The Rondo Hatton Report #1

As announced back in October, the inaugural edition of The Rondo Hatton Report is now available for download. Topics explored are:

  • King Kong: A Conversational Analysis – Paul Carr & Michel Delville
  • The Bard Of Baltimore – Kanguy Chow
  • Zappa’s Music Is a Sphere – Guillaume Dauzou & Sabrina Bergamin
  • Author/Recipient Relationships in FZ Movies – Manuel de la Fuente
  • My Dogs Are Barking – Andrew Greenaway
  • Trouble With Pigs And Ponies – Andy Hollinden
  • FZ And The English Language – John Loska
  • When Zappa Played Like Coltrane – Philippe Mérigot
  • La Dérive Uncle Meat – Didier Mervelet
  • Waxing Lyrical; Why I Love Frank – Sarah Moore
  • Isn’t It Romantic, Punky? – Simon Prentis
  • Frank Zappa Versus the People – Pacôme Thiellement
  • Are You Hung Up? – Hugo Vanneck
  • On “Oh No” From Weasels Ripped My Flesh – Ben Watson

Direct link to the PDF.

Happy reading, and happy holidays!

24 Responses to “The Rondo Hatton Report #1”

  1. Thinman says:

    Very interesting read. Very interesting thoughts.

    A quote from Thinman:

    LA DÉRIVE UNCLE MEAT by Didier Mervelet:
    “The Yellow Shark” is an easy-to-use compendium of everything Zappa composed in the field of serious orchestral music. It is formatted for the ears of classical radio stations listeners.

    “Civilization Phaze III” is a self-indulgent and redundant work. This posthumous piece, probably designed as such by Zappa himself, misses the point of opening new horizons.

    Viewed from the distance of many years now, I agree with this. “The Yellow Shark” is very clean in a sense that it can be boring. I had been at one of the performances and don’t listen to the CD very often though.

    “Civilization” was a step forward from other Synclavier works, but my opinion is, Frank still used the machine in a very conservative way. He missed the chance to do something different than toying around with it and using it as a replacement for real musicians. Though I was fascinated when this was new I now rarely listen to it.

    In my opinion Franks later years emphasized his “pratical conservative” approach too much.

    Th.

  2. jonnybutter says:

    I was going to cite the very same passage, but with the opposite opinion.

    I wonder why so many people who are putative fans of Frank’s music – or who are at least interested enough in it to listen and write about it – DON’T LIKE IT? Why do people like that use their interest (or even fandom) to express so much resentment and envy?

    The description of the Yellow Shark music is almost meaningless. The author dismisses 80% of the music, and complains (implicitly) about the more familiar, tonal, older stuff. What is critical or interesting about calling it ‘formatted for the ears of classical radio listeners’? Does that say anything about the music?

    As for Civ Phase 3: if you dismiss a large, complex, extremely subtle work because you don’t understand it, who’s being ‘self-indulgent’? Writing the article from which the above quote is taken *defines* self-indulgence.

    If you’re a fan (like thinman) and don’t like to listen to Civ 3, fine. I don’t see anything wrong with that, and I would bet Frank wouldn’t either. But if you are a pseudo intellectual, musically ignorant, un-self-aware, critic, who contributes absolutely nothing of value or beauty to the world – contributes nothing at all but reflections of your own secret (and accurate) low regard for yourself – I do have a problem with that. I have far more regard and respect for Brittney Spears and Donny Osmond than for critics like this, since they actually *do* something and their audience enjoys it. The very kinds of people Frank rightly hated with passion, have an article about his music in the Rondo Hatton! I mean, it’s weird.

  3. Thinman says:

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    … If you’re a fan (like thinman) and don’t like to listen to Civ 3, fine. …

    I consider this discussion to be very interesting. Because I think it is possible to be a hardcore-fanatic, to like something, and to be critical about it at the same time. When I am critical about something from Frank’s catalog then it is “complaining on a high level” of course (there is huge difference between “The LSO plays Phil Collins and “The Yellow Shark” for sure).

