Thursday, 5 February 2015

Daphne Oram and the Oramics Machine


Last weekend I found out about Daphne Oram (1925 - 2003) during a visit to the Science Museum of London. To be honest I went there with the intention of seeing something else, but I changed my plans and ended up at the exhibition "Oramics to Electronica". Shame on me for having only found about this lady now, considering that the exhibition is finishing soon, has been on display since 2011 and I visit the museum quite often.

Daphne, who had studied and played the piano and the organ since she was a kid, started to get interested in "synthetic" sounds during the 1940s, and to experiment with tape recorders -which were such a novelty by then- while she also spent some of her time composing orchestral music. Later, she started working as a sound technician for the BBC. In the 1950s, the BBC was considered quite "modern", and a proof of that was the setting up of the "Radiophonic Workshop" in 1958, whose campaigner, founder and first director was Daphne. Often, the particular sounds that programme makers were seeking in order to create an atmosphere, were unavailable through traditional instruments or methods (just think, for instance, of the noises in "Doctor Who"), so the "Radiophonic Workshop" was literally set up as a laboratory of new techniques for the creation of innovative sound effects and background music. 



Within a year, Daphne quit her job at the BBC and set up her own workshop at home, so that she could have more freedom in experimenting than she had previously had with the BBC, and she started creating not only music for the radio but also for art installations and theatre plays. It was then when she developed a technique -"Oramics"- that allowed her to convert graphic signals into sounds. For that purpose, she designed and built an instrument herself, the "Oramics Machine". This machine is now on display at the Science Museum, it is not possible to use it any longer but it is still impressive to look at! 



As for the Radiophonic Workshop, it was active for forty years until its closing in 1998; it is true that Daphne worked in it for less than one year, but without her it wouldn't have existed.

Here is a slideshow with pictures of the Oramics Machine as displayed at the Museum.

A Youtube video that shows how the machine worked:


If you are interested in experimenting yourself, here is a great Oramics Machine app for your phone (it's the firts time in my life I download a paid app and I can't stop using it, seriously):

More on the Radiophonic Workshop:
http://www.soundonsound.com/sos/apr08/articles/radiophonic.htm

Daphne's website: 

And a bit more on the Science Museum exhibition:


5 comments:

  1. Nice blog. Keep going with these interesting stories.

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  2. Very good the blog with so interesing articles. A lot of congratulations for your word and witnes.

    ReplyDelete