New Documentary Sisters with Transistors Tells the Story of Electronic Music’s Female Pioneers

“Technology is a tremendous liberator,” says Laurie Anderson in her voiceover narration for the new documentary Sisters with Transistors, a look at the women who have pioneered electronic music since its beginnings and been integral to inventing new sounds and ways of making them. “Women were naturally drawn to electronic music. You didn’t have to be accepted by any of the male-dominated resources. You could make something with electronics, and you could present music directly to an audience.”

Technology as liberator may sound utopian to our jaded 21st century ears, accustomed as we are to focusing on tech’s misuses and abuses. But machines have very often been a means of social progress, just as when “bicycles promised freedom to women long accustomed to relying on men for transportation.” The creation and innovation of recording and broadcasting equipment deserves its own place in women’s history.




Radio in particular gave women the opportunity to experiment with sound and reach millions who might not otherwise give them a hearing. The influence of BBC radio composers like Delia Derbyshire and Daphne Oram, for example, remains pervasive, and the electronic soundscapes they created for radio and television helped define the sonic world we now inhabit. It is a world, director Lisa Rovner tells AFI’s Malin Kan below, permeated by electronic music.

“I can’t actually remember,” says Rovner, “a time when I wasn’t aware of electronic music. Electronic music penetrates pretty much every single aspect of my life since I was a kid, whether that’s stuff that’s on television or the video games that I played with my brother.” Her interest in the music’s “transcendent” qualities was first piqued, she says, at a rave. The film project happened to “check all the boxes” for her, with its focus not only on the electronic music women have made for over a century, but also on “the wider social, political and cultural context of the 20th century,” as the film’s site notes.

Sisters with Transistors covers a range of composers, several of whom we’ve previously featured on Open Culture, including Derbyshire, Oram, Clara Rockmore, Bebe Barron, Maryanne Amacher, Eliane Radigue, Suzanne Ciani, Laurie Spiegel, and Pauline Oliveros. “The history of women has been a history of silence,” Rovner writes. “Music is no exception.” Or as Oliveros put it in a 1970 New York Times Op-Ed:

Why have there been no “great” women composers? The question is often asked. The answer is no mystery. In the past, talent, education, ability, interests, motivation were irrelevant because being female was a unique qualification for domestic work and for continual obedience to and dependence upon men.

As Sisters with Transistors shows, new technologies broke that dependence for many women, including Oliveros, who provided us with a different answer to questions about the paucity of women composers. Why are there no “great” women in electronic music? Because you haven’t heard them yet. Learn their names and stories in the new documentary.

via Hyperallergic

Related Content:

Meet Clara Rockmore, the Pioneering Electronic Musician Who First Rocked the Theremin in the Early 1920s

The Deeply Meditative Electronic Music of Avant-Garde Composer Eliane Radigue

Two Documentaries Introduce Delia Derbyshire, the Pioneer in Electronic Music

Daphne Oram Created the BBC’s First-Ever Piece of Electronic Music (1957)

Hear Seven Hours of Women Making Electronic Music (1938-2014)

Meet Four Women Who Pioneered Electronic Music: Daphne Oram, Laurie Spiegel, Éliane Radigue & Pauline Oliveros

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

See Devo Perform Live for the Very First Time (Kent State University, 1973)

Kent State University is known as the site of two important events in American culture: the massacre of May 4, 1970, and the formation of Devo. When the National Guard shot thirteen students at a Vietnam War protest, it signaled to many the end of the youth-driven optimism of the late 1960s. It also motivated a group of musically inclined undergraduates to consolidate the band/conceptual art project they’d premised on the idea of “de-evolution.” Around that time, the group’s founders, art students Gerald Casale and Bob Lewis, met a keyboardist named Mark Mothersbaugh, who contributed some of the signature musical and comedic sensibilities of what would become Devo.

“The band, or at least a band known as Sextet Devo, first performed at a 1973 arts festival in Kent,” writes Calvin C. Rydbom in The Akron Sound: The Heyday of the Midwest’s Punk Capital. Filling out that sextet were Casale’s brother Bob, drummer Rod Reisman, and vocalist Fred Weber. A handout for the show promises a series of “polyrhythmic exercises in de-evolution,” including a number called “Private Secretary,” footage of which appears above.




