Wednesday, 14 December 2011

The Oram Tapes Volume One - Daphne Oram (Young Americans)

Forty-four new tracks from the oast house sound lab where, thanks to the photos on the sleeve, we can see our Daphne at work, twiddling knobs, working the tape machine, and even cueing up a record in a twin deck situation – it’s all so modern, so crazy! And incongruous, not only that she, she had the nerve to operate in the domain of dome-headed male boffins, but that she looked like any housewife of the time. Still, what else was she going to look like, a beatnik?

Ah, Daphne, mystery woman of magical electrickery...she deserves a biography, surely, but that aside, more information regarding the tracks here would have been a bonus. As it is, there are only dates on some tracks. No matter, what is here will definitely satisfy fans. 

With an archive of over 400 tapes to dig through, it’s no wonder the Young Americans team took two years to choose these. What wonders there are to behold, especially the long tracks such as ‘Oxford’, weighing in at over 12mins-worth of menacing pulsation contrasted by gentle, ambient tones. And ‘Manchester 2’, with its concrete creaking, sampled operatic vocal and ominous effects. But what do the titles signify? It sounds like these towns have been invaded by B-movie aliens, or ghosts of the Victorian industrial age coming through the ether to merge as electronic babble.

There is another theme in the form of  ‘Hospital’, involving a woman breathing heavily, the clatter of instruments, and a shimmering electronic lullaby accompanied by a crying baby. And ‘Birth’, with its distorted voices, the sound of a car pulling away, and a woman breathing as if in ecstasy rather pain. Treated by Daphne, these field recordings take on a very strange atmosphere, and you can’t help wondering how many more she made.

These really are Daphne’s dark materials, chosen no doubt for that very reason. Not that the compilers felt the need to pick what suits a modern audience, I’m sure. Fans of this kind of thing are going to love it anyway, and anyone seeking simply ambient electronic music may find much of it hard to swallow.

Many tracks are excerpts, and as such, this compilation serves to tease as much as it satisfies. It’s as if Oram’s being given the ‘bonus material’ treatment without any official, full releases of her soundtracks or work for the theatre. Included here is part of the soundtrack to the 1961 film, ‘The Innocents’, which has never been released to my knowledge. And a large slice (12mins), thankfully, of ‘Hamlet- Youth Theatre’, one of the darkest pieces on the whole compilation. The label promises more to come, but will any of these works as a whole ever be released?

She can be heard discussing her sounds on some tracks in that wonderfully plummy voice – ‘These pure tones which are going to be recorded now...’, and talking about ‘the hydrogen spectroscope’. The inclusion of Daphne-at-work pieces is understandable, although like jokes, once heard they offer little other than technical data for geeks. It’s precious time which could have been put to better use.

The patient ones amongst you will wait for the CD early next year. Otherwise, do the British economy a favour and splash out in time for Christmas. It’ll make a change from The Pogues, or Phil Spector, although the rest of the family might not approve. And if you’re religiously inclined, you can pretend that ‘Birth’ is all about little baby Jesus.

Archive Release Of The Year. No contest.

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