Ascolta: Reagan at Bitburg (2009)

Update from United Mutations:

Ascolta are a Stuttgart based septet, though there were 10 on stage this cold November night. As a contemporary music ensemble they have been at the fore of playing modern music. The two percussionists, Martin Homann and Boris Muller were involved in Zappas infamous Rage and Fury recording of Varese (yet to be released).
After sending Gail Zappa the recording of two arrangements of synclavier pieces from Civilisation Phase 3 (Reagan in Bitburg and Im in a Drum), Gail invited them to LA to see whether they could arrange some other synclavier tracks – not yet released! They played a load of tracks, which Ascolta claim were completely unplayable, apart that is from 2 tracks which they took away, arranged and recorded last year for ZFT. Those tracks were Samba Funk and Uncle Sam. Ascolta play Samba Funk along with the synclavier recording from the vault.

48 Responses to “Ascolta: Reagan at Bitburg (2009)”

  1. Pierre says:

    über-good !

  2. jonnybutter2 says:

    Wow. Yeva! Outstanding! Just excellent.

  3. Ken Duvall says:

    Wow – that ensemble is too much !!!

  4. Nowski says:

    Oh – how I love this. Just as much as I dislike the spiritless Synclavier version.

  5. Gavo says:

    Fantastic! Good work, Ascolta.

  6. Dark Clothes says:

    Yes, the synclavier works seem to be a goldmine for good musicians with an ear for Zappa!

  7. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from Dark Clothes:

    Yes, the synclavier works seem to be a goldmine for good musicians with an ear for Zappa!

    Indeed. I adore the irony that the very medium intended to replace human musicians may well hold the future of Zappa’s new live compositions.

  8. Robert says:

    A quote from Robert:

    Just as much as I dislike the spiritless Synclavier version

    My feelings are somewhat the other way around (which is why forums such as this exist and are worth reading): Even though this human rendition is excellent (big kudos to the ascolta ensemble), it lacks a lot of the details that the synclavier original has and which make it sound (at least to me) a lot more “spiritual”.

  9. Dark Clothes says:

    http://www.zappateers.com/bb/viewtopic.php?t=12664&spmode=full

    There’s some interesting information here, including some unfulfilled expectations…

  10. Nowski says:

    A quote from Robert:

    My feelings are somewhat the other way around (which is why forums such as this exist and are worth reading):

    .

    Yeah, it’s interesting isn’t it? I must confess that I tend to go along with Tom Fowler’s words: “Once he got his computer shit going, he didn’t need anybody. Of course by then it got sterile and pathetic and I never listened to any of it at all. I didn’t like it.”.

    Neither do I. Give me The Ensemble Moderne (or Ascolta) anytime instead.

  11. jonnybutter2 says:

    A quote from jonnybutter2:

    Even though this human rendition is excellent (big kudos to the ascolta ensemble), it lacks a lot of the details that the synclavier original has and which make it sound (at least to me) a lot more “spiritual”.

    FWIW, I agree with Robert here. A remarkable thing about Zappa’s successful Synclavier compositions is, for me, how very ‘human’ they do indeed sound. A more precise term is ‘immediate’. The synclav. version of this piece is closer to a aural photo of what was in Zappa’s head than this live version (which – let me repeat – is *excellent*). Even though it is a machine playing samples, the detail is beyond anything you could get with live performers.

    I like both. The synclav. version gives you massive detail, while the live version gives you a fresh perspective on the notes and structure.

  12. Balint says:

    A quote from jonnybutter2:

    the detail is beyond anything you could get with live performers.

    That’s what I feel, too. But I go further: to me it’s not (only) the details, but the WHOLE. Somehow I NEVER get the feeling of the “whole” wen it others playig FZ or his synclavier music – his original works are so ROUND somehow, like some kind of very much detailed sculpture, but where the details strongly belong to the feeling of the whole. Whenever I hear an ensemble playing FZ’s synclavier stuff, I hear the instruments, I hear strong fight (sometimes), I hear nice parts, but I almost never get the feeling of the WHOLE – the feeling I truly get from the “machine-played” music.

