Daphne Blake Oram (31 December 1925 – 5 January 2003) was a British composer and electronic musician. She was one of the first British composers to produce electronic sound, and was an early practitioner of musique concrète in the UK.[3] As a co-founder of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, she was central to the development of British electronic music.[4] Her uncredited scoring work on the 1961 film The Innocents helped to pioneer the electronic soundtrack.[1]

Daphne Oram
Background information
Birth nameDaphne Blake Oram[1]
Born(1925-12-31)31 December 1925
Devizes, Wiltshire, England
Died5 January 2003(2003-01-05) (aged 77)
Maidstone, Kent, England[2]
Occupation(s)Composer, electronic musician

Oram was the creator of the Oramics technique for graphical sound. She was the first woman to independently direct and set up a personal electronic music studio, and the first woman to design and construct an electronic musical instrument.[3] In her book An Individual Note of Music, Sound and Electronics (1971) she explored philosophical themes related to acoustics and electronic composition.

Early life and education


Oram was born to James and Ida Oram on 31 December 1925 in Devizes, Wiltshire, England. Her childhood home was within 10 miles of the stone circles of Avebury and 20 miles from Stonehenge. Her father was the President of the Wiltshire Archeological Society in the 1950s.[5] Educated at Sherborne School for Girls in Dorset, she was taught piano, organ and musical composition from an early age.[1]



Work at the BBC


In 1942, Oram was offered a place at the Royal College of Music, but instead took up a position as a Junior Studio Engineer and "music balancer" at the BBC.[6] One of her job responsibilities was "shadowing" live concerts with a pre-recorded version so the broadcast would go on if interrupted by "enemy action".[2] Other job duties included creating sound effects for radio shows and mixing broadcast levels.[7] During this period she became aware of developments in electronic sound and began experimenting with tape recorders, often staying after hours to work late into the night. She recorded sounds on to tape, and then cut, spliced and looped, slowed them down, sped up, and played them backwards.[3]

Oram also dedicated time in the 1940s to composing music, including an electroacoustic work entitled Still Point.[1] This was an innovative piece for turntables, "double orchestra" and five microphones. Many[who?] consider Still Point the first composition that combined acoustic orchestration with live electronic manipulation.[8] Rejected by the BBC and never performed during Oram's lifetime, Still Point remained unheard for 70 years; on 24 June 2016 composer Shiva Feshareki and the London Contemporary Orchestra performed it for the first time.[9] Following the discovery of the finalised score, the premiere of the revised version of Still Point was performed at the BBC Proms in London on 23 July 2018 by Feshareki and James Bulley with the LCO.[10][11]

In the 1950s, Oram was promoted to a music studio manager at the BBC. Following a trip to the RTF studios in Paris, she began to campaign for the BBC to provide electronic music facilities, utilizing electronic music and musique concrète techniques, for use in its programming.[6] In 1957 she was commissioned to compose music for a production of the play Amphitryon 38. She created this piece using a sine wave oscillator, a tape recorder and self-designed filters, thereby producing the first wholly electronic score in BBC history.[6] Along with fellow electronic musician and BBC colleague Desmond Briscoe, she began to receive commissions for many other works, including a production of Samuel Beckett's All That Fall (1957). As demand grew for these electronic sounds, the BBC gave Oram and Briscoe a budget to establish the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in early 1958, where she was the first Studio Manager.[6] The workshop was focused on creating sound effects and theme music for all of the BBC's output, including the science fiction TV serial Quatermass and the Pit (1958–59) and the sounds of "Major Bloodnok's Stomach" for the radio comedy series The Goon Show.

In October 1958, Oram was sent by the BBC to the "Journées Internationales de Musique Expérimentale" at Expo 58 in Brussels, where Edgard Varèse presented his electroacoustic work Poème électronique in the Philips Pavilion (alongside Pavilion architect Iannis Xenakis' piece Concret PH).[12] After hearing some of the work produced by her contemporaries, and unhappy with the BBC's continued refusal to push electronic composition into the foreground of their activities, she decided to resign from the Radiophonic Workshop less than one year after it had opened, hoping to develop her techniques further on her own.[1]

In 1965, Oram produced the piece Pulse Persephone for the "Treasures of the Commonwealth" exhibition at the Royal Academy of the Arts.[13]



Oram provided the prominent electronic sounds for the soundtrack of Dr. No (1962) from her six-minute work Atoms in Space, but she was not credited in the film.[14][15] These sounds were also used in the following two James Bond films. Oram also manipulated Johnny Hawksworth's soundtrack for Snow (1963), a short documentary by Geoffrey Jones;[16][17] after the success of Snow, she worked with Jones again on Rail (1967).[18]


