Quando Pero Vaz Caminha descobriu que as terras brasileiras eram férteis e verdejantes, escreveu uma carta ao Rei: tudo que nela se planta, tudo cresce e floresce. E o Gauss da época gravou! A lot of attention has been paid to the incorporation of the electric guitar into MPB (música popular brasileira) in the histories of Tropicália. The use of electric guitars by Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil in the televised song festivals of the era was seen by many as an affront to the supposedly "Brazilian" aesthetic values of MPB. While MPB had emphasized acoustic instruments, and samba- and Bossa Nova-derived rhythms, the Tropicalists, in the festivals and elsewhere, called for a modernization of Brazilian pop through cannibalizing the musical styles and technology of the major centers of industrial power. Seen as an apparent assault on the coveted violão -- the nylon stringed classical style acoustic guitar of Brazilian popular music -- the use of electric guitar sparked debates about the direction MPB artists were taking in the late 1960s. For the Tropicalists, the electric guitar symbolized modernization and interaction with international popular culture. Among the MPB artists aligned with the bossa nova movement, however, the electric guitar symbolized the imperialism of Northern industrial culture. In the end, of course, the Tropicalists prevailed, and the electric guitar became a permanent fixture in MPB, while the violão continues to be as important as it was before Tropicália.
This revolutionary moment in the history of MPB suggests two questions: (1) Why did the use of electric guitars by the Tropicalists engender such fevered controversy when Jovem Guarda musicians such as Roberto and Erasmos Carlos had already been using electric guitars for several years? and (2) How did the nationalist reaction to Tropicália differ from earlier debates about North American influences in Brazilian music, such as the debate about the supposedly jazz-inspired harmonies and arrangements of bossa nova ? In this essay I suggest that we may understand more fully the significance of Tropicália if we consider the electric guitar in 1967 Brazil as the most visible symbol of a fundamentally different attitude toward the use of technology in popular music. Thus, while earlier nationalistic reactions had revolved around stylistic influences from the economically dominant North (jazz, for example), in Tropicália, the style being appropriated came with its own technological advances, like the electric guitar. Similarly, while guitars for the Jovem Guarda were mere accessories for producing imitative pop that just happened to be in Portuguese, the Tropicalists wanted electric guitars to be an integral part of the new "música popular brasileira." The tropical guitars exposed a sea change in the relationship between technology and popular culture.1
We might ask why neither the technology used to amplify the stage performances
of the MPB song contests nor the technology used to record the great bossa nova artists were called into question by those decrying the use of electric guitar. Before Tropicália, electronic equipment was used primarily to amplify or to record a performance presumed to exist independently of the sound technology -- it was supposed to be a relatively transparent mediator. In Tropicália, and throughout much of the world in the late 1960s, technology was quickly becoming integral to new forms of popular expression of life in highly industrialized nations. Music technology in this new world did not simply reproduce, it induced. It was no longer transparent; rather, music technology drew attention to itself as musicians began to incorporate it into their creative and compositional processes.2 The medium had become the message, as in Marshall McLuhan's famous phrase.
From this perspective, the new recording techniques developed in the United States and Europe in the 1960s were more important than the electric guitar to the development of modern MPB. Although recording in Brazil was well advanced at the time, new technologies entered the country from the North where, naturally, the use of these technologies was widespread before they were exported and appropriated.3 Although stereo (i.e., two-track) recording had been in existence for several years, true multi-track technology was nascent in the mid-sixties. With the development of the four-track tape machine came new possibilities for studio experimentation through multi-tracking.4 The Beatles' Sergeant Pepper’s LonelyHearts Club Band album of 1967 heralded the new age of popular music in which the recording studio began to be understood as a musical instrument in its own right. The influence of the Beatles on the Tropicália movement and, especially, on the Tropicália LP cannot be overstated; without Sgt. Pepper’s, Tropicália might have taken a very different path.
