These reviews are written and posted to rec.music.dementia as a service to those who do not have the reviewed recordings, as a means to acquaint those readers with the recorded material and the artists. Any quoted lyrics are included solely for enhancement, copyrights remain with the original owners, I make no claims. I am not affiliated with The Dr Demento Show, On The Radio Productions, etc. (except like, I was in the, like, Funny Five or something...uh huh huh huh)
Elsa Popping and her Pixieland Band
Delirium in Hi Fi
Columbia Records WL 106 (1959)
This LP is possibly the most demented instrumental LP, even moreso than the Portsmouth Sinfonia. It is an experiment in early hi-fi utilizing eclectic and wayout recording effects. These effects predate modern recording techniques and electronic magic boxes, so all of the weird sounds on the album are the result of studio experimentation (tape echo, varying speed, backwards, different types of reverb, mike placement, etc.)
The songs are all standard songs of the day (the tango "Jealousy" and "Beer Barrel Polka", for instance) but they are treated to very bizarre musical arrangements and many different effects as mentioned above. For instance, only about half of the LP (if that) is straightforward untreated recording of the orchestra. The rest is very wild & imaginative effect.
Actually, there really is no Elsa Popping. "Elsa" is actually 2 people, composer/conductor Andre Popp, very big in France (check your old copies of the "Love Is Blue" 45, you'll see his name in the writers credit), and sound FX wiz Pierre Fatosme. Together they came up with the ideas & devices to produce this wildly imaginative LP.
A short history of how I became aware of this album:
As many r.m.d readers know by now, I have been Demented since 1978, writing to Dr. Demento and sending tapes in for about that length of time. One song I sent him was a rather demented instrumental recording, and in his reply he stated that he isn't able to play many instrumentals, but he enjoyed the song, it reminded him of something on Delirium in Hi Fi. This piqued my interest, he said that if I ever came across this LP I should snap it up. Well, in a record shop in Toronto in 1987, I freaked, yea verily, when I saw this LP in the bin! So I did in fact pick it up, and am privileged to have this music in my collection. So here is a synopsis of Delirium in Hi Fi.
"Perles de cristal" is a peppy little tune, led by what sounds like a manic, frantic cornet splattering 32nd notes all over the place. A quick glance at the liner notes tells us that this is the first of the many effects, a trombone soloist playing along with the tape at half-speed, his trombone then sped up to match the recorded track. This we call the "Alvin" effect, after the famous Chipmunk, but it is wonderfully disconcerting to hear this technique taken to the limit on an instrument. The rest of the tune unfolds with instruments displacing each other in the various sections, and a voice treated to the aforementioned "Alvin" effect. It ends with a huge buildup with the entire orchestra hitting chord which must lead to a great orchestral finale...but no, the tune concludes with vibraphone hitting the final chords for a beautiful and forceful climax.
"Java" is your typical French waltz, in a minor key, the melody provided by vocalist Fredo Minablos, treated to tape delay so it sounds like 2 or 3 Fredo Minablos's. The theme is then passed around the orchestra in various ways. This is possibly the most "French"-sounding tune on the album, the fadeout is an accordion playing the main motif over & over & over for the fade.
"La paloma" has a sort of Latin feel, possibly a slow tango, melody given to us by a light & airy alto sax. But wait...that sounds a little TOO light & airy...Turns out the music for the sax was written out BACKWARDS and recorded against the backing bassoon figure, then turned around so the music itself is forwards but the sound of the sax is backwards, yet it fits! Other effects used in this tune include a section edited into the tune which is not related to the current music, we move from regular speed bassoon & guitar to a double-speed plucked string section, and back again! We also hear such things as flute and half-speed trombone playing the same melody, very corny & disconcerting, but funny!
"Beer Barrel Polka": This is the most demented version of this ever, trust me. From notes stuck in that are totally out of key with the song to gritty-sounding woodwind orchestration on the melody, this is a scream from start to finish. Featured is, on the "Roll out the barrel..." part, the melody played by trombone, tuba, & bowed string bass. The tape of this was duplicated and played along with the original into the mix, the second tape was delayed so it sounds like 2 groups of musicians, one in time, the other horribly late and trying to catch up!!! We also hear from heavily-delayed whistling & accordion before it's all over with a sweep of the xylophone.