Tower Folly in Fairseat, Kent, where Oram established her Oramics Studios

"We will be entering a strange world where composers will be mingling with capacitors, computers will be controlling crotchets and, maybe, memory, music and magnetism will lead us towards metaphysics."[19]

— Daphne Oram, An Individual Note of Music, Sound and Electronics (1971)

Immediately after leaving the BBC in 1959, Oram established the Oramics Studios for Electronic Composition in Tower Folly, a converted oast house at Fairseat, Kent, near Wrotham.[13]

Oramics, which Oram devised along with engineer Graham Wrench,[20] is a graphical sound technique that involves drawing directly onto 35mm film. Shapes and designs for various parameters of sound etched into the film strips are read by photo-electric cells and transformed into sounds.[20][21] According to Oram, "Every nuance, every subtlety of phrasing, every tone gradation or pitch inflection must be possible just by a change in the written form."[5]

Financial pressures meant it was necessary to maintain her work as a commercial composer, and her work covered a wider range than the Radiophonic Workshop. She produced music for not only radio and television but also theatre, short commercial films, sound installations and exhibitions, including electronic sounds for Jack Clayton's horror film The Innocents (1961), concert works such as Four Aspects (1960), and collaborations with composers Thea Musgrave and Ivor Walsworth.[22]

Oramics machine displayed at the Science Museum, London (2011)

In February 1962, Oram was awarded a grant of £3,550 (equivalent to £96,000 in 2023)[23] from the Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation to support the development of the Oramics system; a second Gulbenkian grant of £1,000 was awarded in 1965. Oram's first composition using the Oramics machine, entitled "Contrasts Essonic", was recorded in 1963. As the Oramics project evolved, Oram's focus turned to the subtle nuances and interactions between sonic parameters, and she applied her research to the nonlinear behavior of the human ear and to perception of the brain's apprehension of the world. She used Oramics to study vibrational phenomena, divided into "commercial Oramics" and "mystical Oramics", and the Oramics machine became used more for research than composition. In her notes, Oram defined Oramics as "the study of sound and its relationship to life."[5]

In the mid-1980s Oram worked on a software version of Oramics for the Acorn Archimedes computer using grant money received from the Ralph Vaughan Williams Trust.[1][24] She wished to continue her "mystical Oramics" research, but a lack of funding prevented this project from being fully realized.[5]

Written works


Throughout her career, Oram lectured on electronic music and studio techniques. Her book An Individual Note of Music, Sound and Electronics (1971) investigates acoustics and the history and techniques of electronic music in a philosophical manner. A new edition of the book was published by Anomie Publishing in December 2016.[25][26]

In the late 1970s Oram began a second book, which survives in manuscript, titled The Sound of the Past - A Resonating Speculation. In this manuscript she speculates on archaeological acoustics, and presents a theory suggesting that Neolithic chambered cairns and ancient sites such as Stonehenge and the Great Pyramid of Giza were used as acoustic resonators. She said that her research suggested that the people of these eras may have possessed acute knowledge about the properties of sound in long-distance communication.[5]



In the 1990s Oram suffered two strokes and was forced to stop working, later moving to a nursing home. She died in Maidstone, Kent on 5 January 2003, aged 77.[1][2]



After Oram's death a large archive relating to her life's work passed to composer Hugh Davies. When Davies died two years later, this material passed to the Sonic Arts Network, and in 2008 the archive went to Goldsmiths, University of London. It is now held within Goldsmiths Special Collections & Archives, where it is open for public access and ongoing research.[27][28] The launch of the archive was celebrated with a symposium and a series of concerts at the Southbank Centre.[29] This included a concert of newly reworked versions of material from the collection by People Like Us.[30]

In 2007, a two-CD compilation of her music, entitled Oramics, was released.[31]

In 2008, a BBC Radio 3 documentary on Oram's life was broadcast as part of the Sunday Feature strand, entitled Wee Have Also Sound-Houses.[notes 1][34]



Oram's work at the Radiophonic Workshop also helped pave the way for Delia Derbyshire, who arrived at the BBC in 1960 and co-composed the original Doctor Who theme music in 1963.[21]

Oram furthered music philosophy in her writings, and dedicated time to considering the human element in connection to acoustics. In her unfinished manuscript, The Sound of the Past, a Resonating Speculation, she postulated that ancient civilizations might have done this to a highly evolved degree.[5] In a letter to Sir George Trevelyan, Oram expressed hope that her work on Oramics would plant seeds that would mature in the 21st century.

