The Creative Mind Behind the Conception of the Music for the Olympics Closing Ceremony
As I mentioned in the first chapter of these Olympic Ceremony blog series, Ale Siqueira is a music producer that has my admiration, largely because of his musical integrity, competence and talent. A studious, multifaceted professional, his knowledge of musical history and heritage is deep. Originally from São Paulo, he lived for a few years in Bahia, where he was able to closely study African rhythms that made their way into Brazilian music, and has worked with artist from diverse countries around the world, becoming exposed to various musical cultures. Throughout the years, he has won three Latin Grammy awards and has produced various multiplatinum records. Ale was invited to be the musical director by Rosa Magalhães, the Creative Director for the Olympics Closing Ceremony. He has been part of the team helping put into music the ideas, messages and concepts that the executive and creative teams wanted to convey during the event. He also put together the arrangers, additional music producers and audio engineers that worked as a team under his supervision, including myself as technical coordinator. Ale was kind enough to share a little about his experience and the process behind his work.
As I mentioned in the first chapter of these Olympic Ceremony blog series, Ale Siqueira is a music producer that has my admiration, largely because of his musical integrity, competence and talent. A studious, multifaceted professional, his knowledge of musical history and heritage is deep. Originally from São Paulo, he lived for a few years in Bahia, where he was able to closely study African rhythms that made their way into Brazilian music, and has worked with artist from diverse countries around the world, becoming exposed to various musical cultures. Throughout the years, he has won three Latin Grammy awards and has produced various multiplatinum records.
Ale was invited to be the musical director by Rosa Magalhães, the Creative Director for the Olympics Closing Ceremony. He has been part of the team helping put into music the ideas, messages and concepts that the executive and creative teams wanted to convey during the event. He also put together the arrangers, additional music producers and audio engineers that worked as a team under his supervision, including myself as technical coordinator.
Ale was kind enough to share a little about his experience and the process behind his work.
How did you begin with Pro Tools?
SIQUEIRA: Well, I’ve been using Pro Tools for a long time. From what I remember, I must have been 18 years old [when I started with Pro Tools] — now I’m 44. Pro Tools only had four tracks back then, and then it jumped up to 16. It was a little after Sound Tools — imagine that! There was only one interface that was one rack unit, with some trim pots on the front of it. The interface had only four inputs. Pro Tools was used more as an editing tool back then than a recorder, since it only had four tracks. Back then I worked with vanguard electroacoustic music. I got to know Pierre Boulez. I worked with a great group of people from UNESP and UNICAMP, such as Flo Menezes, Fernando Iazzetta, Edson Zampronha, Rodolfo Coelho, Rodolfo Caesar and Silvio Ferraz. It was in the likeness of classical music, like Stockhausen, but instead of being acoustic, it was eletroacoustic. And in this lab called PANaroma, we used Pro Tools. This lab exists until today; very serious work is done there, and it is located in UNESP, the college where I studied composition and conducting. Later on, when I was 19, I purchased my first Pro Tools system, which had expanded to 16 channels. It wasn’t PCI yet; the system used Nubus. And since then, I have always been the guy that used Pro Tools.
Could you tell us a bit about the concepts you kept in mind when you were choosing the artists and the compositions that would be in the Olympics Closing Ceremony?
SIQUEIRA: I kid around that Brazilian music is to the national arts what soccer is to our sports. The “soccer” of our arts is music. In our music, we are full of stars, just like our soccer has Pelé, Garrincha, Rivelino … Since we have this strongly in our music, I wanted to expose this. Our music is one of our greatest national cultural patrimonies. It has more value in Brazil and abroad than, for example, our visual arts, our literature and our performing arts. Our famous stars are in our music, so I wanted to show that. So how do I do that? Instead of creating new soundtracks with composers, I wanted to revisit our pantheon of the great names from our wonderful songbook. We cannot possibly mention everyone, nor dive too deep — since it is an entertainment ceremony where music is inserted, it is not a musical production. The music services the sporting event. So at that level, we paid homage to some of the great names of our music: Villa-Lobos, Tom Jobim, Luiz Gonzaga, Jackson do Pandeiro, Carmen Miranda … Jacinto Silva, [who] is not so well known, but I wanted [him] to be present, for he is from the “coco de embolado.” We opened the ceremony with Ernesto Nazareth. That guy was a hit maker, a Lenine from the ’20s. He just isn’t known nowadays. His track “Odeon,” used at the ceremony, was not just a hit in Brazil, but it was known all around the world.
One thing we did which is not very common in this type of ceremony was to use historic phonograms because usually, if we were to pay tribute, for example, to Luiz Gonzaga, we would call in the singer of the moment, and we would rerecord Luiz Gonzaga’s composition. Some songs we were able to get the clearance necessary to use the original phonograms, and we were able to have the voice and accordion of Luiz Gonzaga singing Asa Branca, to exacerbate even more the homage being paid. On the American version of “Chovendo na Roseira” (a.k.a.“Children’s Play”), we had Tom Jobim on the piano. On “Tico Tico no Fubá,” we had Carmen Miranda singing “A Ordem é Samba”; we had Jackson do Pandeiro’s voice.
How did you feel that the music directed the other aspects of the spectacle, like projection, pyrotechnics, lighting and choreography and vice-versa? What was your experience of this creative process between so many teams?
SIQUEIRA: It was always a two-way street. We would check segment by segment to see what would lead the way. For example, on the first segment, we imagined that Nazareth’s “Odeon” would lead the way, and from there the other teams would create the projection and other elements. On many of the cases, the music lead the way, but we always kept an open brainstorming dynamic — a creative process with many meetings, checking which department would dictate the tone. But usually, we would send the musical scratches to Bryn Walters, who would create the choreographies, and to Batman Zavareze to create the projections.
