Copyright ©2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

What's it like to perform with a ghost?

ZUILL BAILEY: There was no pianist breathing or cueing me. The good news is that he was very consistent.

ISABEL BAYRAKDARIAN: It's absolutely true; it takes a little bit of adjusting.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BAILEY: (Instrumental)

SIMON: That's cellist Zuill Bailey and soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian talking about their accompanist, the late - and I mean very late - Manuel de Falla, who died in 1946. With the help of new recording technology, they've performed de Falla's "Seven Popular Spanish Songs" for a new CD called "The Spanish Masters."

Manuel de Falla originally recorded the work in 1928. This new CD was created using technology developed by a North Carolina company called Zenph. Their engineers call the results re-performances. Here's how it works: historic recordings from wax cylinders or scratchy 78s are recorded into a computer.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)

BAYRAKDARIAN: (Sung in foreign language)

SIMON: The computer analyzes the pianist's articulation: the timing of notes, how loudly or softly they're played, the attack and release of fingers from the keyboard. The data is then fed into a modern instrument fitted with a special playback mechanism; what amounts to a modern day player piano. And voila. The soul of the long dead master drifts up from the keyboard, but no one is seated at the piano. It must have been an eerie sight as Ms. Bayrakdarian sang along.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)

BAYRAKDARIAN: (Sung in foreign language)

I was placed right in the curve of the piano, how it would be in a normal recital setting. And imagine a very, very silent room. You get the countdown of when the piano will start, but there's a microsecond of shhhh, just tiniest of whoosh of this, that is the ghost almost. But in reality it's the machinery in the piano that is transmitting the data for the piano to actually start playing, and to me that was the moment of oooh, there's the ghost coming in and inhabiting the piano, and here I am going to be singing with him.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)

BAYRAKDARIAN: (Sung in foreign language)

SIMON: Manuel de Falla is best known these days as a composer. He was a respected pianist in his day. That doesn't mean the Zenph re-performance of de Falla's piece doesn't include a few clams. Every once in a while there may be a stumble or an awkward note. It's technically possible in the Zenph system to clean them up; the company's artistic directors strongly discouraged this. Zuill Bailey thinks this is good.

BAILEY: You know, some of the greatest performances are not the ones that are note perfect. His playing is very human, very mortal, it is very imperfect. But to hear a composer play something that was inside of him is a huge asset knowing that the composers brought out things that were not all about perfection, they were brought out by why they wrote the music.

SIMON: To Ms. Bayrakdarian, the best part about being able to perform with de Falla's ghost is the clues it gives to how he himself approached his composition. For example, she says she'd been told all of her life to sing these pieces slowly, deliberately, in a formal classical style. It never felt quite right. Learning that de Falla himself preferred a brisk, breezy and folksy interpretation, she felt emboldened.

BAYRAKDARIAN: We are consumed with always trying to figure out what would the composer have wanted? And the way we try to perform something is to be the conduit for his wishes. So for the first time, this is a recording that actually provides the proof that this is what the composer wanted.

(SOUNDBITE OF SINGING)

BAYRAKDARIAN: (Sung in foreign language)

BAILEY: You're just hearing it straight from the composer. I agree with her completely, with the wonderful scenario of no distraction, the greatest piano available, the greatest recording technology available, they setup to bring this wax cylinder to life to actually hear the composers speak for themselves.

SIMON: Cellist Zuill Bailey, soprano Isabel Bayrakdarian. They can be heard on the new - is it new - CD, "The Spanish Masters."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIMON: And you can hear the 1928 version of a de Falla song, as a Zenph re-performance on our website, nprmusic.org. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.