Creative Spur 01: Delia Derbyshire

Writing inspiration

Way back in 2012 when we launched the first, zine-shaped incarnation of Verse Kraken, we came up with the idea of theming each issue around selected creative ‘spurs’ – existing works that dealt in some way with transformation, which could in turn be transformed or reimagined into new works.

Our spurs at the time ranged from early animation to an astronomical manuscript to a French literary fairy tale. Artists and writers responded in a glorious mix of genres, including concrete poetry, ASCII art and interactive text. When we started running workshops, we adopted a similar approach: start with something boundary-crossing, apply new techniques and perspectives, and arrive wherever that might take us.

So in that spirit, we though it would be fun do a monthly post for anyone looking to inject some fresh inspiration into their work. We’ll put up a spur and a challenge, which you can use in combination or separately, as a starting point for a new work or an intervention in an existing one. And perhaps for good measure some bonus material/further reading/follow-on ideas.

Ready? Let’s go.

Your Spur

Delia Derbyshire: Ziwzih Ziwzih OO-OO-OO

This piece was recorded in 1967 for ‘The Prophet’, a BBC dramatisation of an Isaac Asimov short story about rebel robots who form their own religion. It mixes recordings of electronic instruments and the chanting of the actors played backwards, all painstakingly manipulated on tape to make something that still sounds almost unbelievably futuristic for its time.

The composer, Delia Derbyshire, is most famous for arranging the original Doctor Who theme tune, but she’s also considered one of the pioneers of electronic music. She was a maths and music nerd, fascinated by the connections between numbers, structures and sound. As a member of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, which produced soundtracks for dramas and educational programmes, she used tape-splicing, feedback and speed/pitch to make music that has influenced and been sampled by artists ever since.

In 2013 the first Delia Derbyshire Day was celebrated, and the latest instalment took place just last month. The charity organising the event commissions new work each year, primarily from artists based in North West England, responding to the Delia Derbyshire archive – with an emphasis on the experimental and interdisciplinary, which feels like a fitting, forward-looking continuation of her legacy AND obviously right up our street here at Verse Kraken.

Your Challenge

Delia Derbyshire pushed the available analogue technology to its limits by departing from the expected methods – treating tape, designed to provide a linear record of sound, as anything but. Can you apply that idea to your own work? Disrupt the assumptions you first made about the order things should go in, the original intention, the internal logic?

Here are a couple of suggestions to get you started (but absolutely follow your own instincts if you have other ideas!):

  • Splice it. In a word processor or physically with scissors, cut out the middle of a sentence in something you’ve written and shift it to the front. Or split every stanza of a poem in half, and put it back together wrong. Or take a moment from a completely different scene and enter it as a parenthesis in the current moment. What does this do to your sense of the piece as a whole?
  • Abstract it. Take your favourite (or least favourite) element from your last piece of work and write (or draw or etc) a bunch of different things that come to mind when you look at it. Take your (least) favourite one of those and repeat the process. Repeat as many or as few times as hold your interest. What have you ended up with? Is there a new work there, or a way of radically transforming the original?

Your Further Listening

Jlin: Autobiography

Continuing the theme of boundary- and genre-pushing women in electronic music, here’s musician and producer Jlin‘s score for Wayne McGregor’s Autobiography, a dance sequence based memory and genetic data. Performances of the work were structured according to an algorithm that was in turn created from the choreographer’s genome, so that the dance troupe and Jlin’s live accompaniment followed a different pattern every time. Unpredictable interdisciplinary bliss.


We hope you enjoyed the first of our spur posts! We’d love to hear about anything it inspires – let us know in the comments or on twitter if you feel like sharing! And if you’d like to experience more of this approach, have a look at our upcoming retreat in Brittany, France.

Happy experimenting!

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