Saad Eddine Hebboul is an Algerian-American scientist who likes to compose instrumental music at home during his spare time. His modest home studio is located in Long Island, New York, where he is currently a full-time member of the editorial staff of Physical Review Letters, which is a world-leading science journal. Before moving to Long Island in January 1999, he spent 10 years doing research in superconductivity, and few months teaching Physics, at Ohio State University, Columbus, Ohio. He entered the United States with the support of an Algerian scholarship many years earlier, in October 1976, few months after graduating from High School in Algiers, Algeria. After spending 8 months learning English as a Second Language at Davis and Elkins College in West Virginia, he joined Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland, Ohio, in the fall of 1977 and obtained a B. S. in Physics from there 4 years later, in 1981. He then enrolled in graduate school and, in June 1988, he obtained a Ph.D. in Physics from the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, Illinois.
Between the mid-1980s and the late 2000s, Saad Hebboul has produced 20 main music compositions, as well as several other undeveloped shorter pieces. He plays the acoustic piano and other keyboard instruments by ear and has no formal training in music writing, reading, or composition. He says that the only thing he knows is the key, e.g., A-minor or C-sharp, in which the composition was recorded. One of his dreams is to work with professional musicians, some day, to have his music played live by a large orchestra. His main compositions can be transcribed for both traditional acoustic instruments and electronic synthesizers.
Saad was born on 11 November 1958 in Miliana, Algeria, where he spent his childhood and early adulthood. At the age of about 7, he was introduced to two traditional Algerian music styles, known as Andalous and Chaabi, in his uncle’s evening music classes. During this period, he started learning to play the guitar by listening to the music while observing where his uncle’s fingers pressed on the strings. Few years later, he would use a similar technique to play the violin. Sometime during the early 1970s, however, he began to focus on the piano after his father brought home an old upright acoustic piano that was purchased at a local auction. He started teaching himself to play the piano by learning to reproduce simple melody lines of songs that he liked. At that time, his favorite method for remembering melodies was to draw them on a piece of paper as a graph of line-joined dots that followed the position of the played notes on the keyboard.
Saad purchased his first electronic keyboard in February 1984 and his first multi-channel electronic synthesizer in October 1989. These early instruments gave him the freedom to test new compositions at home without waiting for the next opportunity to play a hard-to-find acoustic piano. It was during this period that he developed the basic melody line for the piano part of his first new composition. The completed version would become Cafe Scampi few years later. However, he recorded his first multi-channel composition, Sacred Tree, in December 1991. He arranged this composition so that the same melody line repeats with different solo instruments taking turn to play. This way, he could showcase the variety of sounds that were available in his first synthesizer, the Roland U20. Sacred Tree would turn out to be his first and last composition that he recorded live while playing two keyboards simultaneously. He switched between preset sounds on the fly and used a separate electronic drum machine for the rhythm. His home stereo system could then record the entire live performance directly to a cassette tape deck.
In June 2000, Saad collected 9 of his best compositions from the 1990s and produced his first Album “The Last Voyage” on a cassette tape. After transferring all 9 compositions to the hard drive of a PC computer, he was able to produce a final version of this album onto a CD in August 2002. Between July 1998 and April 1999, he had already painted the cover for this album. With pencil and brush, he painted a simple childlike drawing of the Titanic approaching an iceberg somewhere up north in the dark Atlantic ocean. The title “The Last Voyage” for this album was borrowed from his flagship composition, Last Voyage I, which was inspired by the famous maiden voyage of the Titanic. In November 1999, he recorded the final 9th composition of the album, Last Voyage II, which is simply a rearranged version of Last Voyage I. In this shorter version, he used an additional synthesizer module (BOSS DS-330) for the piano sound.
In November 2001, Saad had the idea for a new concept album that would be based on a single unifying theme. He chose this unifying theme to be “Light”, which is one of the most intriguing phenomena in nature. What is it? Where does it come from? How does it work? In this Album “Light”, he set out to explore these various facets of light through a new collection of 9 full-length compositions. The total time of this new album would eventually add up to about 1 hour of instrumental music. He decided that, unlike his previous Album “The Last Voyage”, the new Album “Light” would be recorded entirely inside the computer. The sole source of all his digital-instrument sounds and effects was an external Roland XV-5050 sound module, which was equipped with two expansion boards (SRX-06 and SRX-11). This modern approach to music recording was new to him at the time. It meant that he had to spend a lot of time learning about sound synthesis and software recording. He once estimated that the time he spent composing and arranging the music was only about 10% of the total time! Since he developed the whole project outside his daytime job, it took him about 5 years, from 2004 to 2009, to finish recording all 9 compositions. It took him nearly one additional year to finish mastering the entire album in February 2010.
In July 2007, Saad recorded two short compositions for his mini-Album “Summer-007-“ in Miliana, Algeria, where he was vacationing with his family. He had just acquainted himself with a powerful synthesizer, the Roland FANTOM X6 Workstation, that his brother brought along. The first composition, EVENING AT SEA, was the result of using an old piano chord that he composed in the late 1990s. He added to it another short piece that was directly inspired by the second half of his not-yet finished SUNSET LIGHT composition. The whole recording came together during a special inspiring moment that he sometimes experiences when he hears new synthesizer sounds. By contrast, the second recording, MAGIC VOICES, was based entirely on his previous composition, MAGIC LIGHT, which was on-going work at that time.
Saad has a special interest in “universal” instrumental music that can be appreciated by different people from all over the world. He says that, in each composition, he tries to give the listener a clear melody to whistle to. Although he occasionally uses human voices in some of his compositions, he prefers to have them “sing without words” so that they can cross all language barriers in order to communicate directly with any listener. In this way, the human voice plays the role of just another instrument in his compositions.
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