KPFM-FM Radio Interview, 84/5
"Charles Amirkhanian interviews Frank Zappa in anticipation of his appearance on Speaking Of Music at the Exploratorium. Zappa discusses his digital re-mastering of his album "Lumpy Gravy" and other early works. The musical selections played during this program are not included in this recording.
This audio is part of the collection: Other Minds Archive
Charles Amirkhanian: Welcome to our program with Frank Zappa, who is visiting the Bay Area for performances with the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra directed by Jean-Louis LeRoux on Saturday evening and also tonight, and, ah, they gonna be doing Dupree's Paradise along with the program of other classical music at the Herbst Theatre, then on Sunday, the main event, of course, Speaking Of Music, with Frank Zappa at the The Exploratorium's program at the Palace Of Fine Arts at 8 pm.
Frank's gonna be presenting a variety of recent music, all in digital sound on a special playback system made by John Meyer's Sound Lab, and the program begins with excerpts from Lumpy Gravy, remastered in digital sound, soon to be re-released in – as I understand – in a box set of records from the old days, and then there'll be excerpts from his classical pieces, works for Synclavier and orchestrations of music by his name-sake from the 18th century, Francesco Zappa, who flourished in the 18th century, but who is going to flourish again in San Francisco this Sunday night.
Frank, let's talk a little bit about the program at the The Exploratorium. First of all, because a lot of people are anxious to know what exactly you're planning for the evening. Ah, how did you arrive at this selection of things? There is such a variety.
FZ: Well, that's the point, a lot of people don't know what kind of variety is available. But, ah, I think that they'll get a good whiff of that on Sunday ... and also it's sequenced to ... ah ... give people some kind of insight into how the writing for instruments other than guitar, bass and drums has progressed since the days of Lumpy Gravy ... and ... ah ... there's a lot of surprises in it, and ... should be fun to listen to. I mean, I've listened to the tapes right through just to check it out to make sure they was ok, and so ... interesting program.
CA: I walked up to the ticket office where they're selling tickets the other day in Union Square and a guy said, "Oh yeah, well, he's not playing anything, it's just a lecture."
FZ: He's so entirely too incorrect!
CA: [laughs] Yeah, but, it was mind-blowing, that ... ah ... I, ah tried to straighten the young man out and then he bought a ticket so I ... I think, he was convinced. I hope other people will be out there, because this is sort of a special opportunity to hear pieces in a ... really incredible setting, because of the sound system you've been working with. Now, as I understand, you've been recording all of the orchestral things on 24-track-digital, which is sort of new ...
FZ: Yeah, it's new, and ... ah ... we're one of the first people to ... or first companies to attempt that, and I think the sound is ... excellent.
CA: Now, tell me a little bit about the ... ah ... Lumpy Gravy remix. This album, it seems to me, is sort of seminal in a lot of ways, because it has the kind of tape slicing and collaging that ... ah ... Musique concrète and serious composers were doing, but it's done in a ... wacky way, which later was imitated by a lot of composers in the serious music field as well as ... ah ...the Rock field. And now, that everybody in New Wave and Punk music is doing really ah ... outstuff, this seems to me to be one of the key early pieces in this genre ...
FZ: Yeah, I think it was probably the first of the outside Rock 'n' Roll albums, and has a special place in the repertoire because of that, hrm, it's one of my favorite albums, on a conceptional level. I don't think that it turned out very well musically, because there wasn't enough time to perfect the orchestral performances that were in there and all the other stuff, and it was all done with very crude equipment. It was recorded in 1966 and it was a 4-track recording ...
CA: 4-track, aw ...
FZ: Yeah. It was recorded at ah ... the orchestra was recorded in Capitol Records Studio A, and the splicing and, ... ah ... location of all the little pieces of found objects that are glued together to make the stuff in between took about thirteen months. And that was all done on a ... a Roberts, in ... my house [laughs], and then the whole thing was put together and mastered with whatever they thought was the finest stuff of the day, which by today-standards wasn't very good.
And that's one the reasons why we've gone back and done a digital re-tweezement on it, to equalize it and ... ah ... clean up some of the things that can be cleaned up with digital technology, so that on all the selections in this first box set that's being released, if you have original albums, it's a drastic improvement over the originals, and a lot of people of ... ah ... written in end, sayin', "where can they get another copy of Freak Out!, mine's worn out", well they, you'll be able to get a new copy of Freak Out!, Absolutely Free, Lumpy Gravy, We're Only In It For Money and Ruben And The Jets plus the Mystery Disc, that has little pieces of continuity and stuff that was left out o'those albums and other things that date from before Freak Out! included in that package. And that's set for release within the next couple o'months.
