The Institute of Sonology;
His Master's Noise

The Institute of Sonology; “His Master’s Noise
Works by Iannis XenakisEdgard VarèseGottfried Michael Koenig Kees Tazelaar Johan van Kreij Richard BarrettKonrad Boehmer György LigetiWouter SnoeiJorrit TammingaOlivier HijmansLaurens KagenaarXavier van Wersch.
Bvhaast 06/0701. Duration CD 1: 72:25, CD 2: 75:29.

Bvhaast Records has presented a number of vastly important CDs of historical importance. We may for example recall their award-winning series on classical electronic music, called “Acousmatrix”, which contains CDs of electronic works of pioneering significance with Gottfried Michael Koenig, Luc Ferrari, Henri Pousseur, Konrad Boehmer, Luciano Berio, Bruno Maderna and Francis Dhomont, as well as an appraised CD with early electronic works from the famous WDR Electronic Studio in Cologne; an institution which keeps resounding till this day through the activities of Karlheinz Stockhausen, who was the Director of the WDR studio for a number of years, and in fact through the activities at The Institute of Sonology, by the influence of for example Koenig and Boehmer, who had ample knowledge of the goings-on at the WDR . (Sadly the WDR studio was crapped and closed down earlier this year of 2001, for no apparent reason but artistic ignorance on the part of the authorities concerned…)

Bvhaast gallantly continues its important work by issuing a double-CD with groundbreaking sound-works from The Institute of Sonology in Utrecht and later in The Hague. (Instituut voor Sonologie).
This production is different from the entries in “
Acousmatrix” through the inclusion of present day works by students at the Institute, offering a lineage of development and technical/artistic evolution all the way back from the early days of sound experimentation to the present day.

It might be worth surveying the developments of the studio through the years. The Institute was founded in 1960. Before that a small studio had been functioning since 1952; Natlab at Philips Industries in Eindhoven, but it was shut down in 1960. That was in fact the studio where Edgard Varèse produced his “
Poème Électronique”.
The machines and the tapes from the Eindhoven studio were all transferred to the new sonology studio, which constituted a department at the University of Utrecht. Dick Raaijmakers was the initial force at the new location. In 1964 Gottfried Michael Koenig became the artistic director of the outfit, thereby bringing home all his knowledge from the WDR studio; the Studio for Electronic Music in Cologne, Stockhausen’s step stone into the hall of fame.
The studio at Utrecht started inviting an array of composers, like Mauricio Kagel, M. Shinohara, Konrad Boehmer, R. Riehn, C. Halffter, L. de Delás, M. Stibilj, M. Kelemen, J. Kunst, J. Vriend, T. De Marez Oyens, P. Schat, B. Giltay, L. Ponse, S. Ten Holt and others, but also artists of other disciplines, like painters such as Karel Appel and writers like G. Pleiter. This shows the open-mindedness of this institution, and the realization that all the forms of art may give impulses to each other in a sort of cultural crossbreeding.

The first computer was introduced to the studio in 1971. Paul Berg joined the crew in 1973, and he is still main computer professor at The Institute of Sonology.
Already in 1967 the Institute initiated an educational program named “
the Sonology Course”. It has fostered hundreds of students from around the globe. In 1967 the present name – The Institute of Sonology – was adopted.
At the beginning of the 1980’s the Institute was threatened by economic cutbacks, but mainly thanks to the director of The Royal Conservatory of Music, Jan van Vlijmen, a transfer of location to the Conservatory was made possible.
The Institute was re-built at the Conservatory from 1986 to 1994 under the direction of Stan Tempelaars. Konrad Boehmer was appointed director in 1994.
Some students from 1999 – 2000 participate on these CDs with works from their final exams. This amply demonstrates the vitality and importance of The Institute of Sonology.

