Dieter Kaufmann
Tu felix Gottwald

Hellmut Gottwald (1938–2004) was one of the most important partners and stimuli in my “electroacoustic existence.” When in 1959 he was recruited to the studio at what was then the Vienna Academy of Music and Performing Arts, the studio was equipped with devices to measure, generate and reproduce electronic frequencies, until then mainly used to measure the hearing ability of students hoping to be accepted or to document performances, but there was no “wizard” who knew how to use them creatively. Until the courses in “Sound engineering” and “Electronic music” were set up in the mid-1960s, Gottwald was practically the driving force behind the new technology. He made contact with composers and persuaded them to discover the new sound possibilities.

He was probably most successful at this with Anestis Logothetis, whose twenty-minute work Fantasmata, created as early as 1960, represents a milestone in the history of composition with electronic media. In Austria, it was in any event the first larger work to mediate between concrete and synthetic music – between noise and sine wave, between Paris and Cologne, as it were – and to demonstrate the electronic processing of speech (even before Herbert Eimert) and the inclusion of political references of the time (the Congo war). Although designed as a ballet, as far as I know it has never been danced to.

In the 1960s, Friedrich Cerha, Otto M. Zykan, Günther Kahowez, Klaus-Peter Sattler, Franz Blaimschein and Heinz Karl Gruber were also working on the creation of electronic works that would certainly have never been created without Hellmut Gottwald. Visitors were also allowed to use the creative climate: with Gottwald’s assistance, Boris Blacher created radio play music; Kurt Rapf required Gottwald to create a bottom B that should sound like a concentration camp – and got it; Fatty George found what he was looking for in terms of electronics for use on the radio …

In order to meet all these demands, Gottwald was forever designing and building new devices, starting with filters that he made using Matador components, through the akapiep and the akaschieb and finishing with the legendary akaphon. In the 1963/64 academic year, the course in electroacoustic music was set up at the Institute, and in the same year, Gottwald began to build an electronic instrument that can be regarded as the precursor of the later voltage-controlled synthesizer. He called the instrument the akaphon, in homage to the Academy of Music. To keep costs down, he used the casing of an old upright piano.

He himself also created examples of music on this early synthesizer, such as akaphon adaptations of well-known works (such as The Flight of the Bumblebee by Rimsky-Korsakov) or independent electroacoustic works (such as Hommage à Mailüfterl, dedicated to the eponymous development by the Vienna computing guru Heinz Zemanek). And always he was making inventions using the simplest of means that practically always worked perfectly. And sometimes it was necessary to kick or implore the machine – after all this was the age of analogue technology.

Many hundreds of kilos of equipment were dragged into performing rooms when I began teaching on the studio course in 1970, soon replacing the previous head Friedrich Cerha in this function. My aim was to acquire a broader public for the new medium, inconceivable without the master of the technology … And so together we brought sound to rooms in Austria and abroad.

Hellmut Gottwald, who in his leisure time was a champion dressage show-jumper, later ran his own company, developing circuits for traffic lights, the electronics for machines to sole shoes, or to make indestructible car tires; he was even asked to provide the foam for trenches in the Middle East war. It stimulated him to try to make the apparently impossible both possible and easy, and in that he succeeded.