"Java du diable": Swirling woodwind passages and low male vocal moaning punctuate this one, otherworldly sounds abode. Eerie alto flute states a scary thought in waltz time, and it's brought to a close by an airy piano (double speeded) that suddenly slows down and slows down lower & lower, the whole tape slowed down to a crawl, and on top we hear Satan himself laughing maniacally as the other recording grinds to a halt.
Side 1 ends with "Jalousie", the well-known tango. Opening is double speeded trumpet playing a solo cadenza (on the beginning???), followed by two clarinets who try the same thing but end up squeaking horribly when they get to the top! Finally after a few pensive solo guitar notes, the entire orchestra goes "Ahhhhhhhhh-CHOO!" and we are underway with the melody. Lotsa sliding trombone and backwards-echoed flute on the various sections, and finally with a "mwaaaaaa" goofy trumpet note, we hear the orchestra once again ready to sneeze (at half-speed, no less), Ahhhhhhhhhhhh...but no, the last CHORD, and we're home.
Side 2 opens with the prettiest and most majestic tune on the LP, also the weirdest effect occurs on this one. "La polka du roi" starts with marching trumpets & brass stating the bridge of the tune, replaced by vibes and bells on the melody for an intro, and then we hear it...Fredo Minablos singing, in French, BACKWARDS! He learned the lyrics phonetically backwards (you try it!), recorded them with the orchestral tape played backwards, and that tape turned around so that the lyrics are forward but the sound itself is backwards (like the sax in "La paloma" but much more difficult). Very disconcerting sound; to quote the liner notes, "Imagine a voice with no attack to it-one which sings the words on the intake of breath, a voice that seems to come from nowhere at all. It is a disembodied voice-the voice that surely a Martian must possess."
"Java des bombes atomiques" is a medium waltz with a sliding woodwind melody. The bridge is a trombone melody interrupted by a chime. Alto flute comes in with a spooky kind of melody in the C section, and the tune ends abruptly where one would expect the chime to come in, it just ends in the middle of a phrase. Very effective.
"Adios muchachos" is a medium slow, pensive kind of tune. Featured here is the fact that the brass will be playing a section of the tune, then suddenly there is the brass section playing the very next section, but spliced in at double speed! Also somewhat majestic; it ends with a repeated trombone pattern, and in this case, the tape sped up and up and up and up as it fades out.
"La polka du colonel": If you've listened to Dr D for a while, you've heard this & not even known it. This is one of the instrumental pieces the Dr has used in the past for his mid-week show promos. Most of this tune is in fact backwards, a snappy little tune first presented by backwards brass and finished by staccato woodwinds. The bridge is where we get freaky, the melody first played by alto sax, then suddenly a crossfade and we are listening to the orchestra, playing the same music, but COMPLETELY BACKWARDS, the whole recording, then three backwards syllables from Fredo and we are forwards again. He then sings the melody in a hyper-vibrato style, kinda like Artie Barnes! Following this is Fredo at half speed "daw-da-daw"-ing, then a fantastic cadenza from a trombone, first sped up like a trumpet, coming down the scale, turning to normal speed, down the scale, then half-speed the rest of the way down to the basement (this same effect was used in David Bowie's "Fame"). One final statement from the orchestra (in the wrong key no less!) and we're outa there.
Effects figure prominently in "Java Martienne". Space is the place for this French waltz, melody by trombones and bridge by eerie flutes & clarinets. Occasionally thru the tune (especially at the beginning & end) we hear an electronic sound which must be the flying saucer coming down to land, or the death ray sweeping across the land. A real bit of "program music" (descriptive).
We end the ride with another famous tango, "La cumparsita", perpetrated by pairs of instruments playing intertwining lines before a hyper-trumpet takes us back to the melody each time. The ending chorus features some superbass sounds achieved by lowering the speed on the string bass section to way, wayyyy down. One more piano figure, the final orchestral CHORD!, and thus ends the aural roller-coaster that is
Delirium in Hi-Fi by Elsa Popping and her Pixieland Band.
Comments, questions, etc. to email@example.com. Hope you all enjoyed the review. © 1995 Chris Mezzolesta [firstname.lastname@example.org - Comments/Questions here also] / Email for permission before reposting, all reposts must be intact and include copyright notice and name of original author. Reviews are archived at: http://dmdb.org/