Saturday, 13 May 2017

Daphne Oram's Wonderful World of Sound. Tron Theatre. Review

Daphne Oram's Wonderful World of Sound. Tron Theatre, Glasgow. May 2017

The theme of the Tron Theatre's May Festo season this year is "work inspired by experiments in music and sound". Surely nobody exemplifies that more than Daphne Oram, pioneer of electronic music.

Daphne Oram's Wonderful World Of Sound by Blood Of The Young
She is known as the founder of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and was its first studio manager, but left after a year, frustrated by the lack of creative freedom she had in her role, and the stifled by BBC attitudes. She set up her own studio and continued electronic composition, commercial work, concrete experiments and created sounds using her Oramics "drawn sound" machine. This machine, a proto-synthesiser, and her ideas that it would let people with no musical training create sounds and music is nowadays an everyday part of music making. Whereas now a simple synthesiser, loop pedal or app can allow anyone to make electronic music, in order to make these sounds in her day she first had to construct the machinery, which is now housed in the Science Museum, London. The video below gives you a glimpse of her machine in action.

The play Daphne Oram's Wonderful World of Sound is on at the Tron Theatre in Glasgow this week before touring. It is produced by Glasgow based company Blood of the Young and was written by their artistic director, Paul Brotherston alongside Isobel McArthur, who also plays Daphne Oram in the play. Appropriately it mixes acting with music, live scored by musician and sound artist Anneke Kampman. She was previously part of Scottish band Conquering Animal Sounds, and also performed at the Tectonics music festival in Glasgow in 2016. The music and sound effects here create a perfect atmosphere for the actors to inhabit.

Agnes Oram at work
Daphne Oram's character steps out from the play to narrate her life story to us, in plummy Jeeves and Wooster tones, which if you listen to any recordings of her talking about her music is a pretty good impersonation of her actual voice. The contemporary photographs of her working resemble a mad scientist dwarfed by banks of machines, and it is her curiosity and desire to experiment and create something with her music that shines through in the play. Surrounded by patronising, tweed-clad BBC types and institutional sexism she strives to innovate and be creative. The ensemble cast and clever set designs take us from her family home, through the BBC years to her rural retirement. She was a unique force, whether creating sci-fi sound effects, Anchor butter adverts or developing her own Oramics theories on sound and it is great to see her life recorded here so splendidly. The ensemble cast mix physical theatre with humour. Isobel McArthur's Daphne Oram is driven and enthusiastic, with clouds always on the horizon as she strives to plough her own furrow.

Daphne Oram died in 2003, at the age of 77, but her legacy seems to be growing with time, with women often to the fore in experimental music and sound art a new award was this week announced. The Daphne Oram Award will celebrate women innovators in sound and music.

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