This is a little promo thing I'm putting together to promote the trio. We did an interview last week, which will eventually go up on this channel, but for now, a bunch of stills set to a new piece, "ratbag coterie". Click on the link...
Final Fantasy Ante Remix Excerpts - Ian Hartley interviewed by Jeriaska (Siliconera)
The Final Fantasy Remix album features club style arrangements of songs from eight different Final Fantasy games. The project was directed by series composer Nobuo Uematsu and selections were featured live with the Black Mages for their Darkness and Starlight concert to promote the album. Here, Ian shares some of his experiences participating on the making of the album and performing as a DJ in Tokyo.
Siliconera: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us about Final Fantasy Remix.
No problem. My pleasure!
Q. How long have you been performing music in Japan and when did you start your own label, kikaizuki?
I've been living and working in Japan since 2000. So that's 8 years now. I love Japan! I started kikaizuki in 2002, as an umbrella for various musical projects I was working on.
Q. Have you brought Final Fantasy mixes to public performances outside of the Black Mages concert? What manner of trials and tribulations must a DJ endure before performing in famous clubs like WOMB in Shibuya?
To date, these remixes have not been performed anywhere outside of TBM's concert on 09/08. Hopefully there will be more opportunities to play these tunes out some more.
I came to DJing after years of playing in bands and ensembles. I still play with bands, and I consider myself a musician who happens to DJ. When I started producing dance tracks, promoters started to ask me to DJ at events. I did some music to promote the FIFA world cup in 2006, and that raised my profile a little...but I don't really consider music to be full of trials and tribulations. I always try to remember that we "play" music, and that a party is supposed to be a PARTY! Going to parties, networking with other promoters, producers, and DJs...it is usually all good fun.
Q. Final Fantasy Remix has been in development for quite some time. When did you first begin working on the songs that would later appear on the album?
I was pushing this project forward from Autumn 2006. I handed Uematsu san the demos in Spring 2007. He was excited, and I was really happy when he decided to set the remix project in motion.
Q. The Famicom sound card is a prominent instrument on "Eternal Wind," accompanied by live percussion instruments. Having listened to orchestral renditions and the Nintendo DS remake it can be easy to forget just what a haunting quality the original chiptune version had. Did you play the title way back when it was on the shelves, or did you discover it later as an album? Did you feel that including these electronic instruments on tracks like "Prelude" was an important thematic component of the album?
After the demo process, the tunes for remix were chosen by Nobuo San, I guess to show the range of the work he has done for the FF series. I suppose it was natural that even the earlier themes would be part of this selection.
I personally have never played any of the FF game series. This music is known and loved by literally millions of fans, so while remixing, I was very conscious of respecting the composer's original intentions. It was an interesting challenge to try to highlight or accentuate such iconic musical themes. As the tracks were developing, it was important to respect the original sound source and context.
Q. Some contemporary videogame musicians dismiss the music of 8-bit systems as mere bleeps and bloops, though retro revivals such as Rockman 9 are challenging that conception. What are your thoughts on videogame music of that period, having made an album that retains these instruments?
The challenge of early VGM was that you may have had only 3 or 4 voices to play with...people can still hum those tunes today, which points toward the fact that the composers knew what they were doing, and made the best of the technology available to them at the time. Music is music. Dynamic range, timbre, contrast...these themes are timeless. The sounds we are using today will one day seem dated. The music that will stand the test of time will be the same as ever; music that is written by composers who understand melody, harmony, rhythm and the most important element; expressing an idea that makes the piece work.
Q. Mambo de Chocobo appeared on the 1994 arranged album Final Fantasy Mix, among the most adventurous of the early arranged videogame albums. Can you tell us about when you first heard the song and where you felt the mambo style could be expanded upon for the Final Fantasy Remix album?
Well, that is an interesting track. Again, it was Nobuo san who chose this track, and I think he wanted the remix to be as big and comical and crazy as possible. Matt was in London when he was remixing Mambo de Chocobo. I was relaying messages from meetings with Nobuo san and Ogawa san..."More percussion!"..."More guiro! More timbales! More claves!"...and I think Matt did a good job of sending it completely over the top!
Q. How familiar are you with the Final Fantasy games? Have you played them all, or do you primarily listen to the music?
I was aware of the FF series, and I have friends who are real fanatics. I have never played any of the games, and I wasn't overly familiar with the music. My bass player friend Philippe Wauquaire knew Nobuo san from many years before, and after we had been introduced, I did some research.
When I proposed to try some remixing, I had no preconceived notions of the original context for the score, which in hindsight, gave me a lot of freedom. When I started to listen to the music in terms of interpreting the harmony and working out counter melodies, I quickly got an appreciation for the complexity of the scoring, and the sophistication of the composition.
Q. At what point did you introduce the idea of the album to Nobuo Uematsu? How much input did he have as the director of the project?