  13. Barry's Imaginary Publisher says:

    A quote from Balint:

    his original works are so ROUND somehow, like some kind of very much detailed sculpture, but where the details strongly belong to the feeling of the whole. Whenever I hear an ensemble playing FZ’s synclavier stuff, I hear the instruments, I hear strong fight (sometimes), I hear nice parts, but I almost never get the feeling of the WHOLE – the feeling I truly get from the “machine-played” music.

    What you just witnessed, ladies and gentlemen, is an architect dancing about music! ;)

  14. Nowski says:

    A quote from Dark Clothes:

    http://www.zappateers.com/bb/viewtopic.php?t=12664&spmode=full

    There’s some interesting information here, including some unfulfilled expectations…

    Yeah, they play very nice, but the sound quality is awful. Some guy in the 75′th row with a mobile in his pocket? I’ll stick with the Bitburg-video for now.

    Am I really the only one who prefers musicians for a machine? Do you all fall to your knees in awe of the mighty Synclavier, just because Zappa preferred it in his last years?

  15. Jimbob says:

    Nowski… I may be wrong but I think Dark Clothes was referring to this info from the link…

    “March 2007, the band had agreed a long-term co-operation deal with Gail Zappa to arrange a number of these unpublished pieces, plus the possibility to produce a CD on the Zappa label.”

  16. Balint says:

    A quote from Nowski:

    Do you all fall to your knees…

    Well, I thought we were just talking… that’s all…

  17. Dark Clothes says:

    A quote from Jimbob:

    Nowski… I may be wrong but I think Dark Clothes was referring to this info from the link…

    “March 2007, the band had agreed a long-term co-operation deal with Gail Zappa to arrange a number of these unpublished pieces, plus the possibility to produce a CD on the Zappa label.”

    That’s right, you heard right.

    I would appreciate a collection with the Ascolta, to go with the albums from the Ensembles Modern and Ambrosius. Ensemble Ambrosius nailed Night School, EM A Pig With Wings, Ascolta are almost there in Reagan at Bitburg.

    N-Lite can’t be bettered with humans, but it’s possible that the synclavier versions of Get Whitey and Outrage at Valdez would be disappointing when you’re used to the timbres of the Yellow Shark.

    There’s an exchange of ideas between the different worlds (man/machine) that is interesting. Personally I tend to prefer the versions with more human element and acoustic intrumental timbre, as long as they reveal a penetrating vision of Zappa.

    I love the Ensemble Ambrosius album!

  18. urbangraffito says:

    Even though I love human performed versions and Zappa’s Synclavier versions equally – of course I would, being the rabid fan that I am – even Gail and the Trust understand that while FZ adored the Synclavier, if they are going to appeal to a larger demographic, Zappa’s Synclavier music will need to be translated by human musicians (even with human flaws). That said, a certain humanity is lost even in Zappa’s most superb Synclavier music. There simply is a human element to Zappa’s music that once removed leaves it the lesser for it (in my opinion, of course).

  19. jonnybutter2 says:

    A quote from jonnybutter2:

    Am I really the only one who prefers musicians for a machine?

    I don’t care how the music is made. I care how it sounds. There is a ton of very un-human-sounding music made by human players (and of course by machines) – listen to just about any so-called modern Country music or so-called modern R&B; and then there is music realized on computer which sounds very alive (in my opinion), like Zappa’s synclav. stuff.

    It really is a shame that Zappa didn’t live long enough to enjoy the full MIDI standard, which he would’ve loved. Velocity sensitivity makes a huge difference. I have also noticed over many many years of producing music with MIDI, that avoiding quantizing (for timing) unless you want a robotic effect makes tracks sound much better. In other words, it’s usually better to play the part rather than ‘type the notes in’. The tiny imperfections in timing are what make a performance sound alive, in many cases. Unless you want robotic, of course, which is perfectly valid. Anything is valid as a *means*.

    Despite not having a developed MIDI standard to use, I think Zappa made his synclav. stuff sound *very* human and idiosyncratic. Does ‘Little Beige Sambo’ not sound full of personality? I think it does.

