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Gerhard: Audiomobiles No. 2: DNA in Reflection (1963)

Listening exercise – Roberto Gerhard's Audiomobiles No. 2: DNA in Reflection (1963)

Listening exercise

So, let’s have a listen to some of Roberto Gerhard’s electronic music!

Many of the final versions of Gerhard’s electronic works have been lost over time and now only exist in drafts or semi-assembled collections of material in his tape archive, but Audiomobiles No. 2 is one piece that we have as a complete recording. This is Gerhard at his most abstract, the piece was not commissioned and as such reflects a testing ground for Gerhard’s more extreme manipulations of magnetic tape.

Listen

Roberto Gerhard’s ‘Audiomobile No. 2’ draws on a collection of recordings Gerhard made by bowing and manipulating Cambridge architecture student John Youngman’s ‘Sculpture’ (1960/1961), an object crafted from a series of metal rods. Gerhard saw a lot of potential in the sounds he could get from this sculpture, such that they recur in his unfinished Audiomobile No. 3. In ‘Audiomobile No. 2’, the sounds of this metallic pipe sculpture are combined with other recorded sounds, including percussion and piano strings.

‘Audiomobile No. 2’ was used as a soundtrack to a short film titled ‘D.N.A. in Reflection’, produced by two scientists at the Cambridge Department of Molecular Biology. The film utilised a model of the Crick-Watson double helix structure of D.N.A. reflected by a set of rotating mirrors, which produced a continuous chain of animated patterns, similar to that of a kaleidoscope. The soundtrack utilises a number of pre-recorded natural sounds, which Gerhard wove together in the style of a collage, and cut to accompany the different sections of the film.

Beyond its application as a film soundtrack, Gerhard’s ‘Audiomobile No. 2’ took on life as work for electronic tape in its own right, receiving broadcast in concert and on the BBC radio in 1967. When broadcast as the closing item in his ‘Sound Observed’ radio feature, Gerhard commented:

I would only like to insist on one last thing. That whether you call it music or not – I call it sound composition – the only way it can and should be listened to is genuine, unprejudiced, musical listening.

When listening to this work, you can hear a number of gestures that parallel Gerhard’s ensemble music. There’s a real emphasis on each element having a clear sonic profile, of combinations of sounds swelling and retreating, and of a sense of transformation between points of sound and larger resonances. The use to tape manipulation techniques to fragment repeated sound recordings mimics the original visuals of the film and the use of rotating mirrors to create a complex moving image.

Over to you

What sounds can you hear in this recording? How does this recording compare to other pieces we’ve listened to in this course?

References

Gillies, S. (2022) “Audiomobile No. 2: DNA in Reflection”. https://heritagequay.org/rgda/electronic-music/works-of-electronic-music/audiomobile-no-2-dna-in-reflection-1963/

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