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

Conclusion: a career in objects

The objects in the HDC reflect the development of Davies’s practice, from live electronics, through instrument-building, to the point where self-built instruments superseded live electronic transformation as his primary means for exploring new and novel sound-worlds. The devices Davies used in his live electronic compositions and early performances – sine/square wave generators (Figure 3), tape recorders (Figure 4), modified record players (Figure 5), and the three foot-pedals (Figure 9, Figure 10, Figure 11) – speak of a time when he thought primarily in terms of sound sources and their electronic transformation. Shozyg I (Figure 6) represents the ‘instrumental turn’ in Davies’s practice; the pivot point between the live electronics of his early career, and the self-built instruments that defined his mature practice, of which the Stringboard (Figure 13), Springstring (Figure 14), and Springboard Mk. VI (Figure 15) are examples. Springboard Mk. XI (Figure 16), with the built-in reverb and filtering effects created by its multiple interlinked springs, exemplifies how self-contained instruments superseded electronic transformations.

The objects in the HDC show how Davies shaped technology to meet the demands of his practice: he modified mixers, pedals, and tape recorders, and assembled collections of found objects (the Shozyg instruments) to meet his creative needs. On the other hand, Davies’s writings and other archival evidence highlight how his practice was shaped by encounters and interactions with technology: playing filters and potentiometers as Stockhausen’s assistant led him to adopt live electronics in his compositional practice; using found objects as sound sources prompted a shift from composition to instrument-building (the instrumental turn); finally, constructing, building, and playing his own instruments led Davies to abandon live electronics in his later work. Using objects and texts as evidence reveals how Davies’s practice shaped, and was shaped by, the objects in the HDC. Thus, this study shows how object biographic and archival techniques combine to provide insight into the ways in which objects (instruments, technologies) and practices shape each other over time.

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/170705/012