Brighton Fringe 2017
Fascinating evening of talks on two inspirational musical mavens.
These two talks hosted by David Bramwell’s The Odditorium (the festival off-shoot of Brighton’s long-running talk salon, The Catalyst Club) focused on the influence of two women who pushed the frontiers of music in very different ways.
Musician, engineer, writer and performer Sarah Angliss revealed the intriguing life and career of one of her musical heroes, Daphne Oram. Oram was one of the original, yet lesser known, founders of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop that was home to such luminaries as Delia Derbyshire, co-creator of the Dr. Who Theme tune.
Angliss played a haunting clip of BBC Radio adaptation of Ray Bradbury’s There Will Come Soft Rains, which was her first experience of the ethereal Radiophonic Workshop and was her own musical epiphany. This led to her discovery of Oram and a life-long fascination. Oram and her brothers’ attraction to the “other,” “timeslip” and “beyondness,” as they called it, was riveting to learn about and a possible explanation for the spooky quality of her ground-breaking music.
It was at the BBC, as far back as in 1957, that Oram created numerous recording innovations, such as stringing tape machines together to make what we now call multi-track recordings. A relentless innovator, Oram also created a machine that allowed her to make electronic music sound more ‘human’ by altering the wave forms by literally hand-drawing them, which the ‘Oramics’ machine would then play. Angliss revealed that this machine, long thought lost, was rediscovered in a barn in a France, restored and currently resides in the Science Museum.
Angliss’ natural enthusiasm and professional delivery, accompanied by intriguing and rare visuals made for an enthralling look into the mind of a pioneering musician, coupled with some fantastically beautiful/bizarre extracts from Oram’s work such as Pulse Persephone. This great talk appealed to a wide audience – encapsulating not only her electronic music, but also about the artistic motivation surrounding Oram, and her passion for occult knowledge.
In the second part of the evening Dr Lucy Robinson “interviewed” punk pioneer Viv Albertine, the former guitarist from all girl punk-rock band, The Slits. The quotation marks are there because, after a lengthy introduction from Robinson – during which we were initially worried she might be setting too much of her own agenda – once Albertine got going she proved to be a loquacious, confident and witty raconteur. She took control and, while guided by Dr. Robinson, it was one of the best talks we have seen her give.
The women discussed Albertine’s book, Clothes, Clothes, Clothes. Music, Music, Music. Boys, Boys, Boys – a collection of memories of what it was like to be in an all-girl punk band in the late 1970s – and in this talk Albertine went deeper into how that period expected women to behave. She also made comparisons with how life is today, realising, sadly, that in some respects, things haven’t changed much. There was a sense of disappointment in Albertine that bands no longer seemed to be angry any more, let alone politicised. She also talked about the PTSD-like effects of the band splitting, and having the intense adrenaline of doing gigs suddenly taken away leaving a sense of loss of identity. Breaking up with the Slits was like losing a family for her and she felt broken for several years afterwards. Albertine was remarkably candid, yet also very funny and touching, specifically when she based her comeback tour on her 6 year-old daughter’s assertion “Mummy you were born to play the guitar.”
While Daphne Oram was afforded status by her job title and upper class background, the more working class Slits were metaphorically, and literally, spat on. But both struggled against patriarchies, fighting have their creativity recognised. And it’s rare to get many stories about older women rediscovering themselves through music, or older women being happy, confident, capable, inventive professional musicians, and this fascinating and enlightening evening of talks and discussions made a refreshing change and left the entire audience energized and enthused.