ALL ZAPPED OUT – Ben Watson Interview

Like him, hate him, despise him, abhor him – the one thing you cannot do with Ben Watson is ignore him. No matter what your position is when it comes to Frank ZappaBen Watson’s thought provoking, sometimes shocking, sometimes scurrilous perspectives are always bound to generate volatile responses among Zappa fans, especially hardcore Zappa fans (are there really any other kind? Ever heard of a casual Zappa fan?).

Frank Zappa must have rolled over in his grave when Tipper Gore drummed on daughter Diva’s “When the ball drops”. During the eighties he fought an anti-censorship battle against Gore. But that wasn’t the only thing he was known for of course. He was also a prolific musician who dabbled in every genre. From jazz to doo wop, he tried it all and with success. Kindamuzik wanted to focus on this musician who was a schoolfriend of Don Van Vliet (aka Captain Beefheart). Who better to talk about Zappa than Wire contributor and Zappa connaisseur Ben Watson?

Read the kindamuzik interview with Ben Watson.

Following that, treat yourself to a video of “King Kong” from A Concert For Jimmy – a benefit concert held on November 9th, 2008, to raise funds for the family of original Mother and Grandmother, Jimmy Carl Black (who passed away on October 31st, 2008) featuring: Ben Watson, The Thurston Lava Tube, The Muffin Men, Fraz Knapp, That Legendary Wooden Lion at BRIDGEHOUSE II, Bidder Street, Canning Town, London, United Kingdom:



Note: As always, follow the various links in this post to a lot of interesting Zappa covers, and other interviews.

52 Responses to “ALL ZAPPED OUT – Ben Watson Interview”

  1. Sterbus says:

    Why most of the questions are more than 10 lines long?

  2. jonnybutter says:

    “If I’m right, Zappa’s miscegenation of high and low music was not postmodernist (redemptive) but dadaist (critical)”

    I think he’s right.

  3. Brett says:

    Technical analysis of Zappa’s music?

    It’s been done! See my dissertation.

  4. Barry's Imaginary Publisher says:

    A quote from Brett:

    See my dissertation.

    Link?

  5. Brett says:

    Here

  6. jonnybutter says:

    Nice work, Brett. The stuff on Rhythmic dissonance is immediately illuminating.

  7. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from Brett:

    Technical analysis of Zappa’s music?

    It’s been done! See my dissertation.

    A perfect example of how formal education acts as an affront to creativity. That has got to be one of the blandest dissertations I have ever read. Did the subject matter do nothing to inspire you, Brett? Or have you been stuck in those Ivory Towers too long? You examine Zappa’s orchestral music at times as if you are whipping some dead Classical warhorses like Bach, Hayden, Schubert, and Mozart.

    Is there no common ground between the “over-the-top” hyperbole of a Ben Watson, and the opposite conservative extreme where your dissertation lies.

    Isn’t a PHD education supposed to develop exceptional and revolutionary thinkers?

    I applaud you. You have successfully reduced a great modern composer to the status of a minor cultural tinkerer by relying only on source material and nary an original, creative thought.

    Ben Watson may have a hell of a big mouth, yet those are original, creative, thoughts behind his words. Like them, hate them, abhor them. I can respect that while disagreeing with much of what he says.

    Lack of creative intuition is really unforgivable when it comes to the study and analysis of Frank Zappa’s music.

  8. Brett says:

    Urban,

    You certainly don’t know what you’re talking about. Don’t attack something just because you don’t understand it.

  9. jonnybutter says:

    UG, you’ve repeatedly called for serious, rigorous analysis of Zappa’s work, and when you get it, you say it’s dry! Of COURSE it’s dry. It’s dispassionate on purpose. Ever read Schoenberg’s writings on music? Dry as a popcorn fart! It’s technical. It’s supposed to be like that.

    I am at a loss as to what it is you want. Is your idea of serious rigorous analysis something like the guy you quoted a few weeks ago (writing about the birth of postmodernism) who said that Zappa, if he had grown up in a different circumstance, would’ve developed snobbery of some kind? That’s not analysis – it’s pure opinion dressed up as ‘scholarship’.

