What Makes the Stradivarius Special? It Was Designed to Sound Like a Female Soprano Voice, With Notes Sounding Like Vowels, Says Researcher

What makes vio­lins made by the Stradi­vari and Guarneri fam­i­lies as valu­able to musi­cians as they are to col­lec­tors? And how do we mea­sure the opti­mal sound qual­i­ty of a vio­lin? One answer comes from vio­lin mak­er Anton Krutz, who spec­u­lates that these high­ly-prized clas­si­cal instru­ments sing so sweet­ly because they are “made with pro­por­tions and spi­rals based on Gold­en Ratio geom­e­try.”

Per­haps. But Joseph Nagy­vary, a pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus in bio­chem­istry at Texas A&M Uni­ver­si­ty, dis­cov­ered anoth­er, less lofty rea­son for the dis­tinc­tive sound of these cov­et­ed instru­ments. As Texas A&M Today reports, dur­ing his 25 years of research on Stradi­var­ius and Guarneri vio­lins, Nagy­vary found that the two mak­ers “soaked their instru­ments in chem­i­cals such as borax and brine to pro­tect them from a worm infes­ta­tion that was sweep­ing through Italy in the 1700s. By pure acci­dent the chem­i­cals used to pro­tect the wood had the unin­tend­ed result of pro­duc­ing the unique sounds that have been almost impos­si­ble to dupli­cate in the past 400 years.”

Though vio­lins have always been made to imi­tate the human voice, the unique­ness of the Stradi­vari and Guarneri vio­lins, Nagy­vary set out to prove, results in espe­cial­ly human­like tones. In a recent 2013 study pub­lished in the stringed instru­ment sci­ence peri­od­i­cal Savart Jour­nal, Nagy­vary pre­sent­ed research show­ing, writes Live Sci­ence, that these prized Ital­ian instru­ments “pro­duced sev­er­al vow­el sounds, includ­ing the Ital­ian ‘i’ and ‘e’ sounds and sev­er­al vow­el sounds from French and Eng­lish.” Whether by chem­i­cal acci­dent or grand geo­met­ric design, “the great vio­lin mas­ters were mak­ing vio­lins with more human­like voic­es than any oth­ers of the time.”

Seek­ing, as Nagy­vary says in the short video above, to “define what was the stan­dard of excel­lence for the vio­lin sound,” he decid­ed to mea­sure the Stradi­vari and Guarneri-made instru­ments against the orig­i­nal mod­el for their tim­bre: the female sopra­no voice. To com­pare the two, he had Itzhak Perl­man record a scale on a 1743 Guarneri vio­lin, then asked Met­ro­pol­i­tan Opera sopra­no Emi­ly Pul­ley to record her voice while she sang var­i­ous vow­el sounds. Nagy­vary ana­lyzed the har­mon­ic con­tent of both record­ings with a com­put­er pro­gram and mapped the results against each oth­er.

His project, writes Texas A&M Today, effec­tive­ly “proved that the sounds of Pulley’s voice and the violin’s could be locat­ed on the same map… and their respec­tive graph­ic images can be direct­ly com­pared.” The Guarneri vio­lin does indeed exact­ly mim­ic the tones of the singing human voice, repli­cat­ing vow­el sounds from Old Ital­ian and oth­er Euro­pean lan­guages.

Nagy­vary thinks his find­ings “could change how vio­lins may be valued”—for their sound rather than for the label inside the instru­ment. A vio­lin mak­er him­self, the for­mer bio­chem­istry pro­fes­sor also sug­gests a more prac­ti­cal appli­ca­tion for his research find­ings: they might teach vio­lin mak­ers how to improve the qual­i­ty of their instru­ments. Nagyvary’s sci­en­tif­ic approach may offer luthiers the exact chem­i­cal com­po­si­tion and the mea­sur­able tonal qual­i­ties of the Stradi­var­ius, enabling them to final­ly dupli­cate these beloved Renais­sance instru­ments.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Why Vio­lins Have F‑Holes: The Sci­ence & His­to­ry of a Remark­able Renais­sance Design

Musi­cian Plays the Last Stradi­var­ius Gui­tar in the World, the “Sabionari” Made in 1679

