Frank Zappa and Gesture

Here is a powerpoint presentation which looks at an approach to using an artist as a musicological case study. After explaining some potential generic approaches, it looks at Frank Zappa as a case study


About Paul Carr

Academic working at the University of Glamorgan
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13 Responses to Frank Zappa and Gesture

  1. Luke says:

    I liked this lecture, First of all I wasn’t aware of the extent of Zappas work – how much he broke boundaries in recording, his cross over between rock and classical music and his political and social views etc.

    It also helped me with how you can study a person and a persons work musiclogically, studying them interms of themes (musical gesture, sexuality etc) to really get a good idea of thier work. I found this really helpful.

    Though it did get me thinking about my essay, I like this way of analysing a person and thier work but its hard to find examples of musical “genius” like zappa – someone who has so much to study. It would be easy to do hendrix or lennon or someone, but theyve all been studied too much. I’d rather do someone a bit more ‘obscure’ – I’ll have to get thinking.


  2. carza says:

    Thanks Luke. It is worth considering ways in which the artists you listen to could be analised. Start off by looking at other ways people have done this – then take it from there. The Ashgate Popular Music Series is a good place to start.


  3. Anonymous says:

    hello paul,
    i really enjoyed the zappa lecture also and wasnt aware he conducted his bands. i found this to be a very intesting approach and can see how this can add something extra to the performance. Rather than just playing the music that has been rehearsed note for note it enables zappa to emphasive certain instruments or themes and inturn different emotions and feelings!
    i can see clearly now how this blurs the lines betwwen low and high art.
    i thought that the contradiction between his image and his music was also a very good idea, as it challenges the listeners to think about the music and what it means to them. it wouldhave also brought listeners who were purely intersted in rock to start with to his music! so he could expand their minds!!!! and make more cash. previous to the lecture i didnt have a clue about gestures in music but this has made it clear and it would seem his music is full of gestures not just the music itself but the whole package. image performance lyrics etc.
    this lecture has has broadened my ideas for analysing an artist.
    and finally that live performance on sat night live(i think?)
    was amazing.


  4. simon babb says:

    hello paul i thought the lecture was very insightfull, i didnt realise zappa conducted his bands with a baton. by using this technique zappa can can get his band to play more than just the notation that has been rehearsed, as he can use this technique to emphasize a certain instrument, phrase or theme and inturn change the feel or emotion of a performance. this gesture and his atonal music help blur the boundaries between low and high art music.

    i also think the contradiction between his image and his music was very usefull as well. it made his listeners challenge the way they listened to his music. it also brought in new listeners who were probably just interested in rock (through the image ) and opened their minds and ears to music they wouldnt have normally listenend to.

    before this lecture i didnt have a clue about gestures within music but it is clear that his music is full of them
    not just his music but the whole package (music lyrics image performance etc.)
    this has broadened my ideas on what can be analysed for my musicology essay although as luke says it will be hard to find an artist with as much to talk about!! i dont think i will get much joy out of the cheeky girls.


  5. Jack Butler says:

    I really like the idea of musical gesture and this case study was a great example i thought, because he was someone who pushed so many boundaries in terms of recording and performance.
    I especially enjoyed the idea of Zappa being a business man and using his head to sell/get as much ‘high art’ music out to a ‘rock’ demographic.
    It’s interesting to see how because of the way he looked, his music was always categorized as rock, even though a lot of the time it clearly wasn’t. The way he merged different styles makes Phillip Tagg’s communication model completely subjective in this case, and everybody would think of his music differently.

    After listening to his work, i think your opinion that he incorporated humour (in music and artwork) into his work to hide some insecurities is very true and interesting.


  6. Luke Thomas says:

    This lecture was very interesting, not only because it explained some of the ways in which musical gesture can be so telling of an artist’s intentions and background (or not – depending on one’s opinion) but it also introduced me to the crazy Frank Zappa.

    I found his attempts to merge high and low art forms very ambitious but successful – I agree with the opinion that he incorporated humour into his performances in order to ease the perception that he was taking himself seriously (in case of failure). Perhaps a case of him being a little self concious? However, in terms of the performance – this also added to the entertainment provided (perhaps a clever ploy?)

    Also found the use of the baton very interesting. 100% agree that this was in order to help portray his work as a higher art form – but again, in a kind of comical manner (just in case people didn’t like it!)

    I hope I can find as interesting an artist to look at for my essay!


  7. David Newington says:

    Hi Paul, I found this lecture enjoyable and it inspired me to look further into Zappa’s work. I admire Zappa as he is obviously someone who enjoys what is perceived as high art but recognises the absurdity of the elitism around it, I like the way he presents this through using classical imagery including batons and suits etc. As discussed above, it seems as if he might have been insecure and may have used this imagery to legitimise his work.

    I think he is important because he discusses something that a lot of people who are involved in what might be perceived as low art, are thinking, but don’t have the platform to articulate.

    I find there are similarities between Zappa and the person whose music I want to study in my essay – Brian Wilson, so this has been really helpful. I think they are similar because Wilson is someone who indulged in high art with his ambitious classical instrumentation but whose early work was rooted in more popular song format that was often perceived as low art.


  8. Chloe Cooke says:

    Suprisingly, I had never heard of Frank Zappa before this lecture! Well, I had heard of him, but never listened to any of his work. After learning about the contributions he has made to popular music, most notably with his originality as a musician, it amazes me to think that I had not come across his work before.

    With reagrds to how he combines low art with high art, it makes me wonder whether this was always an intentional gesture. Could it be that Zappa merged these two art forms unintentionally because he had experience writing in both styles? Surely it could be argued that Zappa writes using both art forms because of his musical background and the culture that he was brought up in. Taking these two factors into consideration, it could be suggested that he may have combined classical characteristics with popular music characteristics originally unintentionally to almost create a new art form altogether? Some sort of balance inbetween high and low art. When his musical career spiralled, it seems evident that he was aware of this merging of the two art forms and ephasised this to show originality, by conducting his band on stage etc.

    It seems thats Zappas originality in music has contributed highly to his sucess as a musician. It could be considered that merging the two arts forms together has allowed Zappa to appeal to a larger audience because people who listen to high art may enjoy his music and people who listen to low art can do the same.


  9. Pingback: Frank Zappa: A Study In Gesture | Kill Ugly Radio

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