Track 1 on CD 1 is Iannis Xenakis’ (1922 – 2001) “Concret PH II” (1958). This work is also available on a CD from EMF which presents important electronic pieces by Xenakis; Electronic Music Foundation CD 003 (1997), but in the form of a copy of the original; an original tape that was thought lost. Kees Tazelaar happened to discover the original tape of the work that Xenakis’ had composed for The Philips Pavilion of the Brussels World Exposition in 1958, at the time called “Intermezzo”. It was indeed the work that later was to be named “Concret PH II”! This is the first time this piece is issued in its original state.
It flows like ice particles down a glacier head, and the feeling you get is chilly and fresh. It’s pure magic that Xenakis could employ these minute, sharp, glassy icicle amassments already in 1958! I thought the only one capable of such mastery of sound that early was Stockhausen, but I must admit that this sparkling sound world is worthy of a François Bayle or a Bernard Parmegiani of the 1980s! Splendid, exciting!

No less amazing is Edgard Varèse’s (1883 – 1965) “
Poème Électronique” from the same year – 1958 -, which also was written for The Brussels World Exposition. Through the spirit of Varèse, so apparent in his music, we encounter a person who sort of incarnates the 20th Century. He met Lenin in 1909 and Trotsky in 1915. He conducted choirs of renaissance music but also communist choirs. In 1929 he sketched a new music, which has to be judged as electroacoustic music!
He wrote the “
Poème Électronique” for The Philips Pavilion of the Brussels World Exposition in 1958 on request by the designer of the experimental building – Iannis Xenakis! – and the architect – Le Corbusier. The piece shocked the Philips industrialists, but it won acclaim by the visiting public. When Philips closed down their early studio for electronic music all tapes and all machinery was transferred to the new Institute for Sonology (not named so until seven years later), and all copies of “Poème Électronique” were taken off of a 4-track tape which was considered to be the original tape… until Kees Tazelaar, in the winter of 2000, discovered the real original tape in the Sonology archives! This is why the famous – yes, legendary! - “Poème Électronique” now can be heard in its original state on CD for the very first time – and it’s a grand old treat, to be sure; a wonderful feast of sound and ingenuity, of the frontier feel of the circumnavigator of sound and perception – and in a brilliance of sound believed impossible in a source tape this old, from 1958, when Elvis Presley released “Tutti Frutti” and “Tryin’ To Get To You!”.
Varèse recorded his composition on three mono tapes, running at 76,2 centimeters per second. These tapes are of a very good quality, which is why the sound still is prime time audio! The three tapes are played simultaneously to recreate the piece. This is what we hear on the CD.
Mighty cathedral bells rumble in the beginning, as freaky little cartoon sounds move about, maddening but instantly clear. Some of the sounds were mimicryed much later on computers by Stanford University composer John Chowning and by Michael Obst in the 1980s on his “
Crystal World” CD on Wergo. It’s amazing that these “computer music” sounds could be achieved by Varèse without any computers whatsoever in 1958! Holy smoke! I even get to think about guys like Morton Subotnick and his “Silver Apples of the Moon” of a decade later. This Varèse work must have meant a lot for the development of computer music and electroacoustics in those days. Varèse also incorporates human vocals in his work, rendering it a dreamy sound poetry aura. Blocks of sounds of different character move about in the listening space, and the impression is mighty. Not many composers – even with today’s glorious machinery of the binary worlds – are able to create sound worlds this exciting.

Gottfried Michael Koenig is another giant of early electronic music, mostly engaging in quite brute and rough endeavors. His double CD on Bvhaast is much recommended! He worked at the legendary WDR studio from 1954 all through 1964. He also taught electronic music and composition at the Köln Musikhochschule; an institution with a solid reputation. Between 1964 and 1986 he was artistic director and researcher at The Institute of Sonology at Utrecht University.
Koenig’s (1926) “
Klangfiguren II” was conceived in 1955 – 1956. He wanted to automate the production process as much as possible, and he found that he could utilize ring-modulators to this end, enabling him to easily shape sounds in the realms of different colors; sinusoidal, noise-like or as pulses. On this CD we hear the composer’s own digital reconstruction of “Klangfiguren II”.
This really is excellent early electronic music, the way at least I keep it in the back of my head. You hear so much that by now is familiar to the connoisseur of electronic music, like the pitch-to-pulse curve that was made famous by Stockhausen in “
Kontakte”, as well as the short, brute cuts of aggressive audio separated by microscopic pauses of silence, with the inherent tape hum of the period as a familiar fragrance. Brown and gray clouds of sound rush at you in crazed motions, but sometimes all you hear is the distant rumbling below the horizon of far away thunder… Then again you could swear that you’re on a dive through mineral worlds, boring even deeper through strands of molecules and even down into distant atomic levels at the heart of matter… until you surface in a factory somewhere, amongst nozzles spurting hot steam…

