Daphne Oram – Oramics (Drawing sound)

Daphne Oram
The Oramic Machine – Daphne Oram

A lesser known but important contributor in the field of ‘drawn’ electronic music is British composer Daphne Oram who worked at the legendary BBC Radiophonic workshop in the late 1950’s. Oram dreamed of making a machine that directly translated graphical notation into sound and this dream came to fruitful realisation with her technique of Oramics. The set up ‘consisted of drawing onto a group of ten sprocketed synchronised strips of 35mm film which covered a series of photo-electric cells that in turn generated an electrical charge to control the sound frequency, timbre, amplitude and duration.’

Oramics, released on Paradigm Discs is a great entrée in Oram’s exotic experimental electronic compositions. The short track Power Tools is a head on collision between cute dinky electronic pop and industrial noise, or perhaps a cartoon interpretation of an offshoot Faust might have produced – had not Daphne arrived decades earlier. The beginning of Bird of Paradise predates the heuristic aesthetics of the uncompromisingly excellent Raster Noton label before sliding into an accomplished music concrete and then dropping the listener back into a computational meditation chamber.

In all tracks there is a good balance between experimental noise/concrete and segments of melodic counterpart, distorted 50’s beach music, skewed fairground rides and abberated bossonavas. Comical noise art abounds as does ironic gestures towards 50’s utopianism, it seems – or, at least, it sounds that way today.

Goldsmiths College in London has become something of a centre for the precipitation of Orams works to the general audience and researchers a like. It has been involved in the production of numerous music events showing rarely or never heard pieces by Daphne.

Related links:
Drawing Sounds in Both Directions
ANS Synthesizer – Drawing Sound
Radiophonic Workshop Gallery

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