The Wire

News

Halim El-Dabh has died

The Egyptian American electronic music pioneer created one of the first known works of tape music

The Egyptian American composer and performer Halim El-Dabh has died. He was 96 years old.

Born in 1921 in Cairo, he was passionate about contemporary music from a young age, attending concerts such as the 1932 historic Conference on Arabic Music in the Egyptian capital. It was there he also saw music being recorded onto a wire recorder (as precursor to the tape recorder). Though Pierre Schaeffer is often cited for inventing musique concrète at Radio France in 1948, the first known piece of music recorded solely from electronically processed tape was created four years earlier by El-Dabh, as Rob Young noted in his Once Upon A Time In Cairo article in The Wire 277. El-Dabh borrowed a wire recorder from the Middle East Radio broadcasting company with which he recorded various sounds including that of an ancient zaar ceremony. He then processed into the magnetic tape piece The Expression Of Zaar, which he presented at an art gallery in 1944.

El-Dabh later moved to the US, where among other roles he worked as a consultant to the Smithsonian Institution, professor of African studies at Howard University, and professor of music and Pan-African studies at Kent State University, the latter a part time post he held until 2012.