17 January 2011

Music to dig by: Delia Darbyshire, 'Tutankhamun's Egypt'

This spooky electronic number evokes the trumpeters of the Middle Kingdom.

Delia Darbyshire, 'Tutankhamun's Egypt'

Delia sets the mood with a sample of the 1939 BBC recording of one of Tutankhamun's trumpets being played, and then delves into her own take on the sound of the time. Great stuff. The great website dedicated to Delia notes that they're not quite sure how this recording came to be, but that it's probably from 1971.

Delia Darbyshire (1937-2001) was an electronic music pioneer, longtime staff of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, and acquaintance or collaborator of artists including Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pink Floyd, Brian Jones, Ringo Starr and Harry Nilsson. She's most famous for her recording of the original Dr. Who theme! If you're an electronic music fan like I am you should check out the work of the Radiophonic Workshop and the Delia Darbyshire tribute site: super coolness.

I had never heard about Tutankhamun's trumpets. (There were two, one silver and one bronze.) Apparently a British Army trumpeter named Tappern was recruited to play the silver one for a 1939 BBC recording, fitted with a modern mouthpiece. The trumpet immediately split and had to be patched, but Tappern got at least a minute of sound out of it. The bronze trumpet was played in 1939 and 1941 and survived a bit better. Here's the 1939 recording:

Pretty rad if you ask me, though the idea of the thing shattering makes me wince. Strangely, the links to this story take you deep into dead webpages from the mid-1990s, so I couldn't really verify these details. This short documentary tells the story in full if you're craving more:


  1. Nice!

    Big fan of Delia, but hadn't heard this one so thanks for tip. I have one of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop tracks on my latest podcast - check it out here:


    and here:


    All the best!

  2. Hey, thanks for the link. Great mixtape!