“The group were all dressed oddly, Bob in scrubs, Jerry in a butcher’s coat, Bob Lewis behind the keyboards in a monkey mask, and Mark in a doctor’s robe,” writes George Gimarc in Punk Diary: The Ultimate Trainspotter’s Guide to Underground Rock, 1970-1982. “The audience was, at times, confused, amused, and some even danced.”

Sextet Devo “would have been off the charts in most environments,” says Myopia, a retrospective volume on Mothersbaugh’s work. At the Kent Creative Arts Festival “the band actually fit within the spectrum of normal behavior, albeit at the far end of the scale.” But even their most appreciative viewers couldn’t have known how far the concept of de-evolution had to go, to say nothing of the pop-cultural heights to which the oddballs onstage would carry it. Just five years later, Devo would make their national-television debut as a quintet on Saturday Night Live, “de-evolving” the Rolling Stones’ “Satisfaction.” But they didn’t forget where they’d come from: nearly thirty years after their first show, they came back around to 1970 for a de-evolution of Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s “Ohio.”

Related Content:

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The Philosophy & Music of Devo, the Avant-Garde Art Project Dedicated to Revealing the Truth About De-Evolution

The Mastermind of Devo, Mark Mothersbaugh, Presents His Personal Synthesizer Collection

DEVO Is Now Selling COVID-19 Personal Protective Equipment: Energy Dome Face Shields

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

 

Thelonious Monk’s List of 25 Tips for Musicians


Let’s provide the context, just like host Adam Neely and guest Brian Krock do in this video: in 1960 Steve Lacy, a young, white soprano sax player, briefly joined Thelonious Monk’s band. Two years previous, Lacy had  been the first jazz musician to release an album of Monk’s compositions other than the man himself. Even so, Lacy was young, excited, and starstruck at playing alongside not just Monk but John Coltrane (who shared the bill on the 16 week tour), just absorbing everything.

At some point, Monk took Lacy aside and gave his some advice which Lacy wrote down, 25 pieces of advice to be exact.




In the video below, from Neely’s always interesting channel (we’ve previously written about him here), he and Krock go through the 25 points and comment on each one. For those who love to hear musicians (or any artist) talk shop, this is wonderful stuff.

Some of the advice is such as befits a live musician—“Pat your foot & sing the melody in your head, when you play”, “Don’t play the piano part, I’m playing that”, “When you’re swinging, swing some more!,” and “A note can be small as a pin or as big as the world, it depends on your imagination.”

Others are more crucial to the business, especially “Don’t sound anybody for a gig, just be on the scene.” That is: if you around the scene enough, and show your worth, you will get asked to play. But just cold asking won’t get you anywhere. Also, when asked what to wear to a gig, Monk advises: “Sharp as possible!” which you could indeed say of Monk.

Other advice is more mystical: “You’ve got to dig it to dig it, you dig?” “What you don’t play can be more important than what you do.”

And the one that gets quoted the most, “A genius is the one most like himself.” That’s true when it comes to Monk or any of the giants of jazz. To hear Monk, or Coltrane, or Miles Davis play is to hear the artist, the genius, and the person, not just the melody or the instrument. It reminds me of the great Harry Partch quote: “The creative person shows himself naked. And the more vigorous his creative act, the more naked he appears – sometimes totally vulnerable, yet always invulnerable in the sense of his own integrity.”

And maybe that’s why we keep coming back to them, long after their physical bodies have left this plane of existence.

The full list is as follows:

  1. Just because you’re not a drummer, doesn’t mean you don’t have to keep time.
  2. Pat your foot & sing the melody in your head, when you play.
  3. Stop playing all that bullshit, those weird notes, play the melody!
  4. Make the drummer sound good.
  5. Discrimination is important.
  6. You’ve got to dig it to dig it, you dig?
  7. All reet!
  8. Always know… (monk )
  9. It must be always night, otherwise they wouldn’t need the lights.
  10. Let’s lift the band stand!!
  11. I want to avoid the hecklers.
  12. Don’t play the piano part, I’m playing that.
  13.  Don’t listen to me. I’m supposed to be accompanying you!
  14. The inside of the tune (the bridge) is the part that makes the outside sound good.
  15. Don’t play everything (or every time); let some things go by. Some music just imagined. What you don’t play can be more important than what you do.
  16. Always leave them wanting more.
  17. A note can be small as a pin or as big as the world, it depends on your imagination.
  18. Stay in shape! Sometimes a musician waits for a gig, & when it comes, he’s out of shape & can’t make it.
  19. When you’re swinging, swing some more!
  20. (What should we wear tonight?) Sharp as possible!
  21. Don’t sound anybody for a gig, just be on the scene.
  22. These pieces were written so as to have something to play, & to get cats interested enough to come to rehearsal.
  23. You’ve got it! If you don’t want to play, tell a joke or dance, but in any case, you got it! (to a drummer who didn’t want to solo).
  24. Whatever you think can’t be done, somebody will come along & do it. A genius is the one most like himself.
  25. They tried to get me to hate white people, but someone would always come along & spoil it.