    I personally would never write something like this dissertation. But within its limited scope, it does what it sets out to do. It’s not quite fair for you to decide that the scope he chose is wrong. It’s an academic, technical analysis of some aspects of Zappa’s music, which is all it claimed to be.

    BTW, Watson says in this very interview that he “..would LOVE to read an indepth, technically-adept analysis of Zappa’s music, though a mere formal (“Schenkerian”) analysis would not work. The music was not written for a standard orchestra. How do you write a formal analysis of a “Satisfaction” guitar lick or a mongoloid folk riff? You need to appreciate the semiotic politics of Zappa’s eclectic use of world styles.” I don’t think he’s quite right here – a formal analysis does ‘work’, but only within its own limited scope. But I do take his larger point, and thought you didn’t – since you don’t seem to like Watson.

    I too would love to read a work with the culturo-critical depth of Watson’s, but with more technical (musical) expertise.

    May I please just say again, that Watson is clearly, obviously, patently NOT ‘uncritical’. Nor is his ‘Poodle Play’ merely a ‘literary’ work. You don’t have to like it, but it’s about as obvious as can be that it is a serious work of Criticism with a capital ‘C’.

  10. Brett says:

    Thanks jonnybutter!

    Urban:

    Comparing my dissertation to Watson is like comparing apples to oranges. Their focus is entirely different.

    I’m a musician and these technical and theoretical matters are extremely important to my performance and hearing of music. If they aren’t important to you, then fine.

    Academic writing is intended to be neutral and unbiased. Otherwise, the objectives of the writer come under scrutiny.

    Did Zappa’s music inspire me? How can you ask this? I spent over 6 years transcribing and analyzing Zappa’s INSTRUMENTAL music to do this dissertation. Have you done anything comparable, Urban?

    No creativity? The dissertation offers several new theories for Zappa’s music. The process of forming a theory IS a creative act (duh). And, of course, it shows that I didn’t rely only on “source material.”

    Reduce Zappa’s music? NO NO NO!!! (fuck you, by the way)
    This dissertation should demonstrate PART of what made Zappa such an inventive composer.

  11. Brett says:

    Oh, yes.

    And the only reason I posted this link is because Watson states in the interview that nobody has produced a technical analysis of Zappa’s music. I just wanted to correct the record.

  12. Barry's Imaginary Publisher says:

    I’m at page 24 (of 402) in Brett’s dissertation, and I’m finding it quite an interesting read so far. Your mileage may vary…

  13. Barry's Imaginary Publisher says:

    Oh and can we all steer clear from the “fuck you’s” please? This has been an interesting discussion so far — it would be nice if we can keep it that way.

  14. Brett says:

    Sorry,

    I really thought that accusation deserved a fuck you.

  15. Barry's Imaginary Publisher says:

    Well stop it you’ll hurt your throat ;)

  16. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from Brett:

    Urban,

    You certainly don’t know what you’re talking about. Don’t attack something just because you don’t understand it.

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    UG, you’ve repeatedly called for serious, rigorous analysis of Zappa’s work, and when you get it, you say it’s dry! Of COURSE it’s dry. It’s dispassionate on purpose. Ever read Schoenberg’s writings on music? Dry as a popcorn fart! It’s technical. It’s supposed to be like that.

    I am at a loss as to what it is you want.

    First of all, I’ll admit that I overstepped myself in my prior comment. For that, Brett, I apologize.

    The “fuck you” was, indeed, well deserved.

    Not because I did not understand the subject matter, but because I did understand it.

    Really, need Zappa analysis always be so dry and dispassionate? I know you were writing a dissertation, Brett, but does the language itself used have to always be so adroit?

    I published a post on July 1st, “Chanan Hanspal Plays Zappa” which included an Zappa analysis as well. In Hanspal’s analysis, I felt he bridged both his technical analysis of Zappa with his own unique insights into Be Bop and Jazz without ever once losing the reader with dry and dispassionate text.

    In your dissertation and a technical analysis of Zappa’s orchestral works, Brett, you certainly accomplish what you set out to do – indeed, your investigation and discussion of aspects of Zappa’s own Chord Bible is quite illuminating (even with my own limited musical education and understanding – I am, after all, a writer).

