Tag Archives: zappanale

Son of Bizarre Zappanale Rant!

Another Zappanale has come and gone… and I wasn’t there.  It seems fair to say that I knew Zappanale during its adolescence.  It had grown beyond its humble beginnings, but hadn’t become a mature stop on the European Festival Circuit, which it what it is becoming, or has become.  That is not a problem.  I think big is good, and if this year is any indication, the festival is still bringing in a great mix of alumni, top shelf professionals, and the regular FZ-loving local bands that always seem to crank out the Frank with gusto (if not flawless intonation).  The last Zappanale I attended was Z20 in 2009, and it was a great time, and I love my Zappateer buddies, and the beer is excellent, and yet I still have a lot of mixed feelings about it.  In ’09 Terry Bozzio was paid a lot of dough to basically avoid all human contact, clog up the main stage with his drumiverse for a full day of other band’s performances, and then put on the same fucking clinic he would run at the fucking Modern Drummer wankfest.  Thanks, Terry.  You used to be an OK musician before you decided you were a Musician and not a drummer.  At least you didn’t pull out an acoustic guitar and try to sing “Angie”.  Mad Props for that.

I hope to go back to Bad Doberan, enjoy Zappanale, and get tore up on Rostocker beer in the hot sun and then swin the the coldest damn water I have ever swam in.  But if I don’t, I can at least say that I did it already, multiple times, with elan.

The aftermath of the Zappanale holiday, alternately known as Zappadan, usually brings out the reflective side of the fans and the festival organizers.  Case in point: Recently Thomas Dippel, ARF Society honcho, and a guy I think of as a friend, wrote:

If you want to stage a festival honoring Frank Zappa – you might have to reckon with the Zappa Trust, headed up by Frank Zappa’s widow, Gail. His widow should finally stop putting hurdles in our path and help us further promote this fantastic music. Frank would probably agree. He was all about freedom of expression and was opposed to censorship. I’m not sure he would dig the way his legacy is being micromanaged.

I agree.  The ZFT should be able to tell the difference between sincere homage and scamming.  I don’t think that will happen, ever, and here is why: back in the early days after the tragic death of FZ, there was this official release called “Frank Zappa Plays the Music of Frank Zappa”, which despite the cute title and barely catchy packaging was really nothing more than an official bootleg released by Dweezil Zappa.  I get a vague sense of nausea every time I see the CD box.  Yes, it was a Zappa performance, and yes the sound quality was a cut above the audience-tape variety sound that hardcore enthusiasts were familiar with.  But there was no way in hell that it was a FZ project.  First, Frank would have done a load of editing because there is a lot of noodling on this particular gig.  He may have seen it as more than just a live recording, perhaps extracting a solo as a standalone composition, or done something asynchronous to add some texture to the otherwise uniform corduroy of the mobile truck recording.  Whatever it was to be, it would have had continuity with the FZ process.  None of that was in the cards.

And this motif continues to this day, with Joe Travers afraid/unable to emulate FZ, Dweezil unable to emulate FZ, the guys who actually worked for FZ sent off to exile on some mysterious island for wanting to actually get paid, and the public getting regular doses of legal bootlegs in professional packaging in exchange for princely sums of legal tender.

Anyhow, back to the friendly climes of northern “Yurrip”…

To many FZ fans it is a bit odd that there is an independent festival in the former East Germany that showcases a lot of interesting music and has the audacity to invoke Zappa’s name in any sort of way, while there is no such festival in the composer’s home country.  Odd, that.  In a land where every jagoff stoner jamband rodeo becomes its own little bong-a-palooza empire, and modernist groups like Bang On A Can manage to run multiple concert series and feature the music of people like Conlan Nancarrow… the Trust in charge of a composer with one of the deepest and most varied catalogs in the whole of the 20th century manages to endorse a coverband, reeking of nepotism and cheap cologne, and not a tremendously good one (IMO) at that.

Not exactly what I would call a harbinger of a bright future full of tolerance and creativity.

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Burn That Weeny!

OK… I think we are at the end of the BWS saga. One more post when the thing gets released on CD. More or less. The mission: create an homage to Zappa’s Burnt Weeny Sandwich album in 5 minutes or less. My additional “special ops” task: create a 21st track form all 20 official tracks. A sort of megamix sample mashup.

At Zappanale 18 I was approached by Andrew Greenaway about this project. Usually Zappanale is, for all it’s charms, almost hostile to the older Zappa material. The Flo & Eddie band is almost entirely ignored. The original mothers are lauded, but their music is not heavily exposed. I was shocked to hear Andrew dare to speak of something that came before Roxy! The NERVE! Perhaps we should find a quiet spot so as not to be detected? I digress… But, he also hit on my soft spot for this album, and of the excellence of that version of the Mothers.

