Hymns for Robots review at C Aquila, Edinburgh – ‘super-smart recreation of the life of a pioneer’
Earlier this year the BBC announced it was shutting down its Maida Vale studio. It’s a shame considering its incredible history, no small part of which was Delia Derbyshire’s pioneering Radiophonic Workshop.
Derbyshire and the workshop made waves from there, using their lab to synthesise sounds such as the original theme tune to Doctor Who. And Coventry-based Noctium Theatre has turned her life into this super-smart, super-intricate show.
Charles Craggs bends over a mixing desk creating sound-worlds, some of which emulate Derbyshire’s own compositions. He warps and mutates sounds while Jessie Coller plays a ghostly version of Derbyshire – like a ghost in one of her own machines – as she recounts moments of her life.
The interaction between Coller’s movements and Craggs’ live music is really cool: when Coller plays with a loop of tape, the sound tautens and quivers in response.
The middle is expositional, a glut of narrative that doesn’t sit as well book-ended by the abstract, fractured fragments of narrative and sound that create her life more inventively. But the show gets across the awful misogyny she was up against, her stubbornness and her genius.
This isn’t hagiography, nor is it a conventional biography. Instead it draws together fragments of Derbyshire’s life, of her sound, of image and movement to build a whole audio patchwork, just as her sound samples became whole works of music.