The Big Blue Ball project defines 25 years of Real World Records

The World

The concept behind the Big Blue Ball project is both simple and profound.

Peter Gabriel, the renowned musician behind Real World Records, heard a quote from an astronaut who had seen the world from outer space for the first time — and said it looked like a “big blue ball.”

For Gabriel, this said everything he wanted to say about his mission for Real World Records.

“All other divisions seemed ridiculous and arbitrary, because there's the planet, the whole thing,” said Gabriel. “And that idea seemed to make a lot of sense for this project."

Big Blue Ball was born out of series of recording sessions during the summers of 1991, 1992 and 1995 at the Real World offices in Box, England. The mission: to connect musicians from vastly different backgrounds.

“We had this week of invited guests, people from all around the world, fed by music and a 24 hour café,” Gabriel said. “It was a giant playpen, a bring your own studio party. There’d be a studio set up on the lawn, in the garage, in someone’s bedroom, as well as the seven rooms we had available.”

The studios were flooded with Real World artists from around the globe, as well as some other industry favorites — Joe Strummer, Iggy Pop, Van Morrison and Sinead O’Connor, to name a few.

All this week, we’ve been bringing you tracks from Real World Records 25-year anniversary CD set. Today’s pick — a song called “Altus Silva” — was created during The Big Blue Ball project.

“This particular track is an interesting one because it brings together two singers from two very different backgrounds,” explains Amanda Jones, Real World’s label manager. “Joseph Arthur — who is an American singer-songwriter — and the Gaelic-Celtic singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, who brings the chorus.”

The two singers exchange vocal parts — Arthur’s in English and Lionáird’s in Gaelic. The track also features musicians from Living Color and the French group Deep Forest.  

“It’s a real range of musical talent coming together,” Jones says. “The song is strong, it’s so beautiful and powerful that it avoids that horrifying ‘world music melting pot’ term.”

Avoiding the clichés surrounding “world music” is a big part of what Real World Records has strived for 25 years to accomplish. Now, with Real World’s quarter-century of music production — and a steep decline in CD sales across all genres — what does the future hold for the label?

Jones concedes that opportunities for musicians are different than they were back in the 90s, when Real World Records was just beginning to sign artists.

“[Artists] need to diversify and promote themselves as hard as they possibly can,” she says. “It’s a much tougher world now.”

“Our legacy, perhaps, is that fact that, together with a record company, artists can be given the opportunity to find a fantastic recoding environment,” she continues.  “And that’s something we’re still compelled to do — to bring artists to record in the best possible quality the music that they’re able. And to release it in whatever way, whatever format, whatever new route to an audience that’s going to be there for the future.”

Will you help our nonprofit newsroom today?

Every week, more than 2 million listeners tune into our broadcast and follow our digital coverage like this story, which is available to read for free thanks to charitable contributions from listeners like you. But less than 1% of our audience supports our program directly. From now through the end of the year, every gift will be matched dollar for dollar by a generous donor, which means your gift will help us unlock a $67,000 challenge match.

Will you join our growing list of loyal supporters and double your impact today?