She was the creator of the Oramics technique for creating electronic sounds, co-founder of the world-famous BBC Radiophonic Workshop and a central figure in the evolution of electronic music.
Now, Daphne Oram, the 1920s-born musical innovator who became the first woman to direct an electronic music studio, is being honoured in a show that’s visiting Dundee Rep.
Daphne Oram’s Wonderful World of Sound, which is being presented at the Rep by Blood of the Young and Tron Theatre on Friday June 2, is a visually arresting journey through the amazing life of one of the great unsung composers of the 20th Century.
It’s being live-scored by Edinburgh-born modern-day electronic sound artist Anneke Kampman and explores the life and ideas of a true innovator who sacrificed everything for her art.
Wiltshire-born Daphne was just 17 when, in 1942, she was inspired by a séance to found the BBC Radiophonic Workshop.
More than 14 years after her death aged 77, however, Daphne’s influence on electronic music continues to follow in her wake.
“Daphne Oram was one of the most distinctive composers of the 20th century,and a pioneer of sound who cut a trailblazing path through uncharted musical territory,” says Anneke, 30 – a performer, composer and sound artist currently based in London.
“She wrote a book called An Individual Note which was a complete philosophy of how she wanted to represent sound. But she was never particularly well known during her lifetime.
“She was able to start having a career in music because of the Second World War – it was quite fluky how she managed to get a job at the BBC. I would argue that if more men had been available at the time, she probably wouldn’t have had the same opportunities.”
A popular music graduate of Napier University, Edinburgh, Anneke, 30, puts collaboration at the heart of her work which focuses on the politics and poetics of sound and the voice, using performance, video, installation and text to examine the intersection between experimental music and issues of labour, gender, the body, technology and subjectivity.
Daphne Oram’s Wonderful World of Sound launched at the Tron in Glasgow three weeks ago. Daphne is played by Isobel MacArthur while Anneke creates the entire soundtrack live on stage using electronic equipment (synthesisers, modular synthesisers, computer, processors and a sampler).
“The soundtrack is my own interpretation of Daphne’s work – I was wary of trying to mimic it,” she explains.
“The way in which Daphne made sounds – her over-arching philosophy was my starting point.
“There’s a lot of ensemble work and choreography, bringing life into action.”
Anneke has recently completed a year of study at Open School East, London, where she pursued research and practice in conversation with the public.
Recent performances and exhibitions include The Heat (collaborative exhibition with Eve Chabanon, Open School East 2016); Where Blips of Light Called Players Disintegrate, (performance, commissioned and presented by Jerwood Visual Arts 2016); Labyrinthine, a collaborative opera performed at The Self The Other Festival in Brussels (Commissioned by La Monnaie De Munt/QO2) and the BBC Glasgow Tectonics Festival in 2016.
An established musician, Anneke has produced commissions for the BBC, the National Opera House in Brussels and undertaken a residency at Klangendum Studio’s in WORM, Rotterdam and performed extensively in the UK and Europe.
She has released two albums and an EP with the band Conquering Animal Sound on Chemikal Underground Records, including the Scottish Album of the Year shortlisted Kammerspiel.
Oramics is a drawn sound technique that involves drawing directly onto 35mm film stock.
Shapes and designs etched into the filmstrips are read by photo-electric cells and transformed into sounds.
According to Daphne: “Every nuance, every subtlety of phrasing, every tone gradation or pitch inflection must be possible just by a change in the written form.”
The Oramics technique and the flexibility of control over the nuances of sound was an altogether new and innovative approach to music production.