the first bit even before Katie and I thought it needed a theme tune. I think everything needs one! It’s a theme from Gilsland and it’s really in my head what I was imagining. Just complete made-up nonsense here, but Delia Derbyshire is driving a car through the rain up to Cumbria to work on a construction site. It’s just nonsense in my head, but, as I worked on it, actually I did research and my husband very kindly did some research too. So I delegated some research to him on the job that she was actually doing – I find this really interesting. She was working as a radio operator for the gas pipeline that was being installed from Scotland down into northern England via Carlisle. They needed a French-speaking radio operator and she went up there to do the job. And there’s a not terribly reliable but rather nice picture of Delia in an office in wellies and a hard hat and the radio things are there.
Here is a picture of the Brampton pipeline, a massive pipeline going through there and there is Gilsland. That is where she lived. And the size of this operation, this pipeline’s eventually the one that, when it went across to the North-East of England where I grew up, it was the one that brought gas to our home, and Delia was involved in this massive project. I found that really interesting.
Before I just play you one of the tracks I produced, I want to show you a couple of pictures I found in this research from the Laing archive. Laing were the contractors and there was a French company involved, hence why they needed somebody that spoke French. This will become relevant when I play the track.
There are helicopters overhead and massive diggers and Delia is somewhere there – she isn’t really but maybe she’s sitting in there doing Morse Code – I don’t know. This is how my imagination goes because I didn’t actually go to Gilsland, I would have loved to have gone.
I’m going to take you to the theme tune. The theme to “Location: Gilsland”. I’ll take you through the various separate tracks and then just play you a snippet of how they all sound together, of which you have heard in the trailer anyway. It’s a very long track, not because I do long tracks, but I did a big, long piece on this.
We break it up for the continuity cards and we choose sections at various points in the film. The first sound I had was this loop I made from a pile driver, the massive building that’s been constructed down the road from me that was really, really loud and it was just, you know, making this terrible noise that I could hear in the house, but was also really rhythmic so I went out with my iPhone and hung around near the gate of the construction site. This was the start of it.
— Playing extract of the pile driver – rhythmic industrial sound
CARO: So you didn’t really have to treat that sound? That is how it was when you recorded it?
SUZY: I made a loop from it, in fact. I did a long recording and got a good section. Even in the final mix, I’ve found that treating it diminishes it. It’s really kind of, one of those, you know, things in the street and it’s pounding and it’s like I need to do something with that. I don’t know what sound it makes but I wanted to show you the massive pipes going into the ground. It must have been a massive construction operation. Then I’ve got some synths, gone for juicy ’70s sounding synths. I work in Logic so they are midi-synths on there.
— Playing extract —
This is the bassline. I kept thinking I would like it to sound like the theme tune to something I saw in the 1980s, but didn’t really understand because I was too young. That is the feel that I wanted. Katie came up with this phrase early on in the research. We watched “Near and Far” a lot and Katie said the opening credits were unnecessarily spooky – and that was it. It’s adding the spook to something that was just leaving you with that feeling. There are the synth parts, they go on for ages. Then I wanted radio static. So I got an old-style radio and turned the dial, borrowed it from a friend. The one I had was rubbish. I really enjoyed that.
I had fun with the automation of it in the mix, just sort of weaving it in and out like a noise and then the other radio sound I had, and this was my favourite bit, was basically, I wanted the effect of AM radio signal or radio signals coming in and out with voices of radio cutting in. It’s old-fashioned.
As a child I used to love playing with radio dials and if you picked up a foreign language, that was very exciting! I couldn’t actually get the radio to do this anymore. There mustn’t have been signals or the radio wasn’t strong enough. So I put a sort of simulator of that, on an app on my phone, you can get radio stations from anywhere in the world, I set it to France and it’s got a simulator of a dial that you can scroll across and I had a lot of fun trying to do this without getting any music edited out or anything.
