Early doors this morning Dummy popped along to the Science Museum in South Kensington to witness the installation of the Oramics Machine, the centrepiece of a new exhibition about electronic music’s beginnings called ‘Oramics to Electronica: Revealing Histories of Electronic Music’.
The Oramics Machine was the invention of electronic music pioneer Daphne Oram, a former BBC studio engineer who began to dream into existence new possibilities in sound in late 1950s Britain. In essence an early synthesiser, it enabled Oram to create sounds by hand-drawing waveforms onto a set of glass sides, which the Oramics Machine would then ‘read’. The pitch and reverb of the sounds created could also be altered, creating endless possibilities for composition.
The machine itself is Meccano-like structure strung with a complex arrangement of colourful wires, film strips and, um, a broom handle. Science Museum curator Tim Boon pointed it out, saying they still weren’t sure of exactly what part it played in the composition process. It’s quirks like this that provide such an insight into the imaginative pragmatism of Oram.
Having been lost for many years, the Oramics Machine is no longer in working condition. However, an interactive part of the exhibition that recreates the sound of the Oramics Machine will enable visitors to have a go at composing their own music. And, of course, there’s an app for that on the way too.
Keep an eye on the Science Museum’s website in upcoming months, as they’ll be revealing a series of related events and workshops. Plus do pick up a copy of this month’s The Wire magazine for journalist Dan Wilson’s feature on Daphne Oram; it’s an essential read.