    Perhaps in my perfect dystopian world, jonnybutter, Zappa technical analysis wouldn’t be so dry. Some Zappa technical analysis I have read has been downright exciting (on an intellectual level), while others have just put me to sleep.

    Tell me, which does Zappa deserve, or his fans.

    Or what basic musical knowledge should a fan have to even enter the conversation?

  17. Olfactor says:

    I was skeptical about Watson going into the interview but found him quite entertaining, especially the caricature of Zappafans (“Yo Mama”s for them). It seems like he has his own philosophy which he uses Zappa to help explain, which is okay, he’s not beating anyone over the head or talking in absolutes.

    Brett, your dissertation sounds interesting but also a bit intimidating, any reference-text recommendations for the theory?

  18. Brett says:

    A quote from Brett:

    Brett, your dissertation sounds interesting but also a bit intimidating, any reference-text recommendations for the theory?

    Well, that depends on your prior experience with music theory. If you have a decent theoretical background, you should be able to follow the text, as I’ve tried to write it in a pedagogical manner. If you have no prior training, it may be difficult to understand.

    For theory primers, try Roig-Francoli’s “Harmony in Context” and Straus’s “Introduction to Post-tonal theory.” Once again, though, these might be difficult to understand without some training.

    Even so, most chapters in the dissertation begin in an approachable manner. How far you can follow thereafter depends.

  19. clarkgwent says:

    Just what the woorld needs:- that fool interviewed by someone who thinks The Wire is a great magazine. What’s English for “anorak”? Color it jizz-soaked!

    PS I only skimread, and even then I began to feel all the fun being sucked out of me.

  20. Thinman says:

    @ Brett:

    The dissertation is hard to read. Not because of the content, but the line spacing is much to big. Seriously.

    Thinman

  21. Bálint says:

    (Sorry, Urb, I, too, find your first comment a bit too offensive – an “attack”, as someone said above. No, I do not think that ANYONE should change his/her opinions, but there are several ways to express it. And I DO think that writing an essay on FZ’s work is a groovy thing (I’ve even found Greg’s earlier work on my homepage, BTW.).
    So, I don’t think that we all should agree, we all should adore each others work – but maybe we should critizise it with a bit more respect, maybe. ;-)
    Anyway, I think we should welcome each and every work about FZ here. And THEN discuss it, of course. (Reading it I’m really sorry I’m not a musician.) )

  22. Balint says:

    Sorry, Brett – I’ve called you “Greg” in my earlier comment… Eh, sorry!

  23. Brett says:

    A quote from Thinman:

    @ Brett:

    The dissertation is hard to read. Not because of the content, but the line spacing is much to big. Seriously.

    Thinman

    That’s the standard spacing.

  24. Thinman says:

    A quote from Brett:

    That’s the standard spacing.

    Probably to give people space for notes between the lines, I presume.

    BTW, very interesting material. I will make it all the way trough hopefully.

    Th.

  25. Barry's Imaginary Publisher says:

    A quote from Brett:

    That’s the standard spacing.

    Brett, I’m going to have to side with Thinman on this. What exactly do you mean by “standard” spacing? Some default MS Word setting?

  26. Brett says:

    A quote from Brett:

    Brett, I’m going to have to side with Thinman on this. What exactly do you mean by “standard” spacing? Some default MS Word setting?

    No, just that double spacing is the norm for dissertations.

    Anyhow, what does it matter?

  27. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from Bálint:

    (Sorry, Urb, I, too, find your first comment a bit too offensive – an “attack”, as someone said above. No, I do not think that ANYONE should change his/her opinions, but there are several ways to express it. And I DO think that writing an essay on FZ’s work is a groovy thing (I’ve even found Greg’s earlier work on my homepage, BTW.).
    So, I don’t think that we all should agree, we all should adore each others work – but maybe we should critizise it with a bit more respect, maybe. ;-)
    Anyway, I think we should welcome each and every work about FZ here. And THEN discuss it, of course. (Reading it I’m really sorry I’m not a musician.) )

    You are correct, Balint. My initial comment was a dumb, ill-thought out tirade on my part – motivated more by my anti-academia attitudes than any real avarice towards Brett and his dissertation. You are right, my initial comment crossed the line, becoming “too offensive – an attack”. There is no excuse – so I apologized.

