Nursery Rhymes

for stereophonic tape

In the later 1960s Peter Zinovieff developed his electronic music studio in Putney, generously opening it to a number of composers. It was a sophisticated analogue studio, and was the first in Britain to pioneer the use of digital control and composition. The Putney EMS also developed the first portable synthesiser in Britain, which, during development, was tested by Zinovieff’s composer friends; the result was the VCS3.

My close friend and colleague, Don Banks, and myself were two of several composers in the south-east of England who were exploring the raw nature of sound through the newly available electronic means. We could exchange ideas and information, and we learned to solder, read circuit diagrams and build simple analogue instruments for ourselves; the expensive instruments, most particularly, the first seriously good tape recorders (of which we sometimes needed several for multi-tracking) were another matter and we developed an informal co-operative; when one of us needed further equipment, we could drive round to our friends’ house, pick up the necessary equipment and rig it up in our own home studio.

Well before the VCS3 became generally available, Don bought the prototype VCS3 early in 1969; but before he could use it, he had to make a visit to Australia, leaving me with the instrument and the instruction, ‘You have to compose a work with it before I return to England.’ I couldn’t disobey someone who was like another elder brother to me (nor could I evade the challenge), so in my quickly arranged home studio I soon had 2 Revox stereo tape recorders, a mixer, and the synthesiser.

Don and I were among those who had played with the prototype VCS instruments, so I was already familiar with the principle of working with ‘patches’ which linked the instruments of the synthesiser. I quickly developed a set of transforming patches, which created very simple characters reminiscent of surf, wind, bells, birdsong etc. and constituted my simple ‘rhymes’. The characters were then woven in time and space to become the present piece (which happily earned Don’s OK on his return).

Nursery Rhymes lasts 22’ and was first heard publicly at an installation/exhibition set up by Keith Winter at the Whitechapel Art Gallery, London in 1970.

It became the formal musical basis for a video animation I composed between 2009 and 2015, Variations on some themes of Laurence Burt.

DL 2015