I love seeing tributes to women who were at the forefront of tech and science; this tribute to Daphne Oram, one of the pioneers of British electronic music, really made my day. Also, here’s the Wikipedia page about her. Snip:
There are many histories of electronic music. Some focus on the avant-garde studios active in Europe, America, Russia and the old eastern bloc countries, and usually mention the work of Karlheinz Stockhausen, Pierre Schaeffer, Luciano Berio, John Cage and others. There are other stories that focus on popular music: Kraftwerk, the Human League, Depeche Mode and Aphex Twin. And there are more esoteric studies that mention Raymond Scott, Louis and Bebe Barron, Tom Dissevelt and Kid Baltan. Yet, however hard you look into the history of electronic music, there is one name you’ll struggle to find – that of Daphne Oram.
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.
After Oram had finished her day’s work, and everyone had gone home, she trundled tape recorders the size of industrial gas cookers from empty studios, and gathered them to experiment late into the night. She recorded sounds on to tape, and then cut, spliced and looped them; slowed them down, sped them up, played them backwards. It must have been like working in a laboratory, or inventing new colours – a new world almost impossible to imagine now. (…read more.)