It’s no secret that I enjoyed working on this project. Burnt Weeny Sandwich (BWS) was a revelation to me when I first heard it some 30+ years ago. I always saw it in the shops and had formed some expectations that it would be like a more modern version of Freak Out or something… That was easy to do when access to the audio on the vinyl disc meant either knowing someone who owned it and would lend it, or coughing up the cash for your own copy. I had borrowed Apostrophe, and I had bought a used copy of Absolutely Free, and I had heard Freak Out at some parties in my neighborhood. The more modern, arena rock (if you will) sound of the albums from the Ralph Humphrey band onward was what I was hearing. It turned out that the later efforts of the Mothers was what I needed to be hearing. BWS is a wide ranging melange of chamber music and guitar solos, bracketed by doo-wop numbers. It has great compositions, above average recordings (maybe as good as it got for the original Mothers), and overall it has excellent symmetry.

One of the most beautiful things about the Zappa catalogue is the way you can hear Frank learn, improve, mature, push boundaries (his and ours), and consistently forge ahead, whether the audience (or sometimes himself, I believe) was ready. The mix of concert audio, chamber/orchestra, and studio material was almost unheard of. FZ pulled it off like it was de rigeur.

So yeah… I was in. He had me at “weeny”.

Some months ago, about 18 or so as I count it, I finished my contribution to the 21xBWS compilation, titled Radioveture. It is impressionistic, heavily influenced by the musique concrete techniques that I was introduced to by Zappa, and featuring some of my dearest friends’ musical input. I was one of the first to complete a submission, and I thought that we would be finished tracking in early spring of ’09, and seeing a CD in Summer ’09. I think Andrew Greenaway did as well. One year later we are back on schedule, and it has really been worth the wait.

About a month ago Andrew did something really cheeky to me. When he sent me the other 19 tracks for the “special ops” project he didn’t send me the names of the tracks! Just 19 numbered files and a small batch of “outtakes”. I played along. I gave the whole batch an audition in numerical order. I was, as I hear the kids say… gobsmacked. I heard the other contributors using some of same the textures I had used, some of the themes, some of the humor, some of the love… It was like BWS had transmitted a kind of intrinsic musical DNA that was leaking through the various projects. Of course it does, as all great music does. Still, it caught me by surprise.

On the megamix track I left some of the samples are out in plain view. As well, some are so mutated that they are reduced to subliminal textures. My guide star was the feel of Civilization Phaze III, but not in a direct way. I also received, at the 11th hours and 30 minutes, a bonus piece of spoken-word/sprechstimme from my bestest cosmic amigo Gamma. That was crucial because I wanted to have something to tie it all together and provide a layer of continuity. Thanks, Gamma. You came through in the nick!

The track is titled Weenyization Phaze 21 and I’ll put up a link when it goes live to the public (special bonus track to the official release is what I hear brewing).

I have a plan to use the techniques from the BWS and IBS projects as the foundation of a full length release, but more on that as/if it comes to fruition. So, that’s a ramble through some of the background and concepts that have been running through my cranium lo these 18+ months. Hope some of you get to dig it when it comes out.

Later, and Cheers.

So Many Burnt Weenys!

Andrew Greenaway dropped a load of tracks from his 21xBWS compilation on me. 19 of them I have never heard, one I composed, and now I will dissect those 20 tracks and create an abomination to be known as THE BONUS TRACK THAT ATE HACKENSACK!

The idea, as it was explained to me, is to create an homage to Frank Zappa’s glorious Burnt Weeny Sandwich in the space of 5 minutes or less. That kind of idea really grabbed me and I was happy to be involved (still am, oddly enough!). I’m two tracks in and already I am shocked at how consistent some of the elements are. I’m enjoying this.

Here is an early draft of my contribution Radioveture

Musically speaking…

I took a sabbatical from playing music (instruments that is, not listening) during 2008. I really wasn’t feeling it, and felt that my job and family needed the additional focus. I’ve taken breaks from it before. This time I had other “old guy” concerns… my hands are kinda trashed from early arthritis and years of rock climbing, construction, cooking… They take a lot longer to get limber, if at all. I have a very different approach (not like Les Paul, gritting out beautiful playing with two claws for hands, but I was never that good and will never be that good) but that’s the way it has been going lately anyhow. The more time I spend around music the more I focus on the structure of instrumentation, arrangement, form, interplay, rhythmic elements… as being the “forest”, and I am less concerned with the trees. While my enthusiasm for playing has picked up, the intent has changed. Whether I can make that audible is another issue entirely.

I’m in the process of planning DOOT! performances at Zappanale 20, this August in Germany. Meanwhile DOOT! is collaborating with our international band of mystery, developing some kind of group cohesion for a performance which might have one rehearsal associated with it. I LOVE that kind of stuff. Here’s to the forest!