CA: Did you ... did ...
FZ: ... and, this excerpt that we're gonna play, is part of the first that you'll be able to hear from that ...
CA: Did you actually record anything in Lumpy Gravy or is it just ...
FZ: No, ah ... nothin' is been re-recorded, ah ... there are been two things added to the orchestral stuff, ah ... that is a brand new set o'drums and a brand new electric bass, playing the same parts that were originally written into the scores but not too legible on the original tapes. Basically it's the same, same piece. It's just, we've improved the echo on it, we've improved the high frequency clarity and tried to suppress the tape noise were it was possible.
CA: So, people who come out Sunday night will be able to get a preview of the new, new ... ah ... remastering of the album. That's gonna be great. What about the other albums? Did you do significant work on them as well?
FZ: On ... hrm ... Freak Out! the only thing we did was take the original two-track mixes, re-equalize them and change some of the echo that was on there. Same thing on Absolutely Free. On We're Only In It For The Money it was completely remixed from the original 8-track masters, because the 2-track masters were pretty much destroyed by being stored badly. And in the case of that album, all of the drum set parts and all of the bass parts were replaced. And the same thing was true on Ruben & The Jets, drums and bass replaced.
CA: What can you do to store a tape badly like that?
FZ: I don't know how they did it, but the condition of the tape was such that the off-side had fallen off and you could see through the tape and ... ah ... when you played it, you could tell that there used to be something on there but it sure didn't sound good, and there's just no way to retrieve it so we had to go back at great expense and great time ... ah ... delay to ... ah ... re-record the rhythm tracks and the complete remix on the original masters, and if you ever heard the We're Only In It For The Money album, that too is collaged together, there's lots of little bits and pieces, and they had to be located from the four corners of the world, re-spliced, re-sequenced, hrm, and it was a BIG job.
And in the case of Ruben & The Jets there was one master that was completely gone, no, we couldn't find it ... a little background here: I ... because of some law suits, that I was involved in, I now have the rights to all these master recordings and that's one of the reasons why I'm re-releasing 'em. But when the masters were returned to me, in the case of the Ruben & The Jets album, the song Stuff Up The Cracks was missing. I couldn't find it anywhere, so we had to ... just do a ... ah ... re-spiffing on the two-track mix o'that. So ... everything else on that album has been really cleaned up though ...
CA: It's hard to think of even attempting to put some of the things back together, I mean, it's unbelievable.
FZ: Well, see, the problem is, that I know what they are and I know where they are, roughly, in the ... this mountain of tape, that I got stored in this vault of my house. But, ah, to find it, to go through the hours and hours of tape to find these little pieces was unbelievable work. You, just when you thought you had all the pieces to do a section, you knew there was something else missing and you had to go diving back in there, because there was little things like two seconds long, and they're not labelled on the box, it just doesn't say "Eighteenth Cut of the Two-Seconds Duration in Segment Nine from Side Two", it has some other weird name on it or it's not named at all, you just happened in order what might have been the last note of some improvisation that was on some other obscure reel tape, and you gotta go find it, chop it up ...
CA: Working in the studio is so different from putting everything down on paper and that's one of the things that happen when you're in the studio: you grab something off of a ... from a reel tape, put it into a mix, and then finding it later is a real chore ...
CA: I could never recreate some of the things I've tryin' to do that way. It's ... Adolf (?) or that even I gave it a shot. Ahm,
FZ: Well, that's because I respect the people in the audience who like this kind of music and I'm in, let's face it, I need all the friends I can get. So, if you can't do a good job for them, then who else are gonna do it for 'em.
CA: We're talking with Frank Zappa, who is appearing at the Exploratorium Sunday night at 8 pm, for tickets you can go to the Stubs Box Office in Union Square or there'll be a few tickets on sale at the door if you get there at ... ah ... let's say seven. ... Next due the tickets go on sale is on six thirty. This is one of the few times, that I know, that, if you've talked in front of an audience at all, you do this ... have you done this before?
FZ: Very seldom. The most recent event was the thing that I did at the American Society of University Composers in Columbus, Ohio, which is about five weeks ago. And I'll be making some references to that appearance. And ... ah ... maybe even read some excerpts from the speech that I gave there, because it has ... ah ... some funny lines in it that even people in San Francisco could ... identify with.
