2nd November 2011
Last week I spent some time in the Science Museum in South Kensington checking out the Oramics to Electronica exhibition, which displays various artefacts important in the history of electronic music. These range from old valve-based ring modulators up to modern day keyboards -there’s even a Speak & Spell from the 1980’s that has been modified for playing music.
The centre piece of the exhibit is the Oramics machine, a large hand-built synthesiser from the 1950’s constructed by Daphne Oram. This instrument uses images drawn onto 35mm film to create sound, and was used by the BBC Radiophonics Workshop – a BBC department Oram helped to start- to compose and create the original Doctor Who theme tune. To describe it as "Heath Robinson" doesn't really do it justice, so check out the photos below:
Accompanying the exhibit is a screening of short films inspired by the Oramics machine and its impact on electronic music. One of these films is called Atlantis Anew and is made by London-based artist Aura Satz. The piece combines footage of the machine in action with a soundtrack made up of the sounds the instrument once created, along with words from Oram herself speaking in 1971 musing on the nature of musical composition and electronic sound.
The piece contains extensive use of our Iconix HD-RH1 minicam system, and the stills below give you an indication of how the Iconix can be used to capture shots that would not be possible with an ordinary camcorder. As you can see the film is beautifully lit, and the diminutive size of the Iconix enabled Satz to shoot highly detailed close ups of the synthesizer's inner workings in motion. Moreover the prime lenses used with the Iconix offer flexible control over focus and depth of field, which Satz uses to excellent effect to draw the viewer into the labyrinthine inner workings of the Oramics machine:
The piece works particularly well because of the combination of modern footage soundtracked with narration from the past. As you watch the hand drawn shapes on 35mm film being mechanically passed through the various areas of the machine you get a sense that it is actually playing the soundtrack: the new footage and old audio feel almost synchronised. It’s as though each informs the other, creating a balance between the aural and visual and helping the viewer to get a more complete and immediate understanding of how the drawn shapes interact with the mechanics of the instrument.
Oram used technology to help create music and this symbiotic relationship between creativity and technology is reflected in Satz’s use of the Iconix to make Atlantis Anew. Artists, musicians and filmmakers rely on materials, instruments and image making technology to communicate ideas and concepts that transcend the written word.
For me, the short serves as a welcome reminder that camera technology is not just a complicated means to a commercial end. Cameras are expressive tools that can go beyond visual documentation, allowing us to reflect, interpret and create. In a world and industry where moving images are so frequently devoid of thought and meaning, it is refreshing to see something made with such consideration for both subject and medium.
You can see an online except from Atlantis Anew on Vimeo by clicking here. Satz used the Iconix HD-RH1 minicam kit with our Convergent Design Flash XDR recording unit, recording Apple Pro Res at 100mbps at 25P. The full piece can be seen at the exhibition which runs until 1st December.
For more information on Iconix minicam and Flash XDR/Nano Flash external recorder rental from Prokit, please go to the Hire Kits section of this website. We also have an ex-rental kit available for sale, which you can check out by clicking here.
Big thanks to Aura Satz for allowing the use of stills from the film in this blog. You can see more of her work at her site: http://www.iamanagram.com/
By Stuart Dennis