Nobuo san invited Philippe, myself and Matt to his home (for a wonderful dinner cooked by Mrs.Uematsu). We talked about music, listened to some tunes, and at the end of the evening, I gambled on asking Nobuo if he would let us try to remix some of his work. He send some CDs to my studio, and I put together remixes of "Liberi Fatali", "Blue Fields", "Balamb Garden" and "Martial Law". Matt did a remix of "Under Her Control". I sent those five tracks through to Uematsu san. Nobuo is of course very busy, but a few weeks after sending, we were invited to dinner, and Nobuo proposed a remix CD on the spot. It was a big surprise, and more than I had hoped for..."Blue Fields" and "Liberi Fatali" actually ended up on the EP and the CD!
From that point onwards, Ogawa san and Uematsu san listened to every remix, and gave very constructive feedback along the way. I'm used to dealing with advertising people and visual artists, who tend to relate to music in quite abstract terms, but Nobuo is great to work with, because all of his advice is direct, and given in musical terms.
Q. Are you more interested with Final Fantasy Remix in conjuring up memories of the games, or creating an atmosphere that suits the ambiance of nightlife venues like bars and nightclubs?
Hopefully somewhere between the two. This project is primarily aimed at the fans. Having said that, during the production process, although it was important to be true to the original music, when choosing sounds for the "electronic" side of the remix, the aim was to be as contemporary as possible. This is quite a juxtaposition, but I feel it works really well in a lot of places on the album.
Q. Can you tell us a little about rehearsing the live performance with the Black Mages in Yokohama to promote the album? Have you noticed anything from their participation together as a group that has informed your own process?
I have met the Black Mages a few times now. They are all really nice guys, very professional. I rehearsed with them a week before the show. They were very encouraging. In terms of the way they rehearse as a band, they have the hallmarks of professionalism in that they come prepared, they nail all the transitions and tricky passages (of which there are quite a few!), and there is no time wasted. It is the same way I was taught to rehearse ensembles, and it definitely works for them. I think I would say that in general, Japanese musicians do pay a lot of attention to detail, and are quite perfectionist in their approach, which is great.
Q. The live concert of Darkness and Starlight at the Yokohama Blitz sold out well in advance of the event. Did it turn out as you had expected?
The show was great. It was amazing to see such a variety of musicians - chorus, opera singers, a string ensemble...amazing! In terms of the remix material, this was only a twenty minute debut promotional set, but the enthusiasm of the crowd was overwhelming. So thanks to all the fans, and see you next time!
Thank you for joining us for this discussion on the process behind Final Fantasy Remix.
No problem. Thanks!
The trio played at O'Carolan's last night. We had to play 100% originals because of some kind of JASRAC snafu...so I spent a couple of hours the night before scribbling out some new charts, and literally gave them to Taichi and Yori twenty minutes before the gig...and it turned out to be one of our best shows so far! There is some really tasty work here from the rhythm section. Anthony tore up on some tunes too. I'll put as many as I can on myspace.
Sunday 20th july 2009
IAN HARTLEY TRIO
O'CAROLANS TAVERN, Jiyugaoka
(no cover charge)
ian hartley (pn)
taichi omura (bs)
Live Jazz, no cover charge!
directions to bar:
jiyugaoka station.(toyoko line)
take any express train. go straight out main exit. head for excelsior cafe walk up small street between "weekly shop" on left, and cake shop (hachnoya) on right. go straight over crossing 2 mins walk. see "birkenstock" big pink building on your left O'Caralans is on 2f, up stone steps.
1st show: 5pm-5:45pm
2nd show: 6:15pm-7pm
3rd show: 7:45pm-9pm
the zen stance
the zen stance is the latest project I'm working on. this is a 'free jazz' trio, but the emphasis is on form. Should have something recorded soon. Watch this space!
O.K., after the first 5 or so, these are not necessarily in order of preference or quality of performance, just memory.
