Tape loops: Cataclysm (1980)
For Cataclysm (1980), an early musique concrète work, I used two sound sources: one created by vibrating an upside-down glass on the bass strings of a piano; the other is the first couple of seconds from the First Movement of Beethoven’s Symphony no. 5. It was the character of the first sound, an anacrusis followed by an explosive final sound, that reminded me of the second, the well-known Beethoven motif.
At the time I created the work, it was unsual to base music in this genre on such a small sample of material, especially on something that comes from the canon so obviously. Audio manipulation was much more limited compared to what is possible today with digital technology. Furthermore, the form of the composition, which follows a classical approach by stating a “theme” which is then developed, was in contrast to serial procedures that permeated the electronic music of the ’50s and ’60s.
On a technical level, most of the work was created by combining tape loops, in other words playing the first loop on one tape machine, the second tape loop on another, and recording the result on a third machine. Under these conditions synchronisation is difficult to achieve, although not impossible. This process, that resulted in many hours of tape editing, was repeated over and over in order to obtain different layers of sound and to structure the work. Apart from the mechanical procedures, echo and sound equalisation devices as well as Dolby noise reduction were employed.
I should finally add that Cataclysm was composed when Minimalism was already a well-established aesthetic. The African roots of some of its examples were becoming evident. For me, personally, the cyclical sound result of my tape loops was very similar to the impression made on me by some of the field recordings of indigenous South African music I had access to.