Music for Kids? Haacking the Record Collection

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By Tom Warner

Bruce Haack made electronic records for children

I only recently discovered underground electronic music pioneer Bruce Haack, while browsing through Pratt’s Central’s "best-kept-secret" collection of phonograph records (those archaic round pieces of plastic with a hole in the middle that are suddenly popular with retro-loving Millennials).

Captain EntropyIntrigued by its space age cover art, I pulled something called Captain Entropy (1972) out of the Children’s Record bin and was immediately impressed by its strange sounds. It was, well, really weird for a kiddie record. Full of beeps and zaps and New Agey lyrics, it sounded more like Hap Palmer backed by Kraftwerk than your typical Raffi singalong platter. But it was also very educational—I mean, who else was teaching kids about the thermodynamic principle of entropy?

It immediately struck me that Haack was a kindred spirit to composer-electronic music pioneer Raymond Scott, whose music—as adapted by Carl Stalling—provided soundtracks for many Warner Bros. "Looney Tunes" cartoons. (Scott was rediscovered in the 1990s thanks to his music appearing on the Ren and Stimpy cartoon show.)

Thanks to Wikipedia, I quickly learned that Haack (who passed away in 1988) was a Canadian who made children's records throughout the '60s and '70s, often collaborating with children's dance instructor Esther Nelson. And though he had little formal training in electronics, he made his own synthesizers and modulators out of any gadgets and spare parts he could find. He even demonstrated his electronic inventions on a number of television shows, including The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson and Mister Roger’s Neighborhood.

Listen to Haack on the Mister Rogers show.

DimensionmixHaack was definitely a product of his peace, love and astral plane-flying '60s times, calling his friends "Starchildren" and confessing that while he didn't mind fame in the here-and-now, he was ultimately more interested in obtaining a "telepathic following."

Apparently it worked, because in 2005 various indie musical artists like Beck, Stereolab and Brother Cleve of Combustible Edison answered the call to re-record several Haack songs on a tribute album called Dimension Mix.

Perhaps anticipating today's digital download culture, Haack also envisioned "a time when all people would create and share their music ELECTRONICALLY without record company involvement." But instead of the Internet, he believed we would share and communicate music "directly from mind to mind/soul to soul." (Yes, he was out there!)

But Haack’s music still flies well under the radar. Although Philip Anagnos directed a 2004 documentary called Haack: The King of Techno, it is far from comprehensive. Though it provides the only visual record of Haack’s music to date, Haack’s few live performances are interspersed with uninformative clips of no-name hipster musicians and DJs who smugly celebrate their discovery of Haack without ADDING any technical or historical insight beyond, "He was like, a genius man; I mean he was on Mr. Rogers!"

Thankfully, Haack has a web site, where the curious can learn more about his incredible legacy.

Pratt has a total of 10 Haack titles on vinyl, including The Way Out Record for Children (1968), The Electronic Record for Children (1969), This Old Man (1974), Funky Doodle (1975), Ebeneezer Electric (1977)—and four kiddie dance records on the Dimension 5 label (the '60s Dance, Sing and Listen trilogy and 1972's Dance to the Music).

I just wonder who, besides electronic music buffs, actually check this stuff out of the library—because The Wiggles it's not!

Whoa, that's kind of nuts. And people wonder why I turned out to be a weirdo, haha! I actually associate nutty electronic music from that era with my preschool years, and thanks to this post I finally connected the dots. Turns out that this song, "Unidentified Flying Object" by Perrey and Kingsley, was the theme song for a kids show called Wonderama when I was a tot - - Way Out!
Posted by: Teresa( Visit ) at 12/6/2012 12:13 p.m.

Great article, Tom! I think that Haack is an exceptional case in the "Outsider music" family because he composed interesting songs aimed at children, and not adults. Pratt also has an interesting book about Outsider musicians worth checking-out:{CKEY}&searchfield1=GENERAL^SUBJECT^GENERAL^^&user_id=WEBSERVER
Posted by: Brian at 12/6/2012 3:45 p.m.

Thanks Teresa (I'm old enough to remember that show WONDERAMA!) and Brian (yes, I have that great "Outsider music" book and met the author Irwin Chusid when he was in town! he has a radio show on WFMU!)!
Posted by: Tom Warner at 12/7/2012 2:37 p.m.

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