5 Things You Need To Know About Oramics

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Never heard of Oramics? Most people probably haven’t. It was a synthesizer, studio, and life time work of a groundbreaking woman from 1960’s London. Here’s why it matters.


1. It Was A Synthesizer Powered By Drawings!

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That’s right. Here’s how Daphne Oram’s “Oramics Machine” worked. Electric motors pulled eight parallel tracks of clear 35mm film stock across scanners that operated like TV sets in reverse. On the film Daphe Oram drew curving black lines, squiggles and dots, all converted into sound.

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This method of music composition and performance allowed the composer to draw an “alphabet of symbols” on paper and feed it through a machine that would, in turn, produce the relevant sounds on magnetic tape.

The first drawn sound composition using the machine, entitled “Contrasts Essonic”, was recorded in 1968. It looked and sounded strikingly modern. Take a listen below!

2. It Was Created By A Badass

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Daphne Oram (creator and namesake of Oramics) was the first ever woman to direct an electronic music studio, the first woman to set up a personal studio and the first woman to design and construct an electronic musical instrument. That’s a hard act to follow…

3. The BBC Seriously Missed Out On It

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Oram started her career in the BBC’s music department, founded the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. She eventually got tired of the broadcaster’s lack of vision for electronic sound and musique concrète (the ancestor of today’s electronic music) and set up her Oramics Studios for Electronic Composition in Kent. She provided background music and sounds for radio, television, theatre, short commercial films but also for installations and exhibitions.

4. It’s Back From The Dead

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Long thought lost, the revolutionary music synthesiser was recently recovered and added to the Science Museum’s collections in co-operation with Goldsmiths, University of London. However, the Oramics Machine will never work again. To make it operational nowadays would mean replacing so many of its working parts that it would only be a replica.

5. There’s A Whole Museum Installation About It

A few weeks ago, the Science Museum in London opened a small but fascinating exhibition about the revolutionary music synthesizer and the extraordinary woman who created it in the 1960s.

The museum is showing the original machine along with an ’emulator’ that reproduces the elements of the Oramics Machine’s operation on a touch screen. Visitors can draw waveforms, input a tune, modify the sound according to various parameters.

So if you’re in London, be sure to visit and experience the magic of Oramics! For more info on Daphne and her work please visit Oram’s official site.

Wanna learn more about synthesis, electronic music, or electronic production? Then take one of our state of the art classes in Boston! Our instructors are just as cool as Daphne Oram and can teach you how to master the art of synthesis, production, and DJ’ing. Check out our website for more details.

A HISTORY OF OPTICAL SYNTHESIS

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Never heard of Optical Synthesis? Neither had we until we read this fascinating article by Derik Holzer of Umatic outlining the technology’s history (sent over by the always fascinating ReaktorPlayer. The topic is fairly complex but is a fantastic read that ultimately serves as an outline tracking the correlation between the progression of technology and electronic music. Holzer introduces Optical Synthesis as such…

The technology of synthesizing sound from light is a curious combination of research from the realms of mathematics, physics, electronics and communications theory which found realization in the industries of motion picture films, music, surveillance technology and finally digital communications. As such, it’s history is an interesting cross section of 20th century history, reaching from the euphoria of the late 19th Century and early 20th Century inventors (who often struggled between “scientific” and “supernatural” explainations of their work) through the paradigm-smashing experiments of the Soviet avant-garde in the 1920’s and 1930’s to the cynical clash of ideologies of the Post-war years and finally to the dawn of the digital era in the 1970’s.

We suggest you read the article in its entirety, but first, but here are some of the more interesting highlights:

1930: Soundwave Soundtrack
Soviet artist Arseny Avraamov produced the first hand-drawn motion picture soundtracks. This was achieved by means of shooting still images of drawn sound waves on an animation stand.

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Listen to Avraamov’s symphony below

1931: The Nivotone
Nikolai Voinov invented the “Nivotone” in the Soviet Union. This instrument optically read strips of paper hand-cut by Voinov as sound information.

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See it action below!

1939: A Book Is Written
The book “Theory and Practice of Graphic Sound” was written (but unpublished) in the Soviet Union, focusing on the technique of “painted sound” and including Boris Yankovsky’s important essay “Acoustic Synthesis of Musical Colours”. The manuscript is kept at the Theremin Center archive. In part, Yankovsky’s essay was published in Kinovedcheskie Zapisky #53, 2001.

1959: Oramics
The technique of Oramics was developed by pioneering British composer and electronic musician Daphne Oram (1925-2003) at the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, in England.

It consisted of drawing onto a set of ten sprocketed synchronised strips of 35mm film which covered a series of photo-electric cells that in turn generated an electrical charge to control the sound fequency, timbre, amplitude and duration.

This technique was similar to the work of Evgeny Scholpo’s “Variophone” some years earlier in Leningrad and in some ways to the punch-roll system of the RCA Synthesiser. The output from the instrument was only monophonic relying on multitrack tape recording to build up polyphonic textures.

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1972: Photosonic Synthesis
French composer and instrument builder Jacques Dudon began his work with photosonic synthesis.

His system, developed more extensively between the years 1984-2002, used stationary, spinning disks printed with optical patterns drawn in just-intonation scales, plus a series of moveable light sources and optical “comb filters” to produce microtonal music which Dudon associated with the Chakras of Indian spirituality.

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Jacque Dudon’s “Lumiére Audibles” (which translates to Audible Light!)

To read even more on the topic check visit umatic.nl: here.

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