    Indeed, my first instinct was to delete the comment entirely. But would that delete also my transgression against Brett? I think not. So I’ll let that initial comment remain like a yoke around my neck, here at KUR, an example to me, an perhaps others, to think completely through before hitting that ‘Publish Your Comment’ button.

  28. jonnybutter says:

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    Really, need Zappa analysis always be so dry and dispassionate?

    ‘Dispassionate’ doesn’t mean ‘anti-passionate’. It means rigorous objective examination of *what’s there*, which is what I thought you wanted vis a vis Zappa. A judge trying a case in court tries to be dispassionate, which doesn’t mean s/he has no passion about the general matter at hand. Formal analysis of music is either dispassionate or you’re doing it wrong (i.e. it’s not formal analysis).

    I sort of know what you’re saying, UG, but what Brett has done is not boring at all if you speak the language he’s speaking. As *literature*, yes, it’s very dry. But it’s not literature, strictly speaking.

  29. jonnybutter says:

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    So I’ll let that initial comment remain like a yoke around my neck, here at KUR, an example to me, an perhaps others, to think completely through before hitting that ‘Publish Your Comment’ button.

    It’s certainly something I need to keep in mind as well.

  30. Birdman! says:

    Ben Watson is way funnier than anyone else who has ever written about Zappa, except the man himself. When I first saw Poodle Play in a book store, I couldn’t stop reading it. I’ve never understood the hate he gets. It’s over the top absurd, like Zappa, and succeeds on its on terms.

  31. jonnybutter says:

    You took the words out of my mouth, Birdman! I find the whole Watson-hatred thing just baffling.

  32. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    A quote from urbangraffito:

    Really, need Zappa analysis always be so dry and dispassionate?

    I sort of know what you’re saying, UG, but what Brett has done is not boring at all if you speak the language he’s speaking. As *literature*, yes, it’s very dry. But it’s not literature, strictly speaking.

    Of course, you are right. I was speaking not of what Brett’s dissertation is, but what I wished it might have been (something I often do being of a more literary bent). It so often irks me that so few Zappa fans have enough of a musical lexicon to enter the discussion on an objective, intellectual level – because I’m certain that instinctively even those with no musical education or theory whatsoever can instinctively identify what it is that Zappa is doing in every composition that they hear. I know, because otherwise why would I have spent those long hours learning music theory?

    A quote from Birdman!:

    Ben Watson is way funnier than anyone else who has ever written about Zappa, except the man himself. When I first saw Poodle Play in a book store, I couldn’t stop reading it. I’ve never understood the hate he gets. It’s over the top absurd, like Zappa, and succeeds on its on terms.

    I think the reason for so much avarice from average Zappa fans is the “anti-academic” attitude that Zappa, himself, had perpetrated during his lifetime. It doesn’t often help when academics sometimes add to the general condescension (I’m not identifying anyone specifically here) that only a learned, and knowledgeable few can fully comprehend what it was that Zappa was doing in his compositions.

    Personally, I believe it only takes a basic musical knowledge to find the path that Zappa was on. Once there, your own appreciation and love for his music will makes you want to see every tree in his short forest.

    Music theory is not as difficult as some make it out to be.

  33. Brett says:

    A quote from Brett:

    Music theory is not as difficult as some make it out to be.

    Ha ha. Tell that to my students!

  34. Plooker says:

    Good interview (I think), a lot of music and books to look into. “Mom, where is my dictionary?”

  35. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from Brett:

    A quote from urbangraffito:

    Music theory is not as difficult as some make it out to be.

    Ha ha. Tell that to my students!

    Allow me to make an addendum to that assumption.

    Of course, I’m speaking of general appreciation of individual compositions. The level of theoretical understanding that you or your students have requires a discipline and devotion few actually become completely fluent in. It’s like expecting an Algebra student to comprehend String Theory. He may not completely understand the physics involved, but that does not stop him from appreciating the math or the beauty of the complexity of the theory.

    Even with my limited knowledge of music theory, it’s enough to offer me a glimpse into the complexities of Zappa’s musical mind, and the more I learn, the wider that door opens.

    I truly envy those who can swing that door open wide. I can blow my sax all I want, and even play a half decent version of Sofa, I just do not have a musical mind. I can appreciate the theory, but it will always be just notes I see on the page. That is not a failing. I just do not possess the gift.