The Art and Sci­ence of Vio­lin Mak­ing

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Hear Oscar Wilde’s “The Happy Prince,” Performed by Orson Welles & Bing Crosby on Christmas Eve 1944

The most beloved fables have sur­vived for ages, passed down from gen­er­a­tion to gen­er­a­tion in one form or anoth­er since time immemo­r­i­al. It speaks to the genius of Oscar Wilde that his chil­dren’s sto­ry “The Hap­py Prince” has attained that sta­tus despite hav­ing exist­ed for less than 130 years. In that time it has cap­ti­vat­ed read­ers, lis­ten­ers, and view­ers (includ­ing the likes of Pat­ti Smith) in the orig­i­nal text as well as in a vari­ety of adap­ta­tions, includ­ing an orches­tral per­for­mance, an ani­mat­ed film, a read­ing by Stephen Fry, and a rock opera. It also pro­vid­ed mate­r­i­al for a num­ber of radio broad­casts in the 1930s and 40s, includ­ing the one above, a read­ing by Orson Welles, Bing Cros­by, and Lurene Tut­tle.

Welles takes the Wildean role of the nar­ra­tor. Cros­by plays the tit­u­lar prince immor­tal­ized in stat­ue form with­out hav­ing ever, iron­i­cal­ly, expe­ri­enced hap­pi­ness in life. Tut­tle, a pro­lif­ic actress of not just radio but vaude­ville, film, and tele­vi­sion, gives voice to the swal­low who, left behind when his flock migrates to Egypt for the win­ter, alights on the prince’s shoul­der. In their shared lone­some­ness, the bird and the stat­ue become friends, and the prince asks the spar­row to dis­trib­ute his dec­o­ra­tions to the peo­ple of the impov­er­ished town around them. What comes of these self­less deeds? The answer resides, with the rest of the sto­ry, in the hal­lowed realm of myth.

Welles, Cros­by, and Tut­tle’s per­for­mance of “The Hap­py Prince” debuted on the Philco Radio Hall of Fame on Christ­mas Eve 1944. It proved pop­u­lar enough that two years lat­er, Dec­ca com­mis­sioned the actors for anoth­er per­for­mance of the sto­ry and put it out as a record album. In becom­ing some­thing of a hol­i­day tra­di­tion, Wilde’s immac­u­late­ly craft­ed tale of com­pan­ion­ship, sac­ri­fice, and redemp­tion has sure­ly turned a few gen­er­a­tions on to the work of one of the sharpest wits in west­ern his­to­ry. The prince and the swal­low may come to an unfor­tu­nate end on Earth, but they enjoy the recog­ni­tion their deeds have earned them in the king­dom of heav­en. Wilde’s own short life closed with a series of dif­fi­cult chap­ters, but now we all rec­og­nize the pre­cious­ness of what he left behind.

Find more read­ings of Oscar Wilde clas­sics in our col­lec­tion, 1,000 Free Audio Books: Down­load Great Books for Free.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Stephen Fry Reads Oscar Wilde’s Children’s Sto­ry “The Hap­py Prince”

Watch Ani­ma­tions of Oscar Wilde’s Children’s Sto­ries “The Hap­py Prince” and “The Self­ish Giant”

Pat­ti Smith’s List of Favorite Books: From Rim­baud to Susan Son­tag

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Prince Plays Unplugged and Wraps the Crowd Around His Little Finger (2004)

Google the words “Prince” and “shade.” Go ahead. It’s worth it. Or just click here, lazy­bones. Lis­ti­cle after arti­cle on how the depart­ed genius was the “King of Shade.” And seri­ous­ly, check out the memes. What the hell am I ram­bling on about? What’s “shade”? If you’re feel­ing unhip, look no fur­ther than the video above, which has the added bonus of fea­tur­ing The Artist in a solo acoustic per­for­mance at New York’s Web­ster Hall for an MTV Unplugged episode, doing a kind of high­lights reel of some of his best-loved songs.