    And I get critical about Frank’s work the more time passes by. Because I have listened to all of it a million times and my viewpoint about what is important about Frank’s work changed over the years. And it keeps changing, because I discover new aspects everytime. And that can also include negative aspects.

    I like to listen to Civ. Phaze III and Yellow Sh. but I can notice positive and negative aspects in both.

    Frank took and missed chances like every artists. Strangely I always thought using factory sounds for Francesco was a good idea and One Shot Deal is the best of the posthumous ZFT compilations (two of my opinions totally opposite to almost everyone else).

    Th.

  4. jonnybutter says:

    OK, I went back and read the article again, after having whipped through it last night, and…I was a little off – but only a little.

    The writer is not a professional critic, as I sort of suggested. He is just a guy with an opinion – a guy who thinks talking like Zappa makes you think like him. It’s very juvenile. The guy is entitled to his opinion, but I’m entitled to mine too, and I fart in his general direction. My advice to him: don’t judge something you don’t understand. When Zappa used simple language to render judgment about big things, it didn’t mean he hadn’t carefully considered that judgment before making it. Being superficial and facile is not what de-mystifying is about.

  5. P-Rip says:

    After quickly scanning all of the articles, most of it seems to be “Ben Watson Wannabe” stuff. That is, trying to fit Zappa’s music into their own intellectual aspirations. To me, over-intellectualizing Zappa’s music is a fool’s game. Remember all the early analysis of “Let’s Make The Water Turn Black” and all the supposed hidden meanings and metaphors? Turns out it’s a pretty literal story from his youth. Except for the intended musical and lyrical puns, Zappa’s music may be complex, but it is also pretty literal and straightforward. He confirmed that in many interviews and he seemed to be annoyed with people who tried to make more of it politically, intellectually and otherwise.

  6. jonnybutter says:

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    I think it is possible to be a hardcore-fanatic, to like something, and to be critical about it at the same time.

    Me too, thinman. But the author dismissed Civ3 as ‘self indulgent and redundant’. When someone calls a complex, ambitious, large piece of art work ‘self indulgent’, I immediately smell something stinky. That is a giveaway phrase, which means that the critic knows what the artist *should* be doing, something the critic deems to be not-self-indulgent – what would that be? Something utilitarian? Pedagogic? I think that’s backward.

    There’s some of Frank’s stuff I’m not crazy about and don’t listen to, like some of the endless live renditions of _______ from the 80s, some of the very very long guitar solos, Thing Fish, ‘Mary Lou’ and ‘Stick Together’, and others. But I’m not going to call them ‘self indulgent’, even though you could make a case that some of it is. But calling something like Civ3 that is just kind of ignorant. If you don’t care for it – fine. But a Zappa fan learns that, just as you say, there are some things you like less over time, there are also things which you don’t really get when you first hear them, and later learn to love.

    I would bet a lot of money that this guy doesn’t understand what he’s listening to re: 80% of Yellow Shark (the new music) and Civ.3. He also gives himself away when he says that ‘No, ‘Welcome To The United States’ isn’t funny’. If your complaint on that song is that it’s not ‘funny’, you are probably missing the point.

    Of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with being critical about Zappa’s work, but your motivations matter. If your motivation is to just be contrary, or it’s to ‘take Zappa down a notch’ just-because, I think you’re full of shit, which is how I feel about the present reviewer; reaction isn’t really criticism, and it has more to do with what you’re reacting to (e.g. your feelings about yourself) than the object. Would this guy not like the two works mentioned if he didn’t know Frank was dying when he wrote them? Sorry, he’s full of shit.

  7. Alex says:

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    As for Civ Phase 3: if you dismiss a large, complex, extremely subtle work because you don’t understand it, who’s being ‘self-indulgent’? Writing the article from which the above quote is taken *defines* self-indulgence.

    If you’re a fan (like thinman) and don’t like to listen to Civ 3, fine. I don’t see anything wrong with that, and I would bet Frank wouldn’t either. But if you are a pseudo intellectual, musically ignorant, un-self-aware, critic, who contributes absolutely nothing of value or beauty to the world – contributes nothing at all but reflections of your own secret (and accurate) low regard for yourself – I do have a problem with that.