  20. Dark Clothes says:

    We all have our different preferences. I think the current CD of FZ Meets The MOP is the best and fullest realisation of that record, and I’ve always enjoyed the synclavier tracks there, since I bought the European version of the album in 1986. Those early synclavier tracks have a mark of “electronic music” which makes it hard to imagine any improvement from humans with intruments versions. On the other hand I vastly prefer the Ensemble Ambrosius version of Night School to Frank’s original, and almost feel the same way about Ascolta’s Reagan at Bitburg, although I think they need to achieve an even more exact understanding of the piece to make it 100% accomplished. As the synclavier improved, it seems to me that Zappa’s music became less typically electronic in its expression, and that’s why I think the material from around CPIII is very well suited for human performance, and in many cases will sound better than the original versions.

  21. Nowski says:

    A quote from Jimbob:

    Nowski… I may be wrong but I think Dark Clothes was referring to this info from the link…

    You’re right of course. Thank you for pointing it out. English, not being my first language, can be tricky sometimes.

  22. urbangraffito says:

    I believe there will always be a schism between those synclavier purists and those who prefer the human interpretation of Zappa’s compositions. As I mentioned earlier, without perhaps even fully realizing he was doing so, FZ was setting down the very works that human players, ensembles, and orchestras will be performing long after his death.

  23. jonnybutter2 says:

    A quote from jonnybutter2:

    I believe there will always be a schism between those synclavier purists

    What ‘synclavier purists’? The only ‘purists’ here are the people who think that music realized (by a human) on a computer is inherently worse than music played in real time by a group of humans (perhaps on electronic or electric instruments). I think everyone here who likes the synclavier pieces has also said they like the good live versions.

  24. Nowski says:

    For me it’s based on a gut-feeling. Reagan In Bitburg for example. I have always thought it was a uninteresting and even boring composition, as performed on a computer. But when I heard the human version, I liked it instantly and discovered a lot of details, that I never noticed before – even though the human performances of course are “inaccurate” compared to the computer.
    Maybe it’s just the often dorky sounds of the synclavier that turns me off. I don’t know, but I go for what my ears like, I guess. Am I a purist then? Maybe. So be it.

  25. jonnybutter2 says:

    A quote from jonnybutter2:

    when I heard the human version, I liked it instantly and discovered a lot of details, that I never noticed before –

    I can relate to that. The live performances do give a different perspective, for one thing because it’s going to be a little different every time, and also because the live version sort of ‘breaks up’ the piece a little. The shear ‘statistical density’ of the synclavier version can be off putting.

    One thing that might make a difference is the context: do you know the background to the piece? I’ve found that a lot of times the ‘story’ is a good point of entry for a piece of Zappa – certain things make sense in terms of the story, and those things draw you in more deeply to enjoy it as just music.

    I can totally understand preferring the live version. I just object to the idea that the computer version must be bad because of the means of its production. As I said above, I like both.

  26. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from jonnybutter2:

    A quote from urbangraffito:

    I believe there will always be a schism between those synclavier purists

    What ‘synclavier purists’? The only ‘purists’ here are the people who think that music realized (by a human) on a computer is inherently worse than music played in real time by a group of humans (perhaps on electronic or electric instruments). I think everyone here who likes the synclavier pieces has also said they like the good live versions.

    I’m not suggesting in any way that those who prefer Zappa’s synclavier works ‘as is’ is a bad thing. Indeed, it was Zappa himself who opened the door for the transcribing of his synclavier works into forms that human ensembles and orchestras could perform (Ensemble Modern). In regards to certain ‘Zappa purists’ that I’ve encountered throughout the years – I speak of those who put or place certain eras or particular Zappa bands above others. I think we’ve all no doubt encounter them in some shape or form. To me, every era, every band, including Zappa’s synclavier works, adds to Zappa’s considerable legacy.

    In the final analysis, particularly in regards to Zappa’s synclavier works, one must ask, “Musically speaking, what makes Zappa, Zappa?” Not an easy question to answer.

  27. Balint says:

    The more I listen to this version, the more I like it.

