Gerhard’s Studio

According to the International Electronic Music Catalogue (1968) compiled by Hugh Davies, the first informal activities in Gerhard’s private permanent studio are listed as having been initiated in 1954. The official foundation of what Gerhard termed his ‘Home Office’ can be dated to 1958, coinciding with the composer’s moving in to 14 Madingley Road, Cambridge on 1 October 1958. Gerhard’s close friend, Joaquim Homs, visited Cambridge in September 1959 and provides a first-hand impression of the studio one year after the Gerhard’s move to Madingley Road:

The study was ample and, at the back, near the window that lead to the garden, there was a grand piano […] By now Gerhard had constructed an electronic laboratory in his study with the aid of the Radiophonic Workshop, and it was full of tape-loops of concrete music.

This passage, and a further extract from this recollection from the 1954-1959 section of Homs’ book is not unproblematic. Homs writes:

It was a memorable trip, so much that we extended it for a few more days than we had planned. We managed in addition to attend two film documentaries with concrete music by Gerhard: Four Audiomobiles (the second one about DNA being especially interesting)…

Whilst the description of the studio may be accurate there are other discrepancies that are harder to resolve. There is no evidence that Gerhard received any support in establishing his studio from the BBC Radiophonic Workshop, itself only established in April 1958. In fact, a recording of Poldi Gerhard contained in the tape archive at the Cambridge University Library indicates that she obtained much of the additional equipment in the new ‘Home Office’ was acquired on hire-purchase and stretched the Gerhard’s personal finances. Furthermore, though Gerhard’s studio was already established, it was not until 11 March 1959 that he received notification that he was one of four composers selected to be invited to the Radiophonic Workshop for their first two-day course at Maida Vale introducing composers to the facilities there. In fact, it was only Gerhard who regularly returned to the Workshop from 1959-1964 to work on BBC Radio commissions. He seems to have occupied a unique position in this regard.

Tape loops attached to Roberto Gerhard’s piano in his home studio

Further issues raised by Homs’ recollections pertain to the two film documentaries and Four Audiomobiles. Whilst the two film documentaries can be accounted for – presumably All Aboard and the second, a commission from Unilever entitled Your Skin both created in 1958, the reference to the Four Audiomobiles are more problematic. The parenthetical reference to ‘the second one about DNA being especially interesting’ is most likely a mis-remembering on Homs part, or a conflation of memories from a later visit, as all other evidence, including letters, performance dates, reminiscences by Hans Boye and Gerhard’s own notebooks all point to the ‘DNA’ piece as being Audiomobiles 2: ‘DNA in Reflection’ completed in 1963, some four years later. Although Gerhard produced a short work included in his 1959 Third Programme talk Audiomobiles, the Audiomobile ‘in the manner of Goya’, there is no evidence that he completed four autonomous tape works entitled Four Audiomobiles in 1958-59.

A series of undated black and white portraits of Gerhard in his study, perhaps simultaneous to Homs’ visit with his wife, present varied perspectives of four open-reel tape recorders, together with numerous reels on shelves and an unusual image of hundreds of tape splices fixed on hooks to the lid of the grand piano. Gerhard maintained that:

I’ve always been working with shoe-string equipment in electronics. It comprises: one microphone, five tape recorders, a track mixer of five channels, and that is all. I’ve never used oscillators or white noise generators. I’m allergic to sine tones. When I needed certain types of white noise, the BBC Radiophonic Workshop has kindly provided lengths of tape. I would have been happy to have been able to install envelope control. I could not afford it. But I have been able to develop some measure of envelope modification by a manual means. I have no visual or audio monitoring. I wish I could have had some modulators. No automatic switching devices. On occasion their absence has been very trying.

Roberto Gerhard working in his home studio c.1959

A closer investigation of these photographs supplies further information about the recording equipment in Gerhard’s studio (1958-59). There were two EMI TR50 mono recorders, an early Vortexion WVA mono recorder and a Ferrograph Series 66 mono recorder. In the early 1960s, Gerhard incorporated a new Ferrograph Series 4 mono recorder and a five-channel mixer into his studio. It would not have been uncommon to find a similar set of open-reel tape recorders in the facilities of the BBC. With this in mind, and though Gerhard was eager to underline the modest equipment with which he worked in the ‘Home Office’, it would be better to characterize his studio as one that contained some of the best commercially available equipment of its type at the time.