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.08.2010 @ 3:07 PM
Mwahaha just broke your metric by purchasing a copy (or set your bar higher for the next product). Victory is mine!

Eno is keeping it a secret. After all, if he spilled the beans we'd all be Eno :)


Sep.08.2010 @ 3:18 PM
Chris Randall
There's a lot of sales that would have to take place to move that bar even one notch higher. ;-)



Sep.08.2010 @ 3:34 PM
simon james
Thanks for mentioning The Tone Generation bongo_x. As the producer I'm obviously biased, but I would highly recommend it for anyone that enjoys electronic music from this pioneering period where keyboard synths were still a way off in the future. I still work with tape now and use it to create tape loops, to manipulate sound in a way that is not really possible on a computer, and also for pre mastering my mixes.

Here is my Studer!
link []">link []

Find The Tone Generation series here -
link [www.simonsound.c...]">link []

There are currently 19 episodes and I'm sure it won't be long before the next one is ready.



Sep.08.2010 @ 5:46 PM
Curiously, while I was reading this, one of the fxpansion posse posted this on twitter: link []">link [] File that in the More-Proof-It's-All-Been-Done-Long-Before bin.

Thanks for this post. This great shit.

ToneHead, yeah, I did that, too, suggested a product only to realize I was describing just one (very useful) function of Ronin. My only face-save was that it was in a thread dedicated to pie-in-the sky requests.

But it's odd to me that Ronin isn't more popular since it's so frickin' powerful and fairly simple to get you're mind around. Isn't Automaton one of your most popular products? That thing fried my brain when I tried to get particular results out of it in anything other than sequencer-mode. Great for harnessing the unpredictable I suppose. But since I'm such a button-masher anyway I need to get away from that impulse. BigSeq2 takes care of anything I might use Automaton for.

I *highly* recommend Ronin to anyone. The modulated delays you can easily wire up are brilliant.


Sep.08.2010 @ 6:56 PM
Mad Al
Great post. It's always important to remember where we came from... now if we could just convince the snot nosed kids today that "modern" does not always equal "better" (though it often does equal "less physical work", to which they seem particularly averse)

You could try a little experiment with the Ronin sales... slap a picture of a monkey on it. As I learned from some publishers (of actual paper products), ANYTHING will sell better with a picture of a monkey on it.


Sep.08.2010 @ 10:56 PM
Dodge recently made a TV commercial with a chimpanzee, which received flak from PETA, at which point Dodge made an invisible chimp ad. Smacked of some post-modernist advertising campaign gone horribly wrong.

All I can say is that when I saw the invisible chimp ad without knowing the backstory, I was baffled enough that when I did learn the backstory it cemented itself into my brain like some evil ad worm.

But there's already an invisible chimp inside Ronin (as far as I know), and it hasn't helped ...


Sep.08.2010 @ 11:04 PM
Mad Al

Well, technically, a chimp is an ape, not a monkey. Need more monkey, less chimp!!


Sep.24.2010 @ 2:15 AM
Rob van der Laak
One name I missed in the replies to this post is Jan Boerman (but maybe I overlooked it). Again a Dutch composer. Boerman has been experimenting with electronic music composition for sixty years now ...

Sep.25.2010 @ 5:50 AM
Bit late on this, but I just wanted to mention a compilation of remixes of music by Dirk Raaijmakers a/k/a Kid Baltan that was put together in 2006 by Basta, the same people who did the Popular Electronics box set.

link []

It has great remixes by Mouse on Mars, Keith Fullerton Whitman, Thurston Moore, various other people, and (ahem) also one by me...

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