Posted in Frank Zappa, Musicology, philosophy, tagged analysis, Frank Zappa, frank zappa and the and, Gadamer, Music, musicology, paul carr, Truth and Method on March 22, 2013 |
9 Comments »
I read a review of Frank Zappa and the And this week – and despite its negativity, it got me thinking about the ways in which our world views impact the ways in which we interpret meaning in music. Being simplistic about it – if one looks at the world through a Marxist lens, the chances are you will be suspicious of (what you perceive to be) authority (such as universities or academics), not to mention the ‘truth’ that institutionalised narratives impose. Likewise, if you regard music to be ‘absolute’ (when its beauty is itself), semiological (where it has the potential to refer to meanings outside of the music itself) or spiritual (where it has some relation to the divine) – your world view will play a big part in helping you decide what the music ‘MEANS’.
For me, as outlined in Gadamer’s ‘Truth and Method’ – real objectivity is impossible. We can’t help but ‘know’! However – we have to try!!
So – my question is: Where do the meanings of music lie – and how do we overcome the prejudices of our ‘methods’ to produce ‘truth’? I don’t have any definite answers to this – but am interested in ideas/responses.
Read Full Post »
Posted in Frank Zappa, Musicology, philosophy, tagged analysis, Ashgate, Frank Zappa, musicology, paul carr, zappa, zappa and the and on February 4, 2013 |
6 Comments »
Well – I finally got my copies of my Zappa book last week – so this will probably be the last time I blog about it (hip – hip……). I would really appreciate anyone helping with the social network side of things by liking/sharing/etc etc. You can read a sample chapter from the link below – and if you are interested in a copy – I think direct from Ashgate is the best bet at the moment.
Thanks to those of you that have given the book support over its development
Read Full Post »
Well – over two years since it was initially announced – Zappa and the And is to published in a couple of weeks. Ashgate have officially posted my introduction online – you can see it at here There are also links to the Contents Page and the Index. Ashgates’ Home Page about the book is also live – as is the Amazon Link. I get my copies next week – so looking forward to seeing them. Although it was not by design – the fact that the book is being published 20 years after Zappa’s death has a nice resonance about it.
Read Full Post »
Here is the final chapter from Zappa and the And – by Paula Hearsum – Zappa and Death. This is in fact the only chapter that is any sort of chronological order – but I felt it was difficult to avoid putting this one at the end. So that’s it – the book will be published at the end of this month – so watch this space for news of its publication. I may even be offering some free copies in a competition
The need for rituals throughout dying and death transcends cultures, religions and time. It is an innately human response to aid making sense of this part of the life cycle to turn to both words and music – funerals, for instance, use both. As Zappa was a verbally articulate and outspoken musical performer, the mediation of his dying and death offers a potent possibility to examine the perception of his musical legacy through his obituaries and coverage of his death. They yield more than data and statistics, offering a dual reflection: both how Zappa is held within the musical arena as well as a societal snapshot of views on death. This chapter explores the extent to which journalistic coverage, through the examination of Zappa’s dying and death, reflects and shapes the reality of a life-lived and sheds light on social views of death culturally and historically. The chapter will also examine the social functions of journalism’s coverage of Zappa’s death through news and obituaries, sample broadsheet and music press articles, in addition to considering the utilisation of news values and ideologies that create our collective memory of Zappa’s legacy.
Zappa’s famous quotation to Rolling Stone, about the music press, was indicative of his position on the role of the media in general and music journalists specifically.
‘Most rock journalism is people who can’t write, interviewing people who can’t talk, for people who
Whilst his opinion of journalism was often less than favourable, it is questionable whether he would find the irony that his death and continuing legacy has been documented for posterity within the press. Popular music’s more generic relationship with the subject of death has been extensively intertwined – not only in terms of its content but also within the statistical spike that forms the basis of the live fast die young cliché to which journalists use as a metaphoric device. The desire and increasing curiosity for a critical insight into the mediation of this final rite of passage is however, a relatively recent phenomenon in terms of academic engagement. Through an analysis of the news articles of Zappa’s last years living with prostate cancer and his obituaries, the chapter will seek to demonstrate how a life is renegotiated in the re-presentation of a particular type of death and how that in turn, is a reflection of society.