George Martin, the Beatles' producer, has described Sgt. Pepper’s as "a musical fragmentation grenade, exploding with a force that is still being felt. It grabbed the world of pop music by the scruff of the neck, shook it hard, and left it to wander off, dizzy but wagging its tail. As well as changing the way pop music was viewed, it changed the entire nature of the recording game -- for keeps" (Martin 1994, l). Martin described the importance of the new multi-track recording technology for the making of Sgt. Pepper’s: "I would dub four tracks down to two, giving me two extra tracks. When it . . . came to the making of the Sgt.Pepper’s album, that technique was taken almost to absurdity. To accommodate all the gimmicks and weird sounds, I needed every track I could lay my hands on. And I didn't have them" (Martin 1979, 150). Naturally, the recording techniques that Martin helped pioneer also increased the subsequent need for greater multitracking capability in popular music.
If the televised song festivals provided the primary public arena for displaying Tropicália’s cannibalist fusion, the recording studio presented an important space for experimentation with popular music as sound, rather than simply as song. At the time, Gilberto Gil was "listening obsessively to the recently released Sgt.Pepper’s" (Calado 1997, 122) and wanted to achieve a similar sound while mixing in traditional Brazilian styles. While Veloso and Gil spearheaded the movement, their short-lived partnership with the rock band, Os Mutantes, enabled the two baianos to explore in the studio the Beatles-inspired sounds that they were seeking.5 The importance to the Tropicália disc of the track, "Panis et circenses," interpreted by Os Mutantes, was underscored by Veloso in his Verdade tropical: Quando o disco ficou pronto, eu exultava com o êxito conceitual, mas o que me parecia um relativo avanço técnico soava como um retrocesso aos ouvidos de Gil. De todo modo, para Zé Agrippino, apenas a faixa dos Mutantes (o tratamento que eles deram a minha parceria com Gil, 'Panis et Circensis') saia do limbo do subdesenvolvimento. De fato Os Mutantes -- por sua extrema juventude, començando a vida ao mesmo tempo que o neo-rock'n'roll inglês; por sua condição de paulistas, vivendo na região mais rica e menos característica do Brasil; por sua familiaridade com equipamentos eletrônicos … ; mas sobretudo pelo talento dos irmãos Batista e da namorada de um deles -- tinham um domínio da linguagem pop … que os distanciava tanto da MPB convencional quanto do iê-iê-iê e do próprio tropicalismo. (291)
Os Mutantes had a familiarity with the new language of pop exemplified by the Sgt. Pepper’s album that the baianos had not yet acquired. For Veloso, however, this technical proficiency possessed by Os Mutantes was not the essence of the movement, and he implies that the highly industrialized São Paulo was somehow less characteristic of "Brazil" than the poorer agricultural region of the Northeast (from where he, Gil, and Tom Zé came).6 Veloso suggests, not surprisingly, that what most characterized Tropicalism was its stylistic syncretism. What Os Mutantes foresaw, however, was that global pop syncretism would not be limited to musical styles per se; what circulates now are sounds in general, and this trend is due largely to the changes in recording technology over the past thirty years. As Paul Théberge has observed, "in the age of electronic reproduction, with recordings and radio disseminating and reinforcing 'sound' as an identifying mark of contemporary music-making, individual 'sounds' have come to carry the same commercial and aesthetic weight as the melody or the lyric in pop songs" (195). This argument needs to be extended to include the characteristic "sounds" of particular production styles, of which George Martin's is just one example.7 If Os Mutantes ultimately were not integral to Tropicália (Veloso dismisses their later work as a type of "progressive rock"), they certainly facilitated the movement's musical vision in its early stages.
In the early days of Brazilian rock music there were many technologies not readily available in Brazil. New sounds, like those heard on Sgt. Pepper’s, preceded the technologies used for making them. For example, Sérgio Dias, guitarist for Os Mutantes, explained how the group tried to imitate a sound they had heard on a Beatles record:
We used to hear the Beatles, those reverse tapes, they had like those—“pht pht pht”—how the hell did they do that? So, the way that we could imagine at the time, because we didn't have the technology, we'd say, well, that resembles a "bomba de Flit" [a brand-name insecticide spray canister], so let's do it, and that's what we did! (personal interview, 9 March 1999)
So they recorded a Flit canister spraying in front of the microphone, in imitation of reverse tape loops. Another example Sérgio Dias gave was Os Mutantes' way of imitating the sound of a Leslie speaker cabinet, a large wooden box with horns rotating rapidly inside of it. Traditionally, a Hammond B3 organ would be pumped through it, and the resulting sound was similar to a "chorus" effect -- a bigger sound, as if more instruments were playing. Cláudio César, Sérgio's brother and the band's audio engineer, heard this sound and, not knowing what a Leslie cabinet was, nor how the effect was achieved, rotated a pair of headsets around a microphone to approximate the effect he had heard.
