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PostPosted: Sat Dec 21, 2013 11:36 am 
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I've been thinking about this concept for a long time and finally wanted to start a thread, if only to give myself a reason to look into it more and find out if anyone else agrees with:

FZ wasn't a Large-Format Composer

Before you start convulsing, wait til I explain. FZ often worked with bits of ideas and chained them together. That is how Lumpy Gravy was made, by splicing bits of tape and randomly putting them back together. He often didn't bother to create enough elements e.g. Beginning, Plot, Action, Ending etc... that Large-Format work needs to maintain cohesion. There isn't often a story as much as there are parts of stories. 200 Motels, the movie, has more elements, imo, than most other Large FZ Compositions, maybe tied with Joe's Garage. In those 2, there is a bit of storytelling, but that isn't the compositional method. I think it is correct to say that 200M & JG's tunes were nearly complete before FZ applied a storyline to them. Parts of Joe's Garage or 200 Motels or Billy or Thing-Fish etc... all have some elements of stories that provide subtle links connecting the songs or segments of the tunes. But, they don't really assemble as Large-Format Compositions. They assemble as an Assembly of Parts. Often, we are thrown a bone at the end to recap that a mountain is something you don't want to fuck with, or play your imaginary guitar etc... But, it is more of a shoehorn to rationalize the content of FZ's whims rather than providing a reason to have put all of the various incongruities together in the first place. I have thought about Themes in the Symphonic FZ compositions and find little reason to put many of them together other than the fact that FZ wrote them one after another. I love the "flipping the radio dial" schizophrenia that many artists have, FZ included. But, I wouldn't then say that a string of them together can be classified as a Large-Format Composition. Sometimes, there would be no difference if you would just insert more track numbers at each movement and call it a new piece.
I'll probably be thinking about this topic until the end of time, so may well change opinions above. But, right now, as an FZ Fan, I can't say that FZ has many successful Large-Format Compositions. I enjoy every single one of them, but it is always as if a painter took a dozen of his paintings and glued them all to a larger canvas and said "Large-Format Composition", rather than "Assembly of Small Compositions".

Having said that, FZ's work overall was full of Conceptual Continuity, bringing all of his work into one Large Composition. CC is his One Great Large-Format Composition.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 21, 2013 12:08 pm 
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I fully agree with you there, the amazing thing about Zappa is just that you pretty much make almost any combination of any songs in his discography and it would sound natural, provided you could edit as well as he could.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 21, 2013 12:31 pm 
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I think I know what you're saying.
Mo and Herb's vaction is a large concise piece but it too was probably
conceived in parts. Same with Sinister Footwear.
King Kong ....again in parts but together holds on as a fully realized
large composition.

Gregory Pecary is a masterpiece that incorporates segments from
Farther Oblivion and other pieces.
Part of me wishes Frank could have sat down and wrote a symphony.
I think The Perfect Stranger qualifies as a large composition written
without borrowed parts. I've always loved that tune!


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 21, 2013 12:31 pm 
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You make a good point. But don't you think WOIIFTM and Uncle Meat are more cohesive? I can't imagine them in any other sequence.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 21, 2013 12:49 pm 
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FZ could hear them in other sequences.
He once said about LG, WOIIFTM, UM and CWR&TJ that it was all one thing, put any tunes out of those albums in another sequences and it would still sound cohesively.
I don't know if I would agree with him there considering the different overall sound of those albums but if you listen to his 'best of'-albums that he put together himself: Mothermania, Understanding America to name a few.
Any running order for any of his songs would probably still make sense....That's CC alright.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 21, 2013 1:10 pm 
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If you have them ripped into a media player, load them up and turn the shuffle on. Let it randomly pick. I agree with you guys. It works for me.


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 21, 2013 4:55 pm 
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I used to do that but after a sequence like : "Audience Noise" "Band Intros" "Tuning/Introductions" "Preamble to _____" I switched back to listening to just albums.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 21, 2013 5:42 pm 
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I'm not sure if we are understanding what Arkay is saying...
Isn't he talking about Frank's compositional method?
Like he doesn't usually sit down and compose one long piece start to finish
but creates from fragments and various diverse pieces.

What big important things were conceptualized and started and finished
as one whole piece of music?
Many I'm sure but was it not the exception rather than the norm with him?


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 21, 2013 8:45 pm 
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A bit from Wild Love ended up in Sinister Footwear.
A bit from Echidna's Arf (Of You) ended up in Inca Roads (a fast marimba thing right after the synth solo).
And there are plenty of other examples.
I also think that the vast majority of his songs didn't start life fullty formed with some minor adjustment afterwards, they rather development over some time, having been performed as sprechtstimme-pieces and then developing in Drowning Witch or something else or some weird instrumental that changed into a definitive version that got slightly tweaked later on but didn't change much afterwards (Inca Roads, RDNZL).


