In 1973, I entered the electronic studio of the conservatory in The Hague for the first time. The studio was located in an annex to the stately and rather dilapidated main building of our school. There was a door at the back, which led to a courtyard; it was possible to leave the studio unseen and sneak back in. The walls were covered with shelves into which grey devices were screwed that made a squeaking or grinding noise, or turned that noise into a groan or cough. There were devices that could generate the sound of a hurricane, which then reached other devices via a wire and a plug, which in turn reduced the sound to silence.
There were tape recorders, which recorded the sounds thus produced on long tapes.
If you wanted to, you could cut the tapes into a large number of pieces and, with the patience of a saint, glue them together again.
On the wall, there was also a bakkelite telephone, which did not work; beneath it, a scabrous drawing of an erected sexual organ and the name of a lady who was particularly attached to it were drawn in fountain pen.
The owner of the studio was a gentleman, permanently dressed in a black suit, who constantly spoke in a soft voice about complicated theories on the deeper spiritual values of all kinds of objects, such as hammers, razors and loudspeakers.
On entering the room, I bumped into one of the regular studio residents, who kindly took me aside before he moved on in a breathtaking cloud of tobacco and hashish. No doubt he saw at first sight that I did not come from here.
Look, my friend,’ he said combatively, ‘we compose very differently these days. Read Marx first, then Adorno, and the rest will follow of its own accord.
I wondered which rest he meant. I also wondered whether this was for me, the studio looked like a dump of rejected military bugging devices that frightened me.
But all this was just a prejudice, because after a few months of trying to master techniques that would allow me to conjure up some sort of bearable sonorous expression from this collection of wires and ribbons, I accidentally stumbled across a reel with ‘Boerman’ written on it in felt-tip pen.
It turned out to be a copy of a musical work that had been made in this studio. This fascinated me, because apart from the fact that students were constantly walking in and out, on their way to meetings, demonstrations and other activities that were essential for the development of art, I had hardly ever heard a real composed piece come out of the studio.
But this was different, and not by much. The piece was called Kompositie 1972 and was a masterpiece of colour, form and expression. I was enchanted.
Jan Boerman worked in this studio, on the same equipment as I did. That seemed to me to be the greatest miracle, because I myself could not get much more than wild and muddy sounds out of them, and now and then a hysterical scream when I connected two devices that were obviously not meant for that.
In his hands, these devices had become musical instruments and produced the most sophisticated sounds. A master, but why had I never met him?
And what was his relationship with the other studio inhabitants? Did he also read Marx before going to work?
Later, I got answers to all these questions, and he showed me how Kompositie 1972 had come about. Boerman was a quiet, modest man who gave piano lessons at our school. He was regularly in the studio to record his vision on music, worked for a few hours and then went home again. That was the whole secret.
The inside of his Kompositie 1972 turned out to be a perfectly clear construction, based on the golden section. At my request, he had brought along his papers with the construction drawings. They resembled the notes from the first era of quantum mechanics; the thin lines of curves seemed to describe the nature of sound itself. The core of this musical work lay cut open before us and revealed its secret. I am still grateful to him that he wanted to show me this, without me being much of an art brother.
The studio was a journey into a world of which I, as a good organist, had no idea; Boerman’s work made this journey into a musical experience of weight. His oeuvre is the gold that flowed from this small room and made it into history.