Related Content:

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A Child’s Introduction to Jazz by Cannonball Adderley (with Louis Armstrong & Thelonious Monk)

Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

Animation Pioneer Lotte Reiniger Adapts Mozart’s The Magic Flute into an All-Silhouette Short Film (1935)

When Lotte Reiniger began making animation in the late 1910s, her work looked like nothing that had ever been shot on film. In fact, it also resembles nothing else achieved in the realm of cinema in the century since. Even the enormously budgeted and staffed productions of major studios have yet to replicate the stark, quavering charm of her silhouette animations. Those studios do know full well, however, what Reiniger realized long before: that no other medium can more vividly realize the visions of fairy tales. To believe that, one needs only watch her 1922 Cinderella or 1955 Hansel and Gretel, previously featured here on Open Culture.

It was between those productions that Reiniger made the work for which she’s now best remembered: the 1926 One Thousand and One Nights pastiche The Adventures of Prince Achmed, the very first feature in animation history. Nine years later, she turned to source material closer at hand, culturally speaking, and adapted a section of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute.




You can watch the result, the ten-minute Papageno, at the top of the post. A bird-catcher, the title character finds one day that all the avians around him have become tiny human females. Though none of them stick around, an ostrich later delivers him a full-size maiden, only for a giant snake to drive her away. Will Papageno defeat the serpent and reclaim his beloved, or submit to despair?

“The magic of the fairy tale has always been her greatest fascination, yet her own interpretations attain a unique quality,” says the narrator of the 1970 documentary short just above, in which Reiniger re-enacts the thoroughly analog and highly labor-intensive making of Papageno. “The figures she cuts out and constructs were originally inspired by the puppets used in traditional Eastern shadow theaters, of which the silhouette form is the logical conclusion.” This hybridization of venerable narrative material from Western lands like Germany with an even more venerable aesthetic from Eastern lands like Indonesia has assured only part of her work’s enduring appeal. “Ms. Reiniger will continue to have a strange affection for each of her figures,” the narrator notes. This is “an understandable affection, for in their flexibility they have almost human characteristics of movement.” It’s an affection anyone with an interest in animation, fairy tales, or Mozart will share.

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The Groundbreaking Silhouette Animations of Lotte Reiniger: Cinderella, Hansel and Gretel, and More

The First Animated Feature Film: The Adventures of Prince Achmed by Lotte Reiniger (1926)

Mozart’s Diary Where He Composed His Final Masterpieces Is Now Digitized and Available Online

See Mozart Played on Mozart’s Own Fortepiano, the Instrument That Most Authentically Captures the Sound of His Music

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

When Iggy Pop Published an Essay, “Caesar Lives,” in an Academic Journal about His Love for Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (1995)

Purveyors of the shocking, primal idiocy of pure rock and roll can in many cases be some of the most intelligent people in pop. Or at least that’s the case with the king of shocking, primal idiocy, Iggy Pop. He has interpreted Whitman‘s “barbaric yawp” and delivered the John Peel Lecture for BBC Music, becoming “a visiting professor from the School of Punk Rock Hard Knocks,” writes Rolling Stone and bringing an elder statesman’s perspective informed not only by his years in the bowels of the music industry but also by his avocation as a scholar of the Roman Empire….

Yes, that’s right, Iggy Pop is not only an adroit stylist of some of the most brilliantly stupid garage rock ever made, but he’s also a serious reader and thinker who once published a brief reflection on his relationship with Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire in the academic journal Ireland Classics.




