The first volume of ‘The Oram Tapes’ is a treasure trove. Daphne Oram is an important artist in the history of electronic music, if a neglected one; her work casts a long shadow over those currently working in the field, and on into the future. Deeply weird, this is a revealing listen for those who associate early electronic music with the utopian space blips ‘n’ bloops of the Radiophonic Workshop. For instance, ‘Oxford’ sounds like a sinister tour through a warehouse of dangling chains and echoing noise.
It sounds like much recent electronica even discounting the mining of her work done by Broadcast, the Ghost Box label, and other related Hauntologists. The beginning of ‘Eton’ sounds like The Caretaker until it goes all musique concrete and the giggling munchkins appear. ‘The Innocents – Savage Noises (Excerpt) (1961)’ could be Wolf Eyes or early Yellow Swans. ‘Wool (1967)’ is like Drukqs-era Aphex Twin. Some of the sounds on here will be familiar to any fan of 1960’s sci-fi but with an eerie edge, ‘Hamlet – Youth Theatre (1963)’ could easily be confused with Raime or Demdike Stare with its glassy ringing harmonics, tape crackle and subterranean bass explosions.
Elsewhere, there are several demonstrations which allow a fascinating insight into Oram’s working methods. ‘Hydrogen Tones’ has Oram explaining how a spectroscope reading of Hydrogen can be translated into tones. ‘The Oramics Demonstration’ describes her development of a new way of scoring musical notation through computers fed with the graphical representations of sound.
I have emphasised the modern relevance of this material but it exists perfectly in isolation, I mention it mostly to display her prescience and genius; its relevance to today’s trends is beside the point. She was capable of creating total sound-worlds, and possessed an instinct for the alien that makes much of her music seem completely ‘other’ and transmitted from the future.
This is required listening for those interested in the elementary particles of electronica or electronic music in general. It is a revealing, educational and often unsettling tour through the Oram archive. The best part of the album is the‘Vol 1’ in the title and the promise of more to come. The Young Americans label and Goldsmiths College have done a great job in putting this together.