— Playing extract of French radio station —
Some voices there. It’s just fun and I kept thinking about lots of films I like where they use radios like that. The final bit of it is a bit of Morse Code.
— Playing extract of Morse Code –
Some of you will know that Delia used Morse Code in some of her compositions. I really wanted to put that in. Again, I found a thing on the Internet, a programme where it’s basically takes a message and converts it into Morse Code for you. So I put in this message that is being sent: it says Delta calling, Delta calling, all the way along, and Delta was obviously D for Delia but was when she was in Delta Unit Plus, Delta was her. So, if we put them all together this is how it sounds.
— Playing extract of all sounds mixed together —
It goes on a bit because I just did loads. None of the other tracks sound anything like that. They all sound different from one another.
CARO: Wonderful, thank you, Suzy. Very evocative. James says, I’d forgotten about that filtering effect you used to get when the radio signal waxed and waned as if the voice was being squeezed out of the speaker. I used to love that, going between radio stations. Wonderful.
Lacey, would you like to share a bit about your process? Thank you.
LACEY: Yes. We, myself and Maddie, after we visited the archive we just got so many ideas going on, because I saw how Delia, she’s really good at illustrating and she definitely got her interests there. After a few rounds of discussion, we decide to split our little theme into two parts. So the duration is roughly nine minutes in total. We split our film into three minutes and 20 seconds and the second part is around six minutes. The reason we split it into two parts, was that we wanted to work in a collaborative way but we also wanted to initiate our own idea so it’s like a dialogue going on between me and Maddie. How we start the film is also looking at how Delia started to make her music because we all know that she used everyday sounds and manipulated them through her tape machines. We thought maybe we could do that. So individually, we started to do our own material gathering. I live in Liverpool by Crosby beach so initially I took a video by Crosby beach and Maddie used her field recording in Brighton.
At the beginning, we didn’t really see each other’s work, so it’s kind of not too explicit which made it more exciting. But we didn’t know what are we doing until we saw each other’s work. So I did a recording. But at the same time, I have to imagine how it is going to come out after I add my CGI to it. I’m going to share my screen now.
First of all, I’ll just share a little clip from my work and try to explain the mechanics behind the camera and how I created the scene. In the beginning, I put my pixelated picture into my software. Then I need to track my camera. The dots are the computer trying to analyse the surface and how far is it from the camera. So when the camera moves, the computer knows. And then I needed to add my speaker note on to my working area. So after I put it into my software, I need to remove the actual film working directly with the sticker note.
Then I started to add some objects, tested the dynamics. And then I had to capture the rocks, to add the dynamics of them spinning and then I had to analyse the environmental light, the lighting and also do some material testing. The material testing was done at this point.
When I put the CGI together with the real footage, you see the shadows. The reason I put that on is to capture the shadows. You have the shadows and that gives you a realistic sense that the rocks are actually really moving around in the air. I have to remove the plane after the software, after the editing. And then add the shadows to give it more realism. So this is just a very simple process. I’m obsessed with this because it just made my film and theme came true. I undertook this process while referring to Delia. I mentioned before how unorganised I was. After seeing Delia’s work notes, I decided to draw a timeline just like she did and tried to divide the music into different parts, trying to visualise, what do I see from this part? Instead of working from the beginning to the end, I just worked in a small bits at a time and put them all together at the end.
This is my initial process and you see a lot of stuff is going on. That was my first draft and after a few discussions with Maddie we both decide to change it and do something else instead because you see the colour template doesn’t really match.
And this is my final proposal: the black speakers are the ones I’m going to do in 3D completely without real footage, and in-between there’ll be real or manipulated footage. And this is the trailer which is quite short because our film is only nine minutes and this extract is around a minute. I don’t want to give too much away.
— Playing extract from film –
CARO: Is it as time-consuming as it looks to make?
LACEY: Oh yes it took me ages! Actually I had to pay a (data) farm to render it out.