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PostPosted: Sat Dec 21, 2013 8:49 pm 
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EVERY composer or songwriter works with bits of ideas and then chains them together, refines them, etc., before the composition or song is complete.

What a pointless thread.

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PostPosted: Sat Dec 21, 2013 9:08 pm 
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jeddy wrote:
I'm not sure if we are understanding what Arkay is saying...


You are correct. I was actually responding more to unclemeat69's post above mine. My apologies.


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 22, 2013 12:16 am 
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Very interesting. I agree, listening to "assemblies of small compositions" seems to be my favorite way to listen to music anyhow.


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 22, 2013 3:00 am 
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I’m not sure I got the point of what you’re saying cause english is not my mother tongue.

However, the thread is interesting.

I think that an artist always reflects his creativity and try to offer a point of view in the society he lives in. That’s the reason why James Joyce does not write like Dostoevskij and Andy Warhol does not paint like an impressionist. Same for FZ. If he ever wanted to, I think he was able to make large format compositions (just like Joyce and Warhol could made artistic productions like their predecessors), but he was not interested in.

Remember “The present day composer refuses to die”, so FZ felt the necessity to open the horizons in music and in the social dimension he was in. And the social dimension starting at least from the sixties is a FRAGMENTED era, and so they were his compositions.

That’s what I think in general terms, without going in the details of single compositions.


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 22, 2013 3:19 am 
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Disco Boy wrote:
EVERY composer or songwriter works with bits of ideas and then chains them together, refines them, etc., before the composition or song is complete.

What a pointless thread.

FZ would re-use those ideas in other pieces, making his music more modular than music of other composers.


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 22, 2013 11:10 am 
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I think Zappa, like Joe Zawinul, loved the editing process. He wanted to surprise himself right up to the end. Recording can be tedious. Sometimes, not always, it's more fun when you don't know exactly how it will all end up. Perhaps as he conceived his individual, smaller pieces, he knew they were all going to be one epic thing in the end but he was saving decisions like running order etc for later. Keeping it fresh and interesting. Zappa was always a bit avant-garde.


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 22, 2013 11:13 am 
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Very interesting RK. It started me thinking of how Frank made his compositional drawings. The collage's like the one on History's Mystery's, where a cloud could be made of cotton or just paint. Why did FZ use this medium and not just paint? It adds texture and depth to the picture, yes, but did he do it with music too? Maybe as an artist he could see the guitar sculptures/music in his head and could therefor picture the music he wanted to lay down. So to him, it's all on one big reel where he knew where the deep parts where and the lite/shallow parts are. This would enable him to keep adding on parts too, like lego's for music. This would also fit nicely with the CC of FZ. But that's not your Q.
Anyway, I'm still dialing this one in. Good fun to think about too! :wink: 8)

EDIT: I think FZ found the Large-Format to restrictive for his tastes. It's more expensive to produce, plus he had to sell some of his products in a more timely fashion to further his musical passions.

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 22, 2013 12:21 pm 
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In fact it was even one of the motives I gave for singling out Greggery Peccary in my Thesis V 1.0 that got so sorely obsolete with the release of Zappa/Wazoo.

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 22, 2013 2:50 pm 
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Thanks to everyone for putting thought into this. I can never tell what topics people will get into. You all have looked at the topic from several angles and I appreciate that and would like to think about your responses more. In the mean time, here are some more thoughts.
I really want to stay away from using Opera as an example since so few ever listen to it or give a crap about it. But, besides being Large-Format, one thing Operas usually have is a story. If we get rid of the libretto, we have a Symphony. But, there is still a story to the Symphony, spelled out in Themes. These themes are explored and the way they are explored tells the story of the Symphony. Small pieces often work this way as well, RDNZL for example, or most Jazz. But, to Large-Format Composition Themes are even more important as they are often the glue that holds everything together as a complete piece rather than a Series of Various Events. Pitch, density, color, texture, emotion all rise and fall as the Themes evolve, invert, merge, speed up, whatever the story calls for, that is how a Symphony tells a story, by manipulation of Themes. So, if we change Themes every few seconds and each theme has little to nothing to do with adjacent themes, then we no longer have an evolution, but randomness. Is the drama building, falling, or are we just changing channels on the receiver? Different people will agree/disagree, but Randomness, imo, is the opposite of Composition. A Composer may incorporate Randomness as part of a Composition, but if that is all there is, then what is the Composition? Does the Composer write "whatever" on the staff? That is tantamount to invoking improvisation, which imo, is not Large-Format Composition. I am not including Spontaneous Composition or Soloing as those are disciplines that are transient. A Composition is not transient, but fixed. Of course, any piece can have improvised segments, but those are called out in the score and given parameters to work with. The Randomness is limited by the Composition, indeed must be secondary to the Composition.
All these concepts were utilized by FZ in his compositions at times. But, he was glad to do whatever he wanted and indulged himself often, so if he got a wild idea to include non-sequiters, he would do that. Sometimes, like in Greggery Peccary or BTM, musical onomatopoeia is used, so the musical story is the dramatization of the text. This is what we hear in Montana for Tweezer Glint while the vibes shimmer. But, the individual events of Greggary or BTM often act independantly of the rest of the composition, even if they do still relate to CC. I suppose it is only logical that in order for there to be integrity of CC, then individual compositions MUST play a secondary role to CC, as a subset of CC.
OK, thats enough for one day. I've had the flu for 5 days now and get exhausted quickly.