At the time, there were few stores in which to buy the latest musical equipment, so Cláudio César often had to build it. Ironically, this led to technological advances. For example, the two most common guitar effects of the era were Wah (or Wah-Wah) and distortion (or "fuzz"), typically controlled through foot pedals. Guitar heroes like Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton frequently used these effects. Sérgio Dias described how he was dissatisfied with an imported distortion pedal (a "fuzz box") and worked with Cláudio César to better the technology:
I wanted a distortion that didn't intermodulate. For example, if you had a fuzz box and you played a chord, you would have intermodulation between all the harmonics that will sound like, brrrrr [meaning that individual pitches could not be distinguished], and I wanted a distortion that I could play an entire chord and not have intermodulation. Well, to do that you would have to have a separate pickup for each string and six separate distortions. So he built it. And that was basically the birth of the hexaphonic pickup that was later used in the Ovation guitar, or in the guitar synthesizers [both modern innovations from the United States]. (personal interview, 9 March 1999)
Later, Cláudio César founded the Regulus line of effect pedals, amplifiers and speakers. He marketed the "Super Wah Wah Regulus," which produced both the wah effect and distortion. A parenthetical phrase in the sales brochure is of
Afinal já é tempo de a juventude brasileira ditar novos sons para o mundo: Com o Wah Wah, de origem estrangeira aperfeiçoado por nós para o Super Wah Wah Regulus, com os novos e totalmente ineditos aparelhos modificadores de som que nos propomos lançar e com a sua imaginação, achamos chegada a hora de não mais imitarmos mas sim criarmos “aquele som” que simboliza o impeto juvenil. (Instruction manual reprinted in Calado 1995, 183)
If, for Caetano Veloso, cultural cannibalism or anthropophagy characterized Tropicália and, here is perhaps an instance of "technopophagy." Note the emphasis on the role technology can play in original creation, rather than mere imitation.
The brilliant arranger for the Tropicália disc, Rogério Duprat, was also influenced by the Beatles. "What we identified with in the Beatles," Duprat stated, "was their iconoclasm, debauchery, deconstruction and demolition of the old culture . . . And Os Mutantes were the Beatles of Brazil" (personal communication, 22 August 1998). Duprat himself is often referred to as Brazil's George Martin, and he clearly was influenced not only by the iconoclasm of the Beatles, but also by Martin's musical arrangements. Sérgio Dias recounted:
Our relationship with Duprat was basically about the orchestra: we would come up with the ideas and he would do it, and he would do it superbly. For example, the rondo of trumpets in "Panis et Circenses," that's a bloody amazing piece of work that he did. What was that? That was basically "Penny Lane." He did a rondo of this thing . . . same thing the Beatles did with "Penny Lane." It's funny how the things reflect [one another].8 More important than specific instances of similarity between the Beatles and the music of Tropicália, however, is the general attitude of pop experimentalism that pervades the recording.9 No longer does recording simply register performed music as transparently as possible; rather, the sound of technology itself is integrated into the music. Several effects previously unheard of in Brazilian pop were used on the song "Panis et circensis." The most striking of these was the effect created by slowing to a stop the speed of the master tape in the middle of the track, on the word, "morrer" (to die). A translation of the lyric is: "the people in the dining hall are busy being born and dying." By suddenly drawing attention to itself, the recording technology is obviously used here as an instrument. Similarly, later in the piece, a sine-wave generator, used for calibrating recording machinery, enters, drops to a low pitch, and rises quickly. This is an "instrument" that was never intended to play a "musical" role. Such studio experimentation would have been unheard of in either the Jovem Guarda, or any pre-Tropicália MPB.