He is, of course, bril­liant. You don’t need me to rhap­sodize about what an amaz­ing musi­cian Prince was. You already knew that, and if you didn’t, the Inter­net has told you so sev­er­al hun­dred times over and, for once, it did­n’t exag­ger­ate one bit. But back to the shade. In Prince’s case, the sub­tle side-eye, the with­er­ing looks of dis­dain and dis­ap­proval, the WTF sneers…. When you take in the full range of the man’s expres­sions, you’ll see why Miles Davis com­pared his stage per­sona to Char­lie Chap­lin—he wasn’t just a musi­cal genius, bene­fac­tor to many, film star, sexy MFer…. He was also a phys­i­cal come­di­an.

Watch him toy with the audi­ence above. He invites them to sing along as he starts with “Cream.” They do so bad­ly off-key, Prince stops and throws shade. Audi­ence shuts up, suit­ably shamed, then cracks up. Repeat. It’s fan­tas­tic crowd inter­ac­tion from a man who could put on a Broad­way-wor­thy pro­duc­tion with all the smoke and pyrotech­nics and a cast of thou­sands, or who could sit onstage alone with an acoustic gui­tar and wrap the crowd around his lit­tle fin­ger. (Lat­er dur­ing “Sweet Thing” he turns the mic around and lets the audi­ence take over com­plete­ly.) And his acoustic blues chops ain’t bad either. See the full per­for­mance here.

As an added bonus, above, see Prince’s very first tele­vised inter­view, broad­cast on MTV in 1985 and shot on the set of the “Amer­i­ca” video. Watch him answer pre­screened ques­tions and explain to us how, “I’m just like every­one else. I need love… and water.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hear Prince and Miles Davis’ Rarely-Heard Musi­cal Col­lab­o­ra­tions

See Prince (RIP) Play Mind-Blow­ing Gui­tar Solos On “While My Gui­tar Gen­tly Weeps” and “Amer­i­can Woman”

Prince (RIP) Per­forms Ear­ly Hits in a 1982 Con­cert: “Con­tro­ver­sy,” “I Wan­na Be Your Lover” & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

An Ancient Philosophical Song Reconstructed and Played for the First Time in 1,000 Years

Above and below, you can watch musi­cians per­form “Songs of Con­so­la­tion,” a 1,000-year-old song set “to the poet­ic por­tions of Roman philoso­pher Boethius’ mag­num opus The Con­so­la­tion of Phi­los­o­phy,” an influ­en­tial medieval text writ­ten dur­ing the 6th cen­tu­ry. Accord­ing to Cam­bridge Uni­ver­si­ty, the per­for­mance of the piece, which had been lost in time until recent­ly, did­n’t come eas­i­ly:

[T]he task of per­form­ing such ancient works today is not as sim­ple as read­ing and play­ing the music in front of you. 1,000 years ago, music was writ­ten in a way that record­ed melod­ic out­lines, but not ‘notes’ as today’s musi­cians would recog­nise them; rely­ing on aur­al tra­di­tions and the mem­o­ry of musi­cians to keep them alive. Because these aur­al tra­di­tions died out in the 12th cen­tu­ry, it has often been thought impos­si­ble to recon­struct ‘lost’ music from this era – pre­cise­ly because the pitch­es are unknown.

Now, after more than two decades of painstak­ing work on iden­ti­fy­ing the tech­niques used to set par­tic­u­lar verse forms, research under­tak­en by Cam­bridge University’s Dr Sam Bar­rett has enabled him to recon­struct melodies from the redis­cov­ered leaf of the 11th cen­tu­ry ‘Cam­bridge Songs’.

The song is per­formed here by Ben­jamin Bag­by, Han­na Mar­ti and Nor­bert Rodenkirchen, three mem­bers of the medieval music ensem­ble known as Sequen­tia.

via Cam­bridge/IFL Sci­ence

If you would like to sign up for Open Culture’s free email newslet­ter, please find it here. Or fol­low our posts on Threads, Face­book, BlueSky or Mastodon.

