Tricky one, this: my boss is a woman, and as Chief Information Officer she probably is “in technology”. And obviously I admire her deeply! But I’m not going to blog about her.
The women I want to celebrate are two of the early pioneers of electronic music: Daphne Oram and Delia Derbyshire. In referring to these two, it is of course compulsory to refer to the BBC Radiophonic Workshop and to the Doctor Who theme. There, I’ve referred to them. It must also be said that it seems clear that the Workshop would not have existed without Oram, nor the Ron Grainger tune have survived so long without Derbyshire. But that’s not the point here.
No, my admiration for these two stems from their immense practicality. That may sound strange when referring to two women whose primary interest was in musique concrète and the outer edges of tonality. But the point is that to Oram and Derbyshire, the technology had purpose.
I like the story about Oram that one of her early jobs was ensuring that concert transmissions were not interrupted by bombing. Essentially, she followed a feed from the Royal Albert Hall and ran a recording of the same work in synch in the studio: if the RAH went down, she switched over to the recording, ideally so smoothly that the listeners wouldn’t even notice. Fakery? Possibly: but also an immensely practical way of helping to make bearable the experience of wartime Britain.
Yes, both women clearly loved technology – the feel of it, the joy of it, the heft of it in their hands (and often in those days the technology had real, physical weight). But they don’t seem to have loved it for its own sake, but because by using it they could explore and expand the frontiers of their art.
So here’s to all women (and men of course – although I’m tempted to say that women are better at this than men) who can keep their eyes firmly focused on the reasons for doing technology even while recognising and celebrating the unexpected, the unexpected, and of course the downright cool that technology itself introduces us to. Two women I would have loved to meet: Delia and Daphne.