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  • Writer's pictureThom Holmes

Vintage Dutch Electronic Music

By the early 1960s, Europe was a hotbed of electronic music activity and many studios arose in a number of countries. Some were privately owned while others were institutionally sponsored, such as the Philips’ Research Laboratories Center for Electronic Music in Eindhoven established in 1956. Each expansion in this field encouraged new ideas and new applications of electronically produced music.

In this episode I explored some recordings from the Archives spanning the development of electronic music in the Netherlands. This is not by any means an exhaustive sampling. But I do hope to give you a listen to the wide variety of electronic music that was born in this region and culture.

The Philips studio was the most famous of these. It is where Frenchman Edgard Varese created the tape piece Poème électronique in 1958. But I want to focus on the work of native Dutch composers in this survey working in early studios dedicated to exploring electronic music, primarily on tape.

For this podcast, I have selected works from many Dutch studios. Among them are the makeshift studio of the Netherlands Radio Union in which several works were created as early as 1955; there’s the famous Philips studio, which was active beginning in 1958 and in 1960, was gifted to the University of Utrecht where it became Studio for Electronic Music as a successor to the former studio for electronic music at Philips Research Laboratories in Eindhoven. In 1967, it was named the Institute of Sonology. The artistic director of the institute at that time was Gottfried Michael Koenig, one of the composer’s whose works we will hear in this podcast. Under Koenig's leadership, an annual international electronic music course was founded in 1966 which exists to this day. In 1986, the Institute of Sonology was moved to the Royal Conservatory of the Hague, where it operates today. We’ll also hear works created at the CEM Studio, Bilthoven, the early studio at the Royal Conservatory of the Hague, and finally a number of works produced at private studios.

One institution that is missing from this survey is STEIM, the STudio for Electro Instrumental Music, founded in 1969 and located in Amsterdam. STEIM is a laboratory for experimental music, art and electronic live performance. It marks another distinct chapter in the influence of Dutch electronic music, and we’ll explore that in a future podcast.

We will listen to a number of tracks of electronic music produced on tape. Many before the arrival of the voltage-controlled synthesizer, all of these works produced before 1970 were done with studio tape manipulation: filters, , mixers, ring modulators, signal oscillators, echo, and tape reversal among other tools of the trade. Some works, such as Ton Bruynel’s Translucent II, were composed to be played along with orchestral musicians. The latter tracks, all of these are presented in chronological order, step out of the electronic music studio and present works in a progressive or electronic rock style created by either bands or individuals. They are all Dutch and although the connections might not be readily apparent to the curious ear, these works were all built on a foundation of tape music that began in the 1950s. Some of the earliest electronic music from the Netherlands, created at the Philips studio, were the wonderfully musical pop tunes by composers Tom Dissevelt and Dick Raaijmakers. These playful, fun, yet complicated sounds showed that electronic music could be made commercially viable.


1. Hans Kox, “Three Pieces For Electronic Organ” from Anthology Of Dutch Electronic Tape Music: Volume 1 (1955-1966) (1978 Composer’s Voice). Tape piece from 1955 recorded at the Studio of The Netherlands Radio Union. An early demonstration of tape editing techniques created in a makeshift studio, using an electronic organ as the main audio signal. 3:56

2. Ton De Leeuw, “Study” from Anthology Of Dutch Electronic Tape Music: Volume 1 (1955-1966) (1978 Composer’s Voice). Tape piece from 1957 recorded at the Studio of The Netherlands Radio Union. Composed using serial techniques and a 31-interval scale. 6:57

3. Henk Badings, “Genese” from Electronic Music (1960 Philips). Tape piece from 1958 for five audio-frequency oscillators. From the Philips Studios (Eindhoven, The Netherlands). 9:55

4. Dick Raaijmakers, “Contrasts” from Electronic Music (1960 Philips). Tape piece from 1959 for Ondes Martenot, Pulse-generator with resonance circuits, Noise-generator, Octave- and Half Octave-filters. From the Philips Studios (Eindhoven, The Netherlands). 4:49

5. Frits C. Weiland, “Studie In Lagen En Impulsen” from Anthology Of Dutch Electronic Tape Music: Volume 1 (1955-1966) (1978 Composer’s Voice). Tape piece from 1961 and the Studio of Utrecht University. A purely work with time suspended in layers of sound. 4:54