Read Full Post »
Well – I finally did the proof of the index for Zappa And The And this week – it will be published the end of January – so I thought I had better post the final couple of extract chapters before the year runs out. So – this chapter is by my friend Michel Delville – not only a fine academic – but also guitar player. After this – one more chapter to go before the real thing.
In an oft-quoted passage of his poem-essay ‘The Artifice of Absorption’, former Language poet Charles Bernstein, one of the most influential representatives of the post-war American avant-garde, writes that ‘a poetic reading can be given to any piece of writing; a “poem” may be understood as writing specifically designed to absorb, or inflate with, proactive- rather than reactive-styles of reading’. ‘Artifice’, he adds, ‘is a measure of a poem’s intractability to being read as the sum of its devices and subject matters’. Bernstein’s target here is the so-called ‘voice’ poem, which he considers as ‘based on simplistic notions of absorption through unity, such/as those sometimes put forward by Ginsberg (who as his work shows/knows better, but who has made an ideological commitment to such simplicity)’. Bernstein’s attacks against the voice-based poem can be usefully extended to the study of popular music, which perhaps more than any other musical genre relies on the immediacy and transparency of voice as both the origin and the spontaneous vehicle of feeling and self-expression. More specifically, in the context of this essay, Bernstein’s definition of artifice also urges us to reconsider Zappa’s experimental poetics within the history of contemporary radical art, raising the issue of the relationship between alternative, underground pop culture and the avant-garde while simultaneously questioning the boundaries that allegedly separate experimental music from mainstream music. Zappa’s music and lyrics, far from committing themselves to simple notions of unmediated self-expression, rely on complex strategies of manipulation and disfigurement which include the use of various forms of collage, close-miking, bruitism, sped-up cartoon-like voices, found spoken material, rehearsal and backstage conversations, etc. Such techniques of disfigurement are bound to make Zappa’s songs sound foreign and, to extend Bernstein’s metaphor, ‘impermeable’ not only to mainstream audiences but also to his most devoted fans. The latter’s eagerness to follow the meanders of Zappa’s cultural and intertextual labyrinths is often defeated by the sheer complexity and elusiveness of the composer’s dense allusiveness and his private system of references. As Christophe Den Tandt recently argued, another, even more fundamental difficulty encountered in the consumption and study of popular lyrics is that they are ‘expected to function in a way that can withstand, literally or figuratively, high levels of background noise: they are poems performed in material contexts characterised by sonic mayhem, audience distraction, mind-altering substances, uncontrolled commercial reappropriation-conditions that seem indeed highly constraining for lyrical poetry’. From this perspective, it would be tempting to conclude that rock lyrics can be consumed primarily as gesture, based on the assumption that most rock audiences do not understand (or misunderstand) many of the words that are being sung on record or during a performance. As Den Tandt rightly suggests, however, this does not mean that rock lyrics should not be considered outside their performative dimension: ‘approaching rock lyrics as poetry is not a gesture exclusively tied to the necessities of academia: song-books of Dylan’s texts – in some cases, pirated, custom-made transcriptions – have been published on a regular basis from the 1960s’. This is clearly the case with Zappa’s lyrics, which have been amply transcribed and disseminated on paper and on the web and have become the subject of endless speculation on the part of thousands of fans who are not remotely associated with academia and whose blogs reflect a genuine fascination with the diverse meanings that can be attributed to the songs in the context of Zappa’s now famous concept of Conceptual Continuity.
Read Full Post »
Zappa and Modernism: An Extended Study of ‘Brown Shoes Don’t Make It’
With only a couple of months to go before the Release of Zappa and the And – I need to get a move on to ensure I cover all chapters via my blog. So – here is the into to Chapter 10 – by Martin Knakkergaard. Martin has actually published on Zappa before, and this chapter is one of the few musicological chapters in the book – a detailed essay on Brown Shoes Don’t Make It.
