Walls/Oram, Sound Houses

Louis Pattison

By Louis Pattison

International Editor
on 05.09.14 in Reviews

Anyone with a passing knowledge of experimental electronic music will be familiar with the name Delia Derbyshire, but relatively few still know the name of a figure of at least equal importance: Daphne Oram. A BBC studio manager intrigued in the sonic possibilities of tape recorders and musique concrète, in 1958 she and colleague Desmond Briscoe founded the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. But Oram felt stifled by corporation culture, and a year later departed to found her Oramics Studio in Fairseat, Kent. Following her death in 2003, her archive was passed to Goldsmiths University for cataloguing, while her Oramics Machine, an early optical synthesizer played by painting lines on 35mm film, was exhibited as part of a major retrospective at London’s Science Museum in 2011.

Adding flesh to Daphne Oram’s sonic abstractions without spoiling their nature

Sound Houses is the result of a BBC commission in which Kompakt production duo Walls — aka Londoners Sam Willis and Alessio Natalizia — were granted access to a trove of Oram’s private recordings for remix and reinterpretation. The pair approaches their source material with sensitivity, employing original 1960s drum machines, analog tape and vintage synths. This poses a conundrum for the listener: Where does Oram’s work end and theirs begin? Pleasingly, though, this approach largely works in the service of the finished compositions, which add flesh to Oram’s sonic abstractions without spoiling their essential nature.

Sound Houses can be beautiful, as on the Boards Of Canada-like synth shimmers of “Reflexions, Refractions and Multiplications.” It can also be terrifying, as best seen on “Some Shriller and Some Deeper,” a miasma of festering drones and tape trickery that could be the score to some Quatermass-style cosmic Hammer Horror. Those expecting the Krauty disco of Walls’ standalone work may find themselves slightly adrift in the cloudy, beatless atmospherics of “Rendering the Voice Parts I and II,” but anyone entranced by the hauntological excursions of the Ghost Box label or late-period Broadcast will find much to love here.