But then again, the music came at a second instance, after the initial concept was defined, which wasn’t musically related at first. I helped a lot with this process as well. The idea of Santos Dumont wasn’t mine; I just underlined the segment with a composition that was contemporary to Santos Dumont, which was “Odeon” from 1909.
The segment with the Barbatuques started with another of Rosa’s ideas with the birds. So in truth, the basilar primordial concepts weren’t musical. The main concept usually came from Rosa, the creative director. The idea to pay tribute to Grupo Corpo was mine, and Rosa thought it was great and bought the idea. The moment Rosa says “we need to have Indians here,” from there I create my ideas. Then Bryn does the choreography, Batman does the projection, Cristophe Berthonneau the pyro, and so on.
And there were some things that were obligational. For example, the homage for the volunteers, we didn’t create that, that was protocol. Then I gave the idea, “Why don’t we call Lenine and adapt his song ‘Jack Soul Brasileiro,’ which is a tribute to Jackson do Pandeiro, and would now pay homage to the volunteers?” The national anthem, the crazy idea with the children was mine.
That was my next question. You put together a choir of children and percussionists playing a rhythm from Candomblé (a Brazilian religion with African roots). Tell us about the creative process and symbolism that you had in mind for this moment.
SIQUEIRA: In 2015, on my first meeting with Rosa, the question arose, “Who will sing the national anthem?” So I said, “Better than having someone sing the anthem, why don’t we bring a multitude of children?” My original idea was to bring 500 children, running around Maracanã singing the national anthem. She loved the idea right off the bat, but then thought that logistically we would not be able to get so many children. We matured the idea, and then we came to the conclusion to bring 27 children, representing the 26 states, plus the Federal District, as the 27 stars on the flag. I didn’t have the idea to have the anthem executed in 12/8 (musical meter) then. One day, I realized that we sing the anthem in 12/8 (even though it is written in 4/4). It’s important to say that the approach was not religious; it is not Candomblé-related. Even though I have a lot of respect, I have recorded various Candomblé records and have visited many “terreiros” in Bahia (where the rituals of Camdomblé are taken place). The idea was because of this insight, that we sing the anthem in 12/8, even though it is written in 4/4, just like the American shuffle. It is written in 4/4 but played in 12/8. Eighth note equal to a triplet, playing the first eighth of the triplet and the third eighth of the triplet.
All of the Americas have strong influences from compound African music. In Cuba you see that a lot. I’ve recorded there six times already. We have, as a historic and cultural legacy, the incorporation of the compound meter on the music throughout the Americas. So even though it is written in 4/4, many things we play in triplets. I theorize that our swing comes from that, in the micro rhythms between the eighth notes and the sixteenth notes of the simple meters, using the triplets of the compound meters. When I had this insight regarding our national anthem, I decided to do the anthem in 12/8. And then I thought about revisiting the Vassi, which is one of the main rhythms that present in Candomblé and in Umbanda, but again, removing any religious context. And then I did an experiment that worked really well. I recorded a Rum, Pi and Lé, the three drums of Candomblé, trying to prove this theory that we sing the anthem in 12/8. We do not sing the anthem as it is written. Even the conductor of the children, when she came to conduct, she asked whose crazy idea this was, and I explained my theory to her. She then told me that it was more difficult to have the children sing in 4/4 as the anthem is written than it is to have them sing in 12/8, because they just naturally sang that way, which further proves my theory. So my approach was conceptual and not religious.
Is there a method to your production process? Could you describe how you go about to create your first scratches to the final result?
SIQUEIRA: There is a course that I am elaborating for the Federal University of Recôncavo in Bahia that will probably take place next year called “Methodologies of Music Production.” We will listen to a record and talk about what was done. Each class will focus on a particular production method. Why is that? Because I do not have one method only. Every record I imagine a different method, particular, maybe even unprecedented. I try to perceive, become sensitive to what would be best for that record, and from there I create a method or I choose one I have used before. So every record has a completely different story from the next. There are records I made in studios, and there are records that I recorded in the woods with barely any electricity available. I have surreal stories …
Having said that, the ceremonies was a similar idea because there were tracks that were born from Andre Mehmari (arranger), there were tracks that were born from a phonogram and then became e remix at the hands of a DJ, and there was music that had all that but also had a singer that entered in a strategic production moment. Some songs I thought would be important to hire the producer of the band, which was the example with Bruno Giorgi, Lenine’s son, that produced Lenine’s track in his home with his father’s musicians, the way that they wanted. And it was my decision as musical director to delegate in this case 100% of the production to Lenine’s team. There were tracks with two producers at the same time, for I thought it would be important. Like in the case of the Barbatuques, I thought it would be important to have the hands of Mikael together with André Magalhães, the latter being the producer for the Barbatuques. In this case, we put together a sketch, then we recorded many versions, and then they spent weeks editing and choosing what would compose the groove of that piece of music, a very different process than what happened with the Ganhadeiras de Itapuã, where in three days, everything was ready. And in the example of the Ganhadeiras, I went to a studio in Bahia, where one can record in five live rooms at the same time to record the maximum amount of musicians live because it is an organic and live musical track. No rehearsals — the Ganhadeiras showed up with their 10 musicians already rehearsed, and we just recorded. Different than the pop approach of the Barbatuques, full of constructions, loops, edits …
So for each situation, you have to think what would be the best method. If there isn’t one, then make one up.
I hope you’ve enjoyed these series about the amazing professionals that were involved in the Rio Olympics Closing Ceremony. I hope they have brought insight and lessons about the tools, methods, planning and the technical skill that one has to have when exerting a roll in a large creative team like this. Thanks for reading, and until the next time!
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