Celso Favaretto observed the Tropicalist song "se singulariza por integrar em sua forma e apresentação recursos não musicais -- basicamente a mise-en-scène e efeitos eletrônicos (microfone, alta-fidelidade, diversidade de canais de gravação, sonoridades estranhas) que ampliavam as possibilidades de arranjo, vocalização e apresentação" (18). Besides the examples given above, there are countless other instances of audio "interferences" such as the sound of clinking glasses and silverware and the studio-simulated dinner conversation at the end of "Panis et circensis." These audio interferences lend the music a very cinematic quality. Recall the barnyard animals of "Good Morning" from Sgt. Pepper’s, or the cinematic ambience of "A Day in the Life."
The cinematic ambience of Sgt. Pepper’s and Tropicália suggest that the recording studio as a music-making space had begun to take on new meaning. Sgt. Pepper’s is widely considered to be the first "concept" album because of the way the Beatles weaved together the prosaic ("I read the news today, oh boy") and the seemingly profound ("Within You, Without You") from track to track. The "Lonely Heart's Club Band" theme adds unity to the LP by repeating just before "A Day in the Life," the last song on the album.10 With their global fame and their riches consolidated, and exhausted from touring, the Beatles looked to the studio as a space in which freely to exercise their creativity, and multi-track recording enabled the cinematic aesthetic of pastiche and layering characteristic of Sgt. Pepper’s. It was a true "studio album": at the time, it would have been impossible to reproduce the recording live, just as "Panis et circensis" would have been impossible to perform live as it had been recorded.11
Having explored the influence of the Beatles on Tropicália, it is worth contextualizing this influence and noting some of the differences between the work of the Fab Four and that of the Brazilian musicians. By 1967 the Beatles had resolved no longer to appear live. In Tropicália, on the other hand, new possibilities in music recording formed part of a larger vision that included a very important role for performance in the form of staged "happenings" that mocked conventional high-brow tastes (what Favaretto called "cafonice," or creative "tackiness"). Indeed, live performance is still far more important to an artist's success in Brazil than it is in the United States, where MTV is a more significant factor in music promotion. In addition, the engagement with avant-garde art and music was far more pronounced in Tropicália than it was in British pop at the time. Rogério Duprat and Júlio Medaglia (the latter arranged Veloso's first solo album) were part of a real musical avant-garde, whereas George Martin is better described as a classically-trained musician who was open to pop experimentalism. In the early sixties, Duprat, Medaglia and Damiano Cozzela had traveled to Darmstadt, Germany, to participate in courses administered by pioneers of contemporary electronic music such as Karlheinz Stockhausen and Pierre Boulez.12 In 1963, the three, along with other Brazilian composers, launched the Música Nova manifesto. Among the main points of the document are: "an understanding of artistic production as a part of industrial culture, a rereading of the past as an instrument for understanding the future (rather than as nostalgia), and the necessity of an art of participation" (Calado 1997, 125).
The influence of the música nova movement is especially pronounced in the introduction to the song "Coração materno" from the Tropicália LP. Here, in contrast to, for example, Jobim's rather sweet and light bossa nova arrangements, we notice a liberal use of dissonance, with an arrangement that is dark and heavy. It is worth recalling as well that the music of the British pop group was part of an eclectic assortment of reinterpretations in Tropicália.
