By: Eric Greenwood
In the early '60's experimental electronic composer Bruce Haack teamed up with children's dance teacher Hanna Nelson to create educational music for kids. Their Dance, Sing & Listen series was ubiquitously used in grammar schools throughout the decade, despite its low-budget production. Haack could turn practically any household contraption into a synthesizer of some degree, and he haphazardly rigged together a studio full of homemade modulators and tonal manipulators.
With modest success the duo created its own record label, Dimension 5, to facilitate the series. With Haack utilizing his electronic compositional training, he and Nelson created an alternate universe for kids to experience, understand, and appreciate not only music but also myriad educational subjects in a catchy, easy to learn environment.
Haack wrote understandably simplistic music full of innocence and wide-eyed wonder, though his penchant for found-sound improvisation tapered its universal appeal. Nelson's bizarrely random lyrics were the perfect foil to Haack's determination to challenge young minds.
This impetus of this compilation is twofold: it's a tribute to Haack's and Nelson's almost-forgotten contribution to music as well as a fundraiser for the Cure Autism Now foundation, featuring a truly diverse roster of artists, many of whom very probably grew up with the Dance, Listen & Sing series. Beck takes great liberties with “Funky Lil' Song”, turning it into a 60's pop gem with a cast of vocal characters he intones at whim, including his infamous, soul-fried falsetto. Stereolab is equally liberal with its interpretation of “Mudra”, taking its repetitive core to new extremes, adding layers of noodling blips and flutters.
On the down side, Fantastic Plastic Machine's “I'm Bruce” sucks the life and spontaneity out of the original with its relentless over sampling, not to mention the fact that Nelson's clever witticisms get completely squashed. For the most part, however, the soul of Haack's and Nelson's songs remains, particularly in Oranger's power pop perfect version of “Catfish.”