Daphne Oram: electronic music pioneer

 Guardian Music Gallery 2008 Aug 04 1 Do6-2266-1
Daphne Oram (1925-2003) was a pioneering electronic musician and sound engineer at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. She established a workshop to develop experimental techniques for composing radio soundtracks. Oram is best known for her invention of Oramics, a system of converting drawings on 35mm film into sound textures. You can hear samples of her her music here. As part of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop's 50th anniversary, The Guardian recently profiled Oram and included a slide show of terrific vintage photographs. From The Guardian:
Oram was one of the first British composers to produce electronic sound, a pioneer of what became "musique concrete" – music made with sounds recorded on tape, the ancestor of today's electronic music. Her story makes for fascinating reading. She was born in 1925 when Britain was between two world wars. She was extremely bright, and studied music and electronics – unusual at the time not only because electronics was an exciting new industry, but also because it was a man's world.

She went on to join the BBC, and, while many of the corporation's male staff were away fighting in the second world war, she became a balancing engineer, mixing the sounds captured by microphones at classical music concerts. In those days, nearly all programmes went out live because recording was extremely cumbersome and expensive. Tape hadn't been invented, and cheap computers were half a century away.

Yet when tape did come along, in the early 1950s, Oram was quick to realise that it could be used not simply for recording existing sounds, but for composing a new kind of music. Not the music of instruments, notes and tunes, but the music of ordinary, everyday sound.
Daphne Oram profile, Daphne Oram slideshow (via Further: Strange Attractor and Beyond)


  1. This era of early electronic music is among my favorite, before everyone with a Moog or Arp started playing top-40 covers, or long droney arpeggios.

  2. Studiorobot @1, Thank you! I like the photo so much!

    Kawentzman @4 and Ill Lich @3, I totally agree with both of you.

  3. HERBT @6, That’s a fantastic link. Thanks for posting. The dance track from the 1960s is incredibly ahead of its time.

  4. There’s a BBC 4 documentary about the Radiophonic Workshop titled “The Alchemists of Sound”. lots of vintage footage, interviews, and original broadcast audio, with a quirky experimental tone to the documentary itself to set the vibe.

    give it a google and typically there’s a few locations to stream it. Fascinating, brilliant work they did back then.

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