Performing Hugh Davies’s Live Electronic Music

Mooney, James; Green, Owen and Williams, Sean (2017). Performing Hugh Davies’s Live Electronic Music. In: Performing Indeterminacy, 30 Jun - 2 Jul 2017, University of Leeds.



As part of the AHRC project ‘Hugh Davies: Electronic Music Innovator’, we staged several concerts of works by Hugh Davies, including Galactic Interfaces, Quintet, and Not to be Loaded With Fish.

Davies’ live electronic works of the late 1960s—two of which we believe we have performed for the first time since the 1960s—are particularly significant, in that they represent the first substantive live electronic compositions by a British composer.

With an emphasis upon what we have learned through practice as research, also dependent upon archival research carried out at the British Library and at the Science Museum, our paper will focus upon issues of interpretation, realisation, and performance of these pieces from the social, technological and ontological perspectives.

We suggest that Davies was perhaps more concerned with establishing repertoires of techniques, materials and ways of being together than he was in works, and the instructions/scores for these pieces exemplify different aspects of this approach. This is particularly relevant since some elements in each piece - what is to be played; what technology should be used; actions; sounds; and various other elements - are indeterminate. Material choices, especially technological ones, clearly have substantive implications for the unfolding of a particular performance, but this is inflected to a great degree by whether there is any clarity in the first place about how things are meant sound or feel.

Performing these pieces has enabled us to interrogate both the social and technological aspects of the body of work, and particularly how these interact. We have drawn on historical practice as well as making use of contemporary technology, and our practice has led to interesting questions about distributed agency that can help form a more nuanced idea of the ontology of these pieces, and how that might relate to material and social affordances.

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