Progress Music: Daphne Oram, Geoffrey Jones and Trinidad and Tobago

James Bulley (Goldsmiths, University of London)

This paper explores the soundtrack work of the British composer Daphne Oram for Geoffrey Jones’ 1964 documentary film, Trinidad and Tobago, commissioned by British Petroleum. The paper details the context surrounding Jones and Oram’s work together; the influence of Dziga Vertov, Norman McLaren and Len Lye on their practices, the relationship between sound, film and narrative present in the film, and the use of music within short film documentaries in the aftermath of the Second World War. The notion of ‘authenticity’ within commercially funded documentaries of the era is discussed, with reference to the British Transport Film Unit and the Shell Film Unit, and the creation of Trinidad and Tobago is explored in depth as a case study.

Throughout the writing, extensive reference is made to unpublished materials from the Daphne Oram archive, situated at Goldsmiths, University of London. Starting with the initial discovery of a set of dusty slide photographs in 2013, the text emanates from the archival material outwards, exploring early unpublished writings on the relationship between sound and film made by Oram whilst working at the B.B.C, and relating these to interviews with Jones, and the later documentary works they made together (particularly Snow, 1963, and Rail 1967).

This text is accompanied by a soundscape of tape recordings made by Daphne Oram during her trip to Trinidad and Tobago in 1964. This material provides a unique insight into Oram’s creative process and provides a parallel documentation to the film itself. The soundscape is referred to throughout the text, and can be listened to alongside reading, or as a separate contextual piece.

James Bulley (b. 1984) is an artist, composer and researcher whose practice explores site-specific installation, visual music and non-linear composition. His work has been featured by the B.B.C, I.T.V, the Quietus, Nature and the Guardian. Recent works include Tactus, an exploration into direct art forms for the blind and visually impaired, commissioned by Crafts Council UK (2015). As part of Jones/Bulley with systems artist Daniel Jones, Bulley was nominated in 2014 for British Composer of the Year for the forest-based sound installation Living Symphonies.

In 2012, Bulley co-directed the Sound Art Curating conference at Goldsmiths, University of London. At Goldsmiths he is graduate representative for the Unit for Sound Practice Research and is a member of the New Radiophonic Workshop under Matthew Herbert. 2017 will see the publication of a Leonardo Electronic Almanac special edition on sound art curating, co-edited by Bulley, as well as the publication with MIT press of The Talking Drum, a paper that discusses the experience of working with the American video artist Bill Viola. Late 2017 will also see the publication of a book chapter for Oxford University Press on Daphne Oram’s seminal 1948 turntable work, Still Point, co-authored with the composer Shiva Feshareki.

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