Unfortunately, there's not much in the way of info about how the lines on the film map to the synthesizer controls - I found it very odd to watch the film go by, and see busy sections with short discrete notes, sections with long interesting curves, and almost empty sections, but to hear no discernable difference in the audio.
This device would be better I think if the read head could be moved directly to the left edge or even perhaps placed in the center of the view. But I have a feeling it needs to be in darkness to read best.
Interesting idea none the less.
- is, predictably, not available to listen to on their site, but you can find it on YouTube:
Whatever the musical potential of the instrument might be, it is not shown in the video.
Like this is the time, approximately, when Laurie Anderson has got analog tape affixed to a bow of her violin and is bowing the tape, and is about just go bat-shit crazy with MIDI for things like Oh Superman in the early 1980s.
So, drawing is cool. Avant-garde musical experimentation is cool. It may not have a beat, but it's possible you could dance to it, with the right perspective. :)
The creative advantage is in being able to express pitch, (and presumably generic control voltages) intuitively as continuous lines, which is a natural fit for analog synthesizers. The alternative is sending discrete events, which is how midi works, something not invented until later. There is a school of thought that to limit synthesizers to the discrete world of "notes," with quantised durations and pitch values as a hangover from our ideas of keyboard instruments, is to waste their potential.
Ribbon controllers were popular in that period for expressing continuous pitch, and I suspect the Oramics was designed as a way of recording these sorts of expressions, like a kind of analog punch card.
Also consider that the main compositional method of the radiophonic workshop at that time was splicing magnetic tape with razor blades and sellotape.
I agree that it seems restrictive to limit synths to discrete notes (like playing guitar without bends) although I probably wouldn't use the word mellifluous to describe the sounds made in the video.
"As each new note sounds, its pitch (and that of all currently sounding notes) is adjusted microtonally (based on its spectrum) to maximize consonance. The adaptation causes interesting glides and microtonal pitch adjustments in a perceptually sensible fashion. "
It's pretty trivial to do this kind of thing with automation curves in modern sequencers now. In fact you can draw tens of curves in parallel.
The sound you get depends on which softsynths you use and how flexible their modulation routing is.
Most people think of sequencers as discrete notes + modulation, not as curves or functions. So the good thing about this idea is that it can break people out of that way of working - even though there's no real need to make this device as a commercial product now.
But generally "drawing" music doesn't work all that well. The information in music needs much finer control - either with conventional sequencing, or (more interestingly now) with generative code.
The difference here to the analog domain, where you can continuously modulate any parameter at audio rate or higher with zero latency, is obvious.
Of course softsynths own inbuilt modulation sources will be oversampled these days along with everything else they do, which is why they sound pretty good now.
The Oramic is presumably using some kind of filtering on the output of those photodiodes or whatever it has, for similar reasons, but the point remains.
Like all primitive synthesizer music, with a generous helping of tape delay and spring reverb it will probably sound wicked.
Computers were something few people had.
Ad-block shows it's blocking some font files, but everything else is getting through. I hope it's not a new trend to not display anything if custom fonts don't load.