Track 4 of CD 1 introduces a piece by the uncoverer of the two original tapes that launched this CD; Kees Tazelaar (1962). His work is “
Pier on Oceaan” (1999). Tazelaar is a professor at The Institute of Sonology since 1993, and at The Amsterdam Conservatory of Music since 1998.
Tazelaar says that this piece, without being programme music, “
expresses [his] affinity with the environments of The Hague such as harbor, dunes and sea.”
The title refers to Piet Mondrian’s painting “
Pier en Oceaan no. 5, Zee en Sterrenlucht”. Kees Tazelaar explains that the sound material was organized into five groups, which in turn were sub-divided into categories like tone-attacks, tone-fields, noise-attacks and noise-fields. He then used Gottfried Michael Koenig’s composition program Projekt I to calculate four structures, wherein entry-points, pitches, spatial distribution, main groups and sound-categories were decided.
Beginning with two lines of sound – one modular, one brute – the piece moves into a shuddering, breathing solution of worries and vulnerability. Brittle glass worlds fall in dangerous proximity of the earlier mentioned works by Michael Obst, and not too much lets on that this is a completely new work, and I think that speaks in favor of the piece…
Sudden attacks move hastily on the backdrop of white noise; a white noise that in itself is structured into little wobbly bits of information from the mist of amnesia and long gone speculations of departed neighbors… as the music moves into mystical forests of enchantedness and whistling, invisible birds, hiding in the brancheries of moist fir trees, as the moss of ice age rocks mumble and whisper across the hard surfaces of granite…

Voices of the Boat” is Johan van Kreij’s (1969) entry. It was realized in 1997. It stems from the preparation of the music for a solo dance part of the choreography for “The Boat” by Tamarah Tossey. This work is an independent tape composition, which uses edited vocal fragments. Then source material is the voice of Tamarah Tossey.
A panning wall of sounds increases in volume, as a breathing quality merges with the amassment of audio. I can feel the heat of the nostrils of the dragon. The vocal remains reach us through an impossible filter of time, like the gestures of despair sketched on the surface of a cave, by someone just like you or me, but 30000 years ago… It’s eerie; it’s a crying game… So close are the feelings, the recognition of the human situation – and so alienated behind the filter of time is the person who is suffering…
This is the way to tell a tale about Time and about Temporal Distance, which is illusionary (since all places are here, all times now…) but painful nonetheless.
Johan van Kreij has certainly succeeded in shaping an atmosphere of melancholy around me – and sometimes there is an abyss of space, of time, between humans of this Earth…

Track no. 6 is Richard Barrett’s (1959) “
Katasterismoi” from 1998 – 1999. Barrett originates in Wales, but lives in Amsterdam and teaches at The Institute of Sonology at The Hague.
The title of his piece is derived from the activities of Eratosthenes (3d Century BC) who was the first person on record to have measured the circumference of the Earth. The title, however, refers to the name this Eratosthenes gave to the Hellenic myths of the origin of the stellar constellations.
Soft and very fast metallic sounds whirl in and out of view like little metal springs in watches or like fire flies in a Baltimore suburb night, dense with heat and darkness. The spatiality of the minute sounds weave a tapestry of gold and pitch black darkness, through which sudden eyes of the wildlife check you out – and you’re right inside this tapestry, yourself a part of it, an organic piece of tissue in all this in-and-out motion – and all the curving motions leave sounding trails behind them, like afterglows of anti-Taliban rounds in Kandahar…
Rubbing and rolling frictional events tickle inside your head, as the swarming fireflies spiral your poor senses through dark heat and magmic thoughts… Fantastic!

