63. Halim El-Dabh [365 Composers for 2013]


4th March – Halim El-Dabh


El-Dabh (born 4th March 1921) is our composer for 4th March, to mark the day of his birth.
Nationality: Egyptian/American
Lifespan: Still alive
Genre: 20th Century
Education: Fuad I University (Agricultural Engineering), University of New Mexico
Fame Ranking: 5

Cairo born Halim El-Dabh was one of the first composers to experiment with electronic music. In 1944 he composed the first ever piece of electronic tape music, “The Expression of Zaar”, which was an electro-acoustically engineered piece based on the sounds he had recorded from an outdoor spiritual “zaar” ceremony. El-Dabh used a wire recorder – magnetized wire was a precursor to magnetic tape. This type of composition was dubbed “musique concrete” by the 1950s, meaning “music consisting of an electronically modified montage of tape-recorded sounds”.  In 1949 an official from the US Embassy heard a performance of “The Expression of Zaar” in Cairo, and subsequently invited El-Dabh to study in the USA on a Fulbright Scholarship.

El-Dabh has lived in the USA for several years. He was part of a group of experimental composers such as John Cage, who were trying to approach music from previously unthought of angles. As part of his musical research, El-Dabh has travelled widely, studying ethnic music from Ethiopia to Brazil. Much of his music is also inspired by ancient Egyptian themes. El-Dabh’s most played composition is probably the score he wrote for the sound and light show at the Egyptian Pyramids, which is performed there each evening.

El-Dabh plays the piano and darabhuka, an Egyptian clay drum shaped like a vase.

Here is part of  El-Dabh’s “Expression of Zaar”:


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