    I was about to say you went a little overboard with insulting the author – but you corrected yourself.

    With regard to what Thinman said, it’s true. Opinions can fluctuate over time…when I was younger, nothing was better than ‘Dark Side Of The Moon.’ Now I hate it. I used to think ‘Over-Nite Sensation’ and ‘Apostrophe’ were annoying, now I appreciate them a lot more than I did.

    Besides that, I don’t like that people think in order to be a super-fan you have to unflinchingly praise everything an artist has ever put out. I don’t really endorse this phrase all that much (because such logic is silly and speculative), but that’s something Frank would not have approved of. And neither would Lennon have. Or Dylan. Or whoever. These guys promote(d) the idea of individual thought.

    This raises the idea of what the perfect analysis of FZ would be. There would have to be a good amount dedicated to the music AND the lyrics; despite what Frank said, the lyrics are there. Sometimes they’re literal. Other times we’re left scratching our heads. The quote where he said he only wrote lyrics because Americans hate instrumental music (words to that effect) was, to me, the words of an embittered man who had seen the best and worst of his trade. He’d high-fived audiences in the front row during a solo, and he’d also witnessed the trumpet section of the LSO get shit-faced because they didn’t like his music.

    Anyway, a good analysis of Zappa would have to be something more than just a fanboy slobbing the guy’s knob. If they didn’t like, say, ‘Waka/Jawaka’ they should be allowed to write honestly about it. And who knows, there might be another Zappologist out there who thinks that record is the bee’s knees.

    I’d rather hear a writer’s critical opinion than gushing hero worship.

    Zappa’s work (music AND words, sorry P-Rip) is too dense for there to be any definitive book, I guess. Just find the author whose ideas (and analytical approach) you agree with. I really liked Kelly Lowe’s book, but oh my God it was obvious he was not a musician. Fantastic analysis, good work with the potentially controversial songs, but weak on the musical front – but he admitted that in his foreword.

    Guys like Miles and Gray really, really liked the Frank Zappa they heard in the prime of their own lives and piss on anything he did after 1972. After that, it’s more about these guys chiseling away at debunking who Frank really was. It gets a bit cruel, and that’s no fun.

    There’s also some major issues I have with Watson, yet at the same time he had some very salient points in his book. I thought Hollinden’s piece was really good, and I’m not just saying that because I know him. Not enough people pay mind to connect FZ to the Blues in such a way. And he should know: he teaches a class on FZ and a class on the Blues. I wouldn’t write him off as a Watson wannabe at all.

    Hope everyone is having a Merry Christmas.

  8. jonnybutter says:

    I would also add that there are parts of Civ3 that I have a hard time getting into at the moment, and there are other parts that I find unbelievably, stupendously great, parts which are more interesting every time I listen. I may decide, after some years, that I just don’t like some aspects of the piece, or that it doesn’t hold together. In that case, maybe I’m right and maybe I’m wrong. But only a jackass listens, is baffled, and declares the whole thing to be ‘self-indulgent and redundant’. If I read a long treatise on advanced mathematics and it gave me a headache, would I not be an idiot to say that it was ‘incomprehensible and self-indulgent’, when in fact, I just didn’t understand it?

  9. Alex says:

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    But a Zappa fan learns that, just as you say, there are some things you like less over time, there are also things which you don’t really get when you first hear them, and later learn to love.

    Not just Zappa, dude. A lot of my favorite albums (now) I couldn’t get into the first time I heard them. First time I heard ‘Pet Sounds’ at 14, my reaction was, “This isn’t rock and roll!” and switched it off. Seven years later I finally appreciated it for the sonic masterpiece it is. Same happened with ‘The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society’ and just this week while waiting at the airport I gave ‘Studio Tan’ a close listen and fell in love with it after two years’ ambivalence.

    But yeah, Zappa is so multi-layered and unique that it might take a little longer, but you’ll find yourself adoring an album you once hated.

