“We have also sound-houses, where we practise and demonstrate all sounds, and their generation. We have harmonies which you have not, of quarter-sounds, and lesser slides of sounds. Divers instruments of music likewise to you unknown, some sweeter than any you have, together with bells and rings that are dainty and sweet…”
Daphne Oram, founder of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, returned time and again to this quotation from Francis Bacon’s 17th century fantasy, The New Atlantis.
Now, with help from our friends at Goldsmiths College, we have been able to acquire the machine that was fed by these fantasies, “The Oramics Machine”, as she called it.
Input device for Oramics machine, before conservation (credit: Tim Boon)
Listen! That’s Daphne herself showing off just some of the sounds that this extraordinary beast could produce.
Oramics Machine sound generator cabinet (credit: Science Museum / Science & Society)
People like to say that things are unique. This one really is - there was only ever one. Daphne operated it by painting on the ten synchronised strips of 35mm film that used to run across the top of the machine. Via light-dependent transistors this produced voltages that controlled the sound generators in the white cabinet. These too were based on hand-painted waveforms:
Two waveform slides hand-painted by Daphne Oram, from her Oramics Machine (Credit: Science Museum / Science & Society)
We have big plans for this unique machine.
We can report that it has been very carefully conserved by our experts and it’s going to go on display in the Museum later this year, surrounded by other gems from the Museum’s music and sound collections.
Nick Street has posted a video of the machine’s arrival in this country: Oramics by Nick Street. If you’d like to hear more about the project, keep an eye on this blog or e-mail us at: firstname.lastname@example.org.