N. Senada (born Nigel Sinatra, often referred to as The Mysterious N. Senada) (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.
- 1 Biography
- 2 Legacy
- 3 Theory of Obscurity
- 4 Theory of Phonetic Organization
- 5 Compositions
- 6 Live performances
- 7 Credits
- 8 Appearances on Residents releases
- 9 See also
- 10 External links and references
Early years (1907-1944)
"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.
His approach to composition borrowed more from architecture than from standard music theory; he openly considered himself to be a poor composer, and likened his process to building "houses" out of "bricks" - these "bricks" consisting of excerpts from other composers' works. The compositions themselves were mere "blueprints", while the final performance of the piece was the completed "house".
He was quoted as having said in 1935: "I am not the composer of the bricks, I just cement them together. I am the composer of the house. It is the house that is important: its form, its usefulness, its sense of joy."
Sinatra's compositions have been noted for their complexity and difficulty; he felt that as the pace of life became increasingly uncontrollable, so too should music, and wrote his work in hope that the performers' mistakes would introduce otherwise unimaginable variations into the piece.
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 "blueprint" of "Pollex Christi", so that the performers could insert music of their choosing, thus "becoming composers themselves". Typically, the music chosen to fill these gaps were short, popular songs, which either blended or contrasted with the rest of the work as a hole. These were often Sinatra's favorite parts of "Pollex Christi", as they were the only sections of the composition which could surprise him.
Sinatra's "post-post-modernist" work was not well-received in Germany, and he was regularly accused of plagiarism. For his part, Sinatra did nothing to deny these accusations, instead responding: "If a man steals philosophy from many great thinkers and combines them into a new philosophy, is he not yet another great thinker?"
Sinatra left Germany in 1938, in response to the scorn of his peers and the growing dominance of the National Socialist movement, bringing most of his compositions with him (although other than "Pollex Christi", most have not survived). He next lived in northern Canada, where he abandoned musical composition altogether, claiming that the music inside him was now "too frightened" to come out.
Despite this, he maintained his interest in sound and musical theory, and much of his philosophical work was born from this period. It was in Canada that he first became fascinated with the culture of the Inuit people, an interest he would continue to research throughout the remainder of his life.
After the end of World War II, Sinatra continued travelling. He would not return to Bavaria until 1969.
The Delta Nudes (1970-1974)
According to long-established Residents history, he was discovered recording bird song in the Black Forest of Bavaria in 1969 by Philip "Snakefinger" Lithman, and travelled with Lithman to California around 1970 in search of strange and unusual sounds, whereupon he was introduced to the group.
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 "just disappeared one day" in early 1974, leaving The Residents to presume he had travelled to the Arctic in search of a "musical link" hidden among the Eskimos.
Senada briefly re-appeared in San Francisco in 1976, appearing with the group at their Oh Mummy! Oh Daddy! performance in June of that year. He claimed to have indeed 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 field recording is featured on a bonus CD included with the 2019 vinyl 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 was released by Psychofon Records in Spring of 2020.
Senada's saxophone, long thought lost, was located in The Cryptic Corporation archives in March 2021 by publisher Melodic Virtue while they were doing research for an upcoming coffee table book covering the history of The Residents.
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 Residents' 1974 debut album Meet The Residents was assembled by the group in accordance with the Theory of Phonetic Organization. The liner notes to the album state that Senada had developed a complex musical system based on this theory.
- "Pollex Christi" (1937)
- "Cantaten to der Dyin Prunen" (19??)
- "Cantaten und Symphonen for der Saxophonen und Violinen" (19??)
- 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
- Der 8-EP-Sampler (1983)
- Auf Der Suche Nach Der Verlorenen Pubertät (1987, Vocals, Electric Guitar)
- Daydream B Liver (1991, Writer on 'A Live Radio Broadcast')
- Pollex Christi (1997, Composed By)
- Best Left Unspoken... Volume One: Pollex Christi And Other Selections (2006, 'Pollex Christi' Composed by)
- The Sound Of Geri Reig (2012, performance on 'Abschied')
- The Snakey Wake (2015, performance on 'N. Senada Live At The Snakey Wake')
- Daydream B-Liver (2016, performance on 1971 recordings)
- The W***** B*** Album (2018, Writer, Cover Design, Production & Editing)
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)
- The Mysterious N. Senada on RzWeb (via archive.org)
- "More Than What The Ear Hears Coming From The Eye" at Exclaim.ca
- N. Senada on Wikipedia
- Matt Groening, "The True Story of The Residents", 1979
- "A Live Radio Broadcast"
- Jim Knipfel, "Somethin' Devilish: The Untold (And Finally True) Pre-History of The Residents 1963-1971)"
- "Residential: Homer Flynn on The Residents' ambitious 'God In Three Persons' show at MOMA" by Oliver Hall at Dangerous Minds
- Instagram post by Melodic Virtue, April 20th 2021
|The Mysterious N. Senada|
(1907 - 1993)
Max Steinway · Hardy Fox · Philip "Snakefinger" Lithman · The Delta Nudes · Residents, Uninc. · "Eloise" · "Kamakazi Lady" · Andrew Hook · O for Obscurity, Or, The Story of N.