Well, after the best part of eight years of trying to understand what makes his music tick – I completed what will be my final piece of work on Zappa for a while. Close on the heels of Frank Zappa and the And – I have recently completed a chapter for a forthcoming book on music and virtuality. It uses Zappa’s philosophies and compositional techniques as the basis for trying to understand the ways in which music can be considered ‘virtual’. Drawing on the thoughts of the likes of Kant, Hagal, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche and Bernard Russell, the chapter tries to present ways in which we, as listeners interface with the system of signs and sonic vibrations we call ‘music’.
In the couple of months since its release, the reception to Frank Zappa and the And is building nicely – having good recent reviews in both Record Collector and Pop Matters. It has also had some local press – and a forthcoming interview on the BBC in a couple of weeks. Having said this, considering we are approaching the 20th anniversary of his death – I am surprised that there is not more media exposure of his music this year. Why is his music still on the ‘outside’ still? I would welcome the opportunity to discuss this in any forums etc that anyone is aware of.
I am sorry for the delay between this post and the last one – but I now intend to once again begin blogging more regularly. For the moment – I have copied the abstract of the new chapter below. A Facebook site for Frank Zappa and the And can be found here and a Vine presentation here
This essay will discuss the creation and reception of the music of Frank Zappa, who overtly positioned his creative output in a virtual, often teleological dimension. Through the analysis of Zappa’s music and personal philosophies such as Xenochrony, Project/Object and Big Note, the essay will draw on the work of a range of scholars from Hanslick, Hagel, Nietzsche and Schopenhauer, to Bernard Russell, Jennifer Robertson and Leo Treitler, ultimately examining the broader question regarding the extent to which music (often with the assistance of written language and lyrics) has the capacity to be representational and/or ‘virtual’. Due to Zappa’s obsession with recording his live concerts, the essay will also place his music in the context of philosophies such as Perdurantism, Organism and metaphysics, asking the important question where the ontological presence of his songs exist.
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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 |
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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.
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I delivered a session on an introduction to Performance Analysis this week – asking the students the following questions
Place examples of
Episodic Markers (see presentation below)
and one of the following
Experiments with Time & Place
Although this blog is aimed mainly at students – I am very happy to receive ideas from anyone
<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/carrp/session-5-performance-analysis-1″ title=”Session 5 performance analysis 1″ target=”_blank”>Session 5 performance analysis 1</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/carrp” target=”_blank”>Paul Carr</a></strong> </div>
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A year or so ago, I wrote a blog about how the singer Rumer sounded like Karen Carpenter - and how the music industry could be seen to be using a proven formula (i.e The Carpenters) to sell the public music. This is not the topic of this blog – but more related to taking this theory back a few years – this time to the relationship between The Carpenters and the Les Paul/Mary Ford duo. I have been a big fan of Les Paul for most of my adult life – but have always listened to his records with a ‘guitar head’ – ie his amazing solos and use of technology for overdubbing. However, when one listens to Mary Ford’s vocals – they have, to my ears at least, a clear relationship to Karen Carpenter. For example -
‘I’m a Fool to Care’ (1954)
For me, this has not only similarities in vocal timbre, but also in the use of technology to create those amazing vocal harmonies, made famous in songs such as Goodbye to Love
Goodbye to Love (1972)
How high the moon
In both cases, these harmonies only exist in a virtual space – as they are multiple instances of the same singer/singers. I write this, as it is interesting to trace what I would call the ‘primary signification’ of influences such as this (where these is little difference between the sound and what it stands for – for me at least). Taking this thought process back a stage further – the same influence can also be heard between Les Paul’s guitar style (both rhythm and lead) and Django Reinhardt – see the examples below
The Sheik of Araby
For me, these sort of relationships can be viewed from two perspectives
1) the authentic influences of the artist, who have simply listened to the influence and therefore begin to sound like them (ie Les Paul and Django)
2) the music industry machine – where the artist is ‘told’ to sound like another artist or incorporate a specific style (examples to numerous to mention)
If an artist is fortunate enough to be able to be successful and portray their ‘natural’ influences – and these influences resonate with the industry,which in turn have the potential to resonate with the public, all well and good. My question is – are opportunities like this becoming rarer and rarer? Is it only possible to obtain success by positioning your music into a ‘category’ (be it sound, dress, style, etc)? I realise this is always been the case to a greater or lessor extent – so am interested in examples of music that break this pattern. What music is out there that is truly experimental and ground breaking?
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Posted in Frank Zappa, Musicology, philosophy, tagged analysis, Ashgate, Frank Zappa, musicology, paul carr, zappa, zappa and the and on February 4, 2013 |
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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
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I have attached below a 2nd presentation of my musicology class – which focuses on how we can analyze how music is produced in addition to the text (using the elements of music). It starts with a few questions which are inspired by Hanslick’s thinking – which can be over viewed as follows
- ¨Interesting to compare view to that of Plato and the late antiquity scholars. Greek Modes for example were deemed to contain emotion.
- ¨Viewed the ‘beauty’ of music as being its formal structure – contained no emotional content within its notes or referred by them
- ¨Influenced by Kant’s concept of being ‘disinterested’
- ¨Leads to some interesting questions:
- ¨Is there a difference between what a piece of music is – and what is known about it?
- ¨What impact does our memory and imagination have on our interpretation of music?
- ¨Is the meaning we hear in the music – or referred by it?
- ¨Do our opinions and words reflect reality – or construct our own version of it?
- ¨What is the impact of the author (composer) on how we interpret music.
- ¨What is the impact of lyrics?
- Can music represent ‘real’ meaning
As with last week – have a look through the presentation below – and post any comments below.
<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/carrp/session-2-song-arrangement-and-track” title=”Session 2 song arrangement and track” target=”_blank”>Session 2 song arrangement and track</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/carrp” target=”_blank”>Paul Carr</a></strong> </div>
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As last year, here is a powerpoint of some introductory notes to a musicology session I teach. Anyone interested in commenting – please do so!
<div style=”margin-bottom:5px”> <strong> <a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/carrp/introduction-to-musicology-lecture” title=”Introduction to Musicology Lecture” target=”_blank”>Introduction to Musicology Lecture</a> </strong> from <strong><a href=”http://www.slideshare.net/carrp” target=”_blank”>Paul Carr</a></strong> </div>
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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.
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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
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Well, this is about the longest I have gone without blogging. My new laptop broke down in early June – and has taken three months to be fixed. So – although I got my laptop back last week, I am sending this from the IPod – as an experiment. During the last few months I have been really busy – completing a report for the Higher Education Academy into live music in Wales
- in addition to preparing for a semiology conference in Edinburgh, starting two essays on musical virtuality and creative musical practice – in addition to being made Head of the Division in Music and Sound at the AtriuM and a Reader in Popular Music Analysis (so I have to find time to research).
Hopefully I will find time to start blogging on a more regular basis again from now on………..
Watch this space.
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