Ernest Berk – Diversed Tapes

ClientHuddersfield University
DateMay 2024

Ernest Berk was one of the earliest and most prolific composers of electronic music in England and yet his work is almost completely unknown to the wider public. With only a few pieces ever made commercially available in limited circulation, much of his output has since languished in obscurity until now. Huddersfield Contemporary Records is pleased to release this newly restored and remastered 2CD collection of the work of Ernest Berk.

Berk was a true polymath, working throughout his life as a composer, percussionist, dancer, choreographer, teacher, actor, and mime artist, often assuming many of these roles in the same project. He composed over 228 works of electronic music between 1957 and 1984, many of considerable length and often used to accompany his own expressionist contemporary dance productions. Diversed Tapes is a compelling overview of Berk’s revolutionary catalogue. The collection includes End of the World (1957), his first work for magnetic tape, and one of the first electronic works composed in England, and Diversed Mind (1967), his work for one of the first public concerts of electronic music in England at Queen Elizabeth Hall and performed alongside music by Daphne Oram, Tristram Carey, and Delia Derbyshire. 

Berk’s music is at once radical and yet still accessible, rooted in a deep appreciation for melody and rhythm. Listening to this collection in a contemporary context, one cannot help but be struck by how much his music prefigures more current musical trends. Tracks such as Wings Over the Valley of Death (1961) and Kali Yuga (1962) utilise the sorts of dark ambient droning soundscapes that are ubiquitous in electronic music today. Vibram (1973) is a long form electronic improvisation evocative of contemporary modular synthesis performances. Against 7/4 (1967) and Janet Calls it Blue Ribbon (1972) contain the kinds of sophisticated electronic music gestures that evokes connections to later works of acousmatic music by figures such as Bernard Parmegiani. This is more than just a document of the past – rather, there is much to be enjoyed here by contemporary ears with contemporary musical perspectives.

This compilation is still just a small selection of the music Berk wrote during his lifetime, but it is an attempt to illustrate the diversity of his catalogue. Richard Scott and Jos Smolders have worked tirelessly to restore and remaster these, until now, lost recordings to bring out their greatest possible shine, and to allow us to finally throw a light on this important body of work.