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    Of course there is absolutely nothing wrong with being critical about Zappa’s work, but your motivations matter. If your motivation is to just be contrary, or it’s to ‘take Zappa down a notch’ just-because, I think you’re full of shit, which is how I feel about the present reviewer; reaction isn’t really criticism, and it has more to do with what you’re reacting to (e.g. your feelings about yourself) than the object. Would this guy not like the two works mentioned if he didn’t know Frank was dying when he wrote them? Sorry, he’s full of shit.

    We were writing concurrently, but it sounds like we were thinking along the same lines, too. Contrarian devil’s advocate types can take a squat on the cosmic utensil. Sharing one’s opinion is one thing; presenting one’s opinion as the absolute and only way to interpret anyone’s work is hackery.

  10. jonnybutter says:

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    Contrarian devil’s advocate types can take a squat on the cosmic utensil.

    What I object to is judging something which you don’t understand. It doesn’t make you a bad or inferior person to not know anything about serial techniques and ideas in composition; and I don’t think you absolutely have to know about them to enjoy some music which uses them: Zappa’s music did, but he also very explicitly wrote for the ear (see his rant about ‘serial pedigree’). But it’s also not THAT hard to learn a little about it if you’re interested in music, and it deepens appreciation of stuff like the Yellow Shark and Civ3 (and some late Stravinsky, and Boulez, and lots of other composers). If you don’t know what you’re listening to and don’t care to find out, don’t make summary judgments like ‘self-indulgent’. It’s moronic.

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    my opinion is, Frank still used the machine in a very conservative way.

    I respectfully disagree, thin, or maybe i don’t understand what you mean. You have to remember that the Synclav Frank used had no velocity sensitivity – something we totally take for granted now. It’s hard to believe, but midi keyboards didn’t have velocity sensitivity until the Yamaha DX7 (early 80s), and it was the only one for a while (and you couldn’t use it with the Synclav, which was all proprietary). That means that Frank had to edit *volume* parameters from note to note to get any expressiveness out of the thing (and it wasn’t a slick GUI). Also remember that RAM was $100 a megabyte in those days (amazing, isn’t it?), and all his samples had to be loaded into RAM to play. Also, he and his assistants had to process practically all their own samples. In short, the Synclav. was incredibly crude compared to what any decent home studio has now. He had that and a 12 track digital recorder, and that’s it. I think it’s astounding what he was able to do with what he had.

    Maybe you mean that, compositionally, he was conservative. ‘Little Beige Sambo’ conservative? ‘Put A Motor In Yourself’? ‘Reagan At Bitburg’? We just have to agree to disagree; I wouldn’t call those compositions, among others, ‘conservative’.

  11. jonnybutter says:

    I’m old, so I shouldn’t assume people know what this:

    just in case…velocity sensitivity means: play the note harder and it sounds louder (or different); play the note softer and it sounds softer (or different). An acoustic piano is velocity sensitive (which is why it was called a ‘pianoforte’, or ‘soft loud’); a pipe organ isn’t. Frank had to manually edit all that kind of stuff…

    Sorry to chew up so much bandwidth here, but, finally, I agree with Alex that nothing but simple hero worship can get boring. I’d say, however, that critical listening is built into Zappa’s work: it’s what his stuff was *about* – he forced/challenged/ seduced/annoyed you into listening critically. It was his basic MO. When someone makes a snap judgment about some of his best/most ambitious material without caring enough to at least *try* to listen critically, it pisses me off! ARG!

  12. Alex says:

    That’s what I love about Zappa the most: he didn’t want listening to his work to be a passive experience. Again, I know he said one thing – “I only write for myself,” etc. – but if that’s the case this would have been a hobby and not a career while he, I don’t know, practiced chemistry or metallurgy by day.

    Anyway, it’s pretty clear that what pissed him off the most was that he saw other artists content to not only let their audiences listen passively, they encouraged it. Townshend would similarly get angry with fans at concerts for, as he observed, not listening to the music: “This is a rock and roll concert, not a facking tea pawty, so SHADDAP!” as can be heard on The Who’s boxed set. Zappa wanted active listening because he himself was an active thinker and writer. It’s definitely built into his work. Too often FZ has come out and said some of his seemingly nonsensical lyrics are actually something quite deep, like “Call Any Vegetable” being about “people who don’t live up to their potential.” I would never have guessed, I always just thought it was some Dadaist jazz-rock number.