“Iggy Pop, like Bob Dylan,” writes E.J. Hutchinson, “has an avid interest in Roman antiquity and its genetic connection to contemporary life.” He may also be the sharpest, wiliest embodiment of post-industrial American decline—his entire musical personality a punch in the collective face of the nation’s delusions.

In 1982, horrified by the meanness, tedium and depravity of my existence as I toured the American South playing rock and roll music and going crazy in public, I purchased an abridged copy of The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Dero Saunders, Penguin). 

The grandeur of the subject appealed to me, as did the cameo illustration of Edward Gibbon, the author, on the front cover. He looked like a heavy dude.

Hutchinson gives us a finely wrought analysis of Pop’s “tour de force of classical Gibbonian English prose, a scrap of Ciceronian periodicity.” (Gibbon did, indeed, look like a heavy dude.) Pop’s reading of Gibbon, “with pleasure around 4 am, with my drugs and whisky in cheap motels,” absorbed him in its “clash of beliefs, personalities and values,” he writes, “played out on antiquity’s stage by crowds of the vulgar, led by huge archetypal characters.” All of this appealed to him, he writes, given his own role in “a political business… the music business, which is not about music at all, but is a kind of religion-rental.”

Gibbon’s massive saga, a monumental example of sweeping Enlightenment historiography, so captivated Pop that a decade later, it inspired “an extemporaneous soliloquy” he called “Caesar,” the closing track on 1993’s “overlooked masterpiece” American Caesar. The spoken word piece “made me laugh my ass off,” he writes, “because it was so true. America is Rome. Of course, why shouldn’t it be? All of Western life and institutions today are traceable to the Romans and their world. We are all Roman children for better or worse.”

But there was much more to Pop’s reading of Gibbon—which he eventually enjoyed in a “beautiful edition in three volumes of the magnificent original unabridged”—than a possibly facile comparison between one failing empire and another. Much more, indeed. Reading Gibbon, he writes (sounding very much like another proponent of the classics, Italo Calvino), taught him how to think about the present, and how to think, humbly, about himself. He ends his essay with a numbered list of “just some of the ways I benefit”:

  1. I feel a great comfort and relief knowing that there were others who lived and died and thought and fought so long ago; I feel less tyrannized by the present day.
  2. I learn much about the way our society really works, because the system-origins — military, religious, political, colonial, agricultural, financial — are all there to be scrutinized in their infancy. I have gained perspective.
  3. The language in which the book is written is rich and complete, as the language of today is not.
  4. I find out how little I know.
  5. I am inspired by the will and erudition which enabled Gibbon to complete a work of twenty-odd years. The guy stuck with things. I urge anyone who wants life on earth to really come alive for them to enjoy the beautiful ancestral ancient world.

Read Pop’s full 1995 Ireland Classics essay on Jstor or Medium.

via Hannah Rose Woods

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The Splendid Book Design of the 1946 Edition of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

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

Did Beethoven Use a Broken Metronome When Composing His String Quartets? Scientists & Musicians Try to Solve the Centuries-Old Mystery

When it comes to classical composers, Beethoven was pretty metal. But was he writing some kind of classical thrash? Hardcore orchestrations too fast for the average musician to play? 66 out of 135 of Beethoven’s tempo markings made with his new metronome in the early 1800s seem “absurdly fast and thus possibly wrong,” researchers write in a recent American Mathematical Society article titled “Was Something Wrong with Beethoven’s Metronome?” Indeed, the authors go on, “many if not most of Beethoven’s markings have been ignored by latter day conductors and recording artists” because of their incredible speed.

Since the late 19th century and into the age of recorded music, conductors have slowed Beethoven’s quartets down, so that we have all internalized them at a slower pace than he presumably meant them to be played. “These pieces have throughout the years entered the subconscious of professional musicians, amateurs and audiences, and the tradition,” writes the Beethoven Project, “handed down by the great quartets of yesteryear.” Slower tempos have “become a norm against which all subsequent performances are judged.”




Eybler Quartet violist Patrick Jordan found out just how deeply musicians and audiences have internalized slower tempi when he became interested in playing and recording at Beethoven’s indicated speeds in the mid-80s. “Finding a group of people who were prepared to actually take [Beethoven’s metronome marks] seriously—that was a 30-year wait,” he tells CBC. “A huge amount of our labour required that we un-learn those things; that we get notions of what we’ve heard recorded and played in concerts many times out of our heads and try to put in what Beethoven, at least at some point in his life, believed and thought highly enough to make a note of and publish.”

