Audiomobiles: Capriccio in the Manner of Goya (1958)


‘Capriccio in the Manner of Goya’ is a short sound composition Gerhard wrote to conclude his radio feature ‘Audiomobiles’. In the presentation, the ‘Capriccio…’ follows short examples of sound metamorphosis, illustrating the creative potentials of tape composition, and fragments from ‘Asylum Diary’, demonstrating the application of creative effects to convey specific scenes or moods, what Gerhard termed “applied” or “functional sound composition”. The ‘Capriccio…’, therefore, plays an important functional role in the context of this broadcast, demonstrating an example of an electronic composition intended to be listened to for its own sake, as music, without the necessity of extra-musical context – a controversial notion to a mainstream audience in 1959.

Francisco Goya’s ‘Los caprichos’, created between 1793 and 1799, cast a critical and satirical eye on Spanish society of the period, depicting what the artist called “the innumerable foibles and follies to be found in any civilised society”. The prints were created using aquatint, a printmaking technique whereby acid is used to mark the printing plate, which gives the prints a simplified, lively feel which contrasts sharply against their attacks on the established political and religious power structures of the time. Gerhard’s ‘Capriccio…’ is a similar critique of the electronic avant-garde of the period, dispensing with the dogmatic barriers between electronic synthesis and musique concrète and happily pairing two disparate sound sources – the propulsive, rhythmic concatenations of a sampled piano and a backwards recording of electronic music samples created by electronic music pioneer Herbert Eimert.

There is some debate as to what place in Gerhard’s catalogue his ‘Capriccio…’ takes, whether it was merely a demonstrative sketch for the radio feature, or if it heralded the first of a series of electronic works in the manner of Goya’s own ‘Los caprichos’. While Gerhard’s tape archive exhibits a large amount of electronic materials in various stages of combination and assembly, Gerhard never listed ‘Capriccio in the Manner of Goya’ in his catalogue of electronic music and plans of further works in this manner have not been forthcoming. Indeed, the title of ‘Audiomobile’ is applied to a number of his electronic works at various stages of development – ‘The Lament for the Death of a Bullfighter’ was at one stage considered an ‘Audiomobile’ – which seems to reflect Gerhard’s fuzzy conception of the state and status of some of his electronic works.

Nonetheless, that Gerhard likely didn’t see the ‘Capriccio…’ as a significant work does not lessen the value of it as a work of electronic composition. In it is reflected Gerhard’s ongoing connection to Spain, and in particular the relationship of Spanish social structures to art and criticism. Gerhard was inspired by Goya’s work both technically and conceptually, using it as an important signpost for his own non-dogmatic exploration of the electronic medium. The work depicts a frantic, closed sonic space that opens up across its duration – transitioning from manipulated piano strikes to scraped strings – a structural gesture that we see further refined in Gerhard’s more significant electronic compositions.

206Audio recordings of Roberto Gerhard’s talk ‘Audiomobiles: Concrete and Electronic Sound Composition’ and an unidentified work for orchestra
441Audio recording of Roberto Gerhard’s radio feature ‘Audiomobiles: Concrete and electronic sound composition’
442Audio recording of Roberto Gerhard’s radio feature ‘Audiomobiles: Concrete and electronic sound composition’