Date: Fri, 12 Nov 93 13:02:28 PST
Subject: BBC Hoax
B.B.C. Admits Musical Hoax:
Noise by Imaginary Composer
By: Anthony Lewis
LONDON, Aug. 1 - The Government-owned British Broadcasting Corporation
appeared today in the unlikely role of leg-puller.
BBC officials confessed that a recent esoteric music program had been a
hoax. It was advertised as the premier of an avant-garde work by a Polish
composer, but what was broadcast was a random collection of sounds.
"We dragged together all the instruments we could find and went around the
studio banging them," said Susan Bradshaw, an employee of the BBC music
division. She and Hans Keller, another employee, pulled off the hoax with
At least some listeners were taken in. The critic of The Times of London
" It was certainly difficult to grasp more than the music's broad outlines,
partly because of the high proportion of unpitched sounds and partly because
of their extreme diversity"
The Daily Telegraph's critic on the other hand, called the performance
"wholly unrewarding." He added, with keen insight, that "a succession of
whistles, rattles and punctured sighs proclaimed, all too shamelessly, their
The broadcast took place June 5 on the BBC's Third Program, which
cencentrates on serious music and intellectual discussions. The piece was
described as "Mobile for Tape and Percussion" by Piotr Zak."
The official announcement said the composer was a 22-year-old Pole living
in Germany. It described him as "one of the youngest and most controversial
figures in contemporary music."
Those who heard the "music" could distinguish the sounds of cymbols, drums
and xylophones. The "composition" lasted twelve minutes.
Today the BBC confessed: "there is no Mr. Zak. The 'composition' was in fact
a tape of percussion instruments, played at random."
"It was an experiment," the statement added, "to demonstrate that some
contemporary compositions are so obscure as to be indistinguishable from
tapes of percussion played at random."
"It was a serious hoax to set people thinking," Miss Bradshaw said. "that
fake music can be indistinguishable from the genuine is a reflection on
certain trends in present-day composition. We are sorry if we have
embarressed certain music critics."
The BBC will have a discussion program on Aug. 13 called "The strange Case
of Mr. Piotr Zak." The critics have been invited to participate.
[Yes! This is my kind of event. I'm reminded of the folk music equivalent, a
tape discovered in 1963 in Seattle, WA of a large family of ethnic musicians
known as the Krapp Family. It featured what was clearly the basic American
protofolk corpus. This included everything from the folk song from which
Michael Row The Boat Ashore was clearly derived, played on bird call, guitar,
and gong, to a rousing (if mildly arrhythmic) breakdown played on the "super
seagur banjo" (an elaborate affair with 10 strings and more than 40 frets).
Sadly, it was the Krapp's last tape. -psl]
© 1993 Peter Langston