The “Brazilian electronica” of César Camargo Mariano and Prisma (1984-7): hybridization or tradition?
[abstract] In 1984, keyboardist César Camargo Mariano proposed the adoption of electronic musical instruments and MIDI systems in a Brazilian popular music repertoire. The successful first concert seasons in São Paulo led to a long-term project, named Prisma, which has been extended over the next thirty months encompassing the recording of two albums, each one followed by a nationwide concert tour. The main feature of the music was the mix of typically Brazilian musical elements with electronic sounds never heard attempted before in the country due to trade barriers on musical instrument imports and the unfamiliarity of local musicians with the new studio and stage practices. In spite of the fact that the Prisma participants focused on expanding the sound palette of a previously existing tradition, they eventually dealt with matters such as non-tempered noises as music composition materials, sequencer programming, tape editing and sound design. Hence one can ask about the nature of that concoction and its products. Would they fit perfectly within the borders of a previously constituted aesthetic territory or place themselves in an intermediate zone defined by indefinability and multiplicity? This last option leads us to the concept of hybridization, frequently approached by authors under a national perspective. Starting from the statement that there is no cultural purity but stabilized cultural traditions, this paper proposes a concept of cultural hybridization based on an intersection of texts and studies, to investigate a possible hybrid state resulting from the presence and influence of electronica in the music of Prisma.
Alex asks whether the Prisma participants have been seduced by the technologies and (1980s) modern genres in their cultural palette, and intends to discuss the extent to which the hybridisation of Brazilian electronica preserved – or deconstructed – its source material. He states that this method of hybrid creation makes it impossible for either source to be fully preserved, and he asks whether Prisma’s music can ever be considered to belong to Brazilian traditional music. Scholarly context is cited, particularly Perrone & Dunn.
To which extent is the project just cultural cannibalism, he asks, and how long has such cannibalism been going on in Brazil. He describes Brazilian law’s prior 30-year legal embargo on the importation of foreign musical instruments, and speculates [reasonably] that this must have had an impact on musical cultural evolution during this period. Even now, he states, taxes and levies mitigate against such imports. He shows us a 1986 photo of a Brazilian musician playing an Emulator sampler, which was apparently the only one successfully smuggled into the country [the story goes that he told the customs officers that it was a toy piano!]. In response to questioning Alex states that the import restrictions were economic, rather than cultural, protectionism, although he acknowledges that the idea of applying protection to ‘Brazilian-ness’ is still prevalent, despite the cosmopolitan nature of the people and culture.
The Prisma participants never aspired to ‘electronic music’, but rather to realise an instrumental project based on traditional Brazlian music, but with electronic sounds. The North-Eastern Brazil influenced mixolydian arpeggio rhythmic riffs are noted as a key musical touchstone of the project. Some of the pieces became function as a soundtrack and/or spectacle. The Prisma project highlights the ability to be a real-time performer and instrumentalist.
The title track ‘Prisma’ is described, and we hear the audio from its intro, with a description of its technical construction. There follows an excerpt from the bass drum intro from ‘Os Breakers’;
He concludes that there are moments in the Prisma project that are NOT hybrid – they are simply electronic transcriptions of existing traditional works. But there are other songs that are truly hybrid creations, being neither fully based in traditional music nor fully original electronic or improvised compositions.