Wednesday, 12 November 2014

Lorna Coates and Commercial Concrète

'A sixty thousand sound girl' The Canberra Times, 8th October 1966.

I cannot find much concrete biographical information on Lorna Coates but she was originally from Adelaide, later moving to London in the early 1950s. She was involved in creating effects for radio stations in Adelaide during the 1940s and 50s and by the 1960s she had provided effects for the BBC
and was working for Stage Sound creating commercial musique concrète. In this she was part of a wider (though small) group of expatriates from Australia involved in commercially based experimentation such as Don Harper, Don Banks, and Dudley Simpson. There is not much further information available on Coates, though she was friends with writer Elizabeth Salter, also from Adelaide with whom she shared a London flat with in the 1960s, and English eccentric Edith Sitwell (whom Salter wrote a biography of). The National Library of Australia also has a small clippings file for Coates though unfortunately I can't find any documentation of her sound work ever having been published. I've also included some articles documenting the recording studio she opened in London in the 1970s.

Interview (1999) with Barry Hall from the Once Upon A Wireless: An Oral History of South Australian Radio Project

Coates is another example of how the early history of electronic music was invariably tied up with commercial rather than expressive avenues. Whilst there were musicians with an interest in its sonic and expressive possibilities much of the production in itself was as a complimentary component of other works. Whether it be radio plays, theatre music, film soundtracks, advertising jingles and so on (in Australia, at least, this further reiterates the point that 'modernism' often entered the local sphere via the backdoor. An integrated component of mass production and consumption rather than as rarefied 'art'). The functional and incidental nature of its production working to obscure its very existence. It was not understood to be creative work in the nominal sense, though the recent history of Delia Derbyshire and the BBC Radiophonic Workshop are the prime example of this side-lining being amended and reversed. 

'Station Announces Armistice Day Features' The South Australian Radio Call, March 7 1945

'Diary' Studio Sound and Broadcast Engineering, November 1973.

'Diary' Studio Sound and Broadcast Engineering, January 1974.

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