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Hugh Davies's Electroacoustic Musical Instruments and their Relation to Present-Day Live Coding Practice: Some Historic Precedents and Similarities


The purpose of this paper is to present the self-built electroacoustic musical instruments of Hugh Davies (1943-2005) to the international live coding community, and to propose points of similarity between Davies’s practice and present-day live coding practice. In the first part of the paper, the context within which Davies’s instrument-building practice developed, in the late 1960s, is outlined, and a number of specific instruments are described. Aspects of Davies’s performance style, repertoire, and the ensembles with which he performed are discussed, as are activities such as instrument-building workshops and public exhibitions of instruments, in which he regularly participated. In the second part of the paper, four areas of connection with present-day live coding practice are suggested. Respectively, these focus upon live coding’s status: (1) as part of a long historic tradition of live electronic music performance (as opposed to electronic music constructed in the studio); (2) as a practice in which the performer him or herself builds the apparatus (whether physical or code-based) through which the music is mediated; (3) as an improvised or semi-improvised art-form in which music is developed in real time, within a framework bounded by material or quasi-material constraints; and (4) as a community of practice with a distinct agenda of promoting understanding through engagement. This paper is presented as a case study in exploring live coding’s historic precedents, and as a contribution toward situating live coding within a broader historical, cultural context.

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