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Gravesaner Blätter

(Mainz, 1955-1966)

Prepared by Alexander Staub
Online only (2020)

Twenty-nine issues of the Gravesaner Blätter: Eine Vierteljahresschrift für musikalische, elektroakustische und schallwissenschaftliche Grenzprobleme [Gravesano pages: A quarterly for musical electroacoustic and sound science border problems, GBL] were published by Ars Viva Verlag in Mainz, Germany from 1955 to 1966. The word “Gravesano” refers to the small town in Ticino, Switzerland, where the editor Herman Scherchen lived. Initially, the journal appeared in quarterly installments of single and double issues, but from 1957 it was published at irregular intervals. The periodical was discontinued upon the death of editor Scherchen on 12 June 1966 and the ensuing closure of the Studio Gravesano.

The layout of the Gravesaner Blätter changed very little in the first two years. Beginning with vol. 3, no. 9 (1957) the journal’s content was ordered in an entirely new layout, with a colored title page designed by Le Corbusier. In addition, GBL became more substantial and included a new section, the Wissenschaftliche Schallplatte Gravesano [Scientific recordings of Gravesano]. The content grew to comprise three parts: a scholarly-technical-artistic portion, a report on new recording equipment available on the international market, and a section containing critical reviews on vinyl records, radio and television broadcasts and sound films. The first volume contains contributions in German, French, Italian and English accompanied by brief abstracts of articles in translation, while the second volume comprises mainly German articles. Beginning with the third year, the journal was published bilingually in German and English. Each volume contains different numbers of pages varying from 61 to 208.

Editor Hermann Scherchen (1891–1966) was a well-known authority on modern music as well as a composer, conductor and publisher. In 1954 he began to build an experimental studio in the village of Gravesano, creating a meeting place for scholars, sound engineers and musicians from all parts of the world. Supported by the architect Henrico Hoeschle and UNESCO, he constructed three studios immediately adjacent to his house: a recording studio, a smaller anechoic room (free from echoes and reverberations), and a room for technicians. In the first he installed four so-called echo chambers for the production of audio recordings. The studios were shaped irregularly, with uneven walls and asymmetrical layouts. The walls were lined and insulated with horse blankets, carpets, and egg cartons. Scherchen, who designed loudspeaker systems himself, constantly added new equipment. Probably his most innovative invention was the “Stereophoner,” a device to split monaural sound into stereo signals.

Following the cessation of his two earlier music journals – Melos (1920-1934) and the multilingual Musica Viva (1936) published in Brussels – Scherchen invested himself in the Gravesaner Blätter through which he published the results of his research in the Gravesano studios. The content of the journal went far beyond the description of acoustic problems and their technical solutions; from the beginning problems of aesthetics and composition were addressed. Scherchen himself described the journal: “The Gravesano Review is not a specialized magazine. It hopes to serve a new synthetic research field, where, without compromise, the overall problems of music, electrotechnique [electrotechnics], and acoustics will be presented scientifically.” Gravesano was the site of international and interdisciplinary symposia, about which the journal reports in detail on their content and experiments. The variegated and highly complex interdisciplinary topics, experiments, and ideas are illustrated by photographs, tables, diagrams, music examples, sectional drawings and sketches. In addition to presenting his newly developed gadgets, Scherchen addressed various aspects of the compositional process (manipulation and conception, language and music, language and norms).

A significant number of persons contributed to the journal. Karlhans Weisse and Abraham André Moles provided detailed reports on the founding, objectives, construction and technical equipment of the Gravesano studio. Moles also engaged in collecting a vocabulary for a musical-acoustic dictionary; his study “Informationstheorie und ästhetische Empfindung” [Information theory and aesthetic sensation] was reviewed by the editor. The most important contributor was the Greek composer and architect Iannis Xenakis, who was involved with the journal throughout its years of publication. Under the motto “In search of a stochastic music” he published numerous contributions in which he presented his ideas on stochastic music and on compositions by himself and others. Works reviewed by Xenakis include Luc Ferrari’s Tautologos I; Darius Milhaud’s Etude Poétique; Xenakis’s own Pithoprakta, Achorripsis, ST/4-1,080262, and Atrées, ST/10 – 3,060962; Henri Pousseur’s Scambi; Leonard Isaacson’s Illiac-Suite; French architect Le Corbusier’s Elektronisches Gedicht as well as compositions by Lejaren A. Hiller and a survey of Le Corbusier’s complete oeuvre.

The interdisciplinary community of contributors also included the physicist Pierre de Latil, who wrote on cybernetics (the science of communications and automatic control systems). Jörn Thiel, Lionel Salter and Karl Heinz Ruppel wrote on dramaturgical aspects of the presentation of music on television. Lejaren A. Hiller communicated his experiences in the field of musical applications of electronic digital processors and explained the mode of operation of the typewriter for musical notation operated by the ILLIAC computer and the genesis of the Illiac Suites. The staff members of the Bell Telephone Laboratories John R. Pierce, Max Vernon Matthews and Jean-Claude Risset provided insights on further experiments in the musical application of electronic computers. Andrew G. Pickett and Meyer Marshall Lemcoe reported on early experiences in the conservation of sound recordings and on the characteristics and components of various materials of recording media (gramophone records). Topics in the field of acoustics included concert hall design and remodeling, including detailed descriptions of the installations and structural alterations. Frederick Russell Johnson, Leo Leroy Beranek, Robert B. Newman, Richard Henry Bolt and David Lloyd Klepper wrote on the Tanglewood Music Shed; Lothar Cremer discussed the Munich Theater Hall of the America House; Herta Singer wrote on the Altes Burgtheater in Vienna; the engineer E. Tress of Telefunken, Hannover on the Herford, Schützenhaus Hall and Harold C. Schonberg discussed the New York Philharmonic Hall at Lincoln Center.

Further contributions are provided by François-Bernard Mâche on taped music, Theodore J. Schultz on resonance measurements, Manfred Robert Schroeder and Bishnu S. Atal on room acoustics, Ekkehard Krauth and Roland Bücklein on acoustical properties of specific rooms and Ermanno Briner-Aimo on sound transmission. One of the few concert reviews published in the GBL reports on the success of Arnold Schoenberg’s opera Moses und Aron performed under Hermann Scherchen during the Berliner Festwochen in the Städtische Oper as written by Otto Fritz Beer (pseudonym of Erik Ronnert).