6. Tom Dissevelt, “Gamelan” from Anthology Of Dutch Electronic Tape Music: Volume 1 (1955-1966) (1978 Composer’s Voice). Tape music from 1963-64 created at the Studio of Utrecht University. An electronic simulation of the rhythmic effects of gamelan music. 3:12

7. Gorter, “K 45” from Anthology Of Dutch Electronic Tape Music: Volume 1 (1955-1966) (1978 Composer’s Voice). Tape piece from 1964-65 created at the CEM Studio, Bilthoven. Created in class taught by Gottfried Michael Koenig. “Starting from basic material of ten chords each, consisting of four sine-wave tones, an end product was achieved in twenty-nine phases by means of transposition, synchronization, rhythm, “chopping up,’ reverberation, reversal, filtering, ring modulation, dynamics, etc. used individually or in combination.” (Klaus Gorter). 5:46

8. Dick Raaijmakers, “Canons 1-2” from Ballad 'Erlkönig'/5 Canons (1981 Composers' Voice). Tape piece from 1967. Realized in the studio of the Royal Conservatory of The Hague. 10:32

9. Gottfried Michael Koenig, “Funktion Grün” from Terminus II/Funktion Grün/Phonothese/Chants De Maldoror (1970 DGG). Tape piece from 1967. Realized at the Studio for Electronic Music at the Utrecht State University. Construction and the order of the sounds was “calculated by a computer.” 8:13

10.Ekseption, “Epilogue” and “Finale: Music for Mind/Theme Julia” from Beggar Julia's Time Trip (1970 Philips). Piano, Spinet, Xylophone, Hammond], Pipe Organ, Mellotron, Percussion, Rick Van Der Linden; Guest, Alto Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Tonytone, Percussion, Electronic Effects, Tony Vos; Bass, Cor Dekker; Drums, Kettle drums, Dennis Whitebread; Tenor Saxophone, Soprano Saxophone, Flute – Dick Remelink; Trumpet, Pocket Trumpet, Flugelhorn, Rein Van Den Broek; Vocals, Percussion – Michel Van Dijk; Engineer, Electronic Effects, Jan Schuurman; Recording, Mixing Engineer, Electronic effects, Gerard Beckers. Made in Holland. I’m not sure what the “Tonytone” instrument is. Perhaps the Theremin-like sound heard on this track? Or was that a sliding note on a synthesizer? 4:56

11.Jurriaan Andriessen, opening four-track sequence, “She Walks In Beauty,” “Overtones,” “Beyond the Veil” and “Roundelay” from The Awakening Dream (1977 Park). Dreamy progressive rock solo album recorded in 1977 at Dream-Studio, The Hague. Moog, Minimoog, Fender Rhodes, Hohner Clavinet, Organ, Acoustic Grand Piano, Jurriaan Andriessen. “A trance symphony composed by Jurriaan Andriessen.” 12:23

12.Ton Bruynèl, “Translucent II” from Ton Bruynèl (1981 Composers' Voice). “Translucent II” for orchestra & tape (1977-78) recorded on in 1978 by the Netherlands broadcasting organization (NOS). Electronic realizations created at Bruynèl’s private studio. Symphony parts performed by the Utrecht Symphony Orchestra. 9:44

13.André De Koning, “Nieuws In Het Kort” from Contactdisc 1 (1983 Stichting Stopcontact). This track is from a compilation of mostly Dutch artists. Voice, noise, and rock. 2:02

14.Doxa Sinistra, “Portable Electronics” from Contactdisc 1 (1983 Stichting Stopcontact). This track is from a compilation of mostly Dutch artists. Electronic rock in the style of Cabaret Voltaire. 3:04

Background music used during this episode (excerpts):

Tom Dissevelt, “Whirwinds (Torbellinos)” from The Fascinating World Of Electronic Music (1959 Philips). Tape music realized at the Philips Studios (Eindhoven, The Netherlands). Also known as “Whirling” and “Sonik Re-entry” on some English pressings. 2:33

Link to the Institute of Sonology, Royal Conservatoire The Hague.

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