But did he? The subject of Beethoven’s metronome has been a source of controversy for some time. A few historians have theorized that the inventor of the metronome, Johann Nepomuk Mälzel, “something of a mechanical wizard,” Smithsonian writes, and also something of a disreputable character, sabotaged the device he presented to the composer in 1815 as a peace offering after he sued Beethoven for the rights to a composition. (Mälzel actually stole the metronome’s design from a Dutch mechanic named Dietrich Winkel.) But most musicologists and historians have dismissed the theory of deliberate trickery.

Still, the problem of too-fast tempi persists. “The literature on the subject is enormous,” admit the authors of the American Mathematical Society study. Their research suggests that Beethoven’s metronome was simply broken and he didn’t notice. Likewise data scientists at the Universidad Carlos III de Madrid have theorized that the composer, one of the very first to use the device, misread the machine, a case of musical misprision in his reaction against what he called in 1817 “these nonsensical terms allegro, andante, adagio, presto….”

Theorists may find the tempi hard to believe, but the Toronto-based Eybler Quartet was undeterred by their skepticism. “I don’t think there’s any evidence to suggest that the mechanism itself was [faulty],” says Jordan, “and we know from [Beethoven’s] correspondence and contemporaneous accounts that he was very concerned that his metronome stay in good working order and he had it recalibrated frequently so it was accurate.” Jordan instead credits the punishing speeds to Romanticism’s passionate individualism, and to the fact that “Beethoven was not always so very nice.” Maybe, instead of soothing his audiences, he wanted to shock them and set their hearts racing.

Who are we to believe? Questions of tempo can be fraught in classical circles (witness the reactions to Glenn Gould’s absurdly slow versions of Bach.) The metronome was supposed to solve problems of rhythmic imprecision. Instead, at least in Beethoven’s case, it reinscribed them in compositions that boldly challenge ideas of what a classical quartet is supposed to sound like, which makes me think he knew exactly what he was doing.

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

What’s Entering the Public Domain in 2021: The Great Gatsby & Mrs. Dalloway, Music by Irving Berlin & Duke Ellington, Comedies by Buster Keaton, and More

“The year 1925 was a golden moment in literary history,” writes the BBC’s Jane Ciabattari. “Ernest Hemingway’s first book, In Our Time, Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby were all published that year. As were Gertrude Stein’s The Making of Americans, John Dos Passos’ Manhattan Transfer, Theodore Dreiser’s An American Tragedy and Sinclair Lewis’s Arrowsmith, among others.” In that year, adds Director of Duke’s Center for the Study of the Public Domain Jennifer Jenkins, “the stylistic innovations produced by books such as Gatsby, or The Trial, or Mrs. Dalloway marked a change in both the tone and the substance of our literary culture, a broadening of the range of possibilities available to writers.”

In the year 2021, no matter what area of culture we inhabit, we now find our own range of possibilities broadened. Works from 1925 have entered the public domain in the United States, and Duke University’s post rounds up more than a few notable examples. These include, in addition to the aforementioned titles, books like W. Somerset Maugham’s The Painted Veil and Etsu Inagaki Sugimoto’s A Daughter of the Samurai; films like The Freshman and Go West, by silent-comedy masters Harold Lloyd and Buster Keaton; and music like Irving Berlin’s “Always” and several compositions by Duke Ellington, including “Jig Walk” and “With You.”




These works’ public-domain status means that, among many other benefits to all of us, the Internet Archive can easily add them to its online library. In addition, writes Jenkins, “HathiTrust will make tens of thousands of titles from 1925 available in its digital repository. Google Books will offer the full text of books from that year, instead of showing only snippet views or authorized previews. Community theaters can screen the films. Youth orchestras can afford to publicly perform, or rearrange, the music.” And the creators of today “can legally build on the past — reimagining the books, making them into films, adapting the songs.”

