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

Shozyg: an instrumental turn

In summer 1968, Davies assembled a collection of found objects – fretsaw blades, a ball-bearing furniture castor, a spring – and mounted them, together with a pair of contact microphones, inside the cover of a book. Since the book was an encyclopaedia volume covering the alphabetic range of topics from SHO to ZYG, he called the resulting object a ‘shozyg’. Soon afterwards, he assembled and mounted a second collection of objects in a similar way – two springs, a rubber band, and a set of guitar machine heads (Davies, 1968c). Shozyg I and Shozyg II, as Davies dubbed these constructions, were conceived as ‘the final stage in a series of specially built small instruments using objects made of wood, metal, glass, plastic, etc. that are amplified by means of contact microphones’ (Redcliffe Concerts of British Music, 1969). As such, the instruments were supposed to provide a logical conclusion to the series of makeshift ‘instruments’ used in Galactic Interfaces.

Shozyg I and II are ‘electro-acoustic’ instruments, in that the sound is generated acoustically, and amplified electronically (Davies, 2000a, p 45). Twenty copies were eventually made of Shozyg I, and four of Shozyg II; one of the copies of Shozyg I now forms part of the HDC (Figure 6).

Figure 6

Colour photograph of a self built electro acoustic musical instrument by Hugh Davies

Shozyg I (1968), self-built electro-acoustic musical instrument by Hugh Davies

Davies referred to Shozygs I and II as ‘instrument[s] for live electronic performance’ (Davies, 1968c) – an important development, since he had never previously referred to any of his apparatus, self-built or otherwise, in precisely those terms.[20] With the instruments he supplied text-based instructions, which effectively served as scores for a set of three similarly-named live electronic compositions: Shozyg I, Shozyg II, and Shozyg I and II.[21] Shozyg I existed in three versions: a ‘live version for solo performer’ playing Shozyg I; ‘live version for 3 performers, each with a copy of Shozyg I’; and a ‘tape version, consisting of three superimposed recordings made with Shozyg I by a single performer’. Shozyg II was ‘for solo performer’ playing Shozyg II, while Shozyg I + II was ‘for 2 performers, one of whom uses Shozyg I, the other Shozyg II’. In all except the tape version, Davies specified that the instruments could optionally be routed via a pair of ring-modulators (one for the left channel, one for the right; Shozyg I and Shozyg II are both stereophonic instruments), with the oscillators being operated by an additional performer (Davies, 1968c). 

Although the Shozyg compositions were, broadly speaking, improvised, the text-based scores provided specific directions concerning playing techniques – ‘performers produce sounds on their instruments with their fingers and/or accessories such as needle files, small screwdrivers, matchsticks, combs, small electric motors, small brushes, coins, keys, etc.’ (Davies, 1968c) – as well as a precise indication of how each instrument’s timbral compass was to be explored. The player of Shozyg I was instructed to:

explore the whole range of possibilities in the instrument within the maximum degrees of variation (pitched to unpitched, bright to dull, loud to soft, short to sustained sounds, monophonic to polyphonic textures, the use of fingers and accessories – which in turn may also be played by fingers and/or other accessories, etc.). (Davies, 1968c)

Like much experimental music of the 1960s, then, the Shozyg pieces were improvised within a framework bounded by specific conditions – including performance directions, material constraints such as the physical properties of the instruments themselves, and (where applicable) interactions between players – which shaped the musical results in characteristic (and broadly predictable) ways.

The scraping, ratcheting, metallic timbres produced by the Shozyg instruments invite comparison to the sound-world of Mikrophonie I, which had fascinated Davies so much upon his arrival in Cologne, while the performance directions for the Shozyg pieces might be seen as a formalisation of the techniques developed through the use of Davies’s makeshift ‘instruments’ of the summer of 1967, as discovered through his own sonic-tactile explorations (in improvisations with Richard Orton, for example), and through his observations of the techniques employed by the players when using these ‘instruments’ in performances of Galactic Interfaces.

The Shozyg instruments represent a rationalisation of Davies’s practice that was partly necessitated by his increasing involvement in live performance engagements, often in other cities. The Davies-Orton duo toured England, delivering ‘some 10 concerts in the course of a year’ and travelling many miles in the process (Davies, 2001, p 54). In November 1968, Davies joined Gentle Fire, an ensemble that Orton had established through informal experimental music activities at York University (Davies, 2001, p 54), and in early 1969 he joined free jazz musicians Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, and Jamie Muir to form the Music Improvisation Company (MIC). By the time Davies stopped performing with MIC in 1971, he had joined another group, Naked Software, such that between 1968 and 1973, he was never in any fewer than two different performing ensembles (Davies, 1997, p 14). In the context of an increasingly hectic performance schedule, the practicalities of travel and inevitably limited setup and rehearsal time highlighted the need for equipment that was compact, portable, and self-contained – all properties that the Shozyg instruments possess.

A photograph dated July 1968 (Figure 7) – the month of the instrument’s debut performance – shows how Davies played Shozyg I: seated at a table, with the Uher mixer (see also Figure 2; used to adjust the relative levels of the two contact microphones during performance), and his clarinet. (See the Postscript section for details of recordings of Shozygs I and II.)

Figure 7

Black and white photograph of Hugh Davies with Shozyg I Uher mixer and clarinet pictured July 1968

Hugh Davies with Shozyg I, Uher mixer, and clarinet, pictured July 1968

Component DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.15180/170705/005