“If ya wanna have a world of well performed orchestra music, you’re gonna have to spend the money to do it. Now, where ya gonna get the money? Well, you know, if you were to shut down some of these places that make tritium for nuclear warheads, which we don’t really need, you could have one hell of a musical culture in the United States just by shutting down … one! … of those facilities, which is making the environment polluted, and it is questionable whether we really need, we got plenty of nuclear warheads. We could blow up the world five times over right now. Why do we need to make more of this stuff? I’m baffled.”
Kongar-ol Ondar, the Tuvan throat singer who attended one of FZ’s 1993 music parties and got as close to mainstream culture as any throat singer had before (or since), died aged 51 last July following a brain haemorrhage. Frank’s fondness for and adoption of Tuvan styles in his later work is something that makes his untimely passing all the more upsetting — Dio Fa sets a pretty high bar for fusing the unusual with the unusual, and we are left only to imagine the possibilities.
In tribute to Ondar, the ZFT posted a Synclavier piece featuring his vocals to the ‘of consequence’ section of Zappa.com. There’s not much to go on aside from a hint dropped by the Idiot Bastard, but it’s very possible that this piece is from the legendary, unreleased Dance Me Thisalbum, and is likely (at least an excerpt from) ‘Calculus’, a piece executed with Synclavier software created by Todd Yvega designed to follow the Tuvan’s no-beat ‘free time’ rhythms.
A helpful person has uploaded the piece to YouTube, and it’s embedded below. Now if the ZFT could prioritise Dance Me This and The Rage and TheFury for release ahead of all the Roxy business (which has been going on for decades anyway), that’d make for a great 2014. Arf!
Between my recent purchase of the BB Preamp, and the NAMM 2012 show yielding a deluge of YouTube clips of new and wonderful gear, I’ve fallen into a pedal craze. Over the past couple of weeks I’ve spent hours and hours on YouTube binges, checking out some cool and crazy stuff. And it was on one of these binges that I discovered the TWA Triskelion, which I am now absolutely dying to try out.
Last time I was shopping in Denmark Street, I asked the staff in a exclusively-FX store about a semi-mythical piece of kit from ’70s which was a favourite of FZ – the Systech Harmonic Energizer. (Also, the pedal with the coolest name ever.) The guy in the store hadn’t heard of it, sadly. I wasn’t surprised particularly – the odds of him having heard of it were pretty slim, and the odds of him having one in stock were way slimmer still. But hey, it’s always worth asking, right?
So, as you might imagine, when I discovered the TWA Triskelion I was pretty excited. This is a 21st-century, full-fat, beefed-up take on the original Systech designs from the ’70s – a crazy, sweepable parametric EQ with global- and frequency-boost controls. As it transpires, Dweezil runs three (!!!) of these pedals in his rig, specifically for Po-jama People, but also for adding some honk to other solos. Well, it retails for $350 and isn’t exactly the most versatile…or should I say broadly applicable of pedals, but this is what I’ve been cocking a Cry Baby to emulate since forever.
Firmly on the shopping list. Although I hate the LEDs.
Here’s some clips from YouTube of the Triskelion in action. The first couple demo some the pedal on its own and with an expression pedal, and the third features the Dweez talking about and playing the pedal.
This comes via Andrew Greenaway on the Twitter and is the work of Carl King & others on YouTube.
Certainly a wonderful and very creative tribute, and the audio captures Frank at his best; I don’t think there’s any way you would contest a solid block of argument like this. Really fantastic visuals (and a great score).
I originally intended yesterday’s post to be a collection of a few Zappa web links, but instead ended up writing about Frank’s lifelong commitment to technology and great business practice. As promised, here’s the list I originally promised!
i: The Official Channels
zappa.com is the official source of Zappa news, new releases and home of the Barfko-Swill online store. The best part of the site is probably the ‘GZ Sez’ page, where Gail responds to fan questions, which are invariably of the ‘when is XYZ being released from the vault?’ variety.
