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How electronic music began in 1950s Netherlands

That the Netherlands has brought forth some of the world’s biggest names in commercial house, trance and techno during the past 15 years is no secret. Dance music is today one of the main cultural exports of the Netherlands, and has grown into a multi-million euro industry.

The early to mid-1990s saw the rise of the legendary Dutch underground techno and electro scene in The Hague with Bunker Records and I-F’s Hotmix Foundation, alive and well today in various incarnations such as Viewlexx and Crème Organisation.

The popular online radio station Intergalactic.FM in The Hague still proudly carries the torch of underground electronic music and enjoys a worldwide audience, educating new generations of DJs and producers with "real" electronic music.

But did you know that a Dutchman laid the groundwork in the 1950s already for what would later become the electronic music that has long since become ingrained in pop culture?

One of the originators of rhythmic music produced with electronic instruments is Dick Raaijmakers, and his legacy lives on in Amsterdam today thanks to the renowned STEIM music institute that is known worldwide for providing a platform for and pushing the boundaries of experimental electronic music production and live performance.

Who was Dick Raaijmakers?

Dick Raaijmakers (September 1, 1930 - September 5, 2013) was a Dutch composer and teacher of electronic music. After studying piano at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague, he was employed by Philips in the field of electro-acoustics (1954-1960).

He built his own studio for composing electronic music in The Hague (1963-66) and he taught contemporary and electronic music at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague (1966-1995). 

Philips Physics Laboratory (NatLab)

It was during his period at Philips that Raaijmakers made his now legendary contribution to the world of electronic music, in the Philips Natuurkundig Laboratorium, also referred to as NatLab.

From 1956 until 1960, Dick Raaijmakers was employed as an assistant at the acoustic department of the Philips Physics Laboratory in Eindhoven. Here he eventually ended up in the field of electronic music, assisting others including Henk Badings, Ton de Leeuw, Tom Dissevelt, Rudolf Escher and Prof. A.D. Fokker.

Electro-acoustic research

Natlab’s electro-acoustic research facility focused on the invention and development of instruments such as the electronic drum, resonance machine, scale filters, synthesizers, mixers, oscillators and tape recorders.

Under the alias Kid Baltan (Natlab Dik written backwards) Raaijmakers wrote the world's first popular electronic composition "Song of the Second Moon", using only equipment from the laboratory.

Music and space history in the making

The story goes that on October 2, 1957, Raaijmakers composed this song in room 306 of the Philips Natlab. The title "Song of the Second Moon" is a homage to the Sputnik I satellite that was launched by the Soviet Union two days after Raaijmakers finished the song, becoming the world’s first artificial satellite.

This is six years earlier than the famous Dr Who theme song composed by Delia Derbyshire in the BBC Radiophonic Workshop in 1963, widely seen as one of the first electronic compositions in pop culture.



It also predates other famous electronic music productions such as Wendy Carlos’ Switched-On Bach from 1968.

Experimental electronic music compositions had been around for much longer, however, so who was "first" depends on how you define electronic music. The electro-acoustic style called musique concrete employed techniques and sounds associated with abstract electronic music, and was developed in the 1940s already by the French composer Pierre Schaeffer.

Egyptian composer Halim El-Dabh was making tape music in the mid-1940s using different advanced production techniques as well. The American avant-garde composer John Cage was creating abstract minimalistic musical compositions in the 1930s already, using a variety of innovative methods.

Nevertheless, in the long and complex history of electronic music, the Dutchman Dick Raaijmakers holds a prominent and influential position.

Rejecting Stanley Kubrick

Raaijmakers’ ground-breaking electronic music compositions also brought him some fame abroad, as film director Stanley Kubrick in 1965 repeatedly tried to convince Dick Raaijmakers to write the score for his next film 2001: A Space Odyssey. Raaijmakers turned down Kubrick due to a lack of interest.

STEIM in Amsterdam

In 1967, Raaijmakers, together with a number of other composers, founded STEIM (the STudio for Electro-Instrumental Music), a research laboratory and development platform for live electro-instrumental music in Amsterdam.

The institute still actively works together with musicians, sound designers and visual artists from around the world who seek to push the boundaries of how humans interface with music and technology.

One of the goals is sharing their body of knowledge with the broader local and international community through education and public events, such as workshops and concerts.

STEIM has ongoing partnerships with the Hogeschool voor de Kunsten Utrecht, the Conservatory of Amsterdam, TU/Eindhoven and the Royal Conservatory in The Hague.

The legacy of Dick Raaijmakers

While his musical contributions were somewhat forgotten for many years, Raaijmakers’ compositions were released in 2004 as a four-CD compilation called "Popular Electronics. Early Dutch electronic music from Philips Research Laboratories, 1956-1963". A documentary called "Room 306" was released in 2006 about Raaijmakers’ time at the Philips laboratories.

Thomas

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Thomas Lundberg

Born as a Swede in the Netherlands, this life-long expat has spent his time in Belgium, the United States and Amsterdam. He began his professional career as a regional news...

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