Henk Badings: More Electronic Music
Vol. 35 Issue 1 Reviews

Compact discs (2), 2009, Basta 30-9172-2; available from Muziek Centrum Nederland, Rokin 111, 1012 KN Amsterdam, The Netherlands; telephone (+31) 20-344-6000; fax (+31) 20-673-3588; electronic mail info@mcn.nl; Web www.mcn.nl/ or www.bastamusic.com/.

Reviewed by James Harley     
Guelph, Ontario, Canada

Henk Badings (1907-1987) was one of the pioneers of electroacoustic music in The Netherlands. His first compositions in this idiom date from 1956, and he was one of the few composers given access to the facilities of the Philips Corporation in Eindhoven, the same facility where Edgard Varèse worked on his Poème électronique. In fact, according to the liner notes of this CD set, Badings was the first composer to work in the Acoustics Department of the Philips Research Laboratories, which had hitherto been a place for scientific and technical research. The facility remained open to composers until 1960, and Badings completed a number of works there during that period. Equipment from Eindhoven was transferred to the newly-created Institute of Sonology in Utrecht, and Badings was associated with that facility until 1964. At that point, he settled into a post at the Hochschule für Musik in Stuttgart, Germany, and his electronic music output ended.

Henk Badings was largely self-taught as a composer, and highly prolific. (He was also a controversial figure in The Netherlands for accusations of having collaborated with the Nazis during their occupation of Holland during World War Two.) His first symphonic work was performed in 1930, and he wrote music of all genres, including operas and ballets. In fact, his first electronic score came about as the result of a commission for the 1956 Holland Festival to create music for a ballet, Kain en Abel (released on a 2004 compilation of early Dutch electronic music, again on the Bastamusic label). It was apparently highly successful and was quickly released on vinyl in 1958.

The music collected on this release is quite eclectic. The Capriccio for violin and soundtracks, from 1959, sounds like a traditional work for violin, coincidentally with an electronic accompaniment. There is very little relationship between this work and the Synchronisms for instrument(s) and tape of Mario Davidosky, for example (the first of these dates from 1962), where there are very conscious efforts to establish a variety of relationships between performer(s) and fixed electroacoustic sounds. In the case of the Badings work, created with nothing more than 12 oscillators, there are few precedents (Karlheinz Stockhausen’s influential Kontakte, for piano, percussion, and tape, was not completed until 1960). The Toccata (1964) is for electronic sources alone, again sounding as if the sources are oscillators, but with much manipulation involving tape speeds and direction changes.

Genese [Genesis] was produced in 1958 and first presented at a concert of experimental music held during the famous Brussels World Exposition, where the Philips Pavilion was at the same time attracting hordes of visitors to experience the multimedia show, La poème électronique. This work, again made up of oscillator sounds, and showing a great deal of imagination in their treatment and combination, was originally created as four soundtracks (or four channels). According to the liner notes, Genese makes use of just intonation for certain interval ratios. Microtonality was one of Bading’s abiding interests.
Dialogues for Man and Machine was also composed in 1958, but is a very different kind of piece. Again premiered at the concert of experimental new music in Brussels, this work adds recordings and manipulations of spoken voice to electronically-generated sounds. At over 20 minutes, this is an ambitious work, and evokes a range of moods, including humor. Actor Ramses Shaffy provided the voice, and apparently also wrote the script, which is in English when text is perceivable. According to the liner notes, the work was taken up by the Vortex group, an experimental performance ensemble based in San Francisco, who presented a live version of the work.

Die Frau von Andros [The Woman of Andros] is a ballet work based on the play of the same title (in English) by Thornton Wilder from 1930 (itself based on a work by a Roman playwright in 170 B.C., in turn based on a Greek play from three centuries earlier). Entirely built from electronic sounds, Badings created the work in cooperation with choreographer Yvonne Georgi in 1960, and the premiere run apparently utilized 500 loudspeakers in a surround-sound configuration. Die Frau von Andros comprises ten movements, some of which derive from other works, or which are intended to stand as independent pieces. At 45 minutes, this is by far the most substantial work presented on this two-disc set.

The remaining work collected here is Martin Korda D.P., part of an opera commissioned for the 1960 Holland Festival (Benjamin Britten’s new opera, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, was also presented at the festival that year). The excerpt included here comprises a live recording of the first scene of the opera’s third act, where electronic sounds alone support the live voices. This would no doubt have been controversial at the time (especially when compared to Britten’s rather traditional opera). While there are some extraneous noises in the live recording, it is still quite a good representation of the music and the performance. The integration of voices and electronic sounds works remarkably well. The libretto is given in the liner notes.

Altogether, this is an excellent release, and an important one for preserving and disseminating historic work by an important composer in The Netherlands. While Badings appears to have devoted just a handful of years to electronic music, it was a pioneering time, and the success of his electroacoustic work in mainstream genres (such as ballets, operas, and films) outside the narrow confines of the experimental music world no doubt added much to the popularization of this new tradition.