Enno Velthuys and the Dutch Tape Underground
cover of Velthuys' Ontmoeting
By Frans de Waard
If we talk about Dutch cultural exports, then surely Miffy and Frog are world sellers. In the world of children's books that is. Frog was the brainchild of Max Velthuijs (1923-2005) and as such, the author was the attention of media exposure. On a few occasions, he spoke about his son, Enno, and I remember it was never positive. Always brief as to avoid the subject. They didn't get along well.
As a young boy, I don't think I read the stories of Frog, or at least I don't remember, but the name Enno Velthuys must have come in my life at the age of 17 or 18. I was deeply into what was called back then 'home tapers' and an addicted listener to a radio program called 'Radiola Improvisatie Salon,' one of former fluxus artist Willem de Ridder's best ideas. The idea is simple: 'send me a cassette of your music, spoken word, whatever and I'll play five minutes (of it) on the radio without previously listening to what is on the tape.' Unheard of these days, I guess, in the world of official state-funded radio stations, but perhaps also around this time the program was made, 1980.
But Willem de Ridder always got away with a lot actually. If you know his background, especially as someone with a knack for special radio programs, then you may not be surprised that anything with synthesizers had his special interest. In his night-long radio shows of the late seventies, he encouraged listeners to get into their car and drive to a certain location to act out some weird collective performance with the musical guidance of Tangerine Dream or Klaus Schulze. So, while his 'Radiola Improvisatie Salon' was open to anyone, he strongly favored the local Dutch likes of those German synth meisters.
Into this story enters Hessel Veldman, who was granted to release a cassette through the radio station and who was at the more experimental side of synthesizer music. It kick-started for him a period of intense releases, mainly through his own label, Exart Cassettes. On his label. we find Veldman himself in various guises, such as Y Create, but also in collaboration with Kees van Ede, Nick Nicole, and a bit later, as Gorgonzola Legs and, again a bit later, with Willem de Ridder as FNTC. His label Exart was open to like-minded synthesizer artists such as Aart Zwaans and Enno Velthuys.
If we look at the Discogs website, we see a small body of work for Velthuys- six cassettes in total, for three different labels. One, a double tape, was released by L'Agence Des Refuses, while both Exart and Kubus each released each two of him. It's hardly surprising – for those who know – that his music appeared on these labels.
As noted above, Exart had a strong love for anything electronic and maybe German, like the kids of Tangerine Dream meeting up with the first born sons of Throbbing Gristle, while Kubus was more like Brian Eno and his ambient work. Here we have austere black and white covers, minimalist presentation, and musical theories about a four dimensional musical universe by label owner Rob Smit. Both of the labels, while quite different, belonged to the forefront of independent cassette releases in The Netherlands, alongside the more pop-oriented Ding Dong and Trumpett, and both of these labels seemed to fit the work of Enno Velthuys quite nicely: the darker and experimental side of the cosmic music versus the more light-hearted synthesizer music of ambient.
Today, Veldman says this about his introduction to the music of Enno Velthuys:"The first time I heard the music of Enno Velthuys was during one of the Radiola live-shows of Willem de Ridder, broadcasted from the estate of Queekhoven in Breukelen. I still remember clearly the moment during the broadcast that Willem opened an envelope with this unknown music-cassette, with the name Enno Velthuys on it! As always, the cassette was played instantly. All people gathered in the Queekhoven saloon were astonished when the music was played. A good friend, Rob Smit of Kubus Music, got in contact with Enno and soon there was the first Velthuys music-cassette Ontmoeting, later followed by Landscapes In Thin Air. When Smit decided to stop the activities of Kubus, I took over this 'top-selling' cassette. Plus I tried to put more energy in the relationship with Enno, already being part of the cassette network."In general, it's hard to find much information about Enno Velthuys. Part of that is that he died in 2009 and was quite a recluse. Hessel Veldman however knew him personally, and shares his memories about Velthuys with us:"In that period, Enno was living with his mum in his own bedroom in a department flat in The Hague. Visiting Enno was something special. Strange in communication, weird focusing on music in general and solitary-minded. During one visit I remember, we tried to make some music together, because we both played the guitar and were into strange ambient music. It didn't work out. Enno was specific in encountering music. He couldn't deal with strange and dissonant sounds. His mind could only handle harmonic, soft 'kitsch-like' music. After learning Enno better, we noticed he had very heavy mental problems, caused by drug use during the roaring sixties in the Hague music scene.Velthuys released six cassettes during his life, which can be found online, but they have never gotten to a proper re-issue yet. It's a dream that Veldman also has. "I had an appointment with Douglas McGowan of Yoga Records in Amsterdam, where we talked about reissuing the work of Enno Velthuys. I even gave him the master-reels of Landscapes In Thin Air, thinking he would seriously re-issue the music. Now it's two years later and still, Enno's music is obscure and hard to get. (I) hope sometime things will turn out better for Enno Velthuys and his wonderful unique music."
"We did several cassette issues (of his work) with Exart. But Enno also noticed that (with) being part of this 'free-cassette & mail network,' his work also was used by publishers, who didn't care about sound-quality. Some sound sketches he send around were suddenly issued, without communication about selecting and making agreements. The network and its 'free way of handling music' was disappointing for Enno. Plus, his mental condition became worse.
"We lost contact, as I was doing more and more extreme industrial & experimental music. I stopped Exart and networking during the '90s.
"Only a few years ago, people started contacting me again about the music of Enno, just because they could hear his music online and they wanted to have more information. But I didn't know what happened with Enno. One guy, Douglas McGowan, started a search and finally found out Enno had died in 2009, because of cancer. I phoned Enno's mother, who was still alive and living in the same department flat in The Hague. She told about the last years of Enno, being held in a closed mentally health institution.
About Enno's music she was skeptical, but also proud."
So until then, we have to do with the six hissy cassettes found online. Yet these six tapes show an excellent handling of the synthesizer and a sparse, minimalist use of percussion. Dream-like music with great, atmospheric hooks to it.
MARCH 2013 UPDATE:
Douglas and Enno's mother have signed a licensing agreement and Douglas is working with a couple of labels to bring out the catalog as well as unreleased music on LP by the end of 2013.
JANUARY 2015 UPDATE:
Douglas Mcgowan of Yoga Records says this of an Enno reissue on his label: "It's happening as a pair of collections with a lot of unreleased material. There have been a lot of frustrating delays with the project that are out of my control and there can't be any half measures with this music, but at least the first collection is happening this year."
Ontmoeting (Kubus Kassettes) 1982
Vreemde Landen Vol. 1 & 2 (L'Agence Des Refuses) 1984
A Glimpse Of Light (Exart Cassettes) 1984
Landscapes In Thin Air (Kubus Kassettes) 1985
Different Places (Exart Cassettes) 1987
Extensive thanks is due to Hessel Veldman and Alfred Boland. Also see the author's e-mail magazine Vital Weekly.
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