“[In the Machine,] single notes, and groups of notes, are often given little colour, shape, or phrasing, for the composer has had to give most of his attention to overall controls- he has created boundaries within which individuality barely counts, for he has neither time nor money to spend on evolving intricate individual aspects….he will have little or no time to consider how an individual note is behaving nor how it could achieve significance. He will have decreed the processing ill absentia and, once started, the process will run its course whatever the outcome…Do we sense an analogy of this situation in the political, sociological and economic lives of the ‘advanced’ nations? Is the individual human being, almost unknowingly, beginning to play the role of a ‘computer’s musical note’?”
Clasically-trained eccentric genius Daphne Oram had barely founded the BBC Radiophonic Workshop when she left it. She was driven to create the Machine.
She envisioned an aural device free of human idiosyncrasies and unpredictabilities, a perfect expression of the sound of shape. Tight on budget, she cobbled together wire, metal, pieces of broomsticks, and even bits of a commode—any junk that vibrated in the right way—and experimented, invented, failed, and re-experimented until, sometime in the late 1960s, it was complete. She’d built the Oramics Machine, a visual synthesizer that translated film-cell drawings into blippy, disjointed, unsettling music.
Still, for all her fanaticism about pure mechanical tone, she never stopped considering the political and human dimensions of her work. What happens when a composer’s specialized knowledge is replaced by the mere childlike pleasure of drawing? If society appreciates self-regulating computers taking the place of performers, will those artists reinforce that pose and become automatons themselves? But what of democracy? What happens when a person is a data point?
Quoted from Daphne Oram, An Individual Note: Of Music Sound and Electronics (London: Galliard, 1972), in full here via UbuWeb.
Listen/Watch: 4-minute film via The Wire that further quotes Oram’s book, and an 11-min documentary showcasing the machine in the context of twentieth-century electronic music, the avant-garde, and EDM.
Bonus: When you’re the first woman to create a synthesizer, you get an app.
“The visitor approaches a giant sphere and lies down on something like a morgue drawer to be pushed inside. When the door is shut, the lights come on, so bright that it’s almost pointless to close your eyes. As the colors shift and morph, you begin to see things that aren’t there, like tiny rainbows floating in space and crisp geometric forms. It turns out that what you’re seeing is the biological structure of your own eye, which, in the blinding intensity, has turned on itself.” —http://www.nytimes.com/2013/06/16/magazine/how-james-turrell-knocked-the-art-world-off-its-feet.html?ref=magazine&_r=1&pagewanted=all&