The Daphne Oram Creative Arts Building at Canterbury Christ Church University was opened in 2019.[35]

Click tribute


In its first show of 2012, the BBC television technology programme Click featured a piece about Daphne Oram,[36] mainly prompted by the three-part Oramics Machine being on display at the Science Museum, London during a year-long exhibition on the history of electronic music.[37] The programme showed the machine being installed in a large display cabinet, and described how it was no longer possible to play due to its fragile state. However, an interactive, virtual version of the machine has been created, which allows visitors to create their own compositions.[citation needed] The programme showed archive footage of Oram describing the process of what became Oramics, also showing her 'drawing' the music, then playing her machine. The piece described Oram as an 'unsung hero' of electronic music.[citation needed]

Daphne Oram's Wonderful World of Sound


Daphne Oram's Wonderful World of Sound is a play that detailed Oram's life and career. It was presented by Blood of the Young and Tron Theatre. The play premiered in Glasgow on 9 May 2017 and toured around Scotland from May 2017 to June 2017. The play was written by Isobel McArthur and directed by Paul Brotherston. It was live-scored by Anneke Kampman, a Scottish electronic sound artist.[38][39][40]

The Oram Awards


The annual Oram Awards was launched by the PRS Foundation and the New BBC Radiophonic Workshop to celebrate "emerging artists in the fields of music, sound and related technologies in honour of Daphne Oram, and other pioneering women in music and sound."[41] The inaugural Oram Awards took place on 3 July 2017 at the Turner Contemporary in Margate, as a part of the Oscillate Festival of Experimental Music and Sound. Two female innovators received a prize of £1,000, while six others received £500.[41]


  • "Electronic Sound Patterns" (1962), single,[42] also included on Listen, Move and Dance Volume 1 from same year with work from Vera Gray[43]
  • Oramics (2007), compilation on Paradigm Discs[44]
  • "Spaceship UK: The Untold Story of the British Space Programme" (2010), promotional 7" split single with Belbury Poly[45]
  • Private Dreams and Public Nightmares (2011), remix album by Andrea Parker and Daz Quayle on Aperture[46]
  • The Oram Tapes: Volume 1 (2011), compilation on Young Americans[47]
  • Sound Houses (2014), remix album by Walls[48]
  • Pop Tryouts (2015), mini album on cassette and download on Was Ist Das?[49]


  • Oram, Daphne (1972). An Individual Note - of music, sound and electronics. London: Galliard. ISBN 0852491093.
Second edition, 2016, Anomie Publishing ISBN 978-1910221112
Third edition, 2020, The Daphne Oram Trust and Anomie Publishing


  1. ^ Wee Have Also Sound-Houses is a quotation from Francis Bacon's 1626 utopian novel New Atlantis. Oram often referred to this quotation,[32] and gave an extended quotation from this passage at the end of her book An Individual Note,[33] beginning:

    Wee have also Sound-Houses, wher wee practise and demonstrate all Sounds, and their Generation. Wee have Harmonies which you have not, of Quarter-Sounds and lesser Slides of Sounds. [...]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Davies, Hugh (24 January 2003). "Obituary: Daphne Oram". The Guardian.
  2. ^ a b c "Obituaries: Daphne Oram". The Independent. 10 February 2003. Retrieved 27 March 2024.
  3. ^ a b c Worby, Robert (1 August 2008). "Daphne Oram: Portrait of an electronic music pioneer". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  4. ^ "A Relic From The Roots of Electronic Music". NPR.org. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  5. ^ a b c d e f "The Woman from New Atlantis". The Wire. August 2011.
  6. ^ a b c d "The Oram Archive - BBC". Daphneoram.org. 2008. Archived from the original on 26 July 2011. Retrieved 14 August 2008.
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  8. ^ "How Daphne Oram's radical turntable experiments were brought to life after 70 years". FACT Magazine: Music News, New Music. 13 July 2016. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  9. ^ "In Conversation: James Bulley on Daphne Oram's 'Still Point' - London Contemporary Orchestra". London Contemporary Orchestra. 14 June 2016. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  10. ^ "Prom 13: Pioneers of Sound". BBC. Retrieved 18 May 2018.
  11. ^ Spice, Anton (22 June 2016). "The original turntablist – Daphne Oram by Shiva Feshareki". The Vinyl Factory. Retrieved 17 January 2020.
  12. ^ "Pavillon Philips, Brussels – Iannis Xenakis". Iannis Xenakis official website. Retrieved 3 March 2024.
  13. ^ a b Williams, Holly. "The woman who could 'draw' music". Bbc.co.uk. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  14. ^ Thomas, Graham (17 March 2020). "The early James Bond Music: Atoms In Space". Mid-Century Bond.[self-published source]
  15. ^ "YouTube". YouTube. Archived from the original on 23 February 2020. Retrieved 19 May 2020.
  16. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Snow (1963)". Screenonline.org.uk. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  17. ^ GrrlScientist (6 December 2010). "Snow (1963)". The Guardian. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  18. ^ "BFI Screenonline: Rail (1967) Credits". Screenonline.org.uk. Retrieved 11 March 2018.
  19. ^ "ORAMICS: ATLANTIS ANEW a film by AURA SATZ". iamanagram.com. Retrieved 8 April 2019.
  20. ^ a b Marshall, Steve (February 2009). "Graham Wrench: The Story Of Daphne Oram's Optical Synthesizer". Sound on Sound. Retrieved 8 June 2024.
  21. ^ a b "Daphne Oram | Biography & History | AllMusic". AllMusic. Retrieved 29 December 2016.
  22. ^ "Daphne Oram". Sonic Arts Network. Archived from the original on 21 September 2008. Retrieved 14 August 2008.
  23. ^ UK Retail Price Index inflation figures are based on data from Clark, Gregory (2017). "The Annual RPI and Average Earnings for Britain, 1209 to Present (New Series)". MeasuringWorth. Retrieved 7 May 2024.
  24. ^ Brewer, Nathan (March 2018). "The Sound of 'Doctor Who'". IEEE: The Institute. Retrieved 12 March 2018.
  25. ^ "Anomie's autumn/winter 2016–17 brochure now available". Anomie Publishing. Archived from the original on 12 April 2018. Retrieved 16 January 2017.
  26. ^ Oram, Daphne; Angliss, Sarah (16 December 2016). Price, Matt (ed.). Daphne Oram: An Individual Note of Music, Sound and Electronics. London: Anomie Academic. ISBN 9781910221112.
  27. ^ "Special Collections & Archives". Gold.ac.uk.
  28. ^ "The Trust". Daphneoram.org. 10 July 2014.
  29. ^ "Electronic Music Studios - Archived News & Events: 2008 - 2009". Goldsmiths, University of London. Archived from the original on 29 March 2015. Retrieved 27 March 2015.
  30. ^ "People Like Us incoming MP3s". WFMU. 5 August 2008. Retrieved 4 May 2009.
  31. ^ "Daphne Oram - Oramics (PD 21)". Stalk.net.
  32. ^ Boon, Tim (25 March 2011). "We have also sound-houses". Science Museum. Retrieved 29 March 2020.
  33. ^ Oram, Daphne (1972). An Individual Note - of music, sound and electronics. London: Galliard. p. 128. ISBN 0852491093.
  34. ^ "BBC Radio 3 Programmes - Sunday Feature: Wee Have Also Sound-Houses". BBC. Retrieved 6 January 2009.
  35. ^ "Daphne Oram creative arts building". Canterbury Christ Church University. Retrieved 3 March 2024.
  36. ^ "The beginning of electronic music". 6 January 2012. Retrieved 13 February 2023.
  37. ^ "Daphne Oram's Oramics Machine to go on display". BBC News. 4 April 2011. Retrieved 13 February 2023.
  38. ^ "Daphne Oram's Wonderful World of Sound". Blood of the Young. Retrieved 9 March 2018.
  39. ^ "Daphne Oram's Wonderful World of Sound at Tron Theatre Ltd". Tron Theatre Ltd. Archived from the original on 9 March 2018. Retrieved 9 March 2018.
  40. ^ "ANNEKE KAMPMAN - ABOUT". Anakanak.co.uk. Retrieved 9 March 2018.
  41. ^ a b "The Oram Awards - PRS for Music Foundation". PRS for Music Foundation. Retrieved 9 March 2018.
  42. ^ "Daphne Oram - Electronic Sound Patterns". Discogs. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  43. ^ "Daphne Oram & Vera Gray - Listen, Move And Dance Volume 1". Discogs. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  44. ^ "Daphne Oram - Oramics (PD 21)". Stalk.net. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  45. ^ "Spaceship UK | Sound and Music". Soundandmusic.org. Archived from the original on 19 August 2016. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  46. ^ "Private Dreams and Public Nightmares". Andreaparker.co.uk. Archived from the original on 8 January 2017. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  47. ^ "DAPHNE ORAM - The Oram Tapes: Volume One". Boomkat. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  48. ^ "The Quietus | Features | A Quietus Interview | World of Sound: Walls Discuss The Work of Daphne Oram". The Quietus. Retrieved 11 December 2016.
  49. ^ "Daphne Oram – Pop Tryouts". Was Ist Das? label page. 18 February 2015. Archived from the original on 20 September 2016. Retrieved 11 December 2016.