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Thursday, 30 January 2014

Daphne Oram

This post is one of a series on post-WWII British Composers. Click on the link for more information or click on the British Composers label to read them all.

We have also sound-houses, where we practise and demonstrate all sounds, and their generation. We have harmonies which you have not, of quarter-sounds, and lesser slides of sounds. Divers instruments of music likewise to you unknown, some sweeter than any you have, together with bells and rings that are dainty and sweet. We represent small sounds as great and deep; likewise great sounds extenuate and sharp; we make divers tremblings and warblings of sounds, which in their original are entire. We represent and imitate all articulate sounds and letters, and the voices and notes of beasts and birds. We have certain helps which set to the ear do further the hearing greatly. We have also divers strange and artificial echoes, reflecting the voice many times, and as it were tossing it: and some that give back the voice louder than it came, some shriller, and some deeper; yea, some rendering the voice differing in the letters or articulate sound from that they receive. We have also means to convey sounds in trunks and pipes, in strange lines and distances.    Francis Bacon (1561–1626) , The New Atlantis

Daphne Oram was fascinated by this passage from The New Atlantis. While working as a sound engineer for the BBC in the 1940s, she had composed a number of pieces and begun to experiment with the creation of making music using tape recorders. Along with a colleague, she founded the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in 1958. She didn't stay long, leaving to set up an independent electronic music operation. One of her most intriguing contribution to electronic music was the creation of the "Oramics Machine" - an electronic device which could convert drawings of soundwaves on strips of 35mm film into sound.




Oram has acquired something of a cult following. A Youtube search for her name yields a lot more hits than many more prominent "mainstream" composers active in the last seventy years (composers who featured far more prominently in the book which inspired this series of posts). Her reputation says something about the ways the musical world has changed - both in terms of its boundaries and what is included within them.






More information about Daphne Oram can be found at The Daphne Oram Trust.




12 comments:

patteran said...

A fascinating character, somehow quintessentially English.

Tom Stephenson said...

Wonderful. I love these women. I'm thinking Dr Who as well, of course.

am said...

Yes. Fascinating and compelling. The quote from Francis Bacon and Daphne Oram's music. Thanks so much!

I'm catching up. Loved your Mobius poem.

Gwil W said...

Dominic, when I clicked on your New Atlantis link I came to a page asking me to download something - windows 9 I think it is. Perhaps you can check it.

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for these comments, everyone - and thanks, Gwilym, for pointing out the glitch (which I've corrected). How it happened, I've no idea.

A Cuban In London said...

A very informative and well-researched post. I was completely ignorant about her work. For me, having been born and raised in a household with a lot of music constantly being played, it's always amazing to see the creative power some composers have. Many thanks.

Greetings from London.

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

Terrific! Thanks for this Dominic. I certainly will go and see the Science Museum exhibition and try out the drawings-into-sounds gadget. Oddly enough, years ago my book 'Designing with Natural Forms' (Batsford) has some photos of waves in a tray of water which I turned into a musical score, meant to be sung by a choir. I never pursued this and knew nothing about Oram or electronic music - would love to play with that now! Can I send you a copy of the book or the page so you might have a go with it? Send me an email with your address?

Dominic Rivron said...

Thanks for these comments, Cuban and Natalie.

Natalie: I'd love to see it - and see what I could (or couldn't!) do! I don't have and can't find your email address. I have sent my details in a Message ("Messages", left sidebar) to your Facebook page, which I see you say you don't use often - so I thought I'd flag it up here!

Natalie d'Arbeloff said...

I read your FB message Dominic, thanks. Will send you the book and explain!
My email address is on the bottom of the right-hand sidebar at my main website:
http://www.nataliedarbeloff.com/blaugustine.html

Since my iMac breakdown the website is stuck on that pre-Christmas post so I'm only blogging on Blogger for the time being.

GOAT said...

You've been very quiet of late, Dominic. Hope all is well.

Dominic Rivron said...

GOAT: Everything's fine - thanks for asking! My partner recently had her hip replaced, so, even though it all went really well, we've had a pretty busy time.

Rachel Fenton said...

This is fascinating, Dominic. I hadn't heard of her, how wonderful. And Bird of Parallax has me wondering if she makes an appearance in Sinéad Morrissey's T. S. Eliot winning poetry collection, which I'm itching to buy.

(Hope your partner's back to speed very soon)