Thursday, June 14, 2012

Henry Jacobs' Last Tape

For those of you that don't read Beckett, the title of today's post is probably lost on you. [more here] So let us proceed directly to the worldly and unworldly works of Mr. Henry Jacob. It's hard to explain to a contemporary radio listener how much different FM radio was just a few decades ago. Not only could DJs pick their own music (to a degree) but in some cases they took it to the utmost extreme and broadcast whole psychedelic audio experiments... making their own musical works in the process. 

According to the liner notes on Smithsonian Folkways LP [FS 03861] he got his start in radio on a Mexican border station in 1950, which turns out to be XEW-AM. But that's not the whole story. He attended the University of Chicago (the home of WHPK) and attended grad school at the University of Illinois (the home of WILL). His program began on WILL in 1952 but KPFA aired them as well. I suspect it's 580 WILL-AM, but 90.9 WILL-FM signed on as WUIC in 1941 so it's conceivable he was on the FM stick and accounts are just off on the call sign change. They became WILL-FM in 1954.

Henry Jacobs was a legitimate early experimenter in sound collage in the John Cage sense of the word. Which makes for a nice comparison as they both started tape experiences in about 1952. Both of their tape loop experiments precede the work of Pierre Schaeffer. But as early as he was, Jacob's didn't exactly invent tape manipulation. Halim Abdul Messieh El-Dabh was manipulating wire recorders in Cairo as early as 1944. You can hear it here) What makes Jacobs' unique across the spectrum was that he was a radio DJ. His weekly program was called "Music And Folklore". These included woks by all manner of ethnic artists and experimental musicians other than himself. His own experiments with tape loops were mostly broadcast on KPFA in 1953 and 1954. These led to the release of a few LPs on Smithsonian Folkways the last of which was the the Vortex LP released in 1957.

Modern electronic music is often the work of stoned college students dicking around with samples and beats in user-friendly software. Some of it's great, but most of it is decidedly low brow. Jacob's and these early experimenters were engineers, and artists as you had to build, and repair your own equipment. They were an  artsy-fartsy, intellectual bunch of geeks. Jacobs in particular spent parts of his KPFA program interviewing ethnomusicologists. Some of that work went into a LP on a Fantasy records LP [FSY 7001]  Interviews Of Our Times It was a collaboration with Lenny Bruce and Karlheinz Stockhausen.

Anyway he out grew radio quickly and was producing programs for KQED-TV by the early 1970s. The record label Locust Music has been re-releasing some of his back catalog.  Jacob is still alive and resides in California.