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Daphne Oram

Daphne Oram. Image from DaphneOram.org

Daphne Oram began her music career at the BBC in 1942 at age 17 (Bookmat.com), where she was employed as a “music balancer” (Hutton 49). Choosing to work for the BBC over attending the Royal Academy of Music, Oram’s job as a music balancer involved working with music and mixing for primarily classical music programs. Oram was a proficient pianist and violinist, but also extensively studied audio engineering and acoustics at the BBC, and eventually became a studio manager for the BBC (Hutton 49). During this time of her early career, Oram became fascinated with electronic music, in particular French composer, Pierre Schaeffer’s music concrete. At this time, Britain had very little development of electronic music, while France, Germany, and Italy had already been well underway (Hutton 49). During the war, Oram worked tirelessly, experimenting with electronic music production and would frequently fiddle with BBC’s tape recorders after work hours (Wilson). Oram eventually teamed with like-minded BBC studio manager, Desmond Briscoe. Together, Oram and Briscoe convinced the BBC to invest in magnetic tape recorders and other equipment to experiment with new electronic music. The BBC’s investment lead to Oram’s music for a television play entitled Amphytryon 38 in 1957 (Hutton 50). Oram’s music for Amphytron 38 was the first piece to be entirely composed of electronic elements and received very positive reviews from within the BBC. This new technique was dubbed “radiophonic art” (Hutton 50). Eventually, demand increased for Oram and Briscoe’s work, and the BBC created the Radiophonic Workshop in 1958 (Hutton 51), with Oram as its director (Bookmat.com). Oram played a pivotal role in the development and foundation of the workshop, which lead to significant advances in broadcast electronic music, but opted to open her own studio a year later, where she was able to pursue other endeavors with her music (Hutton 51).

Daphne Oram drawing next level shit. Image from DaphneOram.org

Concept of Oramics

As a child, Oram was obsessed with creating makeshift sound machines. Her father said that as early as seven years old, she wanted to construct a machine that could “produce any sound she desired” (Hutton 49). In the early 1960s, Oram received two Gulbenkian Foundation grants to further her research with the visualization of sound. This research manifested itself in Oramics, which Oram envisioned a new method of music composition, which involved composers “learning an alphabet of symbols with which he will be able to indicate all the parameters needed to build up the sound he requires. These symbols, drawn… freehand on an ordinary piece of paper will be fed to the equipment and the resultant sound will be recorded onto magnetic tape” (DaphneOram.org).

Foundations of Oramics: Music Concrete & Other Drawn Sound Techniques

The most fundamental influence on Oram’s work was Pierre Schaeffer’s music concrete. Schaeffer realized that the advent of recorded sound allowed for a completely new approach towards music. In his book A la Recherche dune Musique Concrète, released in 1952, Schaeffer stated that “recorded sounds” could “become sound objects” after observing how recordings can sound unrecognizable with a simple change in “its temporal progress” during play back in the studio (Dack 2002). Through this theory and several others described in Schaeffer’s book, he began to experiment with different recorded disc sources of “musical instruments, domestic implements, trains,” or anything he could find (Dack 2002).

Oram’s idea of drawing sound for Oramics was not completely original. There had been several other techniques applying this concept. There had been various experiments conducted beginning in the 1920s with the drawing sound. Russian film-makers Arseny Arraamov and Yevgeny Sholpo created soundtracks with ink drawings on roughly 2mm wide strips. Director Norman McClaren also utilized this technique in several of his films. In the 1940s, South African engineer Johannes van der Bijl formed a method for recording, utilizing waveforms photographed on 35 mm film. These pieces of film were ran through a “steady beam of light,” which “generated an electronic impulse to represent sound” (Hutton 49). In Canada, the “Composertron” was also created, which used drawings on a television screen and cathode ray tubes to produce sound (Hutton 49).

The Oramics Machine

Oramics Influence: Sampling, MIDI & Recording Software