Celso Favaretto has aptly characterized the objective of Tropicália thus:
Utilizar-se de colagens, livres associações, procedimentos pop eletrônicos, cinematográficos, e de encenação; misturá-los, fazendo-os perder a identidade, tudo fazia parte de uma experiência radical da geração dos 60, em grande parte do mundo ocidental. O objetivo era fazer a crítica dos gêneros, estilos e, mais radicalmente, do próprio veículo, e da pequena burguesia que vivia o mito da Arte. Em nenhum momento os tropicalistas perderam de vista o seu objetivo básico: desde o simples uso de instrumentos eletrônicos, ruídos e vozes em "Alegoria, alegria" e "Domingo no parque," o emprego de recursos aleatóricos e seriais, a incorporação do grito por Gal Costa e até a trituração da melodia por Gilberto Gil, mantiveram-se fiéis a linha evolutiva, reinventando e teinatizando criticamente a canção. (23)
By 1972, when Veloso released Araçá azul, probably his most "experimental" album, multi-track recording was well advanced. Effects such as the reversing of individual tracks, tape loops, and the layering possibilities created by eight- and sixteen-track recorders, were all fairly commonplace in British and North American pop music. In Brazil, however, studio experimentation was still very much out of the mainstream. In "Sugar Cane Fields Forever," on Araçá azul, Veloso achieved a brilliant statement of Tropicalist "anthropophagy." The song's title references at once the Beatles and the monoculture of the impoverished Brazilian Northeast. The ten-minute piece features an Afro-Brazilian samba-de-roda that fades in and out repeatedly, mixed with tape loops, sound effects, brass, string and small ensemble arrangements, and Veloso's sputtering non-melodic singing, or short repeated melodic phrases. Even more experimental, on the same album, is "De Conversa," which is mostly constructed out of layered tape loops (or live imitations of tape loops!). Here, the studio is the primary instrument -- live performance of these pieces would have been virtually impossible.
Favaretto observed that the relationship between pop and Tropicalist aesthetics is one of a shared methodology for similar ends: "Fundamentalmente, ambas trabalham com uma concepçãode objeto estético resultante da composição de montagem cubista e efeito de dessacralização dadaista" (28). Clearly, multi-track recording is especially well suited to applying such techniques to music. Another of Favaretto's observations takes on new relevance when one thinks of the musical techno-devices designed by Cláudio César: "O caráter espectral do mundo dos objetos e gadgets é desmontado no caleidoscópio de imagens deformadas pela operação parodística e pelo humor" (29). Thus, both pop and Tropicalism are able to affect a critique of global industrialized culture using the very means of technology-dependent mass culture.
Tropicália has received so much attention of late because many scholars and music critics have discovered that the work of these artists not only initiated a new era in Brazilian music, but that it also presaged a new era in global popular culture from a vanguard "Third World" perspective. This is an era in which technology is consumed voraciously but self-consciously, habitually, but not uncritically. Now, with digital technology and the Internet revolutionizing all forms of mediation, the issues are remarkably familiar. As Paul Théberge observed:
By becoming "consumers of technology," many musicians have been able to take advantage of the enormous productive potential of new digital technologies. At the same time, however, they have witnessed the incursion of capitalist relations upon their creative practices at the most fundamental level and found it necessary to adopt increasingly mediated forms of communication with one another. Within the high-intensity context of technical innovation and capitalist marketing, this tension—between the desire to create, communicate, and consume—has become increasingly problematic, especially for young amateur musicians and aspiring semi-professionals. (255)
For a small group of "Third World" musicians in Brazil at the dawn of this new era of rapidly changing recording and mediation technology, syncretic popular music was the way to express a local relationship to global technologies.
Calado, Carlos. 1995. A divina comédia dos Mutantes. Rio de Janeiro: Editora 34.
-------1997. Tropicália: A história de uma revolução musical. Rio de Janeiro: Editora 34.
Favaretto, Celso. 1979. Tropicália: Alegoria, alegria. São Paulo: Kairbs.
Leme, Mônica. 1997. "Rock brasileiro: Uma revisão bibliográfica." Unpublished essay.
Martin, George. 1979. All You Need is Ears. With Jeremy Homsby. New York: St. Martin's Press.
Martin, George, with William Pearson. 1994. With a Little Help from My Friends: The
Making of Sgt. Pepper: New York: Little, Brown and Co.
Théberge, Paul. 1997. Any Sound You Can Imagine: Making Music/Consuming Technology. Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press.
Ulhôa, Martha. 1997. "Nova história, velhos sons: Notas para ouvir e pensar a música
Brasileira popular." Debates. Rio de Janeiro: Centro de Letras e Artes Uni-Rio: 78-
Veloso, Caetano. 1997. Verdade tropical. São Paulo: Companhia das Letras.
The Beatles. 1966. Revolver. Capital/EMI.
------1967. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Parlophone/Capital.
Caetano Veloso. 1972. Araça azul. Philips.
Tropicália , ou Panis et circensis. 1967. Philips.
