As ambient techno duo WALLS, Sam Willis and Alessio Natalizia have long explored the possibilities of “wild frequencies” as they put it. It’s been a minute since their second album Coracle got us all hot under the collar but it turns out they’ve been keeping busy on the low. A chance opportunity to explore the archive of Daphne Oram–the late, great founder of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and the creator of the Oramics synth–led to collaborative new album Sound Houses, which came out May 5th on WALLS’ own label Ecstatic. “Most of the stuff was weird sonic doodles and replications of orchestral timbres like violin, cello etc. using her Oramics machine,” says Willis of their experience of Oram’s archive. “We’ve done our best to create pieces that do these sounds justice.” In celebration of the album’s release, WALLS have whipped us up a mix that’s the aural equivalent of a serene afternoon in a floatation tank–minus the wrinkly fingers. Feted composers Brian Eno, Pauline Oliveros and Delia Derbyshire all get a look-in, plus listen out for an exclusive track from the Sound Houses sessions that didn’t make it on the record.
Download WALLS’ FADER Mix
Where are you right now? Describe your surroundings. In my studio in the eaves of my place in Whitstable–surrounded by blinking lights, glowing LEDs and congealing cups of coffee.
How did you come to get access to the Daphne Oram archive and what was it like? We were asked by Felix Carey, a producer from BBC Radio 3, if we’d like to take part in the Late Junction program’s ongoing series of collabs. Apparently they approached us because they liked the production of our previous album Coracle and wanted to give us an opportunity to experiment with another group or individual. We had initially suggested Dick Mills, a member of the original Radiophonic Workshop but he wasn’t available at the time so Felix suggested that we think about the Daphne Oram archive (she’s the Workshop’s founder). The Oram collection is held by the Electronic Music Studios at Goldsmiths College where they’re currently in the process of digitizing all of her tapes, some of which have never been heard. In person it’s a somewhat unassuming collection of reel to reel tapes and hand written notes, as well as some archaic computer equipment. Her Oramics synthesizer is on display at the Science Museum in central London, so sadly we didn’t get to play with that!
What’s the weirdest sound from the archive that you heard and did you use it? Probably ‘otherworldly’ is a better word than weird when talking on Daphne’s sounds: she really did create her own unique timbres and tones with the Oramics machine. Some of them mimicked orchestral instruments, others were just very bizarre and spindly. Our process at times involved us resampling her melodies and motifs and repitching/rearranging to extrapolate new lines and harmonies etc. At other times, we’d build around her preexisting composition and add on our own layers.
How did you put this mix together and what’s on it? It’s a collection of music that I thought would fit together as a slightly more challenging listening experience. Also it’s almost exclusively archival music, harking back to a time when things had to be done laboriously with real instruments, hulking synthesizers, computers and analogue tape. There’s music from Daphne in there, of course, as well as some personal favourites from Morton Feldman, Brian Eno, Delia Derbyshire, Sonic Boom and more. Also I took the liberty of including a track from our WALLS / Oram project that didn’t end up making the cut on the album as it seemed to fit in nicely.
What’s the last book you read that had a big impact on you? Anthony Beevor’s Berlin: The Downfall 1945 a truly stunning and humbling book that makes you realise how incredibly lucky those of us are who live in a modern day western democracy. The stories of destruction, heroism, cowardice and politics from the macro to the micro level really does leave your head spinning. He’s also written books on D-Day and Stalingrad which I’d also highly recommend.
What do you like to cook and how do you make it? My speciality is veggie chili. It’s taken me years to perfect the recipe (at least to my taste). Also, since I’m lazy, I can cook up a big batch and freeze it for those last minute meals when you’ve been in the studio for hours and forget to eat.
1. Pauline Oliveros – Alien Bog (excerpt) / Walter Murch – Forbidden Proximity
2. Brian Eno – Unfamiliar Wind (Leek Hills)
3. Daphne Oram – Pulse Persephone
4. Walls / Oram – Photo Cells
5. Morton Feldman – Something Wild in the City, Mary Ann’s Theme
6. Bernard Parmegiani – Conjugaison du Timbre
7. Tristram Cary – Music for Light (Red-White)
8. Sonic Boom – Tremeloes
9. Delia Derbyshire – Nightwalker
10. Charles Cohen – Utep1
11. Nine Inch Nails – The Beauty of Being Numb Section B (created by Aphex Twin)