    That is the difference between a musician and composer and the rest of us. The music is playing on the page for them. Tell that to your students, Brett.

  36. Thinman says:

    I’ve read the Poodle Play several times and enjoyed every single line of it.

    Th.

  37. Birdman! says:

    String Theory? Why do attempts to understand the cosmos have to be so dry and dispassionate?
    String Theory, General Relativity, and Quantum Mechanics are perfect examples of how formal education acts as an affront to insight into the divine cosmos. These are some of the blandest attempts at a GUT I’ve ever come across. Did the subject matter do nothing to inspire Bohr, Einstein, et al. or were they just stuck in the Ivory Towers too long? Isn’t a PhD education supposed to develop exceptional and revolutionary thinkers? These witless accountants have successfully reduced the mysteries of creation to a few equations with nary an original, creative thought.
    Lack of creative intuition is really unforgivable when it comes to the study and analysis the vastness of the universe. If that’s what you’re after, try “Wind, Sand, and Stars” by St. Ex, or Lao Tzu. Physics is a bunch or dusty nothing for egghead academics.

  38. Olfactor says:

    Einstein was very creative, did you know he came up with general relativity by imaginging himself riding light? That doesnt mean he wasnt grounded in the theory, just that he was very playful about it and used the theory like a child would toys. Or Zappa using xenocricity tape splicing like a weird puzzle game.

    Understanding the universe means you gotta put order to chaos. That’s science. If you’re not and you take on the cosmos, you’re just doing metaphysics and writing fiction with your mouth like some primordial sophist. Same with music, yeah, you can make it up but that gets to be limiting and repetitive.

  39. nice spacing says:

    Brett–

    Do you (or anyone else) know if FZ and George Russell had any connection?

    Is there any story of FZ ever mentioning the GR’s lydian chromatic theory (or GR’s music for that matter?)

    Anyone have a story about GR’s feelings about FZ’s music?

    Too bad those two couldn’t have gotten together…

  40. gooey miles says:

    Hey check it….Im ignoring it

  41. Brett says:

    A quote from nice spacing:

    Brett–

    Do you (or anyone else) know if FZ and George Russell had any connection?

    Is there any story of FZ ever mentioning the GR’s lydian chromatic theory (or GR’s music for that matter?)

    Anyone have a story about GR’s feelings about FZ’s music?

    Too bad those two couldn’t have gotten together…

    Nice spacing (I like your name!):

    I’d certainly like to know this as well. I don’t have any evidence to suggest FZ knew GR, but the Lydian concept was so popular at that time that it’s possible it could have influenced FZ indirectly. Anyhow, FZ showed some knowledge of the literature associated with modal jazz. For example, Coltrane was very interested in Slonimsky’s “Thesaurus of scales,” which, as we know, Zappa was as well.

  42. profusion says:

    My thoughts (not exactly original) about Ben Watson’s analysis are as follows:

    “Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar.”

  43. Dan says:

    There is a little bit of analytical writing on Zappa in the music theory literature. Eric Clarke comes to mind, but his analysis of Madgalena is squarely in the service of the psychological theory he espouses and is not what I would regard as deeply insightful as far as Zappa’s music is concerned. Worth a look. The material appears in Music Analysis and also in his book, Ways of Listening. Two essays also appear in a collection call Expression in Pop-Rock Music — one on the genesis of Black Page and the other on orchestra music — but they are not likely to impress any readers of this blog, at least I wouldn’t think so. I’m sure the above dissertation does a better job in its bibliography than just this. If a little more opinion be permitted, while I welcome work on any aspect of Zappa’s oeuvre, I find the orchestra music to be in many ways the least interesting and least likely to indicate to new listeners what it’s all about: Brown Shoes or Naval Aviation? Please. I’m happy to defend that position, but this comment is already long.

    Ben and Esther published a very old essay of mine as the addendum to the Esemplastic Zappology anthology, to which I MODESTLY refer readers who want a little bit more analysis, though the essay is both very studenty and almost obsequiously Watsonian.

  44. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from Dan:

    I find the orchestra music to be in many ways the least interesting and least likely to indicate to new listeners what it’s all about: Brown Shoes or Naval Aviation? Please. I’m happy to defend that position, but this comment is already long.