01. the bad plus (two times, tokyo and yokohama, 2008)
02. don caballero (pittsburgh, 2000)
03. squarepusher (tokyo, 2002)
04. cinematic orchestra (tokyo, 2008)
05. ruins (tokyo, 2003)
06. glen branca (london, 1998)
07. aphex twin (london, 1997)
08. warren cuccurullo (london, 1996)
09. tool (reading,1993)
10. sepultura (brixton, 1994)
11. david bowie (phoenix festival, 1996)
12. massive attack (phoenix festival, 1996)
13. elvin jones (tokyo, 2005)
14. icebreaker (london, 1997)
15. bjork (phoenix festival, 1996)
16. rage against the machine (reading,1993)
17. medeski, martin & wood (tokyo, 2006)
18. macy gray (london, 1999)
19. boom boom satellites (london, 2001)
20. guns'n'roses / faith no more / soundgarden (wembley, 1992)
21. brad mehldau trio (tokyo, 2009)
22. the grandmothers (london, 1997)
23. beck (glastonbury 1997)
24. primus (reading, 1993)
25. fishbone (reading, 1993)
26. radiohead (reading, 1993)
27. butthole surfers (reading,1993)
28. porno for pyros (reading,1993)
29. new order (reading,1993)
30. dinosaur Jr. (reading,1993)
31. blur (reading,1993)
32. primal scream (tokyo, 2002)
33. bad brains (reading, 1993)
34. breeders (reading,1993)
35. jesus lizard (reading,1993)
36. stone temple pilots (reading,1993)
37. flaming lips (reading,1993)
38. senser (reading,1993)
39. daft punk (glastonbury 1997)
40. sting (glastonbury 1997)
41. supergrass (glastonbury 1997)
42. ocean colour scene (glastonbury 1997)
43. g love and special sauce (glastonbury 1997)
44. sneaker pimps (phoenix festival, 1996)
45. goldie (phoenix festival, 1996)
46. asian dub foundation (phoenix festival, 1996)
47. air (french band)
48. chemical brothers (glastonbury 1997)
49. hella (tokyo, 2007)
50. big organ trio (tokyo, 2008)
The Right Note.
Writing about music is like talking about feelings - there is no clear way to describe your urges, because the experience is so subjective in nature.
Music moves us in such a primeval way. It is ritualistic origins of rhythm and dance, it is the expression of ideas which cannot be verbalized.
Improvisation. Extemporization. In conversation, we do this daily. The stating of a given theme, feeling for the parameters of the discussion. Moulding to the ideas of another, assimilation, digression, recapitulation, argument, reconciliation, and the occasional, beautiful sense of synchronicity.
There are no guidelines for conversation. Even introductions are not prerequisite - more of a polite formality in many regards. The conversations between friends can start at any point, due to an established familiarity. There is repertoire, themes are innate, jokes shared, jargon understood. Intuition allows for a free range exploration of subject matter.
Chapter 1: A Little Green Introduction.
"...Alright now watch this. Let me tell you about this song...this song was originally constructed as a drum solo. That's right. Now; after Terry learned how to play 'The Black Page' on the drumset, I figured: 'Well...maybe it would be good for other...instruments'. So I wrote a melody that went along with the...drum solo...and that turned into 'The Black Page, Part One, the hard version'. Then I said : 'Well, what about the other people in the World who might enjoy the melody of the Black
Page, but couldn't really approach its...statistical Density...in its basic form?'
So, I went to work and constructed a little ditty which is now being...set up for you with this little Disco type vamp...this is:
'The Black Page, Part Two, the easy teenage New York version'. Get down with your bad self, so to speak, to the Black Page part two..." (1)
Frank Zappa released over sixty full-length albums during his thirty year career spanning the 60's, 70's, 80's and 90's, and the Zappa family trust has continued to release archive material since his untimely death from cancer in 1993. (2) The scope and diversity of the music contained on these releases gives some insight into this eclectic and iconoclastic American composer-genius, and how he has both reflected and influenced twentieth century music.
There are several well written books on the Zappa life history, covering his politics and sociological stance. (3) This is an appealing angle from which to approach Zappology, because the man himself was notoriously forward with his beliefs, through the spoken, sung and written social commentary and critique in his musical releases, his political outpourings (4) , and the various press releases he made through his career. There are also in-depth discographies and reviews of the Zappa musical output insome of these books (5) .These publications make it possible to explore Zappa's universe, and to form a picture of his career development and the
emergence of the Zappa legend.
There is a distinct lack, however, of musical analysis of Frank Zappa's work, especially when compared to that of other contemporary composers.The reasons for this apparent oversight on behalf of musicologists may stem from a few simple points:
- Frank Zappa was an irreverent and unrepentant rock and roll guitar player with a sharp and sardonic wit. He openly spurned then lampooned academia and was intentionally dismissive of any high-art pretension.
- Frank Zappa wrote music primarily for Frank Zappa, blatantly disregarding stylistic boundaries. He could not be tied to any musical movement, and his very individual style developed throughout a long and intensive career (6) . This built a truly eclectic catalogue of works, that can not be easily categorised or analysed as a whole.
- His music is (from the outset) too weird. Frank Zappa's musical career runs parallel to the proposed birth of postmodernism, and high-art musics in this time have received much critical attention. The reactionism of the Minimalist movement did raise sociological issues, but there is no shortage of intelligent musical analysis of its exponents' individual styles. Similarly, there are many sociological studies of popular musics, but there are also decent musical analyses of the genre that have been published. Zappa is lost somewhere in between. His composition does not fall into any school or movement, but it most certainly has a place in high-art traditions; parallel to this, he continued a line in 'sophisticated semipopular entertainment' throughout his career (7) .