Does any newly public-domained work of 2021 hold out as obvious a promise in that regard as Fitzgerald’s great American novel? Any of us can now make The Great Gatsby “into a film, or opera, or musical,” retell it “from the perspective of Myrtle or Jordan, or make prequels and sequels,” writes Jenkins. “In fact, novelist Michael Farris Smith is slated to release Nick, a Gatsby prequel telling the story of Nick Carraway’s life before he moves to West Egg, on January 5, 2021.” Whatever results, it will further prove what Ciabattari calls the “continuing resonance” of not just Jay Gatsby but all the other major characters created by the novelists of 1925, inhabitants as well as embodiments of a “transformative time” who are “still enthralling generations of new readers” — and writers, or for that matter, creators of all kinds.

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Free: The Great Gatsby & Other Major Works by F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Safety Last, the 1923 Movie Featuring the Most Iconic Scene from Silent Film Era, Just Went Into the Public Domain

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

When Queen’s Freddie Mercury Teamed Up with Opera Superstar Montserrat Caballé in 1988: A Meeting of Two Powerful Voices

Combining pop music with opera was always the height of pretension. But where would we be without the pretentious? As Brian Eno observed in his 1995 diary, “My assumptions about culture as a place where you can take psychological risks without incurring physical penalties make me think that pretending is the most important thing we do. It’s the way we make our thought experiments, find out what it would be like to be otherwise.” And with Freddie Mercury and Queen, if it wasn’t for pretense we wouldn’t have “Bohemian Rhapsody.” Hell, we wouldn’t have Queen, period.

But in 1988 the gamble didn’t exactly pay off. To the British music press, Mercury was coasting on Live Aid fumes and the shadow of his unsuccessful solo album. And then to hear that he’d teamed up with opera singer Montserrat Caballé? Despite what any hagiographic tale of Mercury might say, this passed your average rock fan by.




Outside the whims of the charts, however, Mercury’s team up with Caballé was the fulfillment of a goal he’d had since 1981. The singer had fallen in love with Cabellé’s voice in 1981 when he’d seen her perform alongside Luciano Pavarotti.

Then began a dance between the two artists. Mercury was worried that Caballé would not take this rock star seriously. Caballé, on the other hand, was a rock music fan just like so many people. They owned each others’ albums. Finally, in early 1986, the two met: Caballé’s brother was the music director of the upcoming 1992 Barcelona Olympics and ‘Who better to do a theme song with than Freddie Mercury?’ said the singer.

According to Peter Freestone, Mercury’s personal assistant and longtime friend, meeting Caballé was the most nervous he’d ever been. Mercury was worried the opera singer would be aloof and distant. But she was as down to earth as Mercury in their offstage moments.

As Freestone recounted, “Freddie assumed they’d only make one song together. Then Montserrat said: ‘How many songs do you put on a rock album?’ When Freddie told her eight or 10, she said: ‘Fine – we will do an album.’”

Mercury had two deadlines: one based around Caballé’s schedule, and the other based around his recent AIDS virus diagnosis. Though he had composed the opening song “Barcelona” to sing alongside Caballé at the 1992 opening ceremonies, he told her that he probably wouldn’t be around for that to happen. (Caballé instead sang “Amigos para siempre (Friends forever)” with Spanish tenor José Carreras.) They did manage to perform together, singing “Barcelona” at a promotional event at Ku nightclub in Ibiza in May, 1987.

Mercury wrote the eight songs on the Barcelona album with Mike Moran, the songwriter who’d also worked with Mercury on his previous solo album and whose “Exercises in Free Love” was adapted into “Ensueño” for the album, with Caballé helping in the rewrite.

According to Freestone, watching Caballé was the most emotional he’d seen the usually reserved singer: “When Montserrat sang ‘Barcelona’, after her first take was the nearest I ever saw Freddie to tears. Freddie was emotional, but he was always in control of his emotions, because he could let them out in performing or writing songs. He grabbed my hand and said: ‘I have the greatest voice in the world, singing my music!’ He was so elated.”

In time, the album has gained in reputation, but is criticized that the label spent most of its money on the title track—full orchestration, the works, as benefits a meeting of two operatic minds—and relied on synths for the remaining songs. Fans are asking for a rerecording that brings the full orchestra to all the tracks. We’ve certainly seen odder requests granted in the last few years, like the remix of what many consider Bowie’s worst album. So who indeed can tell? Watch this space.

via Messy Nessy

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the Notes from the Shed podcast and is the producer of KCRW’s Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

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