Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Daphne Oram (1925-2003)

Daphne Oram (Devizes, Wiltshire, December 31st 1925 – Maidstone, Kent, January 5th 2003)

After graduating at the Sherborne School for Girls, Daphne Oram starts teaching piano, pipe organ and composition. In 1942 the Royal College of Music offers her a job but Daphne opts for a Junior Studio Engineer position at the BBC. At 18 years of age she starts to familiarize with synthetic sounds and starts her first experiments with tape recorders. In the Fifties she gets promoted to Studio Manager. After a trip to Paris to the RTF studios she imports the musique concrète's techniques to the UK. Thank to Daphne, in 1957 the BBC creates the first soundtrack composed exclusively with electronic sources: in order to realize Amphitron 38 she uses a sine wave oscillator, an old tape recorder and a few filters. With Desmond Briscoe she starts to get commissions for, among others, "all That Fall" by Samuel Beckett. In 1958, sponsored by BBC, Desmond and Daphne establish the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. In October of the same year, the radio will send her as representative to the World Exhibition in Brussels. The "Journées Internationales de Musique Expérimentale" gather the major bleeding-edge composers of the time; Daphne notices her outdated knowledge mainly due to the BBC's lack of interest in innovation. She leaves the Radio and in 1959 she creates her own Oramic Studios for Electronic Composition in Fairseat, Kent. Daphne's universe starts to expand: she starts to work with televisions, radios, theaters, opera authors (Thea Musgrave and Ivor Walsworth), cinema (she realizes the sound effects for Jack Clayton's "The Innocents"), expos and shows. In 1962 she receives a grant for the Oramics' development, a composition methane developed within the BBC Workshop. The Oramics is a machine working with a 35 mm transparent tape where the author draws an alphabet of symbols. Going through photoelectric cells, the symbols are transformed into sounds with specific amplitudes, pitches, frequencies and length that are transferred onto tape. The first composition with this technique is Contrasts Essonic (1968). Daphne makes history being the first woman ever directing a musical studio, to found her own and to create a new electronic musical instrument. In 1971 she writes "An Individual Note of Music, Sound and Electronics" where she researches on music in a philosophical way. In 1990, because of health problems, she stops her works. In 2003 she dies, leaving a vast archive to what will follow "Oramics", posthumous anthology of her work.

"She lived music. She was as poor as a church mouse, because any money that came to her went into her music gadgets. To me she was a kindly rather eccentric aunt. But she had a very clear vision of how the computer would revolutionise electronic music." Chris Oram

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