Music

What Ultraelectromagneticpop! Means to Us Gen-Xers

Earnest Zabala, who was there at the beginning of the Eraserheads' career, looks back at (and forward to) the album that defined a generation.
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When it comes to ultraelectromagneticpop!, it's all about memories. Everyone of a certain age has memories centered on the songs of the Eraserheads' debut album, which came out in 1993.

Mine would include: Hearing “Ligaya,” the carrier single, for the first time on the radio in the back of a cab, screaming, imploring the driver to turn up the volume while simultaneously shouting “mga kaibigan ko yan!” I am sure the taxi driver thought I was crazy.

The following year, three friends and I decided to produce the band’s first concert in Baguio, a foolhardy plan hatched during one mahjong session. As a gimmick, we decided to peg the admission tickets at 99 pesos, hoping that people will automatically let us keep the change. (But no, virtually everyone asked for their damned sukli which necessitated several trips (on foot) to a nearby gas station  to ask for coins.)

Hard to believe how something plastic that’s no bigger than your average powerbank—we're talking about cassette tapes, children—can hold so many memories. The work of four unassuming college dropouts in their early 20s, ultraelectromagneticpop! became a cultural touchstone for Gen Xers, one that has endured through the decades. The album was instrumental in igniting the band scene of the 90s, and the Eraserheads—Ely Buendia, Raimund Marasigan, Marcus Adoro, and Buddy Zabala—would find themselves playing to a diverse audience leading them to the first of many concert tours around the Philippines and beyond. On the strength of its second single, "Pare Ko," the album signaled the beginning of a glorious era of Pinoy music.

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IMAGE: Jake Verzosa

We already know how the Eraserheads' story ends. But in 1993, when Ultra first came out, everything was fresh and the future uncertain. What was sure then was that hearts and souls were poured into the making of this album. The record company, BMG Pilipinas, and the people behind the album were doing their best to make sure the songs would find their way to the Pinoy audience.

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Fast-forward 25 years; the past is well behind us. Yes, Ultra turned 25 this year. Sony Music Philippines and Offshore Music, Buendia’s very own music label, have decided to commemorate this milestone by coming out with a reissue of the beloved classic.

Tweaking a much-loved icon presents a set of special challenges: How do you tinker with a cherished piece of pop culture? How do you improve songs that have stolen the imagination of millions? 

An Offshore Music representative describes the remastered Ultra as having a bigger soundscape. 

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Fortunately for us, the people at Offshore Music know what they are doing. After considering several sound engineers both local and international, their commitment to have the best person on the project eventually led them to Bernie Grundman, a world-renowned audio engineer based in the US.

Among others, he has mastered albums for Carol King (Tapestry), Steely Dan (Aja), Michael Jackson (Thriller), Prince (Purple Rain) Dr. Dre (The Chronic) and Childish Gambino (Awaken, My Love). In 2015 alone, 32 projects from his Hollywood studios were nominated for Grammy Awards. Clearly, our beloved songs were in good hands. 

Digitally remastering an album involves removing any flaws from the original recording—this may include fixing bad edits, mic noises, hiss. An Offshore Music representative describes the remastered Ultra as having a bigger soundscape. He says, “The sound kasi of the original is medyo manipis. This one you can really hear Ely’s voice stand out. You can hear the drums, the low end, mas prominent ngayon yung bass unlike in the original recording. There’s more body. The sound is bigger. You can experience a better soundscape—it’s bigger and fuller sounding."

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Furthermore, Grundman has remastered it into the highest digital format, 192khz/24bit—higher in audio quality than that of a CD. In this age of streaming and data compression, having the highest quality resolution guarantees the best audio experience from your audio streaming services.

ultraelectromagneticpop!’s 25th anniversary reissue drops this Friday, November 23, on Spotify. Those of us who have formed memories around the original release may just find that this reissue pays homage to the iconic album in the best way possible: By making it available as a new listening experience for fans across the generations.

 

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About The Author
Earnest Mangulabnan Zabala
wife, mother, and activist.
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