something about the importance of frank zappa

I might be movin’ to Montana soon
Just to raise me up a crop of Dental Floss Raisin’ it up
Waxen it down
In a little white box
I can sell uptown

 

I met him through his daughter, Moon Unit, who had a pop song that did really well in the early 80’s. I loved him for the kind of music that he made that was all squiggly (for the lack of a better word) that had lyrics like the ones to Montana, which run through this little essay.

Later he became Seriously Important. His testimony at the PMRC labeling hearings before Congress were aired on TV. His testimony declared creative freedom, defended personal liberty to create.

 

Part 1 – Frank Zappa at PMRC Senate Hearing on Rock Lyrics

 

Frank’s testimony provides astute insight into the gap between performer and audience. His description of audience as ‘consumers’ back then touches the contemporary audience identity of those who now get their music without paying for it.

 

Movin’ to Montana soon
Gonna be a Dental Floss tycoon
(yes I am)

 

Revisiting his testimony, I reflect on his discussion of ‘the music industry’. Record labels mediated the relationship between composer (Zappa’s language) and audience. Music was a product, to the audience. For the composer, music is an activity. The industry itself transformed music from activity to product. Congress was acting to regulate that – the way that music as a product was marketed to the audience. Zappa was testifying to how that regulation would affect the creator.

 

I’m ridin’ a small tiny hoss
(His name is MIGHTY LITTLE)
He’s a good hoss
Even though He’s a bit dinky to strap a big saddle or
Blanket on anyway

 

Zappa’s core message has been ignored. Why regulate music, declaring it good or bad? Why not provide music education in the public education systems funded by the government, so that people can decide for themselves what is good or bad? I mean, that’s the function of the constitution, right? To provide us with the liberty to enjoy our deciding of good and bad in our own lives.

 

He’s a bit dinky to strap a big saddle or
Blanket on anyway
Any way I’m pluckin’ the ol’ Dennil Floss
Even if you think it is a little silly, folks
I don’t care if you think it’s silly, folks
I don’t care if you think it’s silly, folks

 

His loopy, scribbly music. He talks about finding musical lines from the cadences of ordinary speech. Music as conversation. I’ve been learning how to write a fugue, more recently, with all of Bach’s etiquette. And here, in the fugue, is the process of conversation – a musical idea is passed back and forth between voices, evolving through slight shifts in notes and presentation. The vocabulary for the techniques of the fugue is a vocabulary of conversation.

Zappa takes that conversation from music theory to include the waveform. He talks about that in a wonderful documentary made after he was diagnosed with cancer.

 

Frank Zappa – Peefeeyatko

 

Peefeeyatko contains the transition from instrumental music to the computer as performance tool. Today’s software puts Zappa’s programmable synthesizer into ordinary computers anyone can walk into a store and buy. This is important, and overlooked, I think, in the fight over who gets to better identify our discontent.

 

Every other wrangler would say
I was mighty grand
By myself I wouldn’t
Have no boss
But I’d be raisin’ my lonely Dental Floss
Raisin’ my lonely Dental Floss
Raisin’ my lonely Dental Floss

 

Our culture struggle with the problem of music-as-product vs. music-as-experience. The form by which the audience purchases it is so easy. Click a virtual button, a virtual thing downloads to an imaginary space inside a computer. Keep track of one’s sonic possessions by looking at lines of text on a screen. Keep track of those virtual possessions using a tool that you use to write email, read the internet, and do other things. Listen to that data file by clicking on it using a virtual tool, a mouse or trackpad.

The audio file is an invisible body. LP records, 8 tracks, cassette tapes, CDs are things, they give music physical weight. Does the iPod get heavier when I sync my music to it? The experience of listening is easily forgotten. The appreciation of value provided by the listening experience? Often overlooked, for it is our experience. American culture teaches the art of dissatisfaction, in order to fuel ongoing consumption.

Its so easy it makes people forget, or never learn, that the act of creating music takes a lot of work. Work which I need to return to – I want to learn how to write a fugue by writing a fugue, and writing this essay is a little bit of a distraction from that (I’m about a third of the way through that process).

Technology makes many things very easy for us. Technology makes it easy to consume. Remember to value what comes from us, what the tools themselves can’t do – like create the music, like play or speak from the stage.

 

varese took pictures of the future (1958)

Always knew I had a lot in common with Varese. He of the ‘organized sound’ school of composition, responding to the sonic influences of the technological environments he lived in. Varese, Frank Zappa’a musical father.

I watched this tonight. Swoon. I have made some of the same video-collage gestures, unknowing quotes (esp. the skeletal hands – the 2-channel projection installation/performance ‘the hand remembers’ i did at the brillobox in ’09) . . . Maybe every aspiring video artist should watch it, so they don’t have to make it (but we make stuff like it anyway to learn how that language works so whatever.)

This video, from ’58. varese took a picture of the future.

http://www.ubu.com/film/varese.html

a decent starting point about him : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edgard_Varèse