Konrad Boehmer (1941) concludes CD 1 with “
Logos Protos”; a new piece from 2000! Boehmer of course also worked at The WDR Electronic Studio, like Koenig, but from 1961 – 1963, in his early twenties. Later he moved on to The Institute of Sonology, where he has been the director since 1994.
This work is the third part of a triptych (“
Nomos Protos” [1986], “Kronos Protos” [1995]), dealing with “the first, all-determining word”. “Logos Protos” is based on a passage from a novel by Jean Paul (1763 – 1825), which is very grim and right-out appalling, maintaining that there is no God, and that humanity is but a whim of nature… Boehmer explains that the sound sources are nature, the human world and technology, and that the composition transforms itself through these occurrences. This work is by far the longest of the whole package with its almost 21 minutes.
Logos Protos” is indeed an expertise mixture or merger of classical musique concrète, sound poetry, textsound composition and whatnot, even at times reminding me of passages from Luc Ferrari, Åke Hodell or Pierre Henry. The wild mixture of sound sources nonetheless works just fine, seamlessly stitching the wildly diverging impulses into a vast all-embracing tour-de-force of acoustics. “Logos Protos” is one of the wildest examples of “give-em-hell”-acoustics I’ve ever heard, where, to give just one microscopic example from this overwhelmingly rich texture, Boehmer, without flinging, combines the poetic and hushed voice of a German woman with quacking ducks and jet planes soaring across the sky… A taste of Rolf Enström’s “Final Curses” blend in with many other associative sounds, and I might tell you; this piece has to be heard to be believed. No matter if you listen a hundred times; you’ll experience something new each time. It’s like seeing human history through the latest centuries in a kaleidoscope, slightly bent out of shape, as the time axes suddenly switches position with the space axes, and it’s bewildering, yet recognizable, like flakes of history sailing down in distressing confetti clouds of World Trade Center demolitions… People die and people are borne, peoples arise and peoples retreat, into the bulging sound waves of submerged cathedral bells of history…

CD 2 begins with a real gem; György Ligeti’s (1923) “
Pièce Électronique no. 3” (1958, realized 1995 – 1996). When Ligeti wrote the score the technique was long in coming. The machinery at the WDR studio – where Ligeti worked from 1957 to 1959 – wasn’t compatible with Ligeti’s ideas, so the score lay dormant for 38 years.
The Royal Conservatory in The Hague invited Ligeti for a residency in 1996, when Kees Tazelaar, Paul Berg and Johan van Kreij initiated the realization of the score with advanced computer methods. György Ligeti was very happy with the result, which now is readily available on this fantastic CD from
The first impression (which is a lasting and final one too) is that of an extremely clean sound world, wherein each and every event, be it just a fraction of a fraction of a second long, is clearly audible, clearly palpable, like were you running your fingers across a layer of naked atoms, vibrating at the core of matter itself. Sadly, the duration is just about two minutes, but we are happy to have access to this splendid Ligeti piece in its second coming, resurrected from its dormant state as a long-forgotten reel-to-reel experiment hid away in a murky corner in a dark basement of an in-accessible archive!

Wouter Snoei (1977) occupies track 2 of CD 2 with his work “
Disintegration” (1998), which says quite a bit about the music too. Snoei began his electroacoustic career early, with studies at The Institute of Sonology at age 17. He has already assembled quite an experience, by for example collaborating with the renowned ASKO Ensemble, and he has gone into the programming business by constructing software for the performance of electro-instrumental compositions by Luigi Nono.
The source sound for “
Disintegration” was achieved by a “relatively simple self written computer program”. Originally Wouter Snoei caught the single source sound by a classical analogue switching network, which he transferred into the binary world.
Indeed the music sounds classical, in reference to historical electronic music. Snoei names three main influences; Luigi Nono, Iannis Xenakis and Edgard Varèse - so it shouldn’t come as any surprise that some sturdy, well-proven aspects and attitudes are apparent in this piece.
The character of the sounds themselves is rough, with a lot of body and sharp contours; weighty, bold, spherical and on the move, like rocks ground and rounded by the inland ice and its moving might in recession up north…
Thunderous attacks of granite slabs and rumbling glaciers resolve in prolonged echoes of scraping, frictioning weights of massive density, and above that rock bottom base grayscale clouds are adrift across the topographies, flaking down in chilly snow flurries on our faces, bared to the wind.
It sort of makes me feel good to hear a work which is so new, but which also carries with it the history of brute electronics of old. Congratulations!