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Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lis­ten to a Record­ing of a Song Writ­ten on a Man’s Butt in a 15-Cen­tu­ry Hierony­mus Bosch Paint­ing

What Ancient Greek Music Sound­ed Like: Hear a Recon­struc­tion That is ‘100% Accu­rate’

See The Guidon­ian Hand, the Medieval Sys­tem for Read­ing Music, Get Brought Back to Life

Free Online Phi­los­o­phy Cours­es

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Founding Fathers, A Documentary Narrated By Public Enemy’s Chuck D, Presents the True History of Hip Hop

Cranky, aging rock stars may kvetch and bitch, but it doesn’t real­ly mat­ter. Hip Hop is here to stay. The musi­cal rev­o­lu­tion that began in the Bronx has gone glob­al, acquired bil­lions of dol­lars in hold­ings, and pushed every oth­er form of pop­u­lar music to adapt to the world it cre­at­ed over the past sev­er­al decades. And whether you’re a casu­al fan or die-hard hip hop head, you’ve prob­a­bly learned a list of names—the names of the found­ing fathers of the genre: Grand­mas­ter Flash & The Furi­ous Five, Africa Bam­baataa, the Sug­ar Hill Gang, DJ Kool Herc, Kur­tis Blow….

The list goes on. Those are the inven­tors of rap, right? The men—and too often unsung women—who turned sev­en­ties dis­co, funk, and R&B into some­thing else entire­ly, who re-invent­ed NYC street and club cul­ture, and even­tu­al­ly the world with only their voic­es, dances, graf­fi­ti, atti­tudes, turnta­bles, and mobile sound sys­tems? Not exact­ly. Maybe it wasn’t the Bronx in the late ‘70s. Maybe it was Brook­lyn and Queens in the late ‘60s. And maybe the found­ing fathers had names like Grand­mas­ter Flow­ers, Nu Sounds, King Charles, Mas­ter D, Charis­ma Funk.…

Nev­er heard of ‘em? You’re not alone. The doc­u­men­tary above, Found­ing Fathers—nar­rat­ed by Chuck D of the immor­tal Pub­lic Enemy—makes the case that these obscure pio­neers did it first, and nev­er received the cred­it they deserve after the uptown artists picked up their styles and ran with them. The claim is attest­ed not only by vet­er­ans of this orig­i­nal Brook­lyn par­ty scene, but also by New York scen­ester Fab 5 Fred­dy and Queens his­to­ri­an Dan­ny Wells (who traces the ori­gins of the genre back to Louis Arm­strong, Mal­colm X, and the Black Pan­thers), among oth­er observers—and by the end of the film, you’ll have a very dif­fer­ent under­stand­ing of where the music came from.

We learn that rap­ping began in 1970 with the rhyming pat­ter of radio and club DJs, who imi­tat­ed and one-upped each oth­er in friend­ly com­pe­ti­tion over dis­co records, then cre­at­ed the call-and-response refrains that char­ac­ter­ized the genre ear­ly on. And the musi­cal “mixol­o­gy” of hip hop began at the end of the ’60s with Brook­lyn DJ Grand­mas­ter Flowers—“the first Grandmaster”—who got his start in pub­lic parks. DJing then evolved into an almost ath­let­ic event with twin broth­ers The Dis­co Twins. Con­struct­ed main­ly from inter­views and archival footage, Found­ing Fathers presents a his­to­ry of hip hop that you’ve nev­er heard before, one cre­at­ed by local stars who did­n’t achieve world­wide fame and glo­ry, but who nonethe­less for­ev­er changed the way the world sounds.

Found­ing Fathers (made avail­able on Found­ing Fathers Youtube chan­nel) will be added to our list of Free Doc­u­men­taries, a sub­set of our col­lec­tion 4,000+ Free Movies Online: Great Clas­sics, Indies, Noir, West­erns, Doc­u­men­taries & More.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Rick Rubin Revis­its the Ori­gins of Def Jam Records & the NYU Dorm Room Where It All Began

How ABC Tele­vi­sion Intro­duced Rap Music to Amer­i­ca in 1981: It’s Painful­ly Awk­ward

All Hail the Beat: How the 1980 Roland TR-808 Drum Machine Changed Pop Music

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Scientific Study Reveals What Made Freddie Mercury’s Voice One of a Kind; Hear It in All of Its A Cappella Splendor

Rock and roll hagiog­ra­phy presents us with a canon of instru­men­tal saints, gui­tar gods, drum demi­urges, bass demons. It’s true, the front­man has often enjoyed a near-mes­sian­ic sta­tus (it’s almost always been a man), but rock his­to­ry has grant­ed less author­i­ty to the voice as an instru­ment and allowed for all kinds of non-traditional—and not always par­tic­u­lar­ly pleas­ant or accomplished—voices. The influ­ence and imi­ta­tion of folk and blues and the rise of punk and met­al has giv­en rock singers plen­ty of license to growl, howl, mum­ble, scream, and moan instead of singing in any clas­si­cal sense.