  28. Balint says:

    and: they are really together in spite of the lots of changes in tempo and the difficult rhythm structure – WITHOUT a conductor. Nice!

  29. Balint says:

    I’ve updated the post, with interesting informations about unreleased new compositions and connections with the Rage and the Fury.

  30. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from Balint:

    I’ve updated the post, with interesting informations about unreleased new compositions and connections with the Rage and the Fury.

    That the Rage and the Fury hasn’t been released is crime. Just as big a crime as not releasing Dance Me This and Roxy.

    Verdict: Guilty. Sentence: Joe and Gail to be tied up in an antique tub at the Edgewater Inn and forced to listen to Kenny G hour after hour after hour while tiny little goldfish swim in between their toes!

  31. Nowski says:

    A quote from urbangraffito:

    …I speak of those who put or place certain eras or particular Zappa bands above others.

    I’m one of those. Half of Zappas work is very important to me, it has been so for 40 years and has had an enormous impact on my perception of music, while the other half I find uninteresting and some of it even really stupid.
    That doesn’t make me a purist though. I think it is so simply because Zappa went new ways all the time, and some of it you like and some of it you don’t. Actually I find it difficult to understand people who like everything, that Zappa did. Some people I’ve met was of the view that if it was Zappa – then it was fantastic per definition. I never quite understood that.

    In case you curious, I like Uncle Meat, Money, Gravy, Ruben & The Jets, Sandwich, Hot Rats, Flo & Eddie, Wazoo, The Roxy band, The “classical” stuff, The 1988 band, Yellow Shark.
    I don’t like Sheik Yerbouti (that’s the really stupid one), You Are What You Is, Them Or Us, Thing-Fish, all the computer stuff.

    If you have a similar “half & half” opinion of Zappas music, it would be interesting to know what you would put above and under the line.

  32. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from Nowski:

    A quote from urbangraffito:

    …I speak of those who put or place certain eras or particular Zappa bands above others.

    I’m one of those. Half of Zappas work is very important to me, it has been so for 40 years and has had an enormous impact on my perception of music, while the other half I find uninteresting and some of it even really stupid.
    That doesn’t make me a purist though. I think it is so simply because Zappa went new ways all the time, and some of it you like and some of it you don’t. Actually I find it difficult to understand people who like everything, that Zappa did. Some people I’ve met was of the view that if it was Zappa – then it was fantastic per definition. I never quite understood that.

    In case you curious, I like Uncle Meat, Money, Gravy, Ruben & The Jets, Sandwich, Hot Rats, Flo & Eddie, Wazoo, The Roxy band, The “classical” stuff, The 1988 band, Yellow Shark.
    I don’t like Sheik Yerbouti (that’s the really stupid one), You Are What You Is, Them Or Us, Thing-Fish, all the computer stuff.

    If you have a similar “half & half” opinion of Zappas music, it would be interesting to know what you would put above and under the line.

    I love it all. Each era, and album, has it’s own unique flavour. Certainly I do not pass judgement on those who do not share my taste for all things Zappa and Mothers related.

    I would like to know, though, why you do not like “Sheik Yerbouti (that’s the really stupid one), You Are What You Is, Them Or Us, Thing-Fish, all the computer stuff” and why you like other titles of his catalogue?

    Myself, I put it all above the line.

  33. jonnybutter2 says:

    Just to chime in, I must say I have sympathy for Nowski’s point of view. There is some of the work that likewise has had a tremendous influence on me, musical and even otherwise, and some that I don’t particularly like nor listen to anymore.

    I think there’s a difference between liking every single song or piece Zappa wrote, and thinking of his whole output as ‘one piece’ and liking *that*. I’m more in that second camp. Do I now want to listen to ‘Flakes’ or ‘I Have Been In You’? No. Did I obsess over every detail of that album at the time it came out? Yes, because that album and others were like sociological newspapers, not to mention state of the art audio productions. But some music has long term interest, and some doesn’t, IMHO.

