Friday was Ada Lovelace Day (it’s moved, it used to be in March) but the good folks at what is now the Ada Initiative are accepting submissions all weekend so I get to talk about an awesome woman in Science, Technology, Engineering or Mathematics.
Seeing that the BBC Radiophonics Workshop was (and continues to be long after its demise, to the extent that whenever I find myself faced with a challenging sound project, Electrical Storm and BBC Radiophonic Music go into heavy rotation) a big influence on my budding sound geek self. I thought this year I’d focus on one of the notable female alumni of the workshop. As enduring as my affection for Delia Derbyshire’s work is, ask people to name a staff member of the Radiophonics Workshop and her name will come up pretty rapidly. So I decided to focus on someone lesser known but no less influential.
Although Daphne Oram was technically a composer, anyone who takes a serious interest in electronic music – especially in the early days – soon finds their work overlapping with technology and mathematics, she was also an inventor. Forsaking a place at the Royal College of Music, she joined the BBC in 1943 as a music balancer and began experimenting with synthetically created sound a few years later. Oram eventually managed to convince the BBC of the importance of electronic music, first establishing a temporary, out of hours studio to produce background music and then helping to secure funding to establish the Radiophonics workshop, where she was the first Studio Manager. She didn’t remain long however, growing frustrated with the Music Department’s unwillingness to take them seriously. She struck out on her own and set up her own studio in Tower Folly in Kent and went freelance. During the early sixties she followed her dream of creating a machine that converted graphical information into sound, by designing and developing a drawn sound technique that bears her name – the original Oramic composition machine is currently on display at the Science Museum in London until the beginning of December. Although digital technology made this increasingly obsolete, she also worked on a creating a digital version of it using early computer technology during the eighties.
Oram was also something of an academic, teaching electronic music classes at Christ Church College, Canterbury during the eighties and writing a book on the philosophical elements of sound.
Daphne Blake Oram, was born in December 1925 and died in Janurary 2003.