A musician who took part in Coventry’s recent The City is Full of Noises Festival has revealed an original piece of music called ‘Song for Dippy’ decades after first seeing the skeleton cast at the Natural History Museum as a child.
John Biddulph, who also goes by the handle HandMadeSound, was inspired by the popular dinosaur exhibition to create a haunting yet peaceful sound, recorded overlooking Dippy in the Herbert Art Gallery & Museum.
John, 67, along with lots of other electronic musicians, played a key role in Coventry’s The City is Full of Noises, the electronic music festival inspired by the city’s own musical pioneer Delia Derbyshire.
But not only does John, who makes his living as a consultant in the field of autism, go years back with Dippy, he also has a decades old connection with Delia herself.
Discussing how ‘Song for Dippy’ came about, John said: “I saw Dippy was being transported to the Herbert from the Natural History Museum.
“Dippy and I go back a long way, not quite 150 million years, but I remember going to visit the exhibition in its original location as a child decades ago.
“The idea of the deconstruction and reconstruction of such a massive thing really inspired me and around about the same time I was contacted to play Modular Mondays and the weekend event at the end of City Full of Noises.
“So as I knew I’d be taking part I sat down with my electronic gear, and started to think in primordial, swamp type sounds, hopefully not too referential as nobody knows what Dippy would have really sounded like, or even if dinosaurs made any sounds at all.
“But I wanted to create this backdrop of sound and this notion of using the contours and relief of the actual skeleton as the basis for Dippy’s voice and that’s how the idea for “Song for Dippy’ came about.
“The bass clarinet seemed like the right instrument and that allowed me to create this soundscape out of all kinds of very gentle, wavy, and slowly shifting sounds, partly to get a feel for the movement but also to give me the vehicle for a semi improvised bass clarinet part on top.
“So I thought the best thing was to sit there overlooking Dippy and look at the contours of the skeleton almost as a musical score – so the clarinet part goes up and down quite rapidly in parts, like in response to the double spines of the bone structure in the tail, then the much more fluid but slower over the back and the head and down the neck and the arching of the tail.
“I sort of used that as an inspiration or stimulus to create a musical piece, almost like the structure of Dippy is orchestrating me as I play – so it was partly prepared and partly improvised on the day because I also wanted to explore the colossal, echoey space where Dippy is.
“I wanted it to be kind of a pastoral, ambient soundscape that could be thought of as a song but there is this simplicity which is in marked contrast to this extraordinarily large and complex skeleton, but I was eager to capture that, and create a plaintive, sort of playful song.”
Talking about performing the song in the atrium at the Herbert, John continued: “Working in the space was wonderful, an absolute joy and really just the right environment.
“The sounds were reverberating around the room and back at me, and at times it was almost like there was a musical conversation going on with myself and the reverberations bouncing back at me, then I was almost improvising along with myself, it was just a delightful experience.”
The fact The City is Full of Noises is inspired by Delia Derbyshire is one John is only too aware of and he managed to use it for inspiration in the last weekend of the event, held at Fargo and the Herbert in the final days of March.
John explained: “Back at the beginning of my career, many years ago, I applied and got offered a place the BBC Radiophonic Workshop – I had to decline as I was already settled in the West Midlands and taking it would have meant moving to London with no guarantee of a job at the end of the six months.
“But had I accepted it I would have worked alongside Delia Derbyshire, so being associated with City Full of Noises all these years on was an absolute, total delight. It was amazing to take part in and generally just wonderful to be there.
“I really enjoyed every moment of it and in one of the pieces I worked on I actually used snippets of Delia’s voice from old BBC recordings which I thought was nice.”
The City is Full of Noises takes place in conjunction with Herbert Art Gallery every year. You can find out more on our website and Instagram page.
Check out Song for Dippy here.