|HISTORY/BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH: |
Bruce Haack was born on 4 May 1931 in Nordegg, Alberta, as the only child of Clark Russell and Bertha Ann (neé Bell) Haack. Clark Haack worked as an accountant for the Bighorn and Saunders Creek Coal Collieries and the family ran a general store in Rocky Mountain House, where Bruce Haack grew up. A self-taught musician, Haack began playing piano at the age of three and was giving piano lessons and playing professionally in country bands around Rocky Mountain House as a teenager.
After graduating from Rocky Mountain High School, Haack applied to the music program at the University of Alberta but was not admitted because he could not read or write music notation. Instead, he enrolled in the psychology program and participated in music-related activities as extracurricular activities, including hosting a radio program on CKUA, playing in bands, and writing music for university stage productions. The famous actor and director Charles Laughton was at one of these university productions and, impressed with the music, he recommended that Haack move to New York City to pursue a music career. Haack subsequently applied to and was accepted by the Juilliard School in New York City, which he attended on scholarships from the Government of Alberta and the Juilliard School.
Bruce Haack moved to New York City in 1954 and while standing in line to register for classes at Juilliard, he met fellow student Praxiteles “Ted” Pandel, a classically-trained pianist. Haack and Pandel quickly became friends, roommates, and songwriting partners.
Bruce Haack dropped out of Juilliard after eight months of study, finding the program too rigid and structured. He remained in New York City and wrote music with Pandel, achieving some success as a composer. Haack-Pandel compositions were recorded by pop singer Theresa Brewer while Haack also made a career out of writing scores for symphonies, Broadway and off-Broadway theatre, films, and dance productions. Ted Pandel, who graduated from Juilliard and had his own career as a concert pianist, performed some of Haack’s compositions at his two Carnegie Hall concerts, among other performances.
In addition to his composing work, Bruce Haack also worked as a dance recital accompanist. At one such performance, he met children’s dance educator Esther Nelson, who was impressed with Haack’s musical abilities and creativity. Haack began playing music for Nelson’s dance classes, for which Nelson would choreograph unique dances. At the suggestion of a parent, Haack and Nelson decided to record their music so their students could practice at home. Haack, Nelson, and Pandel formed a record label, Dimension 5, and recorded their first album, Dance, Sing, and Listen, in the apartment of Haack and Pandel in 1963.
Bruce Haack and Ted Pandel handled most of the song-writing and recording for Dimension 5 while Esther Nelson ran the business side of the label, recorded vocals, and continued to teach dance classes with Haack. Nelson was able to distribute Dimension 5 records through educational and dance outlets around the world. Dimension 5 released over a dozen children’s albums and accompanying songbooks.
Bruce Haack was an early pioneer of electronic music. He began experimenting with electronic instruments in the 1950s and would design and build his own instruments from spare parts and re-purposed electronics. Other than dance recitals and Esther Nelson’s dance classes, Haack shied away from performing live and did not perform with other musicians. To overcome this, he designed electronic instruments that could replicate a wide range of instruments and voices and would create multi-track recordings in home studios that he built himself. The Dimension 5 albums showcased his unique compositions and instruments and stood out from typical children’s music.
To supplement his income, Haack began composing advertising jingles for such companies as Kraft, Goodyear, and Parker Brothers among others. He also met Chris Kachulis, an adherent of electronic music, who would act as Haack’s agent and help secure work for him and introduce his music to contacts in the music industry.
Haack’s peculiar instruments such as the “Dermatron,” a synthesizer played by heat and touch, attracted some media attention and Haack appeared on television shows such as The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson and I’ve Got a Secret, as well as Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood with Esther Nelson.
In the late 1960s, Chris Kachulis introduced Haack to psychedelic rock music, which would greatly influence Haack’s music. Kachulis helped Haack secure a record contract with CBS Records in 1969, leading to the release of Haack’s masterpiece The Electric Lucifer in 1970. That album, featuring Haack’s electronic music with synthesized vocals as well as his own contributions and vocals from Kachulis, received enthusiastic reviews in several publications such as Rolling Stone and other contemporary music magazines.
In 1971, Ted Pandel accepted a position as a music professor at West Chester University in West Chester, Pennsylvania, and relocated there from New York City. Haack moved with him and would live at Pandel’s family home in West Chester for the remainder of his life, where he built a home studio and continued to record music for Dimension 5 and solo projects, including several follow-up albums to The Electric Lucifer that were not released in his lifetime.
In the late 1970s and early 1980s, Haack collaborated on songs with recording artist Tiny Tim (Zoot Zoot Zoot, Here Comes Santa in His New Space Suit) and hip hop pioneer and producer Russell Simmons (Party Machine). Haack’s output was greatly slowed in the 1980s, however, due to mounting health problems and alcoholism. Bruce Haack died of heart failure on 26 September 1988 in West Chester, PA.
In the decades after his life, Haack’s music, including his Dimension 5 albums with Esther Nelson, were re-discovered and much of it was re-issued on several different record labels. This led to a reassessment of his contributions to electronic music, as seen in the 2004 documentary film Haack: King of Techno as well as critical writing on his re-issues.