This lack of genre identification and stylistic ambiguity was quite intentional, and it is part of the reason why Zappa has yet to receive the critical appreciation that would lead to the publicationof musical analyses of his work.The irony was that his often elaborate music was most frequently heard (and appreciated) by what is largely considered a 'low-art' audience; the Rock fan.
To this extent, Zappa has popularised the avant-garde.My own personal
understanding of developments in high-art musics of the twentieth century has come about through an interest in Zappa's music and its influences. I sought out the music of Edgard Varese, Anton Webern, Igor Stravinsky and other great composers on the strength that I liked Zappa's music and wanted to know where it was coming from.
When questioned about his music, Zappa would quote such diverse influences as rhythm and blues, doo-wop and jazz, to serialism and neo-classicism (8). His approach to composition allowed him to combine these influences to create an eclectic but convincing catalogue, striving for excellence in every musical direction.
The sheer volume of Zappa's output is such that his live recording tapes fill a basement at his studio in California, where they are still being catalogued, and archive material is still being released on Zappa records. The musical complexity and detail contained within the recordings and scores that are available is quite often astounding, and stand as testament to Zappa's dedication to music. As such, this essay is by no means definitive or comprehensive coverage of Zappa's output. This is an introduction that attempts to understand what makes Zappa sound like
(1) Frank Zappa's preamble to 'The Black Page No.2', transcribed from the 1977 live album release 'Zappa in New York'. C.D two, track 7, 00:06 - 01:23 min/sec.
(2) See Discography.
(3) Specifically The Real Frank Zappa Book.(See Bibliography).
(4) In his lifetime, Zappa was, amongst other things, a political and business aide to the Newly formed Czech Republic. He also spoke out in the American Congress and the British Courts against Censorship (see The Real Frank Zappa Book).
(5) The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play by Ben Watson is an exhaustive analysis of the Zappa musical output, applying Adorno's theory to the chronological run-down of Zappa releases. Most of the consideration goes towards sociological aspects and attempting to prove Zappa's 'conceptual continuity', but there is some musical analysis, though mostly descriptive. During my research, this was the only available published analysis, and indeed the only musical analysis I could find at all, regarding Zappa's music.
(6) This is exemplified by the fact that during his career, Zappa worked with such diverse talents as The London Symphony Orchestra, The Ensemble Modern, Pierre Boulez, Kent Nagano, Steve Vai, Johnny 'Guitar' Watson, George Duke, Aynsley Dunbar, Terry Bozzio and the N.E.D Synclavier, to name but a few.
(7) 'Sophisticated Semipopular Entertainment' is coined in the packaging blurb to the 1991 video release Zappa's Universe (see discography).
(8) The Real Frank Zappa Book, 'There Goes the Neighbourhood' and 'All About Music' chapters form a clearer picture of Zappa's musical influences (see bibliography).
"I think you can hear if you listen to his music not knowing
who wrote it, that it is Frank Zappa. It's especially in the way
his melodies are built; they are very, very personal and typical
of him. You don't have to make a distinction between him as a
guitar improviser and as a composer, it's still Frank Zappa! You
can hear it. That's astonishing, because the styles are so
Conductor Peter Rundel makes the important point that the listener can hear a continuity across FZ's widely-styled music, but there is no one piece in the estimated catalogue of 1200 FZ compositions that embodies all of his compositional traits
(and I do not propose to analyse them one by one). I choose 'The Black Page' as an example - 'A Token of His Extreme' (2). This is a typically eclectic piece, and a useful starting point from from which to draw other musical examples from the Zappa
library, in an attempt to gain insight into this composers unique sound world.
The Black Page was designed as a challenge to the virtuosity of the young drummer Terry Bozzio. Bozzio entered FZ's ever-changing touring ensemble by audition in 1975, at the age of 23, and typically, FZ exploited his flamboyant personality and talents, incorporating them into his band folklore and repertoire. The Black Page was written for him in 1977, to expose his particular talents as a kit player.
On listening to the FZ albums on which Terry Bozzio is most prominently featured (3), it becomes clear how Zappa's musical language adapted then incorporated Bozzio's unique approach to playing the drumset, and how Bozzio's style would serve as part of the inspiration to write The Black Page in its drum solo version.