But then there’s Fred­die Mer­cury, who ele­vat­ed rock vocals to oper­at­ic heights. Whether you love his intense, soar­ing vibra­to or not, there’s no deny­ing his unmatched vir­tu­os­i­ty. Now—as they often do when it comes to music—scientists have “con­firmed the obvi­ous,” as Con­se­quence of Sound puts it: Fred­die Mercury’s voice was some­thing spe­cial.

The spe­cif­ic find­ings of a new study, how­ev­er, tell us things we prob­a­bly didn’t intu­it. Like Tuvan throat singers, it seems that Mercury’s singing and speak­ing voice vibrat­ed both ven­tric­u­lar and vocal folds, cre­at­ing rich sub­har­mon­ics and a vibra­to faster than that of any oth­er singer.

To put that in plain­er terms, researchers found, Con­se­quence of Sound writes, that Mer­cury “was vibrat­ing some­thing in his throat even Pavarot­ti couldn’t move.” That is indeed sur­pris­ing. But we must be cau­tious in inter­pret­ing the results obtained by this group of Aus­tri­an, Czech, and Swedish researchers, who pub­lished their study on April 15th in the infe­lic­i­tous­ly named jour­nal Logo­pe­dics Pho­ni­atrics Vocol­o­gy. Since Mer­cury died in 1991, the sci­en­tists were unable to gath­er what they refer to as “phys­i­o­log­i­cal or bio­me­chan­i­cal data of vocal fold vibra­tion” from the sub­ject him­self. Instead, they exam­ined, among oth­ers, record­ings from The Acapel­la Col­lec­tion, a boot­leg com­pi­la­tion of iso­lat­ed Mer­cury vocal tracks, and attempt­ed to cor­rect for stu­dio manip­u­la­tion.

You can hear a few of those amaz­ing record­ings here (“We are the Cham­pi­ons” at the top, “Some­body to Love” below it, “Keep Your­self Alive” fur­ther down, “I Want to Break Free,” above, “I Want it All” below, and “Bohemi­an Rhap­sody” at the bot­tom.) To exam­ine Mercury’s speak­ing voice, they ana­lyzed sam­ples from six dif­fer­ent inter­views. To get a fur­ther sense of how Mer­cury made the sounds he did, the team used a ringer, a Mer­cury imi­ta­tor named Daniel Zang­ger-Borch. As he dupli­cat­ed Mercury’s vocals, they filmed his lar­ynx at 4,000 frames per sec­ond to visu­al­ize how the Queen singer might have employed his own instru­ment.

But of course, this is only an approx­i­ma­tion, and—given that Mercury’s voice was in a class of its own—it’s dif­fi­cult to under­stand how anoth­er singer could have recre­at­ed his one-of-a-kind tech­nique. In any case, the research con­clu­sions are intrigu­ing, espe­cial­ly since the study sug­gests that not only did Mercury’s vibra­to and sub­har­mon­ic tech­nique cre­ate his thor­ough­ly unique vocal sound, but that they also may have con­tributed to his “eccen­tric and flam­boy­ant stage per­sona.” The researchers were unable to sub­stan­ti­ate, how­ev­er, the pop­u­lar idea that Mercury’s voice spanned a full four octaves. You can read the full study, in all its minute tech­ni­cal detail, here.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Lis­ten to Fred­die Mer­cury and David Bowie on the Iso­lat­ed Vocal Track for the Queen Hit ‘Under Pres­sure,’ 1981

Watch Behind-the-Scenes Footage From Fred­die Mercury’s Final Video Per­for­mance

Queen Doc­u­men­tary Pays Trib­ute to the Rock Band That Con­quered the World

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Mesmerizing Animation, Made of Photos from Early-1900s America, Lets You Travel in a Steampunk Time Machine

Sure­ly you remem­ber Cheers, if only from the sit­com’s syn­di­cat­ed reruns cease­less­ly aired around the world. And if you remem­ber Cheers, you’ll remem­ber no part of it more vivid­ly than its open­ing cred­its sequence, which broke from the well-estab­lished tra­di­tion of show­ing the faces of the series’ cast mem­bers.

