The English-born Australian composer, Tristram Ogilvie Cary, is the third child of Joyce Cary, the novelist, and Gertrude Margaret Cary (née Ogilvie). He studied at Dragon School, Oxford; Westminster School, London (King's Scholar); Christ Church, Oxford (Exhibitioner); Trinity College of Music, London.
Tristram Cary served in the Royal Navy, from 1943 to 1946 (interrupting education), specialising in radar and thus receiving training in electronics. During his war service he independently developed the idea of what was to become tape music, and began experimenting as soon as he was released from the Navy in late 1946. He took BA at Oxford, and then to London where he studied composition, piano, horn, viola and conducting. While a student augmented grant by evening class teaching. In 1951-1954 he started a family, wrote music, and taught, while holding a part-time job in a gramophone shop and developing his first electronic music studio. From 1954 he was gradually able to live by score commissions, gave up most teaching and job. Since then he has composed a large variety of concert works and scores for theatre, radio, film, TV, public exhibitions etc.
Tristram Cary was founder (in 1967) of the electronic music studio at the Royal College of Music, and designer/builder of own electronic music facility, one of the longest established private studios in the world. Beginning in Marylebone, it went to Earls Court, then Chelsea and eventually to Fressingfield, Suffolk. The equipment from this studio was brought to Australia, and most of it was incorporated into the expanding teaching studio at Adelaide University. Cary was also a founder Director of EMS (London) Ltd, and co-designer of the VCS3 (Putney) Synthesiser and other EMS products.
In 1986 Tristram Cary left the University to resume self-employment. Combining a specialised personal studio with the facility available to him at the University, he can call upon powerful resources for generating film, TV, theatre, radio or concert music, special dialogue treatments, or anything in the area of specialised sound. His wide experience as a composer includes all sizes of instrumental and vocal ensemble, any aspect of electronic music, or combinations of several types. Though normally resident in Australia, today's efficient communication systems allow him to undertake work from anywhere in the world, apart from being able to travel to any location within a day or so.
During 1988-1990 Cary was largely occupied with writing a major book on music technology which was published in London as Illustrated Compendium of Musical Technology in May 1992 (Faber & Faber). The American version - substituting Dictionary for Compendium - is distributed by Greenwood Press, Connecticut.
In 1995 and 1996 there were performances in London and Adelaide to mark his 70th birthday, and a new suite based on his music for the Ealing film The Ladykillers won The Gramophone Award for best film music CD in 1998.
Apart from composition activity, Tristram Cary writes on concerts and opera for The Australian newspaper. He lectures and broadcasts regularly and undertakes some higher degree supervision. The University of Adelaide awarded him the position of Honorary Visiting Research Fellow, in which capacity he is continuing his computer music research. In 2001 the University also conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Music. Cary is a citizen of both Australia and Britain, and in 1991 was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) for services to Australian music. In 1999 he received the SA Great Music Award for the year, and Symphony Australia commissioned a new work - Scenes from a Life - to mark his 75th birthday in 2000. Cary received the Adelaide Critics Circle 2005 Lifetime Achievement Award on December 5, 2005.