CA: Ha! As I understand that you're ... couple o'years you dropped touring with a band and ... and now ... ah ... you're dropping the classical music world and going back to touring. What happened?
FZ: Well, I spent two years in the classical music world so-called, ah ... the last two years, and I met a bunch of people that I thought were really not too pleasant, and experienced some things that I thought were ... ahm ... really not too classical and not too evolved either, in fact pretty much retarded compared to the way things are in the ... ah ... crass and ignorant world of Rock 'n' Roll. I found many things in the serious music world to be even more depressing than that. And I'd already feel at home in the world of so-called serious music and the denizens that inhabit that, it's not the kind of a ... erm ... real might feel comfortable functioning in so ... after these events here on the Bay Area, which includes the stuff that's gonna happen in June, that's about it. I have no plans to ever write another piece of orchestral music in my life, and ... ah ... I have had it, that's it.
CA: The orchestra is not particularly the ... ah ... modern instrument anyway and I think ...
FZ: Well, it could be, I mean, anything can be a modern instrument if you do whatever you want with it.
CA: I suppose when I'm thinking of the ... the evolution of the form of the orchestra and why it came about that it has certain instrument in it that it excludes other ones.
FZ: Well, I don't exclude them when I write. For instance the pieces that they're playing at the Cellar Box Auditorium in June, one of the pieces that's getting world premiere has seven saxophones plus some electric instruments built into it, there's no reason why you can't have any instruments that you want in an orchestra. For my taste an orchestra is any group of instruments that you wanna stick together. But, ah ... the problems of writing for an orchestra, doing business with orchestra managements, doing business with ... ah ... ahm ... foundations, and doing business with ... ah ... the unions and other abstractions on the periphery of the serious music world are not ... it's not somehing that I find ... ah ... too worth while. I told some other people in Los Angeles, I think it's probably gotta be my motto, that modern music is a sick puppy, and we might as well let nature take it's course. Americans don't want it! And to fight to ... ahm ... keep presenting it and sticking it their face is a waste o'time! They're not willing to support it, the same way they're not willing to put up a little extra money to better prisons or more of them. You know, Americans has strange priorities and ... ah ...
CA: Is your ... ah ... is your other music one of their priorites, or ...?
FZ: Oh, no, not necessarily. But at least, if I'm doing Rock 'n' Roll music, I know, that ... at the end of the day I have a little chance to break even or even make a profit from spending those hours doing that kind of work. And if I'm writing music for orchestra there is no way I can ... ah ... even break even on it. It's impossible! The economics are ... ah ... they're Science Fiction.
CA: You haven't exactly said, what's bothered you about the classical music world. Is it in part that people are so ... ah ... used to doing things for almost no money with regard to composers that ... ah ... they want any of rehearsal money and comission money?
FZ: Well, comission money may be there, but I mean, if somebody comissions you to write a piece, how ... how can I possible compensate you for what it really costs to write a piece of music? It takes weeks, months, sometimes years to write a piece of music, how can somebody pay you enough in a world where they don't care, where they wanted to spend enough money to have a good rehearsal of the piece, to pay the composer?
You know, when people go out to raise money for modern music events, they're worried about having enough money to rent the hall, pay the stage hands and pay the musicians and the last guy on the list is the composer. And so, y'know, if you don't want composers to ... ah ... be alive or ... to be alive to write music, then don't, you know!
I'm not gonna subject myself to that kind of stupidity and I think that, honestly, this is one of the things that I told the people at the American University Composers ... ah ... thing, just stop doing it! Stop! It's useless, it's over! This is the Dark Ages! Forget it! Why bother to write music?! Americans do not want it, they won't pay to support it, and why should you suffer?! Go get a real esttate license and get serious.
CA: I think it's good advice for all of us in the Arts of ... [laughs]
FZ: Yeah, the only people who make out in the Arts are the stage hands, because Unions guarantee they're gonna get paid. Their Union is so much stronger than the musician Union, they can get residuals from foreign broadcasts of video tapes of music recorded in the US, where sometimes the musicians don't.
CA: Composers don't even have a Union in the US.
FZ: That's, that's right! And the other thing that pointed out in my speech was, that even though composers are musicians and often belong to the Musicians Union, the only value that the Musicians Union see, is to having a composer being alive on the planet is, it makes worth for the copyists, who are members of the Union. There's no special effort put out on the part of the Union to do anything to help composers. They're ... they're pretty much the scum of the earth.
