Oramics (Paradigm) 2CD
Electronic musician Daphne Oram was one of the founders of the much beloved BBC Radiophonic Workshop. And yet, in spite of the Workshop’s status as an object of quasi-cultish fascination, Oram’s work has remained largely unknown save for a few devotees (most notably the late composer, Hugh Davies). There are a number of reasons for Oram’s relative obscurity: She left the Workshop early in its history, before the heyday of Doctor Who or the chart-topping Ray Cathode, which means there are no Daphne Oram hits in the BBC Radiophonic canon. Plus, as is evident from this fascinating 2CD collection, even at her most commercially-minded, Oram did not write particularly catchy tunes. As innovative as her work was, she didn’t have the knack for the ear-catching, tape music groove of Workshop compatriots like Delia Derbyshire or John Baker.
In the 1990s and the years since her death in 2003, however, Oram’s profile has risen considerably. This is in large measure from the efforts of Hugh Davies, who planned to release a compendium of her work, which he hoped would be a rough UK analogue to the Raymond Scott, Manhattan Research Inc. compilation. But Oram focused much less on writing jingles and penning cheery burps and bloops for advertisements than the commercially savvy Scott. After leaving the BBC in 1960, Oram had gone on to work independently at her own studio at Tower Folly, designing and inventing electronic instruments and equipment. The most famous of her inventions was the system of Oramics, which had a graphical interface that allowed the user to literally draw sounds. She spent most of the 1960s developing Oramics, supplementing her research by writing music for television, radio, and theater, as well as composing numerous advertising jingles.
When Hugh Davies died unexpectedly in 2005, Oram’s cause was Clive Graham, who put together this collection on the UK label, Paradigm. It’s a wonderful, if uneven, mixed bag of commercial work, studio experiments, theatrical music, and longer, more serious compositions. As you’d expect, her commercial pieces — written for products such as Lego, Nestea, power tools, and washing machines — are tuneful and cheekily fun, and all the more charming for their lack of spit-shine-polish. Her studio experiments involving whistling, cat purrs (anticipating the work of Yuko Nexus6 by decades!), and botched nursery rhymes are similarly eccentric and oddly enjoyable. The enduring treats, however, are her longer pieces, such as the beautiful, Eno-esque tone poem, “Four Aspects,” the anxious tape cut-up, “Birds of Parallax,” or the train-chugging, tweaked rockabilly romp, “Snow.” Oddly enough, it is unclear whether Oram used the Oramics graphical music-making system on any of the music collected on this 2cd set, most of which date from before she had perfected the instrument. By the time Oramics was up and running in the late sixties, her funding had sadly run out.
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