    Do expound upon that position, Dan.

  45. Dan says:

    In short, I think most of the orchestral material I’ve heard is a bit of a slog and is difficult to characterize. It also lacks the edge – I think – of the tradition of which it arguably constitutes a continuation; listen to Varese’s “Ionisation” or Schoenberg’s “Chamber Symphony No. 1.” That shit has it going on. And I realize that’s not really a fair comparison that stuff really grinds. I’d like to hear someone’s account of what one of Zappa’s 70s orchestral pieces is doing. An analysis. They just kind of lurch to me.

    N.B. I saw the Zappa Composer Portrait concert at Columbia a few years back and there was a WONDERFUL Zappa string quintet. Very short and Webern-esque, only more playful and irreverent. What was that??? Does that ring a bell?

    Also, I feel strongly that the most enduring and compelling quality of Zappa’s imagination has been rigorously combining art and rock sensibilities with his penchant for biting satire and humor. I feel like if you don’t have a feel for how accomplished his writing is vis-a-vis his Dada/collage poetics, you essentially don’t know much about what he was about. The orchestral music just strikes me as stuffy and journeyman-like. And I think his best orchestral music was truly the likes of “Brown Shoes” (think of how many strongly characterful episodes there are per minute in that song!), “Uncle Meat” and “Lumpy Gravy.”

    I don’t want to write an essay down here but I do respect the readership so there’s a few bread crumbs should anyone be interested in reading. I’ve been kind of an ass here before (re: ZPZ — not a fan in the post-Vai/Bozz/NMP era) but those days are behind me.

  46. jonybutter says:

    A quote from jonybutter:

    The orchestral music just strikes me as stuffy and journeyman-like.

    eh..I don’t have time for a big essay either, but I think a lot of the non-band stuff is not stuffy or ‘journeyman-like’ at all. ‘Sad Jane’ is both funny (it uses the ‘Days of Our Lives’ soap opera theme) and beautiful; ‘The Girl With The Magnesium Dress’ – stuffy? I like the versions of ‘Pedro’s Dowery’ and ‘Strictly Genteel’ from ‘Orchestral Favs’ better than the London Sym. versions – not stuffy or journeyman-like pieces, IMHO.

    The London Sym recordings are my least favorite orchestral ones, and that may have to do with the limitations of both that orchestra, and the fact that – other than a drumset – it’s *just* orchestra. I’d suggest that the Ali Askin versions of the early pieces don’t quite count, but the other pieces on Yellow Shark mostly work very well.

    I dunno. I think the orchestral stuff from 200 Motels is good. ‘Perfect Stranger’ and ‘Dupree’s’ sound good to me. It’s mainly the London Symphony recordings which fall short, IMO.

  47. urbangraffito says:

    I think I understand where Dan is coming from when he suggests that FZ’s orchestral works are “bit of a slog and is difficult to characterize.” Only near the end of Zappa’s career that his orchestral works taken in any way seriously by the contemporary classical world in my opinion. FZ said as much in myriad interviews that some orchestras were only interested in performing his orchestral works if he paid for some new vastly expensive instrument (i.e. pianos).

    Indeed, Zappa’s own performances of his orchestral works throughout his career were intermittent at best due to the exorbitantly high cost of staging them. Thus, FZ was limited to Sunday backyard concerts to hear his compositions with local musicians donating their services for the opportunity to perform Zappa’s orchestral scores, and the brief yet exceptional Grand Wazoo Band tour that culminated in the recording of the Royce Hall, UCLA shows between September 18th and 19th, 1975 which appeared on a track on Studio Tan (Greggory Peccary) and on Orchestral Favorites. Otherwise, Zappa’s orchestral recordings and releases were sporadic.

    Is it any wonder that some fans consider FZ’s orchestral music “a slog” and “hard to characterize”, especially when his musical output is, at very least, 75 percent, rock oriented? I’m not quite sure if it is fair to compare the works of either Varese or Schoenberg with Zappa’s without first taking the obstacles to Zappa’s orchestral music into consideration first. Being privy to FZ’s field recordings of his developing orchestral scores from St. Mary’s 1959 performances to his 200 Motels Suite at the UCLA Pauley Pavilion on May 15th, 1970, to the Grand Wazoo tour in the fall of 1972 – the depth and innovation of Zappa’s scores is obvious (even in these low quality recordings).

