A Pioneeress in Electronic Music – Or: why you should know about Daphne Oram.

Daphne Oram was born in Wiltshire, Great Britain – less than 20miles from the famous Stonehenge – on December 31st 1925. In her childhood she studied piano, organ and composition. She was granted a place at the Royal College of Music but did not take it. Instead, she started working for the BBC as Junior Studio Engineer and “Music Balancer”. She stayed in the studio till way after midnight, experimenting with various recording techniques like loops and intensively explored electronic sounds. During this period, she composed her first piece, “Still Point”, which, until today, is considered to be the first composition ever to combine acoustic live recordings with electronic manipulations. It took 60 years for this work to be published. „Still Point“ had its debut performance by the London Contemporary Orchestra in 2004.

Daphne Oram was the first female British composer to produce electronic sounds. She was the founder of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, the first woman to lead an electronic music studio, the first woman to design and construct an electronic instrument. A „Musique Concrete“ pioneeress, she invented her original technique and called it „Oramics“. It was partly based on sketching onto 35mm film, and graphically modulating how the light of the photocells would be recorded. Like sound amplitudes can be graphically expressed, optical signals as well can be translated into sound. The American inventor Lee De Forest developed a procedure to record sound photographically, simultaneously with the image recording, which in theory implied a synchronized recording of sound and image in the 1920s – the birth of sound film.

Oram composed most of the electronic sounds of the film “Dr. No” – without any credits. Her compositions were also used for the two following James Bond films “From Russia with Love” and “Goldfinger”. She cogitated on „Spatial Sound“ and the possibilities of 3D Sound, way before there was even thought about the concept at all by anybody else. In the 1980s she worked on a software version for her Oramics technique. Her book “An Individual Note of Music Sound and Electronics” could be re-issued via a Crowdfunding campaign in 2016.

 “Do we, both humanly and musically, walk a tightrope? If we lean one way we plunge into the futile void of the ineffectual sine wave; if we lean the other way we fall into the abyss of annihilating noise. To keep our balance we must have individuality- individuality of character, individuality of style.”
Daphne Oram, An individual note of music sound and electronics
(to be found here: http://www.ideologic.org/files/oram_anindividual.pdf)

Her piece „Oramics“ can be found on youtube. Highly recommended!


author: nb
sources: The New Yorker, www.thefader.com, www.npr.org, BBC, The Guardian, Kickstarter. www.soundonsound.com, www.daphneoram.org, https://twitter.com/daphneoram, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RTHXwgTpy90– snippets of a BBC documentary about Oram

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