The ‘Insitute For Sonology’ & ‘STEM’ (STudio voor Electronische Muziek), Gottfried Michael Koenig. Netherlands, 1960

The Phillips' Baltan building, Eindhoven NL
The Phillips’ NatLab building, Eindhoven NL

Philips, the Dutch electronics multinational created the Natlab (“Natuurkundig Laboratorium”), Eindhoven, in 1914 as a research facility to develop new concepts –  which allowed them to diversify from their core of carbon-filament lamps into new areas such as amplifiers, radio valves, loudspeakers, televisions, tape recorders and in 1962 audio formats like the audio cassette.

Dick Raaymakers at the Philips NatLab
Dick Raaymakers at the Philips NatLab room 306

In 1956 the ‘Philips Acoustic Instrumentation’ laboratory was created to study potential developments in acoustics and instrumentation. Located at Room 306 in the basement of the Natlab building, the studio became a focus of activity for European experimental composers. The Lab focussed initially on the development of instruments such as electronic drums, a ‘resonance machine’ echo chamber, microphone design, mixers, stereophonics, filters, tape-recorders, synthesisers and oscillators but it soon became apparent that these devices needed to be used within a new musical context – the emerging genre of ‘Electronic Music’.

Bruyn and Edgard varese
Ton Bruynèl and Edgard varese

Philips attracted numerous pioneers of the genre to the laboratory including Edgard Varèse, Tom Dissevelt and Dick Raaijmakers (aka “Kid Baltan”) who was appointed director of the lab in 1964. Philips’ aim being to compose record and release electronic music records which they hoped would become the popular music of the future. The most well know product of this era was Varèse’s groundbreaking “Poème électronique” commissioned for the Le Corbusier designed Philips Pavilion at Expo ’58 in Brussels.

Despite the success of the 1958 Pavilion, Phillips began to realise that the Electronic Music was not going to become the commercial jackpot that they had originally anticipated and stopped supporting the project in 1960. Under Raaijmakers’ guidance the laboratory  renamed itself ‘STEM’ or ‘STudio voor Electronische Muziek’ and moved to a larger complex of studios at the Atlanta building on Plompetorengracht in Utrecht under the patronage of Utrecht University. In this new location STEM had a much more open and less defined direction allowing the community of composers that had gathered around the Philips laboratory to experiment freely without commercial pressure. The STEM studios gradually grew to take over the entire Atlanta building and gained an international reputation as an important production, education and research institute. In 1967 an international course in electronic music was initiated which is still in existence. A year later STEM was renamed the “Institute of Sonology” and In 1986 the Institute of Sonology moved to the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague.

Institue of Sonology at The Atlas building at Plompetorengracht, Utrecht, NL
Institue of Sonology at The Atlas building at Plompetorengracht, Utrecht, NL

During it’s early life, The STEM studio was equipped with a range of custom analogue equipment including: Phillips tape recorders, oscillators, a large filter bank (which could be used to generate harmonics), shapers, EG’s, Ring modulator, Sample&Hold, a matrix patchbay, various tape-loop devices,a plate reverb situated in the garden shed ( damped with a blanket ) and a Function Generator – basically a high speed  Sequencer that could be used to generate waveforns.

G.M. Koenig in the computer studio with PDP-10 Computer
G.M. Koenig in the computer studio with PDP-10 Computer

In 1971 a digital studio was started with the arrival of a DEC PDP-15 Computer. This was  used to develop programs for algorithmic composition and digital sound synthesis. During the early years of the institute a series of landmark programs were developed there, including Koenig’s Project 1, Project 2, and SSP, Paul Berg’s PILE,Werner Kaegi’s MIDIM/VOSIM, and Barry Truax’s POD.

Electronic musicians and composers at STEM

Dick Raaymakers at the Philips NatLab
Dick Raaymakers at the Philips NatLab

Dick Raaijmakers. Born 01-09-1930  in Maastricht. He studied piano at the Royal Conservatory in The Hague. From 1957 to 1960 he joined the Studio for Electronic music at Philips in Eindhoven. Frits Weiland. Born in 1933, enjoyed a technical as well as a musical education. After working for the Dutch radio and television broadcasting system, he worked from 1961 to 1990 for the Institute for Sonology. Ton Bruynèl. (1934-1999) The realisation of ‘Reflexen’ took place at the Institute of Sonology and in the composer’s private studio. Bruynèl has written numerous works for tape and for tape and live instrumentalist. Konrad Bboehmer. Born 24-05-1941 in Berlin. From 1959 to 1961 he studied composition under Gottfried Michael Koenig. In addition, he studied philosophy, sociology and music at the University of Cologne. From 1961 to 1963, he worked in the electronic studio of the Cologne Radio (WDR) where one of his creations was ‘Position’ for tape, voice and orchestra.

Gottfried Michael Koenig
Gottfried Michael Koenig

Gottfried Michael Koenig. Born in 1926 in Magdeburg. He studied church music in Braunschweig and composition in Detmold. From 1954 to 1963 he worked at the famous studio for  electronic studio of the Cologne Radio (WDR) in Cologne. From 1964 to 1984, he was the artistic director of the Institute of Sonology. Koenig is one of the pioneering composers of electronic and computer music of the first generation of post-WW2 composers. Rainer Riehn. Born in Danzig in 1941. In 1960, he studied composition under Johannes Aschenbrenner and then (until 1963) at the Robert-Schumann Conservatory in Dusseldorf. Until 1966 he studied music in Mainz, Zurich and Berlin. In 1965-66, he participated in courses on electronic music in Utrecht under the direction of G. M. Koenig

Images from STEM and the Insitute For Sonology


The Cambridge Companion to Electronic Music. edited by Nick Collins, Julio d’Escrivan

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