September 6, 2010

Somewhat Ahead Of Their Time...

by Chris Randall

In 1952, Philips Industries, those zany Dutchfolk that bring us fancy new TVs and lightbulbs every now and again, saw fit to make an electronic music studio in their main R&D facility in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. This studio, which was moved to the University Of Utrecht in 1960 as part of their new Sonology Studio, and again in 1972 to the Royal Conservatory Of Music (as pictured above), still exists today as Studio BEA-5 at the Institute Of Sonology, with most of the gear in that top image still in daily use.

(Click that image to go to a Flickr set taken in 2007. Note that it is the same room, and more or less the same angle, as the top photo.)

This is, for some reason, one of the lesser known of the old electronic music studios. Obviously, we're all familiar with the BBC's efforts in that department, and the famous electronic music studios in Paris and Cologne, but BEA-5 and its parents had a reasonably profound effect on the history of electronic music, and it also has the distinction of being the Last Man Standing of bespoke electronic studios from the '40s and '50s.

An interesting sidebar: it is where Var?se created Po?me ?lectronique while working with Le Corbusier on the Philips Pavilion at the 1958 World's Fair, and as such is the pivot point for the acceptance of electronic music as a valid form of musical expression, in my humble opinion.

This video is a trip. Although it's in Dutch, you get the general idea. This is the original studio at the Phillips labs before it was moved the first time, and gives a good overview of the techniques used to make music at this studio (and, indeed, the techniques in general use at the time in all the electronic music studios). The next time someone sends me a litany of "can you make Plugin X do task Y so I can spend more time with my vaporizer?" I'm just going to send them this video and say "now you have a vague inkling of an idea of how easy you have it."

Here's an interesting piece of music by Tom Dissevelt & Kid Baltan (the two dudes in the previous video), called Vibration that was also recorded at the Philips labs iteration of Sonology. That intro bit, well, slap a nice Machinedrum kick under it, and you've got yourself some minimal techno, plain and simple. Given the chronology of things, you can safely assume that the methods in the first video directly resulted in the music of the second video. Speaking of chronology, to put the age in perspective, the above track was recorded the year that Buddy Holly released Rave On. Either that, or it's on the new Autechre album. You be the judge.

Anyhow, I imagine at least one, if not several, of the daily readers of AI have visited BEA-5, and may have an anecdote or two to relate in that regard. If you'd like an excellent compilation of music recorded at the first locations of this studio, you could do far worse than to pick up Popular Electronics, which has virtually all the highlights.



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Sep.07.2010 @ 2:20 AM
I love how the one dude just hangs out in the background and smokes during that whole first video.

Sep.07.2010 @ 2:23 AM
the first thing that come to mind is that they did not have to fade at cut ends to prevent clicks... that made things easier!

the recording from 58 is wicked


Sep.07.2010 @ 4:45 AM
Great post!

Sep.07.2010 @ 5:02 AM
If you're into early Dutch electronic music, this compilation is highly recommended:
link []">link []

And for anyone interested, there's a lot more gems on the Basta Music site!




Sep.07.2010 @ 6:42 AM
"Kid Baltan" was also the first DJ handle ever used. Innovators, man.

Sep.07.2010 @ 9:14 AM
Nice editing technique; no razor blade, no diagonal cut, just hack at it with a pair of scissors.

There?s a podcast series called "The Tone Generation" about electronic music pioneers that covers different countries and the scenes that were going on.

I?m getting rid of everything and just having a room full of tape recorders and oscillators.



Sep.07.2010 @ 10:07 AM
The more of the "early electronic" stuff that you listen to, the more that you realize that it has all been done before. Sometimes long before. Only those guys didn't have a Kurzweil that would play the track just by holding down C1. OK, I guess Raymond Scott's Electronium could pretty much did that, but he built that by hand. I'm constantly amazed at how far we haven't gone. One get's the same reaction when looking at old Avant Garde films from the '20s and '30s.

Thanks for posting that video of Vibration. One of my favorite tracks from the period.



Sep.07.2010 @ 10:40 AM
Chris Randall
You hit the nail on the head, right there. Every song on that "Electronic Movements" 7" could easily appear on an Autechre album, which is sad when you consider that Autechre is one of today's most forward-looking, experimental bands. The only thing that obviously dates the tracks is the sonic quality, which is comprised of several layers of not-so-hi-fi tape recording, and the effects, which are all clearly electro-mechanical in nature.

@characterstudios: Argh. I made this post late in the evening, and forgot to put the link to that in the article. Thanks for reminding me. The better product though, and one I dearly want, is this bad boy:

link []">link []

It is available from Forced Exposure here in the US, for a cool $100. I want it just for the cover art; I don't even have a turntable.



Sep.07.2010 @ 1:22 PM
For those of you interested in experimenting with some of these techniques in a software environment, Berna is a lot of fun:
link []">link []

Sep.07.2010 @ 4:03 PM
Adam Schabtach
@pierlu: as bongo_x alluded, you did have to worry about fades at cuts, depending on what you were doing. A cut made at right angles to the tape will produce a pretty substantial click if it goes through tonal material. If you wanted to splice or edit a sound in its middle, you made the cut diagonally to create a crossfade between the two ends of tape. Sophisticated splicing blocks had guide grooves at different angles so you could create crossfades of different durations. On the other hand, a perpendicular cut was appropriate if you were making the edit right at the beginning of a transient, e.g. a drum hit.

It was an interesting process. When the capabilities to edit audio digitally came along, I stuck my splicing block to my Mac's CRT as a sort of inside joke.



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