Electronic Music in Britain in the 1950s and 60s: James Mooney and Monty Adkins in Conversation

In February 2015, a concert of tape music works by Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram was staged as part of the Electric Spring Festival at University of Huddersfield. The concert was preceded by a public conversation between the curator of the concert, Dr James Mooney, and one of the festival’s artistic directors, Prof Monty Adkins. A complete recording of this pre-concert discussion is now available via SoundCloud: click here.


The conversation addressed the context of electronic music in Britain in the 1950s and 60s and included discussion of Hugh Davies, his self-built instruments and – in particular – his International Electronic Music Catalog. The tools and techniques of electronic music production in the 50s and 60s were discussed, as was the institutional context of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, where both Derbyshire and Oram worked.

While simultaneously extolling the challenges and contingencies of archival research, Mooney and Adkins discussed the work of some of the key figures in British electronic music history. Oram’s philosophy of electronic music, as expounded in her book An Individual Note: Of Music, Sound and Electronics, was briefly explored, as was her creation of the novel Oramics synthesizer, currently on display at the Science Museum, London (some slides from the exhibition were shown during the talk). Among Derbyshire’s activities to be discussed were her project with David Vorhaus, White Noise, and her work with Brian Hodgson and Peter Zinovieff under the name of Unit Delta Plus. Others working in electronic music in Britain in the 1950s and 60s, such as Roberto Gerhard and Tristram Cary, were also mentioned.

Opening the conversation to questions from the floor revealed a wider range of topics for discussion. What would Delia Derbyshire have made of present-day electronic music making technologies had she been around to see them? Is it, by comparison, ‘too easy’ to make electronic music these days? Addressing these questions led to a broader discussion of how the advent of electronic technologies radically shifted compositional horizons post 1945. Other topics addressed during audience discussions included gender politics, Oram’s secretiveness around the development of the Oramics machine, and the emergence of the British free improvisation scene out of electronic music activities of the 1950s and 60s.

From the conversation and ensuing discussion there emerged a picture of a peculiarly British approach to electronic music: individuals working without institutional support, whose creations – both in terms of music-making machines and compositions – bore little resemblance to their continental European counterparts.


  • Pre-concert discussion on SoundCloud: click here.
  • An article about the concert itself, on this website: click here.
  • Archive materials on the Electric Spring website: click here.

2 thoughts on “Electronic Music in Britain in the 1950s and 60s: James Mooney and Monty Adkins in Conversation

  1. Reblogged this on Feminatronic and commented:
    So, I began with thoughts of focussing on Experimental Electronic Music and like most went down the route of the standard history that everyone charts.
    As some of you by now will realise, although I do post a lot about the well known electronic artists, genres and histories, I also try to give those well under the radar a space to get their music heard or the genre a wider audience. This includes trying to bring to attention the scene in the rest of the world.
    I had heard about Hugh Davies and his catalogue of ‘alternative electronic history’ but until today had not had a chance to explore further. So glad I did !
    As I knew in my heart, there was and still is an alternative electronic music scene and one where many artists are quietly creating music unknown or ignored.
    This is why I am reblogging this article as part of the Experimental Season, as many of the themes are still so relevant today and why Hugh Davies’ work is still vital as a challenge to the traditional historical theory.
    Listening to the Soundcloud discussion is recommended as it gives an insight into roles of Daphne Oram ad Delia Derbyshire in the development of British electronic music and technology. Some interesting questions and answers.


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