The digitisation project of Roberto Gerhard’s magnetic tape collection

This presentation will discuss the digitisation project of Roberto Gerhard’s Magnetic Tape Collection at the Cambridge University Library, realized with funding from the British Arts and Humanities Research Council, under the auspices of the University of Huddersfield. Escaping from the Spanish Civil War, the Catalan composer Roberto Gerhard (1886-1970) established his residency in Cambridge in 1939, becoming a frequent collaborator with the BBC and one of the most noteworthy classical composers of his generation. Gerhard’s sound archive, gathered by the composer mainly during the 1950s and 60s, is the most important repository of his musical output. It comprises more than six hundred ¼ inch magnetic tapes represented by various generations of acetate and plastic based carriers wound on plastic cine type reels of different sizes. Significantly, Gerhard was the first composer in the United Kingdom to employ magnetic tape as a compositional medium. Roughly one half of the tapes correspond to production materials related to an number of pioneering “sound compositions” recorded, assembled and mixed in the composer’s own domestic studio — fitted with EMI TR50, Vortexion and Ferrograph recorders. In our presentation we will discuss the conceptual and technical strategies adopted for the digital transfer and cataloguing of this corpus. The production process is tailored to address the distinctive nature of the collection, with an emphasis on the subsequent investigation of the compositional operations and the restoration and dissemination of Gerhard’s unpublished tape compositions. Favoured by a history of poor storage and by a variety of packaging conditions and tape brands, a number of interesting deterioration specimens, including on-going carrier chemical degradation processes and moulds, can be observed.

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García Karman
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Monty Adkins, Carlos Duque
University of Huddersfield
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