The story of how this performance of and by Kurt Schwitters came to be saved from the oblivion of insecure archives is indeed imbued with coincidence and irony. During the 1960's Jaap Spek, a Dutch engineer and philosopher, was working in the electronic studio at WDR in Colonge with Stockhausen. Spek discovered this performance in the archives and made an illegal copy of it.
Later the WDR archive recording disappeared completely, even from the mind of all the Schwitters scholars in Germany who had no idea that it ever had existed in the first place. Spek gave a copy to Dick Raaijmakers who is a composer, professor and the founder of the Studio for Electronic Music at the Royal Conservatory of Music and Dance in the Hague.
Raaijmakers had a very small selection of about eight tapes which he kept there solely for the inspiration of his students and others who were working in the studio. In 1967 Michael Waisvisz, the now well known Dutch composer/ peformer and general director of the Stichting voor Electro Instrumentale Musiek in Amsterdam, was allowed by Raaijmakers to use the studio.
Waisvisz also copied the Schwitters without permission. Michael Waisvisz and I became friends in the early 1980's. In 1987 I moved from New York City to Cologne. During my first years in Germany, I got the idea to continue my work in "translating" compositions written in the aural language of music into a visual language, executed in painting, with a visual performance of the URSONATE. I had great difficulties locating any recorded performance of the URSONATE at all and was distressed because I realized that there was actually little information to be had from the only published "score", that of Jan Tschichold's Concrete poetic form. All of the phrases were placed with a visual idea on the page, giving no melodic, rhythmic, and little dynamic information of how the piece was or should be performed. In fact, because of its visual poetic form, this score has led performers, quite understandably, to believe in the right of improvisation implicit when reading poetry. I felt that the URSONATE was much closer to music, and therefore must have a more specific structure. During my search I spoke of my difficulties with my friend, Michael. He said quite casually that he had Kurt Schwitter's own performance. My initial reaction was total disbelief. After hearing the tape simple amazement remained. How could something which none of the experts knew about exist so casually and easily in the Netherlands, saved from obscurity by people in the music world who had no idea that it was so rare?
Where was the original shellac recording made? We can speculate but in reality it remains a mystery. We can only be thankful that it is here, that we can know for certain what this incredible inter-media masterpiece really is, what it actually sounds like.