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User interface of an Oramics composition machine, showing a set of 35 mm films, a drawing board (centre), film scanners (left label) and photomultiplier amplifiers (rear units) which convert shapes on the films into signals that control the pitch, timbre, amplitude, etc. of the generated sound.
Oramics sounds composed by Daphne Oram

Oramics is a drawn sound technique designed in 1957 by musician Daphne Oram. The machine was further developed in 1962 after receiving a grant from the Gulbenkian Foundation. The technique, similar to Yevgeny Sholpo's "Variophone", involves drawing on 35mm film strips to control the sound produced.

Oram's composition machine consisted of a large rectangular metal frame, providing a table-like surface traversed by ten synchronised strips of clear, sprocketed 35mm film. The musician drew shapes on the film to create a mask, which modulated the light received by photocells. Although the output from the machine was monophonic, the sounds could be added to multitrack tapes to provide more texture.

The original machine was exhibited at the Science Museum in London between 2011 and 2015.[1][2]

The technique has similarities to that used by Canadian filmmakers Norman McLaren and Evelyn Lambart, some of whose films featured sounds created by drawing or printing various patterns, such as triangles and circles, along the optical soundtrack area of the film.

Oramics was also the name used by Oram to refer to her studio and business interests generally.

In 2016 Tom Richards, a PhD Student at Goldsmiths, University of London, re-imagined and built a working Mini-Oramics machine.[3]


Oramics' waveforms drawn on a glass plate by Daphne Oram. The round curves produce softer sounds, while the jagged spikes translate into harsher sounds with harmonic elements.
Oramics' composition (control parameters) drawn on 35mm film strips. Note that it is reconstruction in 2011.
Waveform Scanners (bottom) consisted of several sets of the cathode ray tubes (CRT) and the photomultiplier tubes (PMT), are for scanning the waveforms drawn on the glass plates to generate sound source signals.
Pitch Controller circuit board (on the top of scanner) controls the scanning speed of Waveform Scanners by pitch control signal. The light-gray colored 2P sockets on it are for plugin the optional electronic components.
Note: similarly, the amplitude control circuit should be exist on somewhere.
Video of Oramics Machine
Oramics Machine exhibited at Science Museum, London circa 2013.
Note: the soundtrack of this video has been muted for copyright reasons.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Daphne Oram's Oramics Machine to go on display", BBC News, 4 April 2011, retrieved 29 May 2011
  2. ^ Oramics to Electronica: Revealing Histories of Electronic Music, Science Museum (London)
  3. ^ Fry, Phoenix; Cox, Sarah (26 May 2016). "Student builds Daphne Oram's unfinished 'Mini-Oramics'". Goldsmiths, University of London. Retrieved 2 February 2019.

Further reading[edit]

  • Daphne Oram (1972), An Individual Note: Of Music, Sound And Electronics, Galliard, ISBN 978-0-8524-9109-6

External links[edit]

BBC News