Science Museum to display legendary Oramics Machine

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The Independent Culture

Fans of primitive electronica are licking their lips at the chance to view a unique instrument that has acquired near legendary status. The Oramics Machine was invented in the 1960s by Daphne Oram, the first director of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. It has been largely unseen for 20 years.

The proto-synthesiser will be the jewel in the crown of a forthcoming Science Museum exhibition. Unfortunately, visitors will not be hear the instrument – it is too fragile to be operated – but experts at Goldsmiths College, part of the University of London, have devised an emulator for people to play. There will also be an app to download.

All this is down to the devotion of one man – Mick Grierson, director of creative computing at Goldsmiths. He has built up a collection of Oram's recorded works, papers and artefacts. But he entrusted the restoration of the Oramics Machine, which was dumped in a barn by its last owner after a museum went bust, to the Science Museum.

"I'd always known that Daphne was a very important historical figure in this field and that she was never really appreciated as such for a number of reasons," Grierson explains. "Basically, I worked as hard as I could to change this by using whatever influence I had.

"This is the system upon which almost all contemporary sampling-type synths are based... and most importantly for many people, the programming interface is almost identical to what you use today to make music with a computer."

However, rather than clicking on a mouse, a user of the Oramics Machine simply drew lines or painted on to 35mm film. The patterns were picked up by light-sensitive elements and converted into sound. A great example of British ingenuity.

Oramics to Electronica: Revealing Histories of Electronic Music', Science Museum, London SW7 (020 7942 4000) to 1 December 2012