Audiomobile No. 3 (1960)


‘Audiomobile No. 3 (Sculpture)’ started with a series of recordings Roberto Gerhard made in 1960 of a sculpture by John Youngman. The sculpture, a metal plate studded with metal rods of different lengths, creates a 3D-landscape, the rods stretching back into the horizon. When the rods were tapped they would emit different indeterminate pitches. Gerhard was able to generate noisier sounds by scraping the rods, which creates a filtered noise effect. The piece is highly pointillist, exploring the flourishes of single points of sound assembled in different clusters and sequences. Much of the focus is on the unique acoustic properties of the rods, with a brief interlude just over half way through, where Gerhard introduces more obvious music concréte-style tape manipulations. The sculpture was recorded on top of Gerhard’s piano, using the instruments natural resonance for both amplification and a sense of acoustic presence.

Gerhard initially planned to compose a suite of electronic works that utilised the sculpture, listing the work ‘Sculptures I-IV’ in his catalogue, yet these planned four works never emerged. It wasn’t for a lack of material or inspiration. Gerhard wrote that he has assembled 30 tapes worth of material for the project, all drawn from the sculpture. Rather, the 1960s were dominated by a number of high profile commissions for orchestra and ensemble – ‘Concerto for Orchestra’, ‘Epithalamium’, ‘Symphony No. 4 (New York)’, ‘Leo’, and the unfinished ‘Symphony No. 5’ were all premiered in the second half of the decade – and so, with little financial or professional incentive Gerhard was unable to prioritise the project. Instead, Gerhard renaming the only work in the series to ‘Audiomobile’, the other name he used for his experimental electronic music, drawn from his earlier radio lecture. The recordings didn’t go to waste however, surfacing in a number of other works for tape, most notably his electronic work ‘Caligula’ in 1961.

It is clear that ‘Audiomobile No. 3 (Sculpture)’ underwent a number of changes over the course of time. The initial recordings were made in 1960-61, and the piece was reportedly finished in 1963, although Youngman claims it was completed much earlier. However, a tape labeled ‘Version II’ has been found in Gerhard’s archive, removing piano gestures, suggests that Gerhard revised the work in 1967 around the same time that his tape materials for ‘Symphony No. 3 (Collages)’ were revisited.

231Audio recording of Roberto Gerhard’s ‘Audiomobile No. 3: Sculpture’ (Version II)
271Audio recording of Roberto Gerhard’s ‘Audiomobile No. 3: Sculpture’