Frank Zappa is an outstanding figure in Western musical, cultural and even political life of the twentieth century, with a musical legacy of extraordinary stylistic breadth and complexity. His musical universe comprises an abundance of styles and genres across historical, artistic and musical boundaries, yet still constitutes an intellectual whole, a cohesive musical oeuvre that can rightfully be acknowledged as Modern. Modern not just in its everyday sense, but also ideologically, it contests tradition, resists norms, neutralises the morally good and functionally useful, and insists on staging the dialectic continuum between secrecy and scandal.
Taking the collage-composition ‘Brown Shoes Don’t Make It’ as an exemplar, this article weaves a mosaic of analyses, ranging from strictly structural, to purely discursive and hypertextual, constructing the case that Zappa’s work, rather than being a wild profusion of styles, is instead a highly coherent and stringently complex work of meaning. It is an oeuvre in which subtle correspondences between music styles, titles, lyrics, texts and more, critically reflect central aspects of modern culture and human life in a psychological, sociological as well as philosophical exposition. In addition to a close reading of the primary text and citations of other artists’ work, the article includes references to much of Zappa’s discography and aims to point out how the musical coding in Zappa’s work take on a decisive modernistic role in an almost Adornian sense, expressing the historical necessity of complexity and opposition.
To read on – buy the book
Read Full Post »
I presented at a music and semiology conference last week – this was essentially a reading of the introduction to the forthcoming Zappa And the And book. Excellent conference, nice city – although I was pleased to get home. Although the proceedings are not uploaded as of yet – details of the conference can be found here
We also have live music based conference taking place in Cardiff at the weekend. Building on a couple of reports I have written on live music over the last couple of years – it is organised by The Live Music Exchange in conjunction with Glamorgan University’s Centre for Small Nations. Details can be found here.
My new job has made finding time to research problematic, but at the moment I am working on a book chapter on music and virtuality. I will however be looking for projects in the new year once the dust settles.
The Zappa book is released in January
Read Full Post »
Chapter 9 of the Zappa book is by David Sanjek – who sadly passed away only 2-3 weeks after sending me the finished chapter. David was an outstanding academic with an encyclopaedic knowledge of popular music. I am really proud that Zappa And The And features a chapter by this fabulous academic. He will be sadly missed.
No one ever accused Frank Zappa of lacking a sense of humour. Most people would characterise the thrust of Zappa’s wit as being, amongst other things, snarky
and sarcastic. Throughout his career, he conducted himself like an equal opportunity
tweaker of taboos and remained convinced that whatever a person’s ideological disposition, all of us potentially can succumb to the batons of those forces of coercion that Zappa dubbed the ‘brain police’.This predilection to interrogate authority potentially met its match when the composer found himself figuratively attached to the establishment: for the first time, he was in a position to call his own shots, rather than simply be an employee of a recording company. In 1968, Zappa left Verve Records and signed a new distribution deal with Warner Brothers/Reprise, one of the preeminent companies of the day and now. Whereas Verve seemed to perceive Zappa as nothing more or less than a marketable reversion from the mainstream, his new employers appeared to believe the composer could potentially disengage from his long-time ‘no commercial potential’ rallying cry, without evacuating his material of the idiosyncrasies that made it stand out from the work of his contemporaries.
