January 27, 2017
Halim El-Dabh by Parth Palsay
Halim el dabh is an Egyptian composer who started using wire recorders to record sounds primarily from a zaar ceremony -“Wire Recorder Piece (1994)”. His work in the mid-40s is characteristic to the musique concrete- an experimental form of music which did not follow any classical rules of music of harmony, rhythm, melody, tune, etc. This music uses sound recordings of musical instruments, the human voice and other environmental sounds. He has conducted ethnomusicological research in the Congo, Egypt, Ethiopia, Guinea, Mali, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Sudan, and Zaire. Within the African Diaspora, his research includes Brazil, Jamaica, and the United States.His study of ethnomusicology across African countries lends his works a unique quality.
Halim El-Dabh’s piece “Leiyla and the Poet (1959)“, is an example where human voice is manipulated,moulded and layered with instruments and electronic sounds. The sound of words have shape and are performed over time.
While ideas of alternative notations had already been introduced by John Cage and Raymond Murray Schafer, Halim El-Dabh uses his ability to be able to perceive the sensation of colours from the stimulus of sound in writing his scores. In an interview for a recent commission, Halim El-Dabh mentions that he finds that shapes and colours have vibrations. He can then identify sounds and manipulate them according to the colour of a particular sound.
This is Halim El-Dabh’s score which is published in ‘Notations 21’, featuring other artists’ approach towards writing music, out of the western classical notation system. This is to host more possibilities of the interpretation of the notations by the performing artist.This happened along the Fluxus movement where ideas of freedom and breaking rules set the tone for artists. (Fluxus- an international and interdisciplinary group of artists, composers, designers and poets that took shape in the 1960s and 1970s.)
Chromesthesia or sound-to-color synesthesia is a type of synesthesia in which heard sounds automatically and involuntarily evoke an experience of color.
Halim El-Dabh was not recognized for his work till much later. Though a pioneer of constructing sound pieces during Musique Concrete, it is Pierre Schaeffer who is considered to be the father of electronic music. Halim El-Dabh discovered that her could play with sounds that he could not hear and hence could cause new sounds to emerge. While working with this process he began contemplating all the sounds travelling through the universe and galaxies. He envisioned what it must be to inhabit a kind of space to be able to hear the sounds of the cosmos. As a result he composed “Element, Being and Primeval” (1959), for electronic tape.
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