Instead, writes Stephen Cole at Fonts in Use, the stu­dio charged with cre­at­ing the sequence “col­lect­ed archival illus­tra­tions and pho­tographs of bar life, culled from books, pri­vate col­lec­tions, and his­tor­i­cal soci­eties. They hand-tint­ed the images and paired them with typog­ra­phy inspired by a turn-of-the-cen­tu­ry aes­thet­ic.”

The Old New World

As fond­ly as we remem­ber their work, the art of bring­ing turn-of-the-cen­tu­ry pho­tos to life has come a long way indeed since Cheers debuted in 1982. Take, for instance, the short above: The Old New World by Russ­ian pho­tog­ra­ph­er and ani­ma­tor Alex­ey Zakharov, who in just over three and a half min­utes takes us right back to ear­ly-1900s Amer­i­ca. “The pho­tos show New York, Boston, Detroit, Wash­ing­ton, D.C., and Bal­ti­more between 1900 and 1940, and were obtained from the web­site Shorpy,” writes Petapix­el’s Michael Zhang, quot­ing Zakharov’s own descrip­tion of the work as a “pho­to-based ani­ma­tion project” as well as a chance to “trav­el back in time with a lit­tle steam­punk time machine.”

The Old New World 2

You can see a gallery of more of the mate­ri­als that went into The Old New World at Behance. Just as those Cheers open­ing cred­its evoked the con­vivi­al­i­ty of old-time tav­ern cul­ture, Zakharov’s film evokes what it meant — or at least, to all of us cur­rent­ly alive and thus with­out any liv­ing mem­o­ry of that era, what we think it meant — to live in the head­i­est cities going in the head­i­est coun­try going, places whose boom­ing indus­try and cul­ture held out seem­ing­ly infi­nite promise, even on qui­et days.

The Old New World 3

Should Net­flix picks Cheers as their next beloved sit­com to revive, they might con­sid­er going to Zakharov for a new title sequence. He’s cer­tain­ly got all the pic­tures of Boston he’d need.

The Old New World 4

via Petapix­el

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Down­load 2,000 Mag­nif­i­cent Turn-of-the-Cen­tu­ry Art Posters, Cour­tesy of the New York Pub­lic Library

Lon­don Mashed Up: Footage of the City from 1924 Lay­ered Onto Footage from 2013

James Joyce’s Dublin Cap­tured in Vin­tage Pho­tos from 1897 to 1904

Watch 1920s “City Sym­phonies” Star­ring the Great Cities of the World: From New York to Berlin to São Paulo

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

Hear Prince and Miles Davis’ Rarely-Heard Musical Collaborations

The days and weeks after a celebri­ty death tend to fill up with pub­lic inquiries. The vaguer the cir­cum­stances, the more ques­tions pro­lif­er­ate, lead to inves­ti­ga­tions, tri­als, depress­ing tabloid pay­days…. But many fans don’t linger over pro­ce­dur­al goings-on or pruri­ent details. Many won­der instead “What if?”—as in, how do we reck­on the artis­tic loss? What projects went uncom­plet­ed? What kind of col­lab­o­ra­tions might have been on the hori­zon?

The spec­u­la­tive answers to the lat­ter ques­tion often give us far more inter­est­ing results than the real thing. While David Bowie’s work with Fred­die Mer­cury and Queen is unques­tion­ably mas­ter­ful, for exam­ple, his joint effort with Mick Jag­ger now just makes us laugh. Bowie worked with near­ly every­one it seems—there are few match-ups left to pon­der…. Well, every­one that is except Prince. What if….?

