Arthur Jarvinen, musician, composer, founder of the California E.A.R. Unit, and music copyist for the late Frank Zappa, himself passed away on October 4th, 2010.
This is relevant to Zappa fans as Jarvinen is the ‘Art’ of Zappa’s piece ‘While You Were In Art’:
John Trubee: Was ‘When You Were Art’ dedicated to you?
Art Jarvinen: I wouldn’t say “dedicated”. The title does refer to me. It’s actually “While You Were Art”. A slight change on “While You Were Out”, which is a piece on the Shut Up And Play Your Guitar set, that Frank arranged and reworked for the E.A.R. Unit at my request. No money changed hands.
Jarvinen is also known as a provider of commentary on Zappa’s classical music, and, of course, as the leader of the group with that entire ‘lip-syncing to the synclavier’ debacle Zappa so loved mentioning:
John Trubee: Please describe the fiasco surrounding the first public performance of the piece by the Ear Unit at LA’s Bing Theater.
Art Jarvinen: I am STILL getting asked about that, and it was 1984 I think. Every once in a while I sit down intending to write the definitive account as I know it, once and for all, and post it on-line so I never have to tell the story again. Basically, as far as I can tell, Frank never did intend to give us a piece we could actually play. We could have played it, and intended to eventually, but he delivered it late enough that we could not possibly have learned it well enough in the time left before the scheduled performance. So he asked us if we would be willing to “lip synch” it. And we said yes. Then several people got cold feet, but we did it anyway. It was no big deal for people who could hide behind their instrument or music stand, but I busted my ass for almost a month to learn that marimba part, and played it with foam rubber mallets. I was actually playing the part, but you couldn’t hear me. I had no choice, because if the marimba is near the edge of the stage in plain sight, you can’t pantomime playing it.
Anyway, Frank himself leaked the secret to a reporter during a flight, so I’m told, and the shit hit the fan. That would have been such a great opportunity for all kinds of critical dialogue, not to mention great publicity. We could have programmed the piece on lots of concerts so audiences could see for themselves what we had puled off. But the E.A.R. Unit has worked a lot with Morton Subotnick, and several people in the group at that time were particularly close to him. Mort was very upset by what we had done, and some people were made to feel very ashamed. So when a reporter from the L.A. Times called CalArts and wanted to talk to someone in the E.A.R. Unit about While You Were Art, they got the “wrong” person on the phone. Had they talked to me, history would have unfolded differently. Instead one or two people in the group put their tails between their legs and basically apologized for the error of our ways, on behalf of the group. That pissed me off, but Frank was livid. He called me and said we could never play his music again and made me send all the material back.
I assured him that the sentiment expressed in the newspaper article was not a group consensus, so he said I should tell that to Time Magazine, who had just interviewed him about the event. But Time never called, and I don’t think they even ran the article.
There’s more to the story, but that’s the basic plot.
Further interviews, photos, and information are available from David Ocker’s blog, Mixed Meters, a KUR favorite!
And on Kyle Gann’s blog, PostClassic, Kyle creates “An Art Jarvinen Portrait” with many of Arthur Jarvinen’s compositions available for listening and download, some of them commercially unavailable, others on extremely obscure labels.
A personal favorite of mine, Endless Bummer with Miroslav Tadik: third track, titled Part 1. Click on title and give it a listen.