2003   JULY 16   #197

Henk Badings - Dialogue for Man and Machine

"The Midnight Special" is a legendary Chicago radio program, which features, in the hosts' words "Folk music and farce, show tunes and satire, madness and escape". I believe It celebrates its fiftieth anniversary this year, although I consider it to be a shadow of its former self.

The show was founded as a live folk music show, founded of (by all people) future film director Mike Nichols, and quickly evolved into the show described above, which was hosted by two of the top people at WFMT. For over 35 years, it was hosted by these two men. In the mid-'50s, one could hear such relatively rarely heard personalities as Pete Seeger (during the blacklist) and Tom Lehrer (before he became better known in the '60's), among hundreds of others. Only in recent years, under a new host, has it devolved into the singer-songwriter pap that tends to make up what is called "folk music" these days.

When I am looking through used reel-to-reel tapes, I always keep an eye out for tapes of The Midnight Special, especially those from the '50's and early '60's. I found a batch of them one year at the ALS sale, all recorded around 1960. I was in heaven, but even that discovery did not prepare me for what one of the tapes contained. All I know about the piece heard here, Henk Badings' "Dialogue for Man and Machine", is what was said about it by the host of the show, Norm Pellegrini, before and after he played the track

Here are the initial comments, made after the airing of a typical arrangement of "I Know an Old Lady Who Swallowed a Fly":

Burl Ives, from one of his Decca records, singing "I know an old lady". Well, about the last thing that I know I would have expected to happen to this song has happened. Namely, a composer of electronic music has gotten a hold of it, and though he's left off the music, he includes the text. This is one voice, heard in many dialects, guises and tape speeds, and it's kind of a weird thing. Let's hear part of it...

And after the piece airs:

That's a portion of "Dialogue for Man and Machine", by the Dutch composer Henk Badings. Not available on a recording, that's a tape from Radio Diffusion Francais. Strange thing, isn't it?

- Bob Purse

TT-2:35 / 2.4MB / 128kbps 44.1khz

Markus Lloyd writes:
Bob Purse has unearthed an example of seeming whimsy by Henk Badings, but Badings was in all earnest – he was one of the daddies of serious electronic composition. Like many of his generation (1907-1987) he was delighted by the lyrical simplicity and musical complexity of Folk music – hence, There was an Old Lady Who... This Dutch modernist (who dabbled in visual media too) was one of those tonal/atonal composers that would have influenced the John Cage, John Cale and Lou Reed etc. If you take Reed"s Metal Machine Music as more than a knee-in-the-crotch of his record label, than it"s Badings and his ilk we have to thank – or to bill for all extra-strength paracetamol you took after listening to MMM. BUT where the f*@k did Badings find that English accent, it belongs to another era – to some Public School toff after one too many colonic irrigations: I"d like to assume that Henk was taking the piss, but I very much doubt it – the comedy arises from ‘the importance of being earnest", not from a few tokes and a slice of Spacecake outside an Amsterdam hash café. I can"t date Dialogue for Man and Machine to its first performance, but it would have been circa 1955-6. It was performed at San Francisco's Vortex 5 in January 1959 – perhaps this is where it entered the consciousness that led to its inclusion on the Chicago"s The Midnight Special. I"d love to hear the whole recording that Norm Pellegrini lifted the extract from, anyone out there?