Zappa was initially impressed by Bozzio's approach to playing the drumset, both as accompanist and soloist, because it was sympathetic to his own preoccupation with rhythmical ideas:
"It's hard to explain to guys just coming into the band, the rhythmic concept I have about playing, because it's based on ideas of metrical balance, long, sustained events versus
groupettoes that are happening with a lot of notes on one beat. This is sort of against the grain of rock 'n' roll, which likes to have everything in exactly duple or triple, straight up and
down, so you can constantly tap your foot to it. But I prefer to have the rhythm section be aware of where the basic pulse of the time is and create a foundation that won't move, so I
can flow over the top of it...I've always had a really good rhythmical rapport with Terry Bozzio. He has a tendency to frenzy out a little bit, but I figure that's because he's from San
Francisco...I like to find players who have unique abilities that haven't been challenged on other types of music...[For example] Terry Bozzio's idea of constructions for drum solos was
in a whole musical realm that nobody had touched before." (4)
Terry was very adept at executing complicated polyrhythmic passages, and by the time he auditioned for the Zappa band, this was a firm feature of his playing, and formed the basis for his drum solo work and much of his support playing. Example
One overleaf is a transcription of an extract from one of Bozzio's drum solos (they became a prominent feature of the late 70's Zappa touring groups) (5). Example two on the same page is an extract from the opening of an earlier track, 'The Torture
Never Stops' (6). Bozzio's construction of cross rhythms can be read, and certainly heard in these recordings. The frenetic solo consists of extrapolated implied rhythms over a fixed mock cock-rock shuffle. The cliched 'big rock drum solo groove' is given a subtle sophistication by Terry's precise syncopation and sphincter-tightening flams. This stylistic trait is displayed also in example two. The fixed rhythm becomes obviously more apparent alongside the rest of the rhythm section, almost alienating Terry's approach. No other drummer would construct such an odd (albeit apt (7)) fill against this simple swung rhythm.
Example number three is the opening of the Black Page drum score. There are obvious links between Zappa's original incarnation of this piece as a written score and the transcriptions of Bozzio's kit improvisations. The implied constant rhythm of Zappa's piece coupled with the sophisticated post-Varäsian complexities of the melody creates a tension that is the same backbone of the Bozzio drum solo. The
importance here is the question of where in The Black Page Zappa ends and Bozzio begins, and vice-versa. It would be fair to assume that Zappa was indeed impressed by Bozzio's playing style, because he said so, and also paid him a salary
for it. The connection between Bozzio's and Zappa's rhythmical approaches in examples 1,2 and 3 lies in the use of cross rhythms against a fixed backing, to create rhythmical tension.
Zappa's ideas on rhythm, quoted from an interview he gave for Guitar Player Magazine:
"...It's like this: in the realm of mathematics, there is something beyond adding and subtracting, it goes all the way out. And it's the same in music. The type of music that people
are taught in schools, especially from the rhythmic standpoint, never gets beyond addition and multiplication. There's no algebra out there. There's certainly no physics, and there's no
calculus or trigonometry. There's nothing interesting in musical rhythm that they teach you in school. Most academic situations tend to ignore this type of rhythmical approach - not just
mine, but anybody's that's polyrhythmic." (8)
This is further exemplified in the chapter 'All About Music', from The Real Frank Zappa Book:
'...Polyrhythms are interesting only in reference to a steady, metronomic beat (implied or actual)-otherwise you're wallowing in rubato.' (9)
The rapid syncopated lines divided between Bozzio's snare and kick drum in examples two and three suggest the same polyrhytmic theme. The semiquaver triplet fills in bar three of example two and bar two of example three build phrases
that suggest rhythm flying in all directions, against and beyond the basic pulse carried on the hi-hat. This seems to imply polyrhythm, but never delivers a fixed pattern. The physical anomalies of playing these lines on the drumset draw the
examples together also; Bozzio is basically flying around the kit, developing the melodies in a style (only slightly) more familiar to a Jazz drummer.
Similarities between Bozzio's playing and Zappa's writing are further displayed by their mutual love of fast notes. All three examples contain clusters of rapid passages forming complex patterns. The resulting sound from the demisemiquaver phrase in bar four of example three creates a texture that is difficult to penetrate; the 'smack' of the kick drum and the 'crack' of the snare become blurred into an apparent frenzy, far removed from a calculated line. This is true also of example one; Bozzio's deft
manipulation of hi-hat tones, alongside his syncopated kick and snare touches creates an exciting overall timbre, with a definite sense of speed and propulsion, still able to throw the listener. There is the suggestion of 'rock' attitude here; the drum set
is seen as a 'rock tool', and Bozzio is happiest playing with in an aggressive style, but the complexities of the score and the accuracy with which it is executed contradict the rock concert performance context and instrumentation. Zappa's music
transcends stylistic boundaries once more.
In the tradition of Varäse's 'Density 21.5' (10), Zappa constructed the drum solo to utilise and highlight specific player talent. The aim of this exercise is usually to expand on the capabilities of the player and use their specific techniques to their full advantage. Neither Density 21.5 or The Black Page would exist had the composers of the works not met Barrere and Bozzio respectively. It is important to note however, that aside from this obvious consideration, stylistically, The Black Page sits
comfortably in the Zappa genre...
