The Well-Tempered Tapesichordist. On the Domestic Art of Sound Composition in the Cradle of the DNA revolution.
Considered by Hugh Davies as the British pioneer of electronic music, the case of Roberto Gerhard (1896-1970) is rather atypical. He was the only Spanish pupil of Schoenberg and one of the very few composers born in the 19th century who approached composition with manipulated tape in the early 1950s. Gerhard’s centre of operations in Cambridge was a modest domestic studio fitted with a handful of EMI and Ferrograph open-reel tape recorders. Near to twenty productions for the radio, theatre and screen; a series of autonomous compositions; and a personal collection of more than 700 magnetic tapes containing his pioneering experiments are the testimony of this sideline of Gerhard’s musical output.
Drawing on this repertoire and supported by the evidence provided by the study of the composer’s magnetic tape sketches this paper will focus on the processual aspect of Gerhard’s technique of “sound composition”. Gerhard’s operations in the studio are guided by a fundamental interest in the expressiveness of recorded sound, which he aimed to bring to a level of poetic imaginery. The salient features of his compositional praxis will be elucidated in the context of works such as King Lear, A Leak in the Universe, Asylum Diary, Lament for the death of a Bullfighter, Symphony No. 3 “Collages”, Calígula, DNA in Reflection and the series Audiomobiles. Along this journey we will aim as well to understand the evolution of Gerhard’s technique. Besides, at a more abstract level, the inherent freedom of sound composition is not only a reflection of Gerhard’s attitude as composer and individual, but, perhaps, also an opportunity to reflect on our dependence on the comfortable commonplaces of musical genre.