Freelance writer Eleanor Forrest visits the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham which is hosting an exhibition event which celebrates the pioneering female musicians, who worked at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, Bell Labs and elsewhere in the 1960s and 70s.
Set in the Ikon Gallery’s ‘Waiting for UFO’s’ exhibition by Polly Apfelbaum, Synth Remix showcased and celebrated the musical power and talent of womankind.
The wider public has unfortunately lived unaware of the work of these extraordinary unsung pioneers from the 60s and 70s, though many will know their masterpieces such as Delia Derbyshire’s famous Doctor Who theme tune.
The last show of the tour, Jo Thomas took to the stage for the first part of the performance. Her eerie futuristic work captivated all and her interpretation of Delia’s notes mean that her piece was both a homage and continuation of the musicians work. “I went to the archives in the John Rylands library and looked at her [Delia’s] papers and from that I made the material from scratch. Some it is [recorded] from Daphne Oram’s machine…most of it is my voice and I just went with it.”
“It was very exciting working with the material… I looked at her school notebooks with her sketches, it was incredible and very, very inspiring but a little bit sad as well. I try to limit the sadness, I really wanted to remember that this is a remembrance of her and it’s really important.”
“Things happen as a beautiful accident; you come across someone and something and it triggers inspiration. What struck me is that in the UK at that time you had two powerful queens Mary and Elizabeth, two queens who never met in the end despite being cousins.”
“I started to research and I questioned how I would translate it into my music and then I found out Mary was a writer who wrote sonnets and was actually the most read woman of her time, I wondered why we didn’t know that. I’m interested in women who document their work and their creative process, I started to see how I could infiltrate the narrative and I was fascinated by the fact she was a writer in a male dominated society.”
The tour was insightful in both learning about the women who paved the way for female synth musicians and seeing how musicians today, inspired by their predecessors, use their agency. Which might not have been possible for them had women such as Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram decided to buck the trend.