Daphne Oram archive

Transforming understanding of electronic music history through the Daphne Oram archive.

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After Goldsmiths acquired the archive of composer Daphne Oram (1925-2003) in 2006, researchers brought the composer's music into the wider public domain through archival and practice research, writing and performance, encouraging a rethink of the established canon of electronic music.

With support from the Electronic Music Studios at Goldsmiths, and in collaboration with Sound and Music in its previous form of the Sonic Arts Network, this work helped build a greater understanding of Oram as a visionary figure in the early development of electronic music – a genre previously presented as the preserve of male musicians.

The project has changed the ways that culture professionals, including programmers, artists, critics and historians, conceive of and present historical electronic music. Oram’s extraordinary work has reached hundreds of thousands of audience members, introducing or deepening their critical appreciation of electronic music history and practice.

Oram’s Oramics Machine, an early synthesiser, was built in the 1960s but lost after her death. Dr Mick Grierson’s team tracked it down to France in 2008. Working with the Science Museum, Grierson’s study provided the first full contextualisation of the machine, an assessment of its historical importance, and a detailed description of its workings. The machine became a central part of the Science Museum exhibition Oramics to Electronica, originally planned to run for six months in 2011. The show’s press and public uptake saw it extended a further four years.

In 1948, Oram created a piece for double orchestra, turntable and live electronics called Still Point, long thought of as the earliest composition to include real-time electronic transformation of instrumental sounds. It had never been performed and was considered lost. Dr James Bulley found fragments in the Oram archive and and working collaboratively with Dr Shiva Feshareki began a reconstruction, later finding the full score in the belongings of composer Hugh Davies.

A performance was commissioned by BBC Proms and performed by turntablist Shiva Feshareki, Bulley, and the London Contemporary Orchestra in 2018 at the Royal Albert Hall, reaching a substantial audience live and via BBC Radio 3. The reaction was one of awe, with the piece described as “thrilling”. Critical responses suggested that this realisation of Oram’s previously untested ideas represented a challenge to electronic music’s received history.

This research was submitted for REF 2021.