Spoken Word with Electronics is an audio series delivering to you a two side recording of unusual stories paired with vintage modular electronic sounds
Hi, everyone, welcome back to the show. We're just now getting through an entirely wild week of weather and bureaucratic power grid failure here in Texas. Texas has been on its own power grid since 1935, or approximately since power grids existed in the United States.
This isolationism on Texas' part meant that if we, say, refused to weather-proof our electrical grid (not needed if you aren't regulated!) then, perhaps, close to 4 million people would be without power during the coldest week of weather in decades. And, it's not like TX politicians care about dead bodies, but it would also add to Greg Abbott's death count for 2021, with some very tragic stories. So the first two tracks (introduction and discussion) this week discuss how my wife and I got through a week of blackout, with single digit temperatures outside, no heat – and then, no water. Pretty wild experience! Once water became scarce, people started gathering snow and other fluids (of unusual color) to fill their toilets. Fortunately, we had a filled bathtub, thanks to my wife's good thoughtful preparation. But the week was purgatorial in a way I haven't experienced in a long time. Somehow a power failure is time stopping, even though it's mostly just camping inside your house. But we couldn't do anything and just had to sleep through the cold of it. Wild event.
But if you're jumping to this post based on the BRUCE HAACK headline, chances are you're much more interested in the main item: I have a copy of The Bruce Haack Songbook. This was self-published by Bruce Haack in 1975 and if you enjoy electronic music and the pioneers of its artform, Bruce Haack ranks pretty high up there on the list. There's Wendy Carlos, Raymond Scott, Clara Rockmore, Morton Subotnick, and a few others – but for me, Bruce Haack is high genius on a level above them. He started by making childrens records in the 1960s and built his own synthesizers to perform the music, including a vocoder. All of his work is amazing. I can recommend this film as a perfect primer if you've never been properly introduced to his work, and I'd just start with the first album, Dance Sing and Listen (1963) and follow the discography in order from there. You'll find so many interesting musical ideas throughout, and weird harmonic experiments, including duets Haack often sings with himself, one voice singing and the other vocoding. I consider him similar to the Velvet Underground in breaking apart Electronic Music into less academically rigid and more wildly awesome performance.
And there are fewer examples of this wonderful mind of Haack's more displayed than in the SONGBOOK, itself. This is a 60 page book, saddle stitched and large format, that Haack decorated himself with art and illustration, and even contains lyrics! Most of the tracks are uploaded to Youtube, presently, so here is what is included, in order.
BRUCE HAACK SONGBOOK CONTENTS:
2. Rain of Earth – Epic, From Electric Lucifer
3. Funky Little Song – Ding Dong!, (heavy precursor for Money Mark sound style)
4. African Lullaby
5. Spiders – Awesome, best rhyme
6. Upside Down
7. Motorcycle Ride – Raging
8. Hand Jive – Presently not online – (first track off "Dance to the Music")
9. Maybe This Song
10. Bored of Education – Classic Track from BITE.
11. Right On – Personal Favorite
12. The Universal Unicycle Show
13. Catfish – from Captain Entropy
14. Hush Little Robot – Presently not online, but to the tune of Hush Little Baby
15. E.I.O. – Presently not online, but to the tune of Old MacDonald
16. Angel Child
17. Program me – Wild Rocker! (would fit in perfectly in a Black Angels set)
18. Jelly Dancers – As covered by The Eels (hell yeah)
19. Silent Movies – Presently not online
20. Goodnight Elephant – Presently not online
21. The Hamburger Song – Presently not online
22. Song of the Beans – Presently not online
25. God bless Us, Everyone – Presently not online
26. I Like Christmas – Such a perfect holiday song. In fact, THE perfect holiday song.
Then the book ends with a specific instructional called "Machine Motion Chants" which can be considered and exclusive track to the Songbook itself. You'll hear the Motion Chants enacted by a human (me) and the music played by a computer in this week's Side A.
SO, in terms of scans of this book, I feel like images should be made available. The current scalping on a copy of THE BRUCE HAACK SONGBOOK goes for, roughly $350-$1,000 dollars. So I will be uploading as many images of the book as possible onto this page (check back later if it has no content presently) – I've had my own copy for 20 years and the spirit of sharing that this show hopes to be, I'll be uploading scans later tonight. One fun item, however, for the Boing Boing group here. This piece from the page for "Hush Little Robot":
BOING BOING BOING oing oing!
So what is the SONGBOOK itself? What makes it particularly interesting, is it is musical notation of all of these tracks, hand drawn, by Haack himself. This is different than buying sheet music of something, it's looser, and introduces you more of his mind than to the songs themselves. To make this fun, I thought it would be cool to have a computer play the music notation itself. To do this, I use an app called Sheet Music Scanner. This thing is great! It allows you to scan any sheet of music and turn it into a MIDI file. It's four dollars and you can draw your own notes out and shoot a photo of it and hear it played back. I then export the Midi file to Musk Midi Player (two dollars), which allows easy midi note looping. Great educational tool and an even cooler tool for having a computer play back the entirety of the Bruce Haack Songbook. So that's what we've done this week. You'll find that discussion, going through the book and making midi scans of all the notes in the playlist below, along with other SWWE sections.
We end this with the sad mention that Esther Nelson passed away in October of last year. I just heard about this and as a young listener TREASURED her voice, her dance, her laughter, and her kindness – which is on all of the albums she shared with Haack, himself.
— Bruce Haack (@BruceHaack) October 26, 2020
We all loved you Miss Nelson.
Thanks and have a good week, Ethan