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Cher, Madonna, Stephen Hawking Form Musical Super Group

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. (SP) — What could two divas and a theoretical physicist possibly have in common? In the case of Cher, Madonna and Stephen Hawking, apparently it’s a mutual passion for singing with the aid of computers. Calling themselves the Three Synthesizers, the trio will be embarking upon a world tour later this summer that will see them visit 83 cities and six continents in support of their new album, ‘Synthcerely’.

Cher first rose to prominence as half of the husband-and-wife singing duo, Sonny and Cher, churning out such hits as ‘The Beat Goes On’ and ‘I Got You Babe’. She then made the successful transition to solo artist, and also had great success as an actress, winning an Academy Award for ‘Moonstruck’ in 1987. She then emerged as a pre-eminent late-night infomercial hostess, before reviving her musical career in 1998 with the enormously successful album, ‘Believe’.

That album started what has become a dominant trend in popular music: voice modulation through the extensive use of synthesizers and computer-generated audio effects. In fact, two of the many bands which have enjoyed recent success with heavily synthesized vocal performances – Dirty Vegas and Daft Punk – will be the opening acts on the Three Synthesizers Tour. “It really is an honour to be touring with a performer as talented as Cher,” said Dirty Vegas lead singer Steve Smith. “I wouldn’t even have a career if not for her ground-breaking work. Jimmi Hendrix and Eric Clapton may have been able to make a guitar speak, but she was the first musician to truly make a synthesizer speak.”

Like Cher, Madonna is one of the few celebrities who has managed to extend her stay in the spotlight by constantly reinventing herself. Over the years, her music has undergone a complete metamorphosis, from the bubble gum pop of her early work, to seminal dance hits such as ‘Vogue’ and ‘Express Yourself’, to the heavily synthesized sound of her title track to the last James Bond film, ‘Die Another Day’, and her most recent album, ‘American Life’.

Stephen Hawking is without question the least likely member of the group. Holder of the prestigious Sir Isaac Newton Chair of Applied Mathematics at Cambridge University, Professor Hawking is considered by many to be the most brilliant physicist of his era. This is despite the fact that he has been confined to a wheelchair and unable to speak without the aid of a computer for much of his adult life due to his affliction with A.L.S., more commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease.

Over the years, there have been occasional indications of Hawking’s interest in music. For example, he lent his voice to a track on Pink Floyd’s ‘Division Bell’ album, offering listeners such pearls of wisdom as, “all you need to do is keep talking.” Also, he recently made his views known about the work of 80’s pop music icons Depeche Mode.

Still, the Three Synthesizers Tour represents quite a leap forward for Hawking, from backup vocalist and amateur rock critic to headliner of a major international tour. Concert promoter Michael Cole, whose company put together the tour, believes that audience members will be dazzled by Hawking’s musical abilities. “When Steve sings, he doesn’t sound at all like the monotone, syncopated speaking voice for which he’s so well known,” said Cole. “The only reason he speaks like that is because he thinks it sounds very professorial. He actually has a beautiful falsetto, reminiscent of the Bee Gees. I still get goose bumps every time I hear him sing ‘Unchained Melody’.”

‘Synthcerely’ contains several new songs written by the group, as well as a number of radically reworked cover versions of such classic hits as Lionel Ritchie’s ‘Three Times A Lady’ and Simon & Garfunkle’s ‘Sounds of Silence’. Staying true to the tradition of the electronica genre, the cover versions of these songs will each be played two or three times faster than the original recordings, with all voices and acoustic instruments replaced by a heavy overlay of synthesizers and drum machines.

The album is currently being recorded in MIT’s state-of-the-art computer science lab, and is being produced by Linus Torvalds. Although Torvalds has no prior experience producing records, he is a highly regarded computer programmer, having developed the popular Linux operating system. Despite his inexperience in the music business, Torvalds has boldly predicted that ‘Synthcerely’ is going to be a huge commercial success. “Wait till you hear our cover version of ‘Ave Maria’,” he said. “I think it’s going to be considered the most inspired and tasteful reinvention of a piece of classical music since ‘A Fifth of Beethoven’ hit discotheques everywhere via the ‘Saturday Night Fever’ soundtrack.”

The insatiably ambitious Synthesizers already have projects lined up for next year, when the world tour ends. Cher and Madonna have solo albums in the works, while Hawking has another collaborative effort planned, this time with super computer Deep Blue. Blue is probably best known for having defeated reigning world chess champion Gary Kasparov, but its musical abilities have not previously been publicly recognized.

However, according to Hawking, it shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that Blue is a talented musician, since there is often a correlation between mathematical and musical prowess. “D.B. and I have always had great respect for each other’s work, and we had been looking for a project that would enable us to share our common appreciation for combinatorial mathematics and rhythm & blues,” said Hawking.

The tentative title of their forthcoming album is ‘Rocking Stevie Hawking and Deep Blue Sing the Blues’.

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