Dweezil is right at the centre of the Zappaverse these days, leading as he does the incomparably brilliant Zappa Plays Zappa tour. His own website, Dweezil Zappa World, has a regularly updated blog and info about the Dweez’s various projects. He also uses it to give guitar lessons and sell old gear occasionally as well.
ii: Encyclopaedia Zappa
Frank’s fans are very dedicated and curious by nature, and there are many great resources online covering even the most excruciating minutiae – AKA the most interesting bits. Saint Alphonzo’s Pancake Homepage and Wiki/Jawaka are my favourite of the online Zappapedias.
iii: …the Paraphernalia of it All
If the nearly 100 official Zappa catalog releases aren’t enough to satisfy your appetite for FZ content, you’re not alone. The Zappa bootleg community was one of the most dedicated and comprehensive unofficial organisations during Frank’s touring years, and its embrace of the internet has made it even stronger and more accessible.
There is a massive collection (50+) of concert bootlegs available for download at QualityBootz, however my favourite Zappa file sharing community is definitely Zappateers, who’s members have made available some of the most unusual (mid-1980s Norwegian local press conference-unusual) material for download.
(If you join Zappateers, please seed, seed, seed – it’s a fantastic resource.)
iv: Instant Extraterrestrial Gratification
YouTube has a couple of great pages available dedicated to vintage/rare/hilarious/brilliant Zappa material. The ‘reldditmot‘ and ‘YourArf‘ channels are packed with good stuff, with all the convenience of YouTube and 0% skateboarding dog-content.
During his lifetime, Frank Zappa was an inspirational free thinker, a compelling speaker and, often flying right in the face of the norm, held absolute conviction in his beliefs. For me, he was also the greatest and most inventive composer and guitar player to grace the planet.
Business Nous, Technology Vision
In addition to those bitchen’ factoids, Frank is also a business and technology hero of mine, and it’s maybe not so widely known how switched on to these fields he was throughout his career.
From the very earliest days of his career, Frank was determined to maintain creative and business control of his own product – by 1969, he headed a pair of record labels (Bizarre/Straight), releasing his own solo & Mothers of Invention material as well as other artists, including Alice Cooper, Tim Buckley and Captain Beefheart. In the mid-late 1970s, Frank demonstrated his absolute commitment to control, entering a legal spat with Warner Bros. records after they refused to distribute the ‘Läther’ four-LP box, instead chopping it into four separate album releases. He was vindicated in court, winning back the rights to all of his MGM & Warner Bros. recordings. All of his releases post-1979 appeared on his own Barking Pumpkin or Zappa Records labels.
After years of complacency, poor management, lack of innovation and an inability (or unwillingness) to explore new business models, many major record labels are on their knees today, a direct result of their ignorance of digital distribution – a concept invented by Frank way back in 1983. In fact, Frank’s idea to distribute music over a phone or cable connection was designed specifically to save money on distribution and curtail piracy. Yes, not only did Frank predict Napster, LimeWire et al, but he also came up with iTunes as a means to prevent the recording industry meltdown we’re now in the midst of.
Frank’s embrace of the latest technology began before the days of the Mothers of Invention – even in the early 60s he worked with a 5-track multitrack recording system, when such a setup was very high technology indeed and restricted to only the most expensive recording studios. In the 1980s, he began creating music using the New England Digital Synclavier digital audio workstation, largely obviating the human performers he had relied on for the rest of his career. As the Synclavier’s technology progressed, Frank stayed at the cutting edge – adding disk drives to store samples and more and more memory for multitracking. Compare the (Grammy award winning!) Jazz From Hell album with the final masterpiece, Civilization Phaze III, to hear the difference between the cutting edge FM voices of 1986 and the most sophisticated wavetable synthesis available in 1993. Frank’s Synclavier in its ultimate form was specced with 640MB of sample RAM. (In 1993, my desktop was running Windows 3.1 on a 486 with 4MB of RAM.)
FZ Online, 2011
Even in his absence, Frank’s following today is stronger than ever, thanks greatly to the dedicated community of fans using the web to share, enjoy and spread the word. Tomorrow, I’ll share my favourite Zappa-centric corners of the web, but for now, Easy Meat.