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 22, 2013 3:26 pm 
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Grimpoteuthis wrote:
I used to do that but after a sequence like : "Audience Noise" "Band Intros" "Tuning/Introductions" "Preamble to _____" I switched back to listening to just albums.


I totally understand, and I don't always listen like that. Since I work 50 hours a week and raise my teenage son by myself, I don't have time to listen to full albums during the week. I keep everything on random play during the week. Then I use the weekend to watch DVDs, and listen to full albums. Any new items I receive during the week get my full attention on the weekend.


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 22, 2013 3:35 pm 
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Random is experimental. I don't consider it composition. Granted, you can do a bunch of random stuff, arrange it and then notate it.

Spontaneous composition is improvisation. If you continue to improvise using the same ideas you eventually reach a point where you are not exactly improvising anymore. ie: Keith Jarrett.

Zappa, of course, didn't give a shit and he did whatever was called for at any given moment. His was a living, breathing music and Zappa relied on spontaneity to keep himself interested.


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PostPosted: Sun Dec 22, 2013 4:21 pm 
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Disco Boy wrote:
EVERY composer or songwriter works with bits of ideas and then chains them together, refines them, etc., before the composition or song is complete.

What a pointless thread.

You participate then say it's pointless. Don't you have anything better to do with your time, then? I thought it was quite interesting - even your comments.


Last edited by KUIII on Sun Dec 22, 2013 4:34 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 22, 2013 4:25 pm 
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The Forum Killed Arkay wrote:
I've had the flu for 5 days now and get exhausted quickly.

Hope you get well soon RK. Great food for thought thread, thanx manx. Maybe FZ's whole work fits together in a big assed puzzle format. We just don't have all the pieces yet... :wink: 8)

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PostPosted: Sun Dec 22, 2013 8:11 pm 
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This theory of serial concept composition fits very well into Frank's use of xenochrony, don't you think?

As a live act, Frank would go for the unexpected, I think he wanted to surprise himself.

One final thought; I seem to recollect that FZ disparaged the rock and roll audience in that he thought they had a short attention span - maybe he wrote to those expectations.

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 23, 2013 1:01 am 
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unclemeat69 wrote:
Disco Boy wrote:
EVERY composer or songwriter works with bits of ideas and then chains them together, refines them, etc., before the composition or song is complete.

What a pointless thread.

FZ would re-use those ideas in other pieces, making his music more modular than music of other composers.


You think other composers/writers never did that?

KUIII wrote:
Disco Boy wrote:
EVERY composer or songwriter works with bits of ideas and then chains them together, refines them, etc., before the composition or song is complete.

What a pointless thread.

You participate then say it's pointless. Don't you have anything better to do with your time, then? I thought it was quite interesting - even your comments.


So I can't say what a pointless thread it is, especially since it is?

On second thought, why don't I just create a thread about baking. And then mix the food ingredients in different orders than others would mix them...

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PostPosted: Mon Dec 23, 2013 3:27 am 
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Very interesting thread, Arkay, and some good comments from other posters. I think Max67's point about Zappa's fragmented art as a response to a fragmented world is particularly relevant. But a piece like N-Lite suggests that FZ could tackle a larger cohesive form, doesn't it? And much more creatively than modern composers like Philip Glass and Arvo Paert, who simply repeat and orchestrate very limited melodic material. I wonder where your paradigm for large-scale composition comes from? I'm thinking Beethoven is a kind of ideal here? Can't be Varese or Webern... Surely you're aware of Zappa's comments on Beethoven - that he recognized the compositional craft, but didn't enjoy his music much as a listening experience. Gustav Mahler comes to mind as another composer with a large-scale vision. But he also used many disparate sources and forms within the works, a method which was scorned upon by contemporary critics. Your comments on dramatic structure are interesting. My own take on Zappa as a dramatic writer is that his view on mankind and people in general was so wry and satirical that he was intellectually incapable of creating fully rounded and sympathetic characters. This affects the larger structure of his dramatic pieces, all of which are ironic, inconsequential and ultimately absurd. But Zappa the composer would occasionally transcend the fragmented, satirical vision, as in N-Lite.

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