(1) Peter Rundel, Conductor of the Ensemble Modern, speaking about Zappa's Music. The quote is taken from the sleeve notes of Zappa's last release before his death in 1993, The Yellow Shark. (See Discography).
(2) The Song 'A Token Of My Extreme' can be found on the album Joe's Garage. (See Discography). It is the simplest and best autobiography regarding Zappa's views on his own
(3) The Albums Bongo Fury, Zoot Allures, Zappa in New York, Sheik Yerbouti and Joe's Garage. (See Discography).
(4) Guitar Player magazine, January 1977, 'One size Fits All'. Interview with Frank Zappa by Steve Rosen.
(5) Taken from the album You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Vol. III. (See Discography), Disk Two, Track 2; 'Hands with a Hammer'.
(6) Taken from the album Zoot Allures. (See Discography), track number 3.
(7) Although difficult to ascertain without prior knowledge of Zappa's music, Bozzio's playing obviously contains the kind of rhythmical themes that Zappa enjoyed:
JOHN DALTON: [In your guitar solos] You use groups of fives and sevens on beats.
FZ: Yeah, and across bars and stuff like that. 'Sheik Yerbouti Tango' is kinda interesting. Here there are groups of septuplets but they're accented in five, culminating in this little chingus here which has ten in the space of a dotted quarter, with ornaments inside the ten.
Quoted by John Dalton, 'Frank Zappa:Shut Up and Play Your Guitar', Guitar magazine, May 1979, p.22. ('The Sheik Yerbouti Tango' can be found on the album Sheik Yerbouti, track 11 -
see discography). The Passage in question can be found overleaf (Example 4), copied from a transcription by Richard Emmet that is included in The Frank Zappa Guitar Book (See Bibliography).
(8) Frank Zappa, 'Non-Foods:Coming to Grips with Polyrhythm', Guitar Player magazine, reprinted in Society Pages (Zappa Fanzine), No.16, June 1983, p.29. The author uses this
quote from p.416 of The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play.(See Bib.)
(9) Quote taken from The Real Frank Zappa Book (See Bib), Chapter Eight, 'All About Music'. Frank is speaking of how a musicians approach to rhythm must be fine-tuned in order to be
an effective member of the rhythm section of his band.
(10) Edgard Varese wrote the piece in January 1936, at the request of Georges Barräre for the inauguration of his platinum flute. Varese studied Barrere's playing and techniques, and
the physical properties of the instrument. It highlighted Barrere's talents as a player and makes specific use of the tonal characteristics of the platinum flute that was crafted for him.
21.5 is the physical density of platinum.
MUSICAL EXAMPLE PAGE ONE
Ex.One: Appears on the album You Can't Do That On Stage Anymore Vol III (see discography), C.D one, track two, 00.00 - 00.11 min/sec.
Ex.Two: Appears on the album Zoot Allures (see discography), C.D track three, 00.05-00.14 min/sec.
Ex.Three: Appears on the album Zappa in New York (see discography), C.D two, track four, 00.00 - 00.16 min/sec.
Ex.Four: Appears on the Album Sheik Yerbouti (see discography), track eleven, 01.24 - 01.30 min/sec.
"In my compositions, I employ a system of weights, balances, measured tensions and releases - in some ways similar to Varese's aesthetic. The similarities are best illustrated by
comparison to a Calder mobile: a multicoloured whatchamacallit, dangling in space, that has big blobs of metal connected to pieces of wire, balanced ingeniously against little metal
dingleberries on the other end. Varese knew Calder and was fascinated by these creations.
So, in my case, I say: "A large mass of any material will 'balance' a smaller, denser mass of any material, according to the length of the gizmo it's dangling on, and the 'balance point'
chosen to facilitate the danglement".
The material being 'balanced' includes stuff other than the notes on the paper. If you can conceive of any material as a 'weight' and any idea-over-time as a 'balance', you are ready
for the next step: the 'entertainment objects' that derive from those concepts." (1)
Zappa's concession to a Varese-inspired compositional aesthethic is an obvious by-product of his childhood obsession with rhythm and drums, and later with
Varese's music itself (2).
The Black Page, in its original 'drum solo' format, has much in common with
Varese's masterpiece 'Ionisation' (3). Written for thirteen percussionists in 1931, the piece evokes a brutal soundscape. It formed part of a logical progression in Varese's work, which moved from atonality to eventually stripping away all tonality in his music, which then entered into a very experimental timbral environment. Varese was interested in the manifold nature of sound, rather than the western musical tradition that was the storyline of melody, which placed him firmly in the avant-garde
The original recorded release of The Black Page Drum Solo (5) has three added percussion tracks (emphasising the rhythmic melody of the original drum solo track), part of which was over-dubbed when Zappa produced the album. Zappa's liner
THE BLACK PAGE DRUM SOLO / BLACK PAGE NO.1. Opens with an improvisation by Terry, Ruth and Dave join in on the written part, along with wood and metal, percussion over-dubbed
by John, Ed, & Ruth. (6)
The finished recording lives very much in the same sound-world as Ionisation. Zappa's stacked percussion sounds like the death march leading to Varese's apocalyptic work, spanning the forty six years between the two pieces. Layered
rhythmical complexities in both pieces replace traditional harmonic and melodic climates, the timbral effect is unsettling. While the clusters of frenetic rhythmical phrasings in The Black Page seem to repeatedly force thelistener to pay close
attention to what is unfurling, Varese's organised chaos is also striking; its virulence and power intact, even sixty years after it was written.