  34. Robert says:

    I wouldn’t draw a line album-wise or era-wise. My decision is almost song-wise: There are pieces on various albums that i don’t like at all, like for example the piano people talk on CPIII. Zappa lost me there, but delivered some of the most beautyful compositions on the very same record. I even went as far as simply skipping these pieces when adding CPIII to my MP3 archive so i could listen to the other stuff w/o interruption, shame on me!

  35. Dark Clothes says:

    Sheik Yerbouti is stupid? Exactly how stupid, I wonder, in my rubber shirt. And you like the music of Envelopes, but you don’t like the lyrics? How penetrating.

    When asked about SY on Norwegian radio in 1979, Zappa said – “It’s about the American Dream, don’t you get it? And what’s the Norwegian dream, having a garage full of skis?”

    Now, that’s penetrating! I became a Zappa fan because he could look around the place for two seconds and diagnose the situation. The Norwegian Dream a garage full of skis? You would think he knew my uncle!

    So Sheik Yerbouti is an album about the American Dream. What about Freak Out, Absolutely Free and WOIIFTM? Very different?

  36. jonnybutter2 says:

    A quote from jonnybutter2:

    I wouldn’t draw a line album-wise or era-wise. My decision is almost song-wise:

    Oh yeah, definitely song by song. I’m the kind of Zappa fan who started out always wishing for more instrumental music and less lyrics – when I first started listening (at age 11) I didn’t even know anything about his ‘social commentary’ etc. I was listening to Burnt Weeny, Uncle Meat, Lumpy, etc. I always wanted him to stop fucking around with stupid lyrics and give us more ‘real music’.

    Of course, I got into the stuff with lyrics pretty fast, but I remained most interested in his music-music over the years. Even on his albums with the most vocals, there’s always at least one song with some really interesting music (with or without vocals). I own several of his albums for just one or two songs. Crank Zappaltislt! Making me buy a whole album for one song!

  37. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from jonnybutter2:

    Just to chime in, I must say I have sympathy for Nowski’s point of view. There is some of the work that likewise has had a tremendous influence on me, musical and even otherwise, and some that I don’t particularly like nor listen to anymore.

    I think there’s a difference between liking every single song or piece Zappa wrote, and thinking of his whole output as ‘one piece’ and liking *that*. I’m more in that second camp. Do I now want to listen to ‘Flakes’ or ‘I Have Been In You’? No. Did I obsess over every detail of that album at the time it came out? Yes, because that album and others were like sociological newspapers, not to mention state of the art audio productions. But some music has long term interest, and some doesn’t, IMHO.

    Very well and succinctly put, jb2. As with all fans, some of Zappa’s works sticks with you long after other works for various reasons – this doesn’t mean I like some works any less, though. Indeed, I possess enough versions of ‘Flakes’ and ‘I Have Been In You’ to never become bored by it (or any Zappa track for that matter). Zappa and his ensembles were just too versatile to perform the same version again and again, day in and day out. Of course, it comes down to individual personal taste in the end. For me, if I never hear “Valley Girl” again, that would be too soon. I don’t think Zappa much cared for it either since I don’t think he ever performed it live on stage. I remember people buying Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch for that track alone much as they did for “Joe’s Garage” years earlier. At the time I figured: if this novelty song turns one person on to Zappa and the Mothers, it’s well worth the torture of listening to It’s like GRODY . . .
    GRODY TO THE MAX
    I’m sure
    It’s like really nauseating
    Like BARF OUT
    GAG ME WITH A SPOON
    GROSS
    I am SURE
    TOTALLY . . .

  38. Nowski says:

    This comes in 3 parts (or more) as there seem to be an upper limit to the length of comments here.

    I’m sorry if I have offended someone. I’m basically just interested in the opinions of other people that like Zappa, but I can see that sometimes my words are percieved different that what I ment to say, so I’ll try to be more careful.
    Please remember that this is just my opinion – I’m not pretending that it is better than yours and I’m certainly not trying to piss anybody off.

    My view seems to differ most from other KUR-ists when the subject is Sheik Yerbouti or You Are What You Is, so let me try to explain what I mean.

