A READER'S REVIEW BY BABIS GIANNAKOPOULOS
Reading Kees Tazelaar’s book On the Threshold of Beauty: Philips and the Origins of Electronic Music in the Netherlands 1925–1965, I was initially impressed by the fact that the author avoids a commonly present danger for any author who attempts a similar historical account. That is, to start narrating by deduction, by presupposing that the personalities of the participating characters have been sufficiently “completed and clarified”, thus their actions will provably “confirm” their assumed dispositions. This strategy often ends up by outlining only schematic simulacra. On the contrary, without depending on generalizations, Tazelaar subtly organizes and guides the kaleidoscopic exposition of a vast amount of painstakingly documented bare events. Insightfully he navigates through the correspondences between discrete undertakings in such a way that the persons re-emerge in their complexity once again directly through their actions, not as if recalled from an archive but as energetically remembered, or inductively “re-synthesized”.
This first observation leads me to the second one, which constitutes the key point of my path through the book. I think it is a commonplace within the literature involving art history that there exists an inexplicable “gap of oblivion” in-between the “artistic vision” at one end and the “realization” or the “fact” of the corresponding artwork at the other end. Furthermore, there is usually very little or no evidence at all offered of the mechanisms of transformation for artistic ideas which have been conceived in uttermost seclusion to become a lingua franca or a “common currency”, even far beyond the scope of the original intentions. This book is a very strong exception to the convention.
Here one can see almost step by step how a poetic “chimera” enters the procedures of “socialization” as an inherent and necessary course of action for it to maintain itself. And there are many participants registered in these procedures: the artists, the engineers, the technicians, the corporate managers, the academics, the bureaucrats, the interested audience, the benefactors, the rivals, the critics, and the loving supporters. Importantly, each of the aforementioned factors does not only contribute or hinder solely in regard to a particular concrete idea or imagined work. Further than that, in the book it is becoming transparent how “on the occasion” of a work or a project, slowly (by daring artistic gestures as well as by reserved committee-of-any-kind advices) there is being constructed and acknowledged the whole cultural consciousness of a society in a generation, in its abstract forms as well as in its “practical” implications. In this context the reader also receives an insight in a wide range of conflicting motives, from pure altruistic idealism to blunt self-interest, from sense of duty to vanity, from ingenuity to obstinacy.
The book leaves me with the “aftertaste” that underneath the composers, the inventors, the reformers, the entrepreneurs, the theorists and the accomplishers I am reading about real humans that lived.