On the Threshold of Beauty - Digital Version

In this lavishly illustrated book Kees Tazelaar meticulously reconstructs the birth and evolution of electronic music in the Netherlands from 1925 till 1965. It is the compelling story of the development of electronic music at the Philips Research Laboratories, the collaboration between Xenakis, Le Corbusier and Varèse on the now legendary Philips Pavilion at the 1958 World Fair, and the first studios for electronic music in the Netherlands with key figures like Dick Raaymakers and Gottfried Michael Koenig. For this digital version, published in 2020, Tazelaar made some revisions to the text.

This publication was financially supported by Société Gavigniès and the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague. The digital version was financially supported by Société Gavigniès and the Konrad Boehmer Foundation.

Listen to music examples on the special website for On the Threshold of Beauty.

The first studio for electronic music in the Netherlands was not a radio studio -- as in so many other countries -- it was located at the Philips Research Laboratories (also known at NatLab). It was part of the electro-acoustic research program. The first compositions realized in the Philips studio were test-cases. Parallel to this research, other departments of Philips, purely focused on marketing, developed plans for the Philips Pavilion at the World Fair of 1958 at Brussels. Philips planned a demonstration for the general public of the possibilities of sound and light, but through the engagement of Le Corbusier, Iannis Xenakis and Edgar Varèse this project took a strong turn towards the avant-garde. The result, now considered a milestone in the history of electronic music, was in many ways more experimental than the music produced at the Philips Research Laboratories.

The story of electronic music at the Philips Research Laboratories and the Philips Pavilion are the first two main strands of the book On the Threshold of Beauty, in which Kees Tazelaar for the first time unravels the course of events, and debunks some of the myths around the Philips Pavilion. A third historical strand in the book concerns the needs of composers, who desired to learn how to compose in the new medium. In 1957 Walter Maas and the CEM set up an electronic studio at the Technical University of Delft for this purpose, which fused with the Philips studio in 1960, and afterwards moved to the University of Utrecht. Tazelaar writes about the works realized at this studio (STEM), as well as about the activities of the ground-breaking German composer Gottfried Michael Koenig who comes to the Netherlands in 1961 and in 1964 takes over the direction of STEM.

'Kees Tazelaar's On the Threshold of Beauty is a wonderfully readable story of a fascinating period in the history of  music in the Netherlands. Extensively researched, this impressive work of scholarship is very important to the field of electronic music.' – Curtis Roads (Composer, Professor Media Arts and Technology, author of a.o. The Computer Music Tutorial, Microsound, and Composing Electronic Music: A New Aesthetic).

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