    I would add that, barring any posthumous release from the ZFT, the Yellow Shark release, as well as the series of Ensemble Modern performances that lead up to and after are the essential orchestral FZ.

  48. Dark Clothes says:

    I understand where Dan’s coming from, but I think further research will yield a different conclusion. I’ve been listening to the LSO CD for the past couple of days, and find it much better than its reputation. I agree with johnnybutter in his appreciation of some of the pieces, and find many interesting sequences in the other ones, as well. The disco section in Pedro’s Dowry is one case in point. The album is not perfect, but it’s not a disgrace either, as Zappa’s own caustic remarks suggest to some.

    An acclaimed recording like Leonard Bernstein’s own interpretation of West Side Story has many more technical mistakes than the Zappa LSO album, notably in the trumpet section. Reputation has a lot to do with what words you choose to describe a thing, and we all know that Zappa’s choice of words was somewhat harsh in this case.

    But my main point about Zappa as a composer of “serious music” is that we should now start judging him by his best works. Webern only gave opus numbers to his mature pieces, while Zappa just put it all out, warts and all. That’s an interesting approach, but for some the warts seem to obscure the real sublime pieces of music in his repertoire for traditional orchestral forces. Not to mention pieces like Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny, Porn Wars and N-Lite, which should also be counted among Zappa’s work as a serious, modern American composer.

  49. Dark Clothes says:

    Sorry, UG, I didn’t mean to rip off your opening line. Should have said “I, too”…

    :-)

  50. Dan says:

    I’m glad this has gotten people talking. It looks like I need to go back and see if I agree with myself :)

    I should have said that Brown Shoes, etc. was his greatest “orchestral” music. It really feels like his imagination is at most home with those studio cutups as far as invoking concert music is concerned. Put those factors together with the fact that it’s purportedly on a rock CD and is marked as such, and you get that wonderful friction between friction. Woody Allen needs the eggs, and while I need the egg, too, I savor the slippage.

    I don’t disagree that Yellow Shark is important Zappa listening, but ought it be borne in mind that he is not the sole orchestrator on that album? It seems to me that Ali N. Askin’s contributions are not merely incidental; that act of orchestrating is orchestration is a strongly creative act. You don’t just snap your fingers and get his G-Spot or his Dog Breath.

    All of Zappa’s work should be considered as that of an American experimentalist composer :) It’s always more compelling and satisfying to me with the irreducible tension between musical spheres left in tact.

  51. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from Dan:

    I don’t disagree that Yellow Shark is important Zappa listening, but ought it be borne in mind that he is not the sole orchestrator on that album? It seems to me that Ali N. Askin’s contributions are not merely incidental; that act of orchestrating is orchestration is a strongly creative act. You don’t just snap your fingers and get his G-Spot or his Dog Breath.

    All of Zappa’s work should be considered as that of an American experimentalist composer :)

    It’s always more compelling and satisfying to me with the irreducible tension between musical spheres left in tact.

    True, yet when speaking solely of Zappa’s “serious music” there will always be the incidental contributions of others to consider [i.e. Ali N. Askin, Boulez, etc]. Indeed, what makes Zappa’s music consistently compelling now and into the future is their contributions and that of others.

    Zappa’s own “serious music” – like that of Brown Shoes and the rest of Zappa’s rock catalogue – it’s how FZ interacted with other musicians, the recording industry, conductors, orchestras, and his own limitations [financial and otherwise] which made Zappa so consistently intriguing to me.

    As much as there will those who glorify and deify Zappa, that he managed to attain the recognition of an an American experimentalist composer against all odds – upbringing, education, access – Zappa’s “serious music” is truly amazing in and of itself.

  52. jonnybutter says:

    A quote from jonnybutter:

    it be borne in mind that he is not the sole orchestrator on that album?

    If I’m not mistaken, what Askin did was just orchestrate Zappas’s arrangements of the old material + G Spot – a small percentage of what’s on the CD (15-20%?). Not to take anything away from Askin, but…really, so what?

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