The Mysterious N. Senada (born Nigel Sinatra) (b. May 28th 1907 - d. 1993) was a German composer and music theorist who formulated the Theory of Obscurity and the Theory of Phonetic Organization.
Early years (1907-1937)
"If the audience wants perfectly played music, let them listen to angels. Human music should stumble along most pitifully." - N. Senada
Born Nigel Sinatra on May 28th 1907 in Bavaria, Germany, The Mysterious N. Senada was an eccentric music theorist and composer whose original works are little known outside of the context of his collaborations with the American avant-garde group The Residents.
In 1937, Sinatra premiered his masterpiece, "Pollex Christi", which translates to either Thumb of Christ or Big Toe of Christ. "Pollex Christi" mainly consisted of borrowed pieces from other composers, namely Beethoven's Symphony No. 5 and Carl Orff's Carmina Burana, among others.
Sinatra also left large gaps in the composition, so that the performers could insert music of their choosing, thus "becoming composers themselves". Sinatra justified these actions by describing his compositions as being similar to building a house, claiming that he did not make the "bricks" but merely "cemented them together"; he was not the "architect", simply the "builder".
The Delta Nudes (1970-1974)
Accounts differ regarding the circumstances by which Sinatra came to meet the group who would later become The Residents. According to long-established Residents history, he was discovered recording birdsong in the woods of Bavaria in the late 1960s by Philip "Snakefinger" Lithman, and travelled with Lithman to California around 1970 in search of strange and unusual sounds.
Other sources have since confirmed that the composer arrived unannounced on the group's doorstep in San Mateo, California in 1970, wearing a trenchcoat, fedora and sunglasses, and at this point was unknown to all present (including Lithman, who had met the group through mutual acquaintance with Margaret Smyk).
His nom de plume, "The Mysterious N. Senada", was adopted as a direct result of this meeting, when Lithman misheard the heavily-accented Sinatra as he was trying to introduce himself to the group. Senada would love this name so much that he would adopt it for the rest of his life, even applying it retrospectively to pieces written decades prior to this encounter.
Senada almost instantly began collaborating with the group on their recordings, their early live performances, and even appeared in their abandoned feature film project Vileness Fats. In all of these appearances, Senada performs vocals and saxophone on two songs, "Kamikaze Lady" and "Eloise". A Senada compositions, "Cantaten to der Dyin Prunen" appears on the group's 1971 demo tape B.S.. Senada is credited with taking a photograph of members of the group standing nude (and unmasked) in 1970, which is featured on the front cover of the 2013 compilation album The Delta Nudes' Greatest Hiss.
Rumors persist of a number of additional impromptu performances by Senada reading poetry and improvising on saxophone at open-mic nights throughout San Francisco during this time, but to date none have been confirmed by The Residents or their representatives.
Expedition to the Arctic and reappearance (1974-1979)Senada disappeared around 1974 after his contributions to Vileness Fats. He resurfaced a couple of years later, around 1976, appearing with The Residents at their Oh Mummy! Oh Daddy! performance in June of that year.
He claimed to have been on an expedition to the Arctic, where he had been making tape recordings of genuine Arctic wind sounds. He gave The Residents copies of these tapes, as well a sealed bottle of pure Arctic air.
These gifts served as inspiration for The Residents' most ambitious project yet, Eskimo - an "audio documentary" album which was finally released in 1979 after years of production delays. Senada's original arctic wind tapes are featured on a bonus CD with the 2019 limited edition compilation Eskimo Deconstructed.
Final years and death (1980-1993)
Senada's last known public appearance was in August 1987, at The Snakey Wake for Philip "Snakefinger" Lithman, who had died suddenly of a heart attack while on tour. Similar to the group's earliest performances, Senada performed loose, improvisational renditions of "Kamakazi Lady" and "Eloise" on sax and vocals. This recording was eventually made available on the Robot Selling Device EP Live At The Snakey Wake in 2010, and is included on later reissues of the studio version of The Snakey Wake.
Following this performance, Senada largely remained in obscurity until his death in 1993 at the age of 86.
The Residents recorded Pollex Christi as a tribute to Senada, and released it in 1997 on what would have been his 90th birthday. For The Residents' interpretation, the "holes" were filled with a variety of modern, recognizable tunes, such as the television theme from Star Trek. Pollex Christi was initially distributed in two limited editions of 400, but has since been reissued as part of the Best Left Unspoken series of instrumental works.
In an interview in December 2019, Homer Flynn announced that "a British writer" had completed a biography about N. Senada, "supposedly based on some writings that were found", and that Flynn was then working on the graphic design for a package including this biography and The Residents' Pollex Christi, which is expected for release via Psychofon Records around Spring 2020.
Theory of Obscurity
Senada's Theory of Obscurity states that an artist can only produce the purest expression of their art when the expectations and influences of the outside world are not taken into consideration at all.
This theory influenced The Residents' decision to operate under a cloak of anonymity, and also influenced the creation of their album Not Available - recorded secretly as their second album in 1974, and only released in 1978 as a stopgap following a series of delays in the production of Eskimo.
In modern times, Senada and his theory are referred to almost exclusively in connection with The Residents, although other organizations have also claimed influence from this theory.
Theory of Phonetic Organization
Senada's Theory of Phonetic Organization states that "the musician should put the sounds first, building the music up from [them] rather than developing the music, then working down to the sounds that make it up."
- The Boarding House - October 18th 1971, San Francisco, California
- Party of '71 (Philip's Wedding) - October 31st 1971, Arcata, California
- Party of '72 (Chris' Party) - unknown date, 1972, Redwood, California
- Oh Mummy! Oh Daddy! Can't You See That It's True; What The Beatles Did To Me, "I Love Lucy" Did To You - June 7th 1976, Berkeley, California
- The Snakey Wake - August 24th 1987, San Francisco, California
Appearances on Residents releases
- B.S. (recorded 1971, released 2019)
- 1-10 (With A Touch of 11) (ca. 1972, unreleased)
- Vileness Fats (1974, unfinished)
- Eskimo (1979)
- Mole Show/Whatever Happened To Vileness Fats? (1984)
- Video Voodoo Volume I (1987)
- Twenty Twisted Questions (1992)
- Pollex Christi (1997)
- Icky Flix DVD (2001)
- Eskimo DVD (2003)
- Live At The Snakey Wake (2010)
- ERA B474 (2012)
- The Delta Nudes' Greatest Hiss (2013)
- The Snakey Wake (2015 reissue)
- The Residents Present The Delta Nudes (2016)
- A Nickle If Your Dick's This Big (2019)