CARO: Lots of wonderful compliments in the chat, stunning, amazing, yes. Wow that is amazing, and I just want to say that the title of your commission is “Hybrid ecologies: between sky and soil” and I think you both said you are very interested in the so-called real, what we see, and the imagined, that definitely that comes across there.
LACEY: Yes. When I talked with Maddie, we found out about our mutual interest in technology and we also talked about how our phone is going to become our extended organ and we are interested in climate change as well. We are going to take the natural world and try to manipulate it.
CARO: Hopefully technology can be now part of the solution because it has been part of the problem!
I wonder if I can ask, you have all put so much into it and it’s been about five, six months hasn’t it, I imagine quite an intense process. What do you feel has been the Delian impact, has it changed the way you work or think about your art or sound or music, your artform?
What influence or impact might this process have on your work going forward? Does anybody have any thoughts about that?
SUZY: It’s had a massive impact on me because I haven’t done anything publicly for such a long time. And so I’m doing a piece of work that is about those years when Delia was seen to be unproductive as well and to be using that as my way to come back in. It’s helped me to do that and get back in.
I always wanted to work on a film and I’ve never found an opportunity to do so and to work with someone. So yes, it’s given me a massive opportunity to just get back into something I love doing.
CARO: Fantastic. Don’t worry, they’ll be called your wilderness years, Suzy! Anybody else want to add anything to that, the impact of exploring Delia’s world?
LACEY: Yes, I think other than the change of my working process which is beneficial to me because it could save me loads of time being more organised in terms of my creative process, but also seeing her as an inspirational figure. Also me and Maddie, we got the chance to actually work and challenge ourselves without being given a brief. That is a really good opportunity for us.
CARO: Yes, you were saying that quite often you work to a brief whereas this time you were able to fly more in a sense. A question for Lacey: Do you programme your visuals?
LACEY: I haven’t used any script or anything, it’s just in the 3D software called “Cinema 4D”.
CARO: Another question: Would you call any of these works a homage to Delia? Katie, would you describe your piece as a homage to Delia?
KATIE: Yes. I think there’s lots of different things that you could bring to it that are all about Delia. So I think we have sort of used the space to use our imaginations and take what would be a damp field and kind of put our take on that and to maybe take the ordinary and make it extraordinary. That’s what we want to do with this film and I think that’s completely Delia’s way. So in that respect, yes.
CARO: The challenge we set artists when they are commissioned is to kind of, not to be Delia or a pastiche of Delia but at the same time it’s finding and encouraging that Delian spirit within you really which I think you have all done to great effect.
SUZY: Can I just add to what Katie said. I was very excited in the planning stage and I think Katie was too, that we were not just doing something that was just us being inspired by what Delia did. It was rooted in things all the way through, things we found out about her, things we’d heard, but it wasn’t doing a biography of her or copying those works or anything. I really found that exciting that it was all sort of embedded in there, like there was some sort of history sense of her underneath even though we are not imitating here, not trying to be like that.
CARO: Well, unfortunately we have run out of time, it’s gone so quickly again. Thank you so much for preparing all that Suzy, Katie and Lacey. There is one last question: Suzy what synthesizer did you use in the theme? I think you said it was a Logic synth didn’t you?
SUZY: I’ve got all sorts of vintage stuff here. I recorded on Logic on my Mac, it’s got a huge number of midi synth, plug-in things which sound great. And I haven’t used any vintage synths on it actually at all, I’ve just put those straight in because, particularly we have been working quite quickly.
CARO: Do you remember the name of it?
SUZY: I think the preset is called Evolving Currents. The juicy one.
CARO: Well thank you everyone for coming along. 23 November this year is now the fixed date for Delia Derbyshire Day. We’ll be premiering these pieces and we’ll be chatting to the artists as part of the livestream supported by bluedot. We’ll also be sharing other content, so do join us if you can!
Lots of thanks coming through on the chat. Thank you very much everyone.