Hugh Davies (composer)

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Black and white photograph of Hugh Davies with Shozyg I Uher mixer and clarinet

Hugh Seymour Davies (23 April 1943 – 1 January 2005) was a musicologist, composer, and inventor of experimental musical instruments.


Davies was born in Exmouth, Devon, England. After attending Westminster School, he studied music at Worcester College, Oxford from 1961 to 1964. Shortly after he travelled to Cologne, Germany to work for Karlheinz Stockhausen as his personal assistant.[1] For two years, he assembled and documented material for Stockhausen's compositions and was a member of his live ensemble.

From 1968 to 1971 Davies played in The Music Improvisation Company. The group's guitarist Derek Bailey later wrote that "the live electronics served to extend the music both forwards and backwards (...) Davies helped to loosen what had been, until his arrival, a perhaps too rarified approach".[2] He was also a member of the group Gentle Fire, active from 1968 to 1975, which specialised in the realisation of indeterminate and mobile scores, as well as verbally formulated intuitive-music compositions (such as Stockhausen's Aus den sieben Tagen) and in the performance of its own Group Compositions.[3][4]

Davies invented musical instruments that he constructed from household items. Among them was the shozyg, a generic name he used for any instrument housed inside an unusual container. The name is derived from the first of such instruments, which was housed inside the final volume of an encyclopaedia (covering the subjects from SHO– to ZYG–).[5][6]

From the 1960s onwards Davies made very significant contributions to the documentation of electronic music history, and in 1968 published a catalogue in which he listed - ostensibly - all the works of electronic music ever composed worldwide.[7] It has been argued that, through his research and documentation, Davies characterised electronic music for the first time as a truly international, interdisciplinary field.[8]

Davies was also a member of the Artist Placement Group during the mid-1970s.[9]

Davies was the founder and first Director of the Electronic Music Studios at Goldsmiths, University of London from 1968 to 1986 and was subsequently a researcher there until 1991.[10]

Davies appeared on the 1988 album Spirit Of Eden by UK group Talk Talk.

Davies had been a part-time Researcher and Lecturer in Sonic Art at the Centre for Electronic Arts, Middlesex University, London from 1999 until the end of his life.[11]


under own name

  • Shozyg Music For Invented Instruments (FMP, 1982)
  • Interplay (FMP, 1997)
  • Warming Up With The Iceman (Grob, 2001)
  • Sounds Heard (FMP, 2002)
  • Tapestries (Five Electronic Pieces) (Ants, 2005)
  • Performances 1969 - 1977 (Another Timbre, 2008)

With Derek Bailey, Evan Parker and Jamie Muir

With Gentle Fire

  • Gentle Fire [LP] Earle Browne, Four Systems; John Cage, Music for Amplified Toy Pianos and Music for Carillon Nos. 1-3 (performer: Graham Hearn); Christian Wolff, Edges. (Electrola LP IC 065-02 469 and Toshiba LP EAC-80295 [1974])
  • Furnival, John. Ode [17-cm CPR included with exhibition catalogue] John Furnival, Ceolfrith Press 1 (1971).
  • Gentle Fire. Group Composition IV (excerpt) [cassette included with journal], Live Electronics, Contemporary Music Review, 6 No. 1, (1991).
  • Gentle Fire. Group Composition VI (excerpt) [CD included with journal], Not Necessarily English Music, Leonardo Music Journal, Volume 11, (Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 2001)
  • Orton, Richard. concert music 5, 17cm LP included in book Approach to Music, Vol. 3, (Oxford, UK,: Oxford University Press, 1971)
  • Stokhausen, Karlheinz. Sternklang, Polydor LP 2612031 (2 LPs) (1976); re-issued on Stockhausen Gesamtausgabe CD 18A-B (2 CDs) (1992) (with 16 other performers)


  1. ^ Roberts, David (2001). "Davies, Hugh (Seymour)". In Stanley Sadie; John Tyrrell (eds.). New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. Macmillan Publishers Ltd. pp. 61–2. ISBN 978-0-333-60800-5.
  2. ^ Bailey, Derek (1980). Improvisation: Its nature and practice in music. Moorland Publishing. p. 112.
  3. ^ Davies, Hugh (2001). "Gentle Fire: An Early Approach to Live Electronic Music". Leonardo Music Journal. 11: 53–60.
  4. ^ Emmerson, Simon (1991). "Live Electronic Music in Britain: Three Case Studies". Contemporary Music Review. 6 (1): 179–195. doi:10.1080/07494469100640191.
  5. ^ Roberts, David (1984). "Shozyg". In Stanley Sadie (ed.). New Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments. Macmillan Publishers Ltd. pp. 377–8. ISBN 978-0-333-37878-6.
  6. ^ Mooney, James (2017). "The Hugh Davies Collection: live electronic music and self-built electro-acoustic musical instruments, 1967–1975". Science Museum Group Journal. 7. doi:10.15180/170705.
  7. ^ Davies, Hugh (1968). Repertoire International des Musiques Electroacoustiques/International Electronic Music Catalog. Paris; Trumansburg, NY: Le Groupe de Recherches Musicales de l'ORTF; The Independent Electronic Music Center, Inc.; MIT Press.
  8. ^ Mooney, James (2015). "Hugh Davies's Electronic Music Documentation 1961–1968". Organised Sound. 20 (1): 111–121. doi:10.1017/S1355771814000521.
  9. ^ "APG: Artist Placement Group". Tate Gallery. Archived from the original on 20 September 2011. Retrieved 19 September 2008.
  10. ^ Potter, Keith (7 January 2005). "Hugh Davies Obituary". The Independent. Retrieved 19 December 2016.
  11. ^ "SONIC ARTS – Staff – Hugh Davies". Archived from the original on 24 August 2013. Retrieved 25 August 2013.

Further reading[edit]

  • Mooney, James. 2016. "Technology, Process and Musical Personality in the Music of Stockhausen, Hugh Davies and Gentle Fire". In The Musical Legacy of Karlheinz Stockhausen: Looking Back and Forward, edited by M.J. Grant and Imke Misch, 102–15. Hofheim: Wolke Verlag. ISBN 978-3-95593-068-4.

External links[edit]