  13. jonnybutter says:

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    Townshend would similarly get angry with fans at concerts for, as he observed, not listening to the music: “This is a rock and roll concert, not a facking tea pawty, so SHADDAP!” a

    Does anyone but Zappa really matter?

    HA. KIDDING! (just a little levity to break things up)

    Seriously, I think that Zappa annoyed and annoys pretentious people, and especially pretentious people who are professionally mediocre; they know enough to suspect that Zappa is really good, which of course offends them. Surely it’s particularly irritating if you’ve wasted..I mean, endured….I mean *invested*, many years of your life in academia.

    By no means am I saying the author of the article in question is a pretentious mediocrity, since I know really nothing about him. But he does exhibit some of that peculiar resentment and envy. Trying to sell Zappa as a ‘major filmmaker’ is a strawman.

    Ben Watson had the wit to admit that his ‘Poodle Play’ is about himself, but the truth is, the book is also very much about Zappa, putting the latter into an interesting context. Watson uses some of Zappa’s techniques in his book, one of which is sort of a sly self-sabotage (‘This is all silly’). But it isn’t really *all* silly. Zappa was not any kind of Academic, but he wasn’t really ignorant. Lots of people know a little about a lot, but not everyone is able to extrapolate as carefully as Zappa – a kind of an intellectual reverse engineering process. For example, it’s not a stretch to suppose that Zappa exposed himself to some Frankfurt School ideas, at whatever remove, without reading Adorno or Benjamin, or even knowing their names.

    I liked Watson’s book, not to say I liked every bit of it. But I’d think being a Watson Wannabe is a losing game. You run the risk of your work being *entirely* about you. Unfortunately, being a Zappa fan doesn’t necessarily make you interesting, as an author or whatever.

  14. Alex says:

    A quote from Alex:

    You run the risk of your work being *entirely* about you.

    There’s some shitty reviews at the Onion’s AV Club website that fall into that trap, but that’s a different ballgame altogether.

  15. profusion says:

    A quote from Thinman:

    “Civilization” was a step forward from other Synclavier works, but my opinion is, Frank still used the machine in a very conservative way. He missed the chance to do something different than toying around with it and using it as a replacement for real musicians.

    Besides the aforementioned technical limitations of the Synclavier, you also have to remember that FZ was using the machine in an attempt to more perfectly replicate the music as he heard it inside his head. And Frank, being a 20th Century kinda guy, was mostly hearing violins and tubas, not mysterious synthesized bleeps and bloops. He usually treated synthesized sounds as a novelty and not as a core feature of his work, whether rock or orchestral.

    Perhaps this is one of the biggest downers about him dying so young. He never got to experience the computerized music revolution that quickly made his Synclavier into a museum piece. I often wonder whether he would have abandoned his fixation on orchestral textures and gone into truly new realms. Zappa was a very ‘centered’ individual, but it’s not entirely impossible that the new machines would have reoriented his thinking.

  16. jonnybutter says:

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    I often wonder whether he would have abandoned his fixation on orchestral textures and gone into truly new realms.

    I don’t mean to be querulous here, but I think he was very interested in all kinds of textures, and not particularly ‘fixated’ on orchestral ones. I mean, just listen! This is the guy who did ‘Damp Ankles’ and ‘In the Penal Colony’. And ‘Lumpy Gravy’, for that matter.

    I don’t think there’s anything inherently ‘conservative’ about particular sounds. You can take traditional sounds and do something very radical with them (like Zappa and Varese did) and you can take ‘new’ sounds and do something very pedestrian with them, as a lot of electronica-artists do. And in the end, no matter how *avant* you are, you’ll still often want to use the full audible spectrum anyway – bass, midrange, and treble. I think this ‘conservative’ stuff is kind of a canard. Zappa was obsessed with sound – in a truly ’20th century kind of guy’ way.

    It is indeed a horrible shame that he died so young, though.

