The Big Note – The Ultimate Gesture: The incorporation of time and space in Frank Zappa’s music

I am presenting a Zappa paper in a few weeks at the ATRiuM in Cardiff. Here is the abstract of what I will be talking about. Will post the full paper after the event.

The Big Note – The Ultimate Gesture: The incorporation of time and space in Frank Zappa’s music

Widely regarded as one of the most prolific and versatile composers of the rock idiom, Frank Zappa’s ability to amalgamate numerous popular music styles alongside musique concrète, electronic, and serial techniques make him a fascinating case study on the interdisciplinary roles of performer, composer, arranger and producer. One of the earliest musicians to successfully and consistently experiment with creatively fusing these skill bases, Zappa’s unique oeuvre is now gradually beginning to be recognized as one of the most prolific and original in the history of popular music. Using these factors as creative mediums, Zappa can be considered the only rock musician to consciously and consistently engage with both time and space throughout his entire career, having a compulsive fascination with ensuring his entire life’s work was considered part of his self titled Big Note, with many of his performances, compositions, arrangements and productions being part of an overarching and unifyingly premeditated organisational structure. Developing the terminology project/object to describe the difference between the completed work of art and the process of redefining it, Zappa made countless rearrangements of many of his compositions, and clearly considered individual works of art as being in a constant state of development, skilfully pushing the boundaries of available studio technology to create ‘virtual performances’ to relocate work into his current conceptual continuity practices. Examples range from the purely functional (For example re-recording all of the drum and bass tracks for Crusin’ With Ruben and the Jets (1967) to improve the aesthetic impact of the album), to the more experimental employment of Xenochonic and cut and paste techniques (For Example “Friendly Little Finger” from Zoot Allures (1976)) which brings together otherwise unrelated bass and drum parts), in effect synchronically fusing time and space environments. This paper proposes to examine how Zappa pushed the boundaries of available studio technology to develop compositions, (re)arrangements and virtual performances of his work. After presenting an overview of his early career throughout the 1960’s, the discussion will progress to case study analysis of albums such as Joe’s Garage Acts 1, 2 & 3 (1979), Sheik Yerbouti (1979) and the You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore (1988 – 1992) series, cumulating with his work with the synclavier during the late 1980’s – early 1990’s on albums such as Jazz From Hell (1986) and Civilization Phaze III (1993).

The Big Note – The Ultimate Gesture: The incorporation of time and space in Frank Zappa’s music

About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
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