Halim El-Dabh, Howlround Happenings, Near Mint Goes Back To School & Radiophrenia Rides Again

Hello You. First and most importantly, a little reminder that this splendid event Happening2 is occurring this very evening at DIY Space For London. Hope to see you all there and then!

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Secondly, I’m thrilled to be able to finally share with you one of the personal highlights of my broadcasting career to date, an interview with legendary composer, musician, ethnomusicologist, electronic music pioneer, scholar and gentleman Halim El-Dabh, broadcast on Radio 4’s The World Tonight late last week.

The term ‘Electronic Music Pioneer’ is really something of an understatement. For it was Halim himself who created Wire Recorder Piece’  – almost certainly the first piece of acousmatic ‘tape music’ EVER – all the way back in 1944. This was some years before his more celebrated counterparts on the continent began their own experiments with the form and went on to develop the techniques and philosophy behind what quickly became known as musique concréte, thereby changing the course of music history as we know it and paving the way for generations of experimental composers, sound recordists, producers and DJs right up to the present day. Indeed, it requires very little effort to plot a direct course from such early experiments to The Radiophonic Workshop, White Album Beatles, hip hop, jungle and so on, right up to the modern sampledelic collages by the likes of Flying Lotus.

Halim

Born and raised in Egypt, but for many years a citizen of the United States, Halim’s remarkable career has taken him all over the world and has seen him composing, experimenting, studying and teaching for well over seven decades; including time spent at the fabled Columbia Princeton Electronic Music Centre in the 1950s and 60s, working alongside composers such as Otto Leuning and Vladimir Ussachevsky and rubbing shoulders with the likes of John Cage, Leonard Bernstein and others. Crossing Into The Electric Magnetic, a compilation of his early works from across this period is essential listening to anyone remotely interested in the history and development of electronic music, and with any justice should assure his place in the annuls of music history (and this is without having time or space here to take his equally distinguished work in the more traditional realms of orchestral and chamber music into account). But when I learned that he was about to release a brand new album of experimental electronic music at the ripe old age of 95 – well, come on, the story just writes itself from that point onwards, surely?!

Sanza Time

Sure enough, Sanza Time, produced in collaboration with the musician Ron Slabe is out now and continues Halim’s historical approach of combining his vast collection of traditional instruments sourced from across the world with the latest computer technology, an approach that distinguished his earliest pioneering works from those of his contemporaries and that he continues to this day. Amazing to think that after such a long and fruitful career, this affable nonagenarian continues to compose, explore and discover at a time when he would surely be entitled to a well-earned retirement. ‘I have a whole big job ahead of me!’, he chuckles when I ask him what keeps him going. An incredible story still being written – and let’s hope all of us can maintain such curiosity and spirit when we reach our own ninth decades. Halim, we saltute you!

In other news, Near Mint is back from it’s summer break and ready for a new term at Resonance FM with part 1 of a Back To School Special, featuring various educational jams from children’s LPs released in the 70s and 80s – and you probably won’t be too surprised that a significant chunk of it derives from the various activities of the Children’s Television Workshop. Watch out for an opening gambit by legendary soul brother Roosevelt Franklin, a trio of tracks by the brilliant Loretta Long, and a lesson in punctuation from Rita Hayworth.

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There’s even a little something from a long-running children’s programme from our own side of the pond, Play School – and it happens to be a song with a rather peculiar history.  Bizarre as it may seem, the track ‘Bang On A Drum’ featured here contains a drum break that has been sampled by such musical heavyweights as Eric B & Rakim, Run DMC, NWA stalwart Eazy E and even R&B elder stateswoman Janet Jackson for her titanic 80s hit ‘Rhythm Nation’; all of which should be enough to put those of a certain age into a massive cognitively dissonant spin. While it was certainly easy in the above paragraphs to plot a line from the pioneering acousmatic experiments of Halim El-Dabh, Pierre Schaefer et al to the modern sample-heavy world of dance music and DJ culture; there’s certainly a much greater leap of the imagination involved in trying to piece together how a song aimed at pre-school children in 1970s Britain ended up leaving the cosy confines of the nursery and travelling Straight Into Compton…

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Eazy E visits the set of Play School

Seriously, the mind boggles. Especially when it turns out that in the hands of Eazy E producer Dr. Dre, ‘Bang On A Drum’ actually ‘bangs like a mother’ as I believe the cool kids would put it. A mother that, to borrow another common phrase, neither Eazy nor sparring partner MC Ren would be allowed to ‘kiss with that mouth’. Definitely NSFW. Sorry, Humpty…

A part of the ‘Rhythm Nation’? Probably not.

And lastly, huge thanks to Mark Vernon and his team for once again allowing Howlround to participate in the latest incarnation of at Radiophrenia, currently broadcasting on 87.9FM in the Glasgow area or online via Radiophrenia.Scot.

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Our contribution was a half-hour mix of tracks from the sessions recorded for Resonance FM’s residency at East Tower, with at least half of the mix given over to alternate takes and unreleased works that either hadn’t been completed or were shelved due to the time limitations of the original live broadcast from the tower back in July. Don’t worry too much if you missed the broadcast – I’m sure this material will surface again at some point. I keep getting the feeling I ought to do something more substantial with it, but then I’ve only just recently managed to suppress the dreaded urge to keep fiddling with it all just a little bit more – and with two forthcoming releases already delivered I’m also wary of over-saturating the market!

Nick Ballon - East Tower

Anyway, all that’s for me to agonise over. For now, Radiophrenia continues broadcasting until 11th Sept, with a schedule packed full of radiophonic delights, so keep listening. Amongst all the other treats on offer, do keep your ears peeled for several short works by our old Barcelona friend Nad Spiro, which I’m told will be popping up here and there. She certainly gets about, does our Rosa!

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