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This article is taken from PN Review 241, Volume 44 Number 5, May - June 2018.

Pictures from a Library

38: From ‘Moonlight Sonata’ to ‘Oscillate Wildly’: the Gas Mask of Delia Derbyshire
Stella Halkyard
Delia Derbyshire’s Gas Mask, 1938.

IMAGE: Delia Derbyshire’s Gas Mask, 1938. (© University of Manchester, 2017)

It is the 1930s and Allgemeine Elektricitäts-Gesellschaft (AEG) invents a pioneering reel–to-reel tape recording device based on Fritz Pfleumer’s Magnetaphone. Meanwhile, in tandem, Badische Anilin-und Soda-Fabrik (BSAF) pioneer the development of magnetic tape on long strips of plastic film. Not only will these tapes record and store sound, they will also one day become a key technology in the evolution of the computer, allowing ‘unparalleled amounts of data to be mechanically created, stored and rapidly accessed’ (Friedrich Kittler).

It is 1832 and Beethoven’s Piano Sonata number 14 has come to be known as the ‘Moonlight Sonata’ on account of its ability to capture, in musical form, the tranquil mystery of the moon’s radiance on the waters of Lake Lucerne.

It is the night of 14 November 1940 and ‘Moonlight Sonata’ carries connotations of a more menacing type as it is the known code name for a planned air raid by the Luftwaffe on an unknown British target. The Germans are using a new communications system, which the Allies can neither read nor ‘jam’. Around seven­-thrity p.m., the KRO 100, a specialist unit of the Luffwaffe drops flares on the city of Coventry, augmenting the shimmering beams of a silver moon, to mark their target for the bombers following in their wake. Engulfed in a ‘sea of flames that could be seen 100 miles away’, some thirty ...

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