|Date:||28 March, 2014|
|Zip code:||5604 EA|
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Back to the Future: Natlab & the history of Electronic Music
By Marieke Verbiesen
The beginning of this year, after an intensive renovation and more then four decades of being closed, the historic former Philips Natlab building in Eindhoven, the Netherlands, opened its doors. The new Natlab houses three cultural organizations; a cult cinema, a film workspace and Baltan Laboratories; a lab for development and display of electronic arts.
The renovated Natlab building quickly became a new hotspot on Strijp-S, the former forbidden area for non-Philips employees. Baltan as the reverse of Natlab, aims to revive the original spirit and philosophy of the former physics lab, where scientists had enough freedom to explore the most eccentric ideas. Baltan Laboratories was founded in 2008 as a media lab with focus on Art & Technology, innovative research and projects that explore the cross-diciplinairy field between art, science and technological culture. Baltan is based in Eindhoven, in the South of the Netherlands, often nicknamed “Tech-City” because of its history as a city that progressed due to the rapid development of Philips and numerous other Philips owned tech companies.
Philips, in current days a large multinational, was founded by the Philips brothers in Eindhoven in 1891 as a modest company that started the production of carbon-filament lamps and over the years extended their production to electronic devices such as amplifiers, radio tubes, speakers, televisions, kinescopes and to 1962 their own invention: the Cassette Tape. Already in the early stage of developing their company, the Philips brothers understood that in order to invent and create products – as well as owning royalties – they should invest in their own research facility and, thus, in 1914 the Natlab (short for “Natuurkundig Laboratorium”) was born.
In case of doubt prefer anarchy
Soon after its foundation, physician and researcher Gilles Holst was appointed director and under his supervision created an academic atmosphere at Philips Natlab. In order for the laboratory to grow sustainably as experimental research facility, Holst invited scientists from all over the world. Amongst others Albert Einstein, who travelled to Eindhoven as a guest-lecturer in 1923. Natlab’s philosophy had soon become unified to Einsteins thinking, summed up in his quote: ”Everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom”. This vision transcended to all of Natlab’s research departments, quoting Kees Immink, one of the scientists employed by Natlab at the time: ”We were able to conduct whatever research we found relevant, and had no pre-determined tasks; instead, we received full freedom and support of autonomous research. We went to work, not knowing that we would do that day. This view – or rather ambiguous view – on how research should be conducted, led to amazing inventions as a result. It was an innovation heaven”.
Largely in favor of giving Scientist a good deal of freedom and space for their eccentricity, one of Holst principles on how to run a research facility was: ”Steer a middle course between regimentation and individualism. Base authority on real competence; in case of doubt prefer anarchy.”
In the light of this direction, Philips Acoustic Instrumentation facility, located in the basement of Natlab and referred to as Room 306, became the hotspot for years of vital artistic experiments, conducted by who we now regard as the pioneers of electronic music. 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, but more importantly realized that a new genre of music could be created with them: Electronic music.
Back to the future of natlab
Posted 30th of April, 2013 in lecture
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