  17. profusion says:

    You’re not being querulous. I was probably wrong to use the word “fixated.” Musically, FZ was a product of his environment, in which orchestral instruments were the given sounds for “serious” music. I don’t think he consciously chose to hear the music in his head that way compared to other possibilities, since those possibilities didn’t exist when he was young and forming his musical identity.

    Your other point is well-taken, too. I wasn’t agreeing with thinman’s notion about the Synclavier CPIII being “conservative”–you have to be pretty far out there to think of that as conservative music. I can only imagine what a crazy listening experience that was in the six-channel surround version that Frank created for his own use. It’s also worth noting that Frank’s use of orchestral timbres in the Synclavier was hardly related to anything Brahms or Mahler did–he seemed to greatly favor percussion over strings (which he obviously wasn’t the first to do, but still…).

  18. jonnybutter says:

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    FZ was a product of his environment, in which orchestral instruments were the given sounds for “serious” music. I

    Yeah, he did like orchestral sounds. What I’m wondering vis a vis thin’s original comment is: compared to what? What would be something really non-conservative? There are some people doing interesting things in electronica, but most of what I hear is apparently novel sound combinations in the service of incredibly mundane *music*. I mean, the beats are all the same (the proverbial snatty 4/4 ‘funk’ beat) and the other components are pretty mundane too.

    You know, it’s interesting: if you take any two notes – say, from a clarinet and from a piano – and cut off the attack, it’s amazing how similar the ‘sustains’ sound. Different tones are comprised of different overtones, which make them have a different overall sound, but most of the ‘signature’ is in the attack. After the attack, the tones usually end up sounding like sine waves no matter what they are. Easy to see why Zappa (and everybody else!) liked/likes percussion…

  19. Thinman says:

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    What I’m wondering vis a vis thin’s original comment is: compared to what? What would be something really non-conservative? There are some people doing interesting things in electronica, but most of what I hear is apparently novel sound combinations in the service of incredibly mundane *music*. I mean, the beats are all the same (the proverbial snatty 4/4 ‘funk’ beat) and the other components are pretty mundane too.

    I was not thinking of pop-music.

    Karl-Heinz Stockhausen
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pIPVc2Jvd0w
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNt6a5xFOnE
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_NWwUB6Dis

    It is not limited to Stockhausen, of course.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TM4f_GdsaF0
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAtW6mNNmuA
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CY5gQYfJe68
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=71hNl_skTZQ

    Th.

  20. jonnybutter says:

    OK, I see what you mean, but…er…anything newer than the 1960s (or so)?
    It’s fine to say that you want to hear ‘new textures’, but…like what? I think Zappa explored sound rather exhaustively (but of course didn’t do everything). Isn’t it a bit dogmatic to insist that he ‘should’ have done this or that? If you like Stockhausen, et. al., great, but it doesn’t seem fair to criticize Zappa for not being like them! It’s easy to say what someone should’ve done…

    I think it’s valid to criticize Zappa’s *political* conservatism, and if that’s what you want to do, I might even join you. But I just don’t think he was conservative as an artist.

  21. jonnybutter says:

    I’d also just note that one of the most appealing things about Frank is how anti-dogmatic he was, whether about Total Serialism, or any other school of artistic expression.

  22. Thinman says:

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    … but…er…anything newer than the 1960s (or so)?

    Why? Still sounds fresh and new to me.

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    Isn’t it a bit dogmatic to insist that he ‘should’ have done this or that?

    I never insisted.

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    If you like Stockhausen, et. al., great, but it doesn’t seem fair to criticize Zappa for not being like them!

    Again, I never did that. I just picked some examples of electronic music besides the pop-music approach you mentioned. And I wanted to post some interesting finds about electronic music.

    Th.

  23. jonnybutter says:

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    I just picked some examples of electronic music besides the pop-music approach you mentioned. And I wanted to post some interesting finds about electronic music.

    Well, I thought this thread was about Zappa’s ‘conservatism’, but….fair enough.

  24. Thinman says:

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    …fair enough.

    Some people think electronic music is limited to Jean Michel Jarre.

    Th.

Comments for this entry have been closed.