And, in the speech that I gave in Ohio, I said, 'You don't believe you're the scum of the earth? Go to a bank and try to get a loan!' Y'know? I mean, there's only one thing worse to tell a banker when you get a loan, and that is tellin' you're a painter. You're just not gonna get it! [both laughing]
CA: Well, on the other hand, ah ... most composers don't plan to make a living being a composer.
FZ: Well, why should they have to do that? I think that if you do something which I believe is valuable to the society which is to provide them with musical entertainment of one form or another, why should you have to have a part time job to support that habit? Why should that be inflicted on you?
CA: Well, if you wanna do it badly enough, I guess that's your choice, even ... unless you write something that millions of Americans want to pay for, ah?
FZ: Well, then there's always the Jingle business ...
FZ: ... or STAR WARS!
CA: [laughs] We're talking with Frank Zappa, and, ah, it's time for some music. I don't know what we ... have here, we have lots of stuff.
FZ: Play 'em The Jazz Discharge Party Hats. No, no, by the way, come up too fast ...
CA: That's ok, it's about that ... that time in the morning when it's good to recharge, so let's discharge. This is from which album?
FZ: Now, if you'll ... you wanna to ... just ... wake them up really hard first?
CA: Yeah, as hard as possible.
FZ: Oh, ok, play something loud and obnoxious like We Are Not Alone. That's from the Man From Utopia album.
CA: You just heard We Are Not Alone from the Man From Utopia album, Frank Zappa's music, and Frank's with us here, KPFA, to introduce some of his recordings and also talk about recent activities and upcoming events as such as tonight's concert at the Herbst Theatre, Jean-Louis LeRoux conducting his Dupree's Paradise and other works and then ... ah ... that's repeated on Saturday night.
Sunday night he's at the Speaking Of Music series at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre at 8 pm, and ... it's gonna be interesting. Lots of recordings of recent pieces, some for Synclavier, others from the old albums and some from the London Symphony sessions. And also we're gonna hear something which Pierre Boulez recently conducted in Paris, hn?
FZ: That's right, you'nna hear Naval Aviation In Art, this is from an album, that's gonna be released on Angel in the United States.
CA: Is that your first album then for another label in long time ...
FZ: Yes, it wouldn't have been an album for another label if ... problems hadn't arisen with CBS, who'd originally planned to record the stuff and I would 've released it on Barking Pumpkin through CBS, but what happened was, at the last minute EMI saved the day and they came in, paid for the recording sessions and so they have the rights to release it and on EMI outside the US and on Angel inside the US.
CA: So Barking Pumpkin's not ... ah ... the records are no longer distributed through CBS?
FZ: No. Only this Boulez album is going to be on ... on Angel and all the rest of the Barking Pumpkin product which is about to be released will go out through MCA.
CA: How, how is it seen at now, is it all mail order from your own business or ...
FZ: 's right! It's mail order now.
CA: Yeah. Ahm, weren't you, ah ...
FZ: We need some more music.
CA: All right, let's see, what do we have?
FZ: Now play 'em The Jazz Discharge Party Hats
CA: Those were The Jazz Discharge Party Hats, Frank Zappa's music, on Barking Pumpkin, The Man From Utopia album. And, ah ... I didn't hear it, did you? [both laughing]
FZ: One by ###
CA: How y'doing this, 'coz you can't discuss the music [laughs] unless you had to memorize ..., I guess you do
FZ: Well, I ... yeah I do, ... I know exactly how it goes.
CA: Who did the cover for this album? This is really bizarre ...
FZ: He's a great guy, he's an Italian, and, ahm ...
FZ: This is based on a character, that he has had in an Italian magazine and has also appeared in Heavy Metal here in the United States, the guy's name is RanXerox, he's a robot, and ... ah ... I had him ... ah ... changed the face around a little bit and put me on there, ordinarily RanXerox's skin is green, he did me a favor and made a kinder teint on this ...
CA: [laughs] So this is an extra character?
FZ: Yeah, it's ... yeah ...
CA: That pretty is other than ... I didn't know that. Well, a lot o' great people on this album. Who is ... who is playing in this last cut?
FZ: On Jazz Discharge Party Hats, that's been Colaiuta on drums and Arthur Barrow on bass, Tommy Mars on keyboards , Steve Vai on guitar doubling the vocal line.
CA: Are any of the gentlemen gonna be touring with you when you start up again in July? ... Only your crew ...
FZ: No. The band in ... ah ... that we're