Go back to article: The Hugh Davies Collection: live electronic music and self-built electro-acoustic musical instruments, 1967–1975

Beginnings

Hugh Davies first became interested in electronic music in the late 1950s, while a pupil at London’s Westminster School. At this point in time, ‘electronic music’ was an esoteric affair, which involved recording source material on magnetic tape (real-world sounds in the case of musique concrète, electronically-generated signals in the case of elektronische Musik[5]), transforming the sounds through various tape manipulation techniques, and assembling the final composition by cutting and splicing the tape together.[6] Davies’s first practical experience of electronic music came through Daphne Oram (1925–2003), composer and former studio manager of the BBC Radiophonic Workshop. In 1962, he and a friend produced their first piece of electronic music, Essay for Magnetic Tape, at Oram’s Tower Folly studio. By this time, Davies was a student of Music at Oxford University, where he independently produced several further pieces of electronic music on magnetic tape, as well as setting up a makeshift studio there – tape-based, of course (Palermo, 2015).

Davies was also a keen researcher, documenter and writer, and by the age of twenty had produced a detailed discography for the British Institute of Recorded Sound, a 25,000-word thesis charting developments in electronic music in twenty different countries, and an article in which he evaluated the potential of electronic music as one of a number of emergent techniques and trends in avant-garde music (Mooney, 2015). In 1963, he began a new writing project: a short book about the music of the avant-garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen (1928–2007). Although ultimately never published, it was through researching this book that Davies came to be invited to work as Stockhausen’s personal assistant. He moved to Cologne in 1964 and remained there for the next two years (Mooney, 2016d, p 102).

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/170705/002