And now that Prince has left us, we might won­der about all of the super­du­os that might have formed had he lived into his six­ties and beyond. One col­lab­o­ra­tion that did bear some fruit dur­ing his life­time came just in time for Prince’s super­star part­ner, Miles Davis, who died in 1991. Dur­ing the lat­ter half of the ‘80s, the two formed a bond, based on mutu­al admi­ra­tion for each other’s music, of course, as well as for each other’s image and gen­er­al­ly uncom­pro­mis­ing per­son­al­i­ty.

In fact, since at least 1982, Davis, writes his biog­ra­ph­er Ian Carr, became “almost obses­sive­ly inter­est­ed in the androg­y­nous, mul­ti-tal­ent­ed black pop star… whom he rat­ed very high­ly as an artist.” In the short (almost inaudi­ble) inter­view clip above, Davis describes Prince as a syn­the­sis of James Brown, Mar­vin Gaye, Jimi Hen­drix, and Char­lie Chap­lin. He also com­pared Prince to Sly Stone and Lit­tle Richard, writes Carr, and com­ment­ed, “He’s a mix­ture of all those guys and Duke Elling­ton.”

For his part, Prince sup­pos­ed­ly saw in Davis an old­er ver­sion of him­self. After the two artists met in 1985, they crossed paths sev­er­al more times in the fol­low­ing years, with Miles appear­ing onstage to play a solo at a Pais­ley Park New Year’s Eve ben­e­fit and record­ing a solo on the Prince/Chaka Khan song “Sticky Wicked” in 1988. What’s par­tic­u­lar­ly inter­est­ing about Prince and Davis’s musi­cal love affair is that the result­ing music played to both artists’ strengths, instead of attempt­ing to meld their styles into some­thing out of char­ac­ter.

Davis’ exper­i­ments with ‘80s R&B tropes in his 1986 album Tutu stem from their work togeth­er, and the record was orig­i­nal­ly intend­ed as a Prince col­lab­o­ra­tion. At the top of the post, you can hear an unre­leased track orig­i­nal­ly writ­ten for Tutu called “Can I Play With U?” and fea­tur­ing Prince’s vocals. Tutu end­ed up going in a dif­fer­ent direc­tion, and received some high­ly mixed reviews, but it retained much of the spir­it of Prince. And for Miles—who since the late six­ties had absorbed and trans­formed influ­ences from so many con­tem­po­rary styles—this seemed per­fect­ly fit­ting.

The Tutu col­lab may not have panned out—Prince was appar­ent­ly unhap­py with the results and scrapped his songs—but the two didn’t give up on each oth­er. On the con­trary, much of the music Davis played and record­ed at the end of his life was writ­ten by Prince. Above, hear one such com­po­si­tion, the sug­ges­tive­ly named “Pen­e­tra­tion,” in a 1991 per­for­mance. Though Prince’s funk roots shine through, it’s also a work very much in Davis’s fusion wheel­house. Although Davis died before the two could com­plete their long-await­ed col­lab­o­ra­tive album, we don’t have to won­der “What if?”

Much of the music they wrote togeth­er sur­vives in live per­for­mances like that above and has cir­cu­lat­ed in a Davis boot­leg titled Miles Davis Plays Prince and a Prince boot­leg titled Cru­cial. Does the music on these record­ings live up to the out­sized tal­ent and per­son­al­i­ties of these two genius­es? Prob­a­bly not—whatever could? But it shows us the direc­tion Davis would have con­tin­ued to move in had he lived on, and also gives us a way to think about the sig­nif­i­cant jazz influ­ences in Prince’s music, a sub­ject rarely dis­cussed but wor­thy of much more con­sid­er­a­tion.

via Bill­board

Relat­ed Con­tent:

See Prince (RIP) Play Mind-Blow­ing Gui­tar Solos On “While My Gui­tar Gen­tly Weeps” and “Amer­i­can Woman”

Prince (RIP) Per­forms Ear­ly Hits in a 1982 Con­cert: “Con­tro­ver­sy,” “I Wan­na Be Your Lover” & More

The Night When Miles Davis Opened for the Grate­ful Dead in 1970: Hear the Com­plete Record­ings

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

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