  39. Nowski says:

    It’s a bit like asking “How come you don’t like Green Day when you like Stockhausen?”. I mean, there’s a tremendous difference between for instance “I’m So Cute” and “The Dog Breath Variations/Uncle Meat” as performed on The Dub Room Special or the Yellow Shark albums.
    “Dog Meat” is music-music, as jonnybutter2 calls is, with fantastic melodic and rhytmic structures – complex and singable at the same time – and it is performed with such virtuosity, that I can listen to it forever (and I do). Nobody but Frank Zappa could have made that music.

  40. Nowski says:

    I’m sorry but the rest om my comment disappears when i try to publish it.

  41. Nowski says:

    Could it be too long? Or am I suspected of spamming?

  42. urbangraffito says:

    A quote from Nowski:

    I’m sorry but the rest om my comment disappears when i try to publish it.

    A quote from Nowski:

    Could it be too long? Or am I suspected of spamming?

    As one of the official battlers here at KUR of the roaming hordes of internet spammers, Nowski, there’s any number of ways that our filter might mark your comment as spam. The usual ways are to include too many links in your comment, quote a comment that includes too many links, or try to include too many characters in your comment. Any of the above might cause the filter to identify you as spam. Or maybe our filter is just lonely…

    In any case, I’ll scan the spam for your future comments before deleting them altogether.

  43. Nowski says:

    Next:

    I’m So Cute, on the other hand, could have be written and played by any teenage punk-band from the 70′s, and that goes for most of Sheik Yerbouti in my opinion. It may very well be about the American Dream, but if that dream involves making (almost) a whole album of stupid punk songs (sorry – I said it again) with lyrics mainly about assholes, when Zappa could have done something fantastic, I’m simply not interested. When Sheik Yerbouti came out, I remember thinking that it was some sort of marketing-device to attract the young consumer-segment.

  44. Barry's Imaginary Publisher says:

    A quote from Nowski:

    I’m sorry but the rest om my comment disappears when i try to publish it.

    It was thrown in the spam bucket – from where I fished it back out :)

  45. Nowski says:

    Thanks BIP. What’s the max number of characters in a comment?

  46. Barry's Imaginary Publisher says:

    A quote from Nowski:

    Thanks BIP. What’s the max number of characters in a comment?

    There’s no fixed max amount of characters. However, let’s just say if you’re going to write a novel, this comment form is not the place for it (which to be clear, I’m not saying is what you did!).

  47. Dark Clothes says:

    Dear Nowski. I’m not offended by your or any other person’s view of Zappa. Sometimes I react strongly when I disagree very much, particularly when the adverse opinion comes from someone who shows real interest in Zappa But I still appreciate the different views. Even Zappa said that a person who enjoys every little thing he made probably doesn’t exist!

    On the subject of Sheik Yerbouti and I’m so Cute, I think you’re probably right that many teenage punk bands could play the main part of the song – the measly 3.09 minutes we get on the current CD. That doesn’t mean that they could provide the satirical superstructure, which in my view makes this song and the rest of Sheik Yerbouti a rather incisive comment on late Seventies popular culture, to be compared with the hippie satire of We’re Only In It For The Money. I can’t say if that’s the case with you, but many Zappa fans are latent hippies, so the music and ethnographical framework of Money has a greater appeal to many than the slick, punkoid surface of Sheik Yerbouti. But I sense the same satirical intent in the two albums.

    I think you’re plainly wrong when you trust a teenage punk band to play the rest of ’bouti. And you should also look into the long (4.20) LP version of I’m So Cute. The fade-out there is so abstract that you can compare it to something like Do You Call That Music (YCDTOSA 4). Not to mention the Baby Snakes movie version (of ISC). That’s regular Musique Concrète!

    Something similar is happening in Disco Boy on Hammersmith Odeon, by the way.

    Best regards, DC.

  48. Nowski says:

    A quote from Barry’s Imaginary Publisher:

    …let’s just say if you’re going to write a novel, this comment form is not the place for it (which to be clear, I’m not saying is what you did!).

    Well, I guess I was pretty close. I’ll try to make it briefer in the future.
    Thanks.

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