03 March 2012
Pioneer Women in Electronic Music
Day 3 Daphne Oram
Day three brings us to the creator of ‘Ormamics’, Daphne Oram.
Although being offered a place at the Royal College of Music in 1947 she instead chose to take up a position as a Junior Studio Engineer at the BBC and it is here where she began experimenting with tape recorders and pursuing possibilities of synthetic sounds. In the 1950s, following a trip to the famous RTF studios in Paris, Oram used her new Studio Manager status to campaign for the BBC to provide electronic music facilities for composing sounds and music for use in its programming. This led her to set up the ‘Radiophonic Workshop’, dedicated to researching and creating electronic sounds. A year later she installed her ‘Oramics Studios for Electronic Composition’ in a building near Kent (once used for drying oats!)...
In February 1962 she was awarded a large grant from the Gulbenkian Foundation to support the developments and research of her ‘Oramics’ machine. This hugely innovative piece of technology made great use of the very new technique best described as ‘drawn sound’ and it was intended by Oram to allow a composer to be able to draw an ‘alphabet of symbols’ on 8mm film, then feed it through a machine that would subsequently produce the relevant sounds on magnetic tape. Similar to the way we currently draw beats and manipulate sounds in software this really was the dawn of a visual, hands-on approach to electronic music making.
Here’s a virtual version of the machine which is on display at the Science Museum, London. You can see the way its user changes the pitch, reverb, vibrato and speed with their finger: