Sunday, August 10, 2008

Hugo Keesing

Hugo Keesing

Hugo Keesing is a teacher and a pop music archivist. I'm not sure he'd refer to himself as an artist (I didn't ask him), but he did produce a piece of work called Chartsweep, which many of us who listen to sound collage couldn't help but think of as art.

I think The ECC's Mark Gunderson sent me a copy of Chartsweep, probably around 2003 or 2004. I aired the first part in 2004 (Check out Episode 74 HERE - originally aired February, 2004) and part 2 a few months later.

At the time, noone could find out anything about the work and so it seemed like a mystery which needed to be solved. All we knew was that the piece was true to its name. It was over an hour of recognizable segments of every #1 single, as recognized by the "music charts" (I wasn't sure which chart, but I assumed it was Billboard. It turns out that was partially correct. Read on to learn more...) and that it was assembled by Hugo Keesing. I'm not even sure how or where the recording surfaced. Perhaps Mr. Gunderson will comment on this post... Regardless of how or why, it eventually made it into my library and I aired it on the show.

It was actually Wobbly who made first contact with Mr. Keesing, and with his help I was able to contact the Professor myself. He may not be trained as an artist, but based on how he describes his class presentations, I can say he sounds like a great teacher. Without further ado, here's the SAR Q&A with Hugo Keesing... adding some much needed information about Chartsweep to the world wide web...

*Name: Hugo Keesing

*Are there any additional names used to describe this project: Full name - Hugo A. Keesing (for teaching and other academic purposes I sometimes add "PhD.") On-line I'm known as "musicdoc."

*Do you use a pseudonym? No pseudonyms, no band...

*Is there a story behind your name? The concept and term "Chartsweep" both originated in the late 60s with a syndicated radio show called "The History of Rock 'n' Roll." I listened to it on WOR-FM in New York and recorded portions of it on an old Wollensack reel-to-reel tape recorder. As you know, the 'sweep presented segments of every Billboard #1 single starting with "Memories Are Made of This" (Jan 1956). I don't recall where it stopped, but it was around 1968/69. Six years later I began teaching an American Studies course at the University of Maryland called "Popular Music in American Society." To provide a setting for each class I dusted off the concept, took it back to January 1950, added a number of songs based on Joel Whitburn's re-definition of #1 songs, and continued where the original had stopped. I added each new #1 until fall, 1991 when I stopped teaching the course. "Set Adrift on Memory Bliss" was the 900th. At the start of each class I played a portion of the 'sweep that corresponded to the years we were covering that night. To accompany the tape I made 35mm slides of either the original sheet music, 45 rpm record sleeve or something similar, so that students could see as well as hear the pop music history. Copies of each night's tape went to the undergraduate library. I assume that an enterprising student or two made their own copies and it is a copy of a copy of a copy that remains in circulation. That's the story in a nutshell.

*Tape manipulations, digital deconstructions or turntable creations: I'm a pop music collector, historian, archivist and teacher. My scope of interest is the 50 years between 1940 and 1990. In my 40 years of teaching I did my best to combine music with documentary excerpts--speeches, news broadcasts, PSAs, advertisements, etc.

*Location: Columbia, MD

*Original Location: I was born in the Netherlands and came to the US as a 7-year old.

*What is your creative/artistic background: Popular culture [comics, baseball cards, music, etc] was a major factor in helping me become "Americanized." I never learned to read or play music, so I began learning about it... who sang the song, on what record label, flip-side, chart position, etc.

*History: I've collected records and related materials since 1955. At one point I had over 15,000 discs, almost 4000 books on R&R in 15 languages, and 18,000 pieces of sheet music in my basement. Much of the collection is already at the University of Maryland's Performing Arts Library as the "Keesing Musical Archives." I first began using pop songs in my teaching in 1966, and wrote my doctoral dissertation [one of the first in the US] on popular music and youth culture. It was entitled "Youth in Transition: A Content Analysis of Two Decades of Popular Music," Adelphi University, 1972. Since then I've published or presented more than 200 monographs, papers, reviews and other materials.

*Born: November, 1943

*Motivations: My motivation was simple: I love the music and love to teach. I hit adolescence at the onset of rock 'n' roll, with Elvis, Fats Domino, the Platters, the Everly Brothers, Coasters, Roy Orbison and others. 45 rpm records were king and because I bought them and brought them to parties, I became a de facto disc jockey in junior high school. [In the early 1970s I did some dj-ing for the American Forces Radio & Television Network in Turkey as "HK the DJ" with a show called "Rock Recollections."

*Philosophy: My philosophy has been that people learn best when they're engaged, and music engages them. If they can connect important information to music they are more likely to retain that knowledge.

*How would you like to be remembered: It's too early for me to consider how I want to be remembered. I'm not ready to write my epitaph quite yet.

*Web address: (none)


Unknown said...

It's really great that Hugo's been found an appreciated for this work, which I'm sure is a complete surprise to him that it's become a minor "hit" in a community that's likely alien to him. Yay Hugo! Thank you!

As for the story of how I came to receive the tape: in the late 1990's I was the networking/computer guru at a teen counselling agency, but also known as an active performing musician off the clock, and an incurable record junkie. One girl I worked with showed up with this cassette (I can't recall her name; only that I had a mild crush on her). The tape was unlabeled, but it's J-card was labeled in pencil: "Chart Sweep / Hugo Keesing", nothing else.

She lent me the tape, and I was floored. I copied it immediately, and later transferred it to CD with some digital processing to filter the tape hiss from it being a 2nd (or 3rd or 4th) generation copy. I kind of knew that other friends of the cut-n-paste crowd would really get into it...

You can still download Chartsweep from The ECC's website. Hey Hugo, it would be great to post a better copy of it... (nudge nudge)

- TradeMark G. (ECC)

Anonymous said...

Hi Jon

Doing some research on the Drake / Chenault Timesweep, and I found your interview with Hugo. Here's a relevant link to the original Timesweep (1958-1981) which Hugo incorporated for his piece.

Here's an interview on the overall 52 hour "History of Rock and Roll" series, which was concluded by the original Timesweep:

Wikipedia's entry for the credits the name of the engineer who concentrated on the collage as Mark Ford.

About five or six years ago, a man named Bill Ingram was offering his own Chartsweep variants, compiling all the #2's and #3's as well as doing decade specials. His site has vanished, but I ordered a full set and one of the highlights was a 20 minute Drake / Chenault special on the making of the documentary from the late 70's (perhaps early 80's). There's a beautiful 5 minute section with a hot shot editor demonstrating his tape editing & beatmatching skills, culminating in a short Kraftwerk & Bee Gees mashup.

Though it's been off the air for years and its lineage seemed obscure to us when discovering it on cassette, it's reassuring to know this was a mainstream production heard by countless listeners over years of broadcasts in its day... I listen to this thing at least once a year and there's several pieces based on it going on my next record...

hiphats said...

It is clear to see that the Drake/Chenault "History of Rock & Roll" is badly in need of a massive update since the last incarnation was produced in 1981. Sadly, if it ever does happen, Drake himself will not be involved physically, having passed away just last year.

So much has happened since the last time sweep in about 27 years worth!!!

Recently I attempted, with a great deal of success, a complete update on the Drake/Chenault HORR "Time Sweep", but it wasn't easy. First, I had to search Wikipedia for a list of every number one song from 1955-2008. Then, I had a heck of a time tracking down audio files of the time sweep. I would have preferred getting the 1981 sweep, but did end up getting the version up to the end of 1977 (the '77 version, in other words). It really began as a year-long project gathering every number one song from several online music sources and doing it from scratch, but once I found the '77 time sweep, my job was made easier.

I did manage to do the "from scratch" work beginning at the point where the '77 sweep ended (Debby Boone's "You Light Up My Life"), and although there were some editing errors originally and the leaving out of songs, all that was corrected using the proper audio editing software.

My "new" version of the "time sweep" now begins with Bill Haley's "Rock Around The Clock" in 1955, and ends with the final number one song of 2008, Beyonce's "Single Ladies (Put A Ring On It)". Thus the sweep now covers 53 years.

In my new version you manage to hear an evolution of music itself, and you will be able to figure out that today's music is far from rock's forefathers.

I mastered this on my PC, and has been split into seven MP3 parts.

Any comments are welcome.

Jon Nelson said...

It's been great to see so many positive responses to this Q&A - thanks!

I'd be very interested in hearing updates and tracks inspired by this work. Direct them to me at:
2751 Hennepin Ave. S. (#145), Minneapolis, MN 55408, assuming they're too large to attach to emails.

Or drop me a line first, at:
assembly (at)

thanks again,

Anonymous said...

At long last, the revised time sweep is finally available for a limited time. Here are the links:

As you will be able to tell, this is in seven parts. Enjoy!

Milton Parker said...

Jon Nelson said...

Thanks Milton! Say, you're not "hiphats" are you? Hiphats commented a while back that they were also working on a new seven-parter...

Drop me a line, if you see this. My email: assembly (AT)

thanks again,
Jon Nelson

Jon Nelson said...

2011 Update: just posted about this sound collage, and as I've figured out a few things about the work since doing this Q&A, I posted to their comments section about the origins of the piece. Here's what I wrote, for those of you who are as interested as I am:

-- --

The genesis of this collage is the final hour of Drake-Chenault Enterprises' 53 hour long 'History of Rock and Roll'. The final hour of which is the collage of pop song hooks we often refer to as "Chartsweep" or "Time Sweep".

The editor of this amazing piece is Mark Ford. The article should really have given him some credit for the work, although admittedly it would probably have been a bit difficult to get to the bottom of this story - I've featured the work on my radio show twice now and am still piecing the full story together.

Ford's final version goes all the way up to 1981, and Keesing's version diverts from Ford's around 1977. You can really hear the difference between Ford's razor-spliced crossfades and Keesing's cassette tape pause-edits at that point.

I did a Q&A with Hugo Keesing in 2008. I'd love to have done one with Mark Ford as well. His is the bulk of the work here. Thanks to Jon Leidecker for his help figuring all of this out.

Anyone interested in the history of sound collage should check out Leidecker's wonderful "Variations" series. You can find it at the MACBA website here:

-- --

The article:

Jon Nelson

Darrel L. Diedrichs said...

I met Hugo in Vietnam where I was a student of his in a Psycology class. Our paths have crossed frequently due to both of our extensive travels. He has remained one of my most loyal friends, and is the godfather of my daughter. He is a lot of things but "friend" is the best

Anonymous said...

To complete the mystery, I thought I'd chime in here. I'm "the girl" who gave mark the original tape (thanks for remembering me fondly!). I've known Hugo most of my life and visiting him and his lovely wife has always been something I've looked forward to. I had the opportunity to live with them for a couple of months in 1987 as a college freshman and attend his class. On the weekends, Hugo would ask me to pick a letter and we would listen to songs all day by artists whose names began with that letter. There's never a dull moment when you're hanging out with Hugo!

Unknown said...

And with that post from "the girl", the circle completes... (except I still don't know/can't remember her name, hah!)