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 @ 5:27 PM
@darklordjames: the smoking dude is the composer

Sep.07.2010 @ 10:02 PM
this is much like what i was doing in the early 90s using 8-track cassettes, only these guys are well dressed. and the stuff they do sounds good.

interesting to see that bank of linear faders, vs. the more gear-shifter looking levers usually found in footage from this era. i had always been told that tommy dowd brought that particular idea to audio from manhattan project physics labs, maybe just a little later than this?



Sep.07.2010 @ 10:49 PM
I?ve had the conversation a few times where someone said "they/we didn?t have crossfades with tape and it sounded fine". That?s when I mention the splicing block angles, and the "crossfade" circuitry in the tape deck that keeps it from popping when you go in and out of record.



Sep.08.2010 @ 3:07 AM

thanks for the reply
I knew about splicing blocks, but I was inducted in error by the way they cut the tape in the video, which is kind of mindless. So that I thought that maybe splicing blocks where useful when trying to assemble different performances, instead of selecting a loop.

curiously enough, I just spent half an hour to get a crossfade right in software, endlessly adjusting volume levels of either part to make it smooth. I guess that, on tape, that process was hit or miss, with no way of adjusting it after it was done. Which made a techinician who could do it right most of the times pretty valuable, I guess.


Sep.08.2010 @ 10:10 AM
Chris Randall
Those crossfades on tape, well, even at 7ips, the longest one is only like 1/4th a second. Since you normally work at 30 ips, they're very short. It worked more often than not, as long as you had an inkling of what you were doing. Much more forgiving than software.



Sep.08.2010 @ 12:47 PM
Adam Schabtach
"Which made a techinician who could do it right most of the times pretty valuable, I guess." Yes, particularly when the tape being cut/spliced was a multi-channel master that was difficult or impossible to reproduce...



Sep.08.2010 @ 12:49 PM
>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?" ...

Like my soliloquy last week about how AD should finally get around to making a delay like ... Ronin. DOH!

Seriously though, you should dump the "long-deprecated" and "hails from a time" language from the Ronin product page, which made me for one initially dismiss it as NOT the new and shiny. (Maybe you should market it as "vintage"!)

I'm a geezer who started out with DIY oscillators and filters and analog delays, so I appreciate your point about how much easier it is now. I do wonder how a newbie who has access to all these riches can even appreciate what they're looking at when they get it all AT ONE TIME in the giant bag o' fun that is any current DAW and a handful of plugs. To paraphrase Robert Henke: "Hell is having 50 compressors, and not knowing what a compressor is."


Sep.08.2010 @ 12:56 PM
Chris Randall
No amount of bullet points or market-speak is going to make people buy Ronin. We've come to accept that fact.



Sep.08.2010 @ 1:58 PM

Where bullet points or market-speak don't help, there is always clip-art, do not underestimate the power available to you :D

The worst thing is that if I do a Google image search for "ronin clip-art", the first image that comes up for me is this one...
link [renaissanceronis.wor...]">link []

Hmmmm.... maybe you have a point...




Sep.08.2010 @ 2:13 PM
Chris Randall
For what it's worth, Ronin does serve a purpose (aside from being able to do some crafty and weird things.) I use its current number sold as a metric for the success or failure of all the other products. Like, if they don't pass Ronin's sales figures in a couple months, they're probably not going to do well overall. The quicker they pass the Ronin Number, the better they'll do in the long run, while if it takes them several months to wheeze past, I know that their long-term viability is in question.

There really isn't any question of any product _not_ passing Ronin, though. The only thing that could save it would be Brian Eno saying he can't make music without it, or something like that.



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