Bruce Haack Bruce HaackFarad. The Electric Voice
An exhaustive review of the history of music with machines shows us that there is a disturbing balance between what is praised and what is forgotten. The further back you travel in time, the more figures appear who are due an important place in memory or encyclopaedias, but the weight of a tradition that is increasingly solidified and less open to changes keeps them from being naturally integrated into the canon. I’m speaking of dark artists, or ones who were never in the right place at the right time, who aren’t usually granted more importance than that of having been in the background while other stars were enjoying the limelight. Until recently, the Canadian Bruce Haack (born in 1931, deceased in 1988) was one of so many fuzzy names in a paragraph full of references. He has rarely been granted space to explain his life, his work, and his singularity, except for initiatives belonging more to the action of fans than to strict historicism. There are some exceptions, but not many. For example, Dave Tompkins quotes him profusely in “How to Wreck a Nice Beach”, his book about the history of the vocoder from World War II to the present, and there is a documentary about his life ( “Haack: The King of Techno”), but he has never been placed at the same level as two pioneers who were largely, in their early years, his soul mates: Raymond Scott and Joe Meek.
In the 60’s, Bruce Haack was in his thirties and in his prime. A restless explorer of sound, he soon came into contact with the first electronic equipment in recording studios with big budgets, after having previously worked with bands and orchestras. His training was closer to that of classical music than to rock, but he never adapted to any specific format: he could play memorable songs at the same time that he was working on advertising jingles for the radio and soundtracks for films and television programs; meanwhile, he tried to save time to compose his own particular version of cultured music. He was an unclassifiable eccentric who directed the language of his time in the opposite direction, like Meek did with rock'n'roll (it’s worth listening to how “Maybe this Song” and “Rita” want to sound like high school dance songs for the year 2020) using a palette of sounds from concrete music. But the entrance of synthesisers changed Haack’s way of working and took him into a blurry, naïf area that was unexplored wilderness at the time: music for children. Some of Bruce Haack’s most interesting albums, the ones from the series “Dance Sing and Listen” (1962-1963), are in this line: between the space age of music for cocktails ( “Incantation”) and stories about aliens with friendly texts that should touch pre-school children ( “Man Kind”, “National Anthem to the Moon”). Today, his music sounds curiously gloomy and psychedelic, but in the 60’s Haack alternated advertising, film, and work with a clearly educational focus that extended his knowledge of electronics. An untiring worker, he was recording until just a few years before his death—his last recording was the single “Party Machine”, his best contribution to electro, with the co-production of the founder of Def Jam, Russell Simmons, and which closes this compilation– and the more popular and futuristic his approach to the idea of the song was, the more interesting his work was.
To quickly understand what “Farad. The Electric Voice” includes, you must get inside Peanut Butter Wolf’s head. As a child, he listened to Bruce Haack’s music, sort of like other generations listened to “Soothing Sound for Baby” by Raymond Scott or his creations for cartoons starring Bugs Bunny, or Isao Tomita’s delicate compositions on the Buchla synthesiser; this anthology, created on the basis of tenacity in terms of finding albums in good shape and original masters, is a tribute to a semi-unknown pioneer who deserves a better fate. The times are changing, fortunately, and Haack is beginning to find fans from a younger audience. It’s never too late. His songs sound rough and necessarily lo-fi, but the way that he takes advantage of analogue equipment is intense. Besides being one of the musicians who popularised the vocoder –which Kraftwerk would end up making famous– his songs are rhythmic and vibrant, outlining the birth of techno and house with a distance of over twenty years of anticipation: Haack already produced repetitive tracks, placing all of the weight in the rhythmic structure of his songs, and the voice was a familiar addition to something that sounded extraterrestrial to adults and fun to children. Even Animal Collective owes a lot to him ( “Noon Day Sun”) when they get toxic. This anthology, then, should be surprising and eye-opening not only for those without previous knowledge of the artist, but it should also have the effect of a return to childhood: it is from innocence—that of an era of simple technology and musical approaches—from which Haack wrote an alternative history of the future. I trust that even though it’s arriving thirty years late, this story has its well-deserved happy ending.