Jorrit Tamminga (1973) joins in with his “
Euridice” (2000). The composer presently teaches sound design at the department of music technology and audio design at The Hilversum Conservatory.
This piece arises out of Ovidius’ version of
the Orphic myth. The source material consists of three short samples from a violin, a saxophone and a voice. A carillon is also involved, and in a decisive way.
Euridice” arrives in high, but descending pitches, soon amassing into a dense wall of noise, which in turn cools off into distant, melancholic or maybe even malicious sounds. The voice easily associates to demonic influences, while the carillon puts up a good fight on the side of the angels. The bell-like beating of the carillon on a backdrop of intense, extended swooshing fields of grayscale audio makes for a dramatic and very beautiful progression. Somewhat later the sounds bulge and sway like submarine plants, or like the sound of a train whistle slowed down and played back under water. This mix of short and modal sounds with long stretches of white noise (like bright golden and blue dots of oil paint on a gray canvas in a big exhibition hall) sets the pace and the atmosphere for this beautiful work of sound art, which I will want to listen to many times over. Jorrit Tamminga presents a number of variations on the basic theme (or method) mentioned above, and the nuances are refreshingly ample!

Olivier Hijmans (1976) participates with “
Lacus Somniorum” (2000). He has studied electronic music with Kees Tazelaar and Paul Berg at The Institute of Sonology at The Hague, and went on to specialize in tape music.
Hijmans has tapped into the obscure state of half-awake, half-dreaming that we pass on our way to and from sleep, and which is rich in symbolic and trans-biotic experiences, even allowing for the occasional journey into the land beyond, the Bardo of the recently deceased, who are on their way towards a new existence in a new body, or in the rare case to liberation of the wheel of life (Check the
Tibetan Book of the Dead!).

Riparia riparia

Olivier Hijmans presents a thorough text on his piece in the CD booklet.
A sharp but low-volume signal cuts through the violet landscape, as brute rock or ice sounds rumble at a distance. Elastic matter sticks to the surroundings like ghost-glue, and above the violet clouds thuds and rumbles of thunder rage. Water world sounds splash and trickle, and angelic voices stick close to the surfaces of high and precipitous cliffs. Beyond are the secret worlds of unworlds; the sounds of the unborn and the undead, the atmospheres of impulses that one day may emerge as possible lives down the route of Karma and Causality. Everything – yes, all of it! - bores down into a gravel pit where the Riparia riparias have dug their little caves. This makes them flutter around…

Track 5 of CD 2 is “
Asper” (1999 – 2000) by Laurens Kagenaar (1975). The title is from the Latin, and means “rough”.
A swarm of electronic bees comes at you at freak speed, and the density of the insect cloud is impenetrable. The venom you acquire by this encounter is fatal. Whatever else you hear from now on is rising out of the echo chamber of the hereafter… Kagenaar is right. This is rough, very rough, but not without refinement and delicacy! Grainy textures are pulled out from under your feet, and big black space probes of the future hover all around, as far as you can see; it must be a fleet of Bardo Thödol scare crows, sent to try to scare you off of your route towards the bliss of the righteous!
Rubber stretching grinder-winders team up with amplified whinings of mosquitoes, and a clearly palpable surface of Braille messages are spread out across the moors. Lay down flat! Hide in the message!

The last piece is “
Odysseia” (1999 – 2000) by Xavier van Wersch (1976).
Waves of vocalisms and thunderous timbres of matter mould a strange winding mass of indefinable properties, slimy and soily, with strands of saliva running down the sides of a Black Death ship of final proportions… as avalanches of human sin vibrate and mudslides of remorse of a thousand years rush down the valleys of a forlorn humanity, as a dormant god snores and the short-wave transmissions of remnants of conversations and stupid news statements keep airing, automated in an empty world until the electricity dies down in a whimper and the dust storms of a nuclear winter shrouds the third planet in a grayish veil of self-destruction…

This is one of the best compilations ever of high-class electronic and electroacoustic music, and I do maintain this without flinching. I’m sincerely impressed by this issue from
Bvhaast, and I can only encourage the company to follow suit and give us more!