fonds RORT - Richard Orton Archive

Identity area

Reference code



Richard Orton Archive


  • c 1958-2012 (Creation)

Level of description


Extent and medium

0.26 cubic metres

15 boxes

1744 digital files (12 GB)

Context area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Richard Orton was born in Derby on 1 January 1940. He attended the Birmingham School of Music before winning a Tenor Choral Scholarship to St John’s College, Cambridge, graduating with a BA and Mus.B in music.

In 1967 he became Lecturer in Music at the University of York at the invitation of Professor Wilfrid Mellers. At York he instigated a pioneering ‘Project based’ teaching system, which enabled students to pursue a different musical project each semester and participate in an annual practical project that encouraged collaboration between performers and composers across university years.

A leading figure in the field of electroacoustic and computer music, in 1968 he established the first Electronic Music Studio (EMS) in the North of England at the University of York. In the same year he co-founded the electronic music ensemble ‘Gentle Fire’ together with Hugh Davies.

In the early 1980s he and a colleague from the Department of Electronics, Dr Roger Kirk, began working together to develop a new academic discipline combining musical and electronic studies. A postgraduate course in Music Technology, the first of its kind, was launched at York in 1986, followed a few years later by an undergraduate course.

In 1981 Orton wrote ‘Electronic Music for Schools’ and in 1985 he founded the Composers’ Desktop Project, developing computer software for musical composition in collaboration with composers such as Trevor Wishart and David Malham. From 1992 he was involved in the development of the algorithmic composition and performance system ‘Tabula Vigilans.’ He was also a founding editor of the Cambridge University Press Journal ‘ Organised Sound: An International Journal of Music and Technology’ and a member of the International Computer Music Association.

Richard Orton retired in 1996 but continued to compose and to develop innovative approaches to electronic music composition, collaborating with Archer Endrich on the ‘ProcessPack’ software project from 2006. His many compositions include ‘Timescape’, first performed in York Minster in 1984 and based on the medieval Mappa Mundi, as well as Ennead (1966), Mug Grunt (1972), Icarus (1978), Mythos (1981), and Stellations (1996).

Richard Orton died on 12 February 2013.

Archival history

Immediate source of acquisition or transfer

The archive was gifted to the Borthwick Institute in 2013.

Content and structure area

Scope and content

Papers and recordings of Richard Orton, c.1958-2012, including diaries, 1958-2012; musical scores, c.1961-2000s; correspondence (including emails), 1960s-2012; University of York teaching materials, 1960s-1996; Open University teaching materials, 1970s; draft and published articles by Orton and others; research notes; sound recordings of compositions by Orton, c.1968-1986; sound recordings of performances by other composers, n.d.; copies of commercially issued compact discs by Richard Orton; software relating to the ‘Tabula Vigilans’ computer language and ‘Formbuilder’ and ‘Scorebuilder’ composition programmes authored by Orton, 1992-2006; digital files and photographs concerning trip to Canada, 2006.


Further accruals are not expected.

System of arrangement

Conditions of access and use area

Conditions governing access

Records are open to the public, subject to the overriding provisions of relevant legislation, including data protection laws. 24 hours' notice is required to access photographic material.

Conditions governing reproduction

A reprographics service is available to researchers subject to the access restrictions outlined above. Copying will not be undertaken if there is any risk of damage to the document. Copies are supplied in accordance with the Borthwick Institute for Archives' terms and conditions for the supply of copies, and under provisions of any relevant copyright legislation. Permission to reproduce images of documents in the custody of the Borthwick Institute must be sought.

Language of material

  • English
  • French
  • German

Script of material

Language and script notes

Physical characteristics and technical requirements

Includes audio cassette tapes, audio compact discs and digital material. Access to such material may be restricted due to technical requirements, please contact the Borthwick Institute for further information.

Finding aids

The archive has not yet been catalogued.

Allied materials area

Existence and location of originals

Existence and location of copies

Related units of description

Further records relating to the Desktop Composers Project as deposited at the Borthwick Institute as part of the Trevor Wishart Archive (Reference: TWIS).

Related descriptions

Notes area

Alternative identifier(s)

Access points

Place access points

Name access points

Genre access points

Description control area

Description identifier

Institution identifier


Rules and/or conventions used

ISAD (G): General International Standard Archival Description, International Council on Archives (2nd edition, 2000); Rules for the construction of personal, place and corporate names, National Council on Archives (1997).

Level of detail

Dates of creation revision deletion

Created by S. A. Shearn, 25.04.17.




Accession area