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Bruce Haack- The Electric Lucifer (1970)
When I was 17 I wrote a concept album based on a war between a society of ants and a race of robots influenced by the then recent events of September 11th. That pioneering electronic composer Bruce Haack had 33 years prior to this recorded a concept album based on a war between Heaven and Hell with a backdrop of the Vietnam war (and the USA’s > turbulent socio-economic climate at the time) has lead me to instantly feel a level of affinity towards the composer.
Haack began making music for children, composing records to teach kids dance movement and spatial awareness. Child-like qualities and nursery rhyme melodies can be detected throughout all his music despite the themes often being pretty dark. A good example of this is ‘Song of The Death Machine’ which has the vague melody of the nursery rhyme ‘Oh My Darlin’ Clementine’ but deals with the subject of machines conquering over man-kind, a reference to 2001′s HAL, who sings ‘Clementine’ as he begins to power down. There are definitely references to the BBC Radiophonic workshop, in particular Delia Derbyshire and Dick Mills, with a proclivity for sci-fi “space” sounds which is also reminiscent of Joe Meek’s I Hear A New World from exactly a decade before.
Haack’s production is ad hoc with the set-up appearing pretty ramshackle- given that Haack created a lot of the analogue machines himself with no formal training, this is hardly surprising. The lo-fi nature of the recording certainly appeals to me. It also seems pretty relevant today with the current zeitgeist for homemade/lo-fi production and analogue sounds. There are elements of Wendy/ Walter Carlos’ Switched on Bach released 1 year prior to Electric Lucifer. Despite the derision with which Haack seems to view it, the influence is clearly present. The difference between the two records however is that rather than electronic instruments being used to describe/ revisit the past, Haack seems to be genuinely attempting to push things forwards, whilst also utilising the sounds of his age (acid rock and psychedelia) and discussing the pertinent issues of the time: war / persecution / religion / paranoia and examining the increasing involvement of machines in our everyday lives.
Amongst other things Electric Lucifer reminds me of the Mamas and the Papas/ (thematically) The Beach Boys/Scott Walker (vocally) and the West Coast Psychedelic Rock movement through the use of multi-layered vocals- heavy reverb and “hippy” themes. ‘Love is All’ is a good example of this as it is based of the concept of ‘powerlove’, a force so powerful that it will save mankind from the forces of evil and even cheer up Lucifer himself. ‘National Anthem to the Moon’ could easily be a Doors track featuring all the hallmarks such as the repetitive blues-style bass/ guitar riff, it is perhaps the fact that Haack mixes the familiar with his other-worldly/unfamiliar sound that makes this music so unsettling and effective. It is music that appears very familiar to us but presented to us in an unfamiliar way. Despite the influences of modern music, Electric Lucifer is not a pop album. The tracks are not structured like pop songs- bursts of interference interrupt songs halfway through, perhaps as a thematic technique or possibly the result of experimenting. A pop album would be unlikely to end with 5 minutes of contemplative silence – Electric Lucifer does (‘Being Silent’).
The influence from his previous work where he was employed to create jingles for TV advertisements is present throughout- some tunes being more like interludes with the short timeframe of TV adverts. Parallels with the work of pioneering electronic composer Raymond Scott can be drawn. Scott also worked in the same field- the two were later to collaborate in fact. Sadly none of the recordings from this collaboration have survived. Haack is interested in the soul of machine/ electronic based music and uses such instruments not to separate us from machines but in an attempt to unite us, hence Haack’s music never appears cold despite the instruments and techniques used. The front cover of Electric Lucifer contains the quote “I do a lot with touch, let electricity flow through our bodies and touch each other and the electricity becomes sound.” This is something he literally demonstrated on a TV show, turning a row of 12 people into a physical keyboard circuit with each person creating a note when touched by the player.
The religious concept pervades the album aesthetically as well as lyrically with the use of church organ sounds and gospel-style hyperbole (‘Incantation’) adding to this otherworldly feel of the music. Haack built his own vocoder and was one of the first artists to make use of the piece of hardware. He named and credits the voice as “Farad” after the English physicist Michael Faraday who, similarly to Haack, had an experimental approach to his work with his achievements resulting in the widespread availability of electricity and to whom Haack acknowledges as a personal hero. It is worth mentioning that Haack’s use of the vocoder predated Kraftwerk who weren’t to make use of until several years later.
A collection of Haack’s most well known tracks has just been made available which will hopefully help to heighten awareness of a person who genuinely deserves the genius label. For anyone keen to delve into the mysterious world of Bruce Haack properly, Electric Lucifer is definitely the best place to start.