This essay was first published in a special volume of the journal Studies in Latin American Popular Culture (vol. 19, 2000), which collected various articles on Tropicália, including papers from two separate international conferences. My contribution was originally part of a double panel titled "Thirty Years of Tropicália: A Critical Commemoration," organized by Christopher Dunn for the XXI Latin American Studies Association (LASA) conference, held in Chicago in 1998. This was during the height of the Tropicália "rediscovery" in the United States and the UK, and it was shortly after Caetano Veloso published Verdade tropical. Much has changed since I wrote this piece -- for example, the multi-track tape machines that I mentioned in note 8 are now almost obsolete. I might write parts of it a little bit differently today. To give another example, in the original essay, as presented here, I mention that Os Mutantes "were ultimately not integral to Tropicália," because they seemed to take a different musical direction from the movements’ leaders, Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil. However, I disagree with that now; all the participants on the disc-manifesto Tropicália, ou panis et circenses were "integral" to the new movement. Notwithstanding, I have left the essay unchanged. I think it remains of interest in part because of the communications I was able to have in 1998 with Sérgio Dias and Rogério Duprat -- among others who were present "in the tropical studio."
1 Although Veloso argues that Jovem Guarda was not, "in its best moments, a mere copy of foreign music" (Veloso 1977, 210), the movement has been characterized by most critics as imitative. Furthermore, some have observed that the Jovem Guarda adopted the instrumentation and the looks of pop groups, but not the ideology of rebellion and counter-culture which tends to be associated with rock (see Leme 1997, Ulhôa 1997).
2 I am anthropomorphizing technology here by saying that it "drew attention to itself." It is, of course, only what humans do with technology that draws our attention to it.
3 This is still the case, although now Japan is also an important exporter of audio equipment. There are today wonderfully modem studios in Brazil, but far fewer than in the US, Europe, and Japan and there is still a relative shortage of well-trained sound engineers.
4 Stereo is not true multi-tracking because each of the two tracks is used for the final mix (left and right speakers). "Bouncing" a mono mix of one two-track to one of the tracks of a second two-track can simulate multi-tracking, but there is a heavy loss in sound quality, especially as the process is repeated. With the four-track machine, and later with the eight-track, sixteen, and today twenty-four-track machines, the producer can overdub and change levels, equalization, panning, etc., before mixing down to the two-track stereo master.
5 For the television debut of the song, “Alegria alegria,” Veloso performed with the Beat Boys, a "yeah-yeah-yeah" (Young Guard) group, rather than with Os Mutantes.
6 In fact, Tom Zé settled in São Paulo nearly immediately and has lived and worked there since. His latest release, Fabrication Defect (Luaka Bop, 1998), is as "technopophagic" as any Brazilian music today.
7 Another famous example of the era would be the "Phil Specter sound."
8 Personal interview, 9 March 1999. The song "Penny Lane" did not actually make it onto the Sgt. Pepper’s disc, although it was recorded before the release of that disc. Both "Penny Lane" and "Strawberry Fields Forever" were slated to appear on Sgt. Pepper’s but ended up on the following album, Magical MysteryTour.
9 Another similarity can be heard in the background vocals on "Panis et circensis": someone sings a middle-eastern sounding descending line on the syllable "ah" that struck me as very similar to a part of the vocal in George Harrison's India-inspired "Love to You," from the Revolver LP (1967).
10 George Martin says that it was not a true concept album; it appeared to be so because of the relative harmony of the Beatles and George Martin's studio vision for the production. This was not a predetermined production plan, but rather an organic development of the recording process for Sgt. Pepper's.
11 One of the most interesting innovations on the Sgt. Pepper’s LP is a short and strange vocal phrase at the very end of the album -- apparently a phrase played backwards that somehow repeats indefinitely. What Martin had done is to record the phrase into the groove at the end of each side of an LP that guides the needle to a loop that circles until the arm is lifted. If the arm is not lifted, the needle remains playing that circular groove (which normally has no sound recorded in it). Thus, in this case, the sound recorded repeats over and over again. This again is drawing attention to the technology, rather than trying to keep it transparent.
12 Among the people who participated in the courses was Frank Zappa.