Furthermore, an inevitably attractive portion of the contract permitted Zappa to operate two boutique labels that the corporation would promote and distribute; the recordings would feature solo material by the composer as well as the ensemble efforts of Zappa’s band, The Mothers of Invention, in addition to performances by other artists he appreciated and wished to produce and promote. One can only imagine that his choice of names for the concerns reflects Zappa’s recognition of the inescapable ironies embedded in his situation. He named the first, inaugurated in 1968, Bizarre, and the other, initiated the following year, Straight. Not only did the titles evoke his appreciation of his potentially disjointed affiliation with the major players in the record industry, but they also echoed the antagonistic energies unleashed throughout much of society during this tumultuous period of time. Like a number in his audience, Zappa recognised that the country had fragmented along ideological fault lines that appeared incapable of reconciliation. The pressure cooker of polemical contention revealed a society just barely under control, such that when any excess amount of enthusiasm, whether emerging from the right or the left, became unhinged, the consequences could be lethal. The bashing of protestors on the streets of Chicago during the democratic convention or the brutalising of the audience at the Altamont Speedway during the appearance of the Rolling Stones reinforced
Zappa’s admonition that there was, as the title of a song on Freak Out! indicated, ‘trouble every day’ amongst us and we placed ourselves at risk whenever we endeavoured to test the limitations of those opportunities when we inhabit the sphere embodied by the title of The Mothers of Invention’s second album: Absolutely Free.
Read Full Post »
Well – after a long break because of Computor problems – here is the intro to the eighth chapter of the Zappa book – my own. It looks like the book will be published around February 2013 – in fact it is possible to pre order it through Amazon. I will try and post the intro of the remaining chapters over the next few weeks, and after that there will be a gap while the ‘real thing’ is prepared m
Zappa and Technology: His incorporation of Time, Space and Place when Performing, Composing and Arranging Music
Frank Zappa’s ability to amalgamate 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 consistently experiment with fusing these skill bases, his resultant stylistic fusion is also arguably one of the most prolific and original in the history of popular music. Using these factors as creative mediums, Zappa can also possibly be considered the only rock musician to consciously and consistently engage with time, space and place throughout his entire career, having a compulsive fascination with ensuring his entire life’s work was considered part of his Big Note philosophy, with many of his performances, compositions, arrangements and productions being part of an overarching Conceptual Continuity. The resultant music often incorporates countless semiological clues alluding to factors such as his politics, sexual tendencies and musical influences, and this chapter proposes to examine how Zappa pushed the boundaries of studio technology to develop compositions, (re)arrangements and (virtual) performances of his work, while creatively engaging with time, space and place. After presenting an overview of his interface with technology throughout the 1960s, the essay will progress to analyse albums such as Sheik Yerbouti and the You Can’t Do That On Stage Anymore series (1988 – 1992), cumulating with his work on the Synclavier during the late 1980s – early 1990s with albums such as Jazz From Hell and Make a Jazz Noise Here.
Read Full Post »
Chaper 7 of Frank Zappa and the And is by Geoff Wills. Geoff’s chapter covers loads of interesting cross references that influenced Zappa’s musical idiolect.I have copied the first few hundred words below to give you a feel for the subject matter. Also – Geoff is an accomplished artist – and the attached drawing will be incorporated for the cover of the book.
The era in America after World War II was an especially rich one with regard to cultural phenomena. In the area of music, Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky had moved to the USA, and were wielding considerable influence. Charles Ives was finally achieving recognition after his second symphony was premiered by Leonard Bernstein in 1951. In jazz, the bebop experiments of Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie had emerged, as had the orchestral innovations of Stan Kenton, Boyd Raeburn and Claude Thornhill. In Cinema, the 1940s created the bleak atmosphere for Film Noir, while in the 1950s a fear of Communism was obliquely reflected in a wave of Science-Fiction movies such as The Thing from Another World and Invasion of the Body Snatchers. American art made a worldwide impact with Abstract Expressionism, as did American literature with the Beat writers. Comedy was also transformed by a group of satirical stand-up comics, such as Shelley Berman and Lenny Bruce, not to mention the emergence of Rock n’ Roll. This was the era in which Frank Zappa grew up and, sponge-like, he soaked in all the cultural influences around him, stored them, and ultimately regurgitated them in an original synthesis. This chapter will focus on one approach that Zappa used to present his synthesis, namely the story-song. It will attempt to make parallels between themes in his work and those in the wider area of American culture. It will also examine the way that Zappa developed the trade-mark sound of his voice to frequently present these story-songs.
 Christian Nyby and Howard Halks, The Thing from Another World, Winchester Pictures Corporation (1951).
 Don Seigel, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Allied Artists Pictures (1956).
Read Full Post »