Musical example five is an extract from Ionisation. Despite the stripping away of pitched harmony and melody, the listener still hears a definite organisation of rhythmic harmony and melody between the parts. Varese's orchestration and incisive attention to timbral details highlights the same structural precision as any
diatonic music setting. Past atonality, this is timbrality, but the listener hears a distinct composition. Varese's early traditional classical training still shows through in the structure of this ground-breaking piece.
Varese's work allowed for and inspired the experimentation that followed in twentieth century high art music.
Zappa's Black Page seems to exist in the same sound world as Ionisation; it shares Varese's carefully structured rhythmic exercises and fits the same aesthetic principles:
'...A work which puts colour, rhythmic form, and accent in the first plane.' (7)
In Varese's footsteps, Zappa craved further experimentation...
Choosing A Melody...
Zappa's often didactic approach to composition led him in many directions, and somehow, he took the inspiration to apply a pitch melody to The Black Page. Example six comprises the opening four bars of 'The Black Page No.1'. The rhythm
remains exactly that displayed in example three (The Black Page drum solo), but Frank now has a tune. Aesthetically, Zappa has followed a highly personalised agenda in this exercise. He did exactly what he wanted, when he wanted; it was that simple. (8)
The pitch choices are fairly abstruse; the tonality this far into the tune is basically D major or B minor, but the root that is later added in the bass is a G. This fact, coupled with the nature of the melody itself, suggests perhaps modal variants in this key
signature. The suggestion in the opening of the tune is an 'Eastern' musics flavour, but it is also reminiscent of a fanfare; the phrasing combines with the fourth and fifth intervals to create a driving, pompous melody. Any suggestion of the melody being written in a chosen key is dispelled by both the C# and F# being flattened in bar four. It would seem that Zappa has built his melody using his ears as opposed to theory; the tune seems to work as a series of cadences, maintaining a narrative.
The narrative quality of the melody seems to suggest to the listener an improvisational angle; the compositional process so far has meant that the rhythmic complexities being executed have moved the tune further from anything you would expect to find on a written score and into the realm of transcribed improvisation. The end result sounds like a skillfully constructed solo, which would be more familiar perhaps in a Jazz context; there is a real sense of 'player-as-composer', later as the piece develops, a level of mediation which can only be found in improvised musics.
We know the piece is not an improvisation, but the melody retains its fluidity. Despite the complex and often jagged rhythm patterns, Zappa has constructed a pitch melody line which brings a definite flow to the piece. There is a logic here, and a vocal influence at work; indeed, this was a feature of Zappa's music;
"...The rhythms I have are derived from speech patterns...they should have the same sort of flow that a conversation would have, but when you notate that in terms of rhythmic values,
sometimes it looks extremely terrifying on paper." (9)
The version of The Black Page No.1 on Zappa in New York also owes some of it's fluency to Ruth Underwood's burbling marimba. Ruth had the experience of being in various Zappa line-ups during the 70's, which obviously meant she had the attitude and aptitude to enable her to tackle the line as well as she does. The Black Page Drum solo is certainly one of Zappa's more complex charts, but considering its emphasis lies in rhythm, it should be surprising that the Black Page No.1, complete with a melody, sits comfortably within Zappa's style. Examples seven through ten, although written for different instrumentation, and across three decades, display that rhythmical sophistication in Zappa's melody lines has always been fundamental to his music.
Zappa's first solo outing, Hot Rats (1970) opens with one of his better known tunes, 'Peaches En Regalia'.The main theme (see example seven) is a typically distinctive Zappa melody.The use of a quintuplet figure followed by the triplet in bar three creates a convoluted rhythm feature, that makes the melody really stand out. The line again displays a vocal inflection rhythmically, closer to the complexities of the speech-like patterns found ineastern improvised musics than the more calculated approach of the western tradition. Peaches En Regalia and The Black Page can be connected by their use of groupings on beats.The triplet semiquavers and quintuplet quavers in bar two of musical example six and the triplet and quintuplet figures in musical example seven are used for the same reason; the rhythm has been constructed to create a precise musical effect.
"If you have a diatonic setting or even a bitonal setting with complicated rhythmical stuff on it, there's no reason why it shouldn't be appealing to a wide range of people.People like
rhythm. And the thing that makes the rhythm work is whether people are playing it right...You know that it's there: your foot is tapping even though the musician isn't playing the four beats,
your foot is tapping in the basic time signature of the song.And there is a clock inside your body that's saying 'We're in 4/4.' And somebody plays nine across it, and inside your body you hear the difference, and that's part of the excitement of that kind of rhythm" (10).
Zappa's enthusiasm for this kind of writing obviously shows in the above quote. Zappa often spoke of how he wrote music for his own enjoyment (an attitude he unsurprisingly shared with Varese), and the themes in examples six and seven obviously interest him personally, but it is interesting that he mentions what 'people' like to hear in this context. It is difficult to ascertain to what extent Zappa wrote these kind of rhythms for his own satisfaction or intended that others should be challenged by them.
Musical example eight is a transcription of a guitar line which was later arranged as the outro to a signature Zappa guitar workout, 'Black Napkins'. Rhythmically, the groupings are free over a 3/4 vamp, but Zappa's phrasing accents as three quintuplets, a sextuplet and a triplet. Once again, the emphasis falls on accenting groups on beats, but in a less rigid rhythmical background.
Example nine is an extract from the scored arrangement of 'G-Spot Tornado'. The piece was originally written on the Synclavier, Zappa's digital musical editing tool of choice. This machine allowed him to realise ever more complex compositions, and was perhaps part of the inspiration for the unusual rhythms in the piece. This piece is set apart from the other examples by its very direct rhythms set against a pounding 2/2 background. Zappa this time uses rests rather than groupings to maintain his rhythmical interest; they serve to define the melody in a fashion similar to the Peaches En Regalia theme. Rhythm is still arguably the most important factor here, because the piece is built in part by the theme in the transcription being put through extrapolated rhythmical variations.
The extract from 'RDNZL' in musical example ten displays a more subtle side to Zappa's composition.The theme is rhythmically quite simple, and from bar nine onwards, there is just a steady stream of quavers. The rhythmic sophistication comes from the melodic line and the accompaniment. Zappa's melody stretches gradually further away from the C major tonality that has been established, tricking the ear into accenting notes because of their pitch.This creates an illusion of complexity which is also encouraged by the rhythm section accompaniment accenting off beats, enticing the listener to divide the rhythm into anything other than a straight 6/8 pulse.
"Just as in diatonic harmony, when upper partials are added to a chord, it becomes tenser, and more demanding of a resolution - the more the rhythm of a line rubs against the implied
basic time, the more statistical tension is generated.
The creation and destruction of harmonic and 'statistical' tensions is essential to the maintenance of compositional drama. Any composition (or improvisation) that remains
consonant and 'regular' throughout is, for me, equivalent to watching a movie with only 'good guys' in it, or eating cottage cheese". (11)
The examples show that some of Zappa's music has a strong sense of unique rhythmical sophistication, with themes that appear across different pieces for different ensembles in different decades.This is unsurprising, as continuity was very much a part of Mr Zappa's oeuvre...
(1) Quoted from The Real Frank Zappa Book (see bibliography), chapter eight, 'All About Music', p.p.162-3, sub-heading 'Weights and Measures.
(2) The Real Frank Zappa Book, chapter two; 'There Goes the Neighbourhood', p.p 29-33.
(3) 'Ionisation' can be found on the album The Complete Works of Edgard Varese Vol.I. (EMS 401). Alternatively, The Rage & The Fury; C.D release where Frank Zappa conducts the
Ensemble Modern, who play the music of Edgard Varese.
(4) For a more detailed look at Varese's life and works, seek out the BBC2 documentary Windows on the World: 'Edgard Varese: A Portrait'. First broadcast in spring 1997.
(5) Zappa in New York (see discography), track four 'The Black Page Drum Solo / Black Page No.1' , 00.00 - 01.53 min/sec.
(6) Sleevenote to track four. (ibid.)
(7) Quote regarding Varese's 'Ionisations', from Twentieth Century Music: An Introduction. Salzman, Eric. p.141.
(8) Zappa's creative aesthetic is best ascribed "Anything, Any Time, Anywhere-for No reason at All", as quoted in The Real Frank Zappa Book, p.163. It would be really difficult to know
why he chose to add a melody, because he constantly worked to this dictum.
(9) A quote taken from The Guardian newspaper, January 11, 1983, 'The father of invention', interview by Robin Denselow.
(10) Frank Zappa, 'Non Foods:Coming to grips with polyrhythm', Guitar Player magazine, reprinted in Society Pages (Zappa fanzine), No.16, June 1983, p.29.The author uses this
quote from p.417 of The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play (see bib.)
(11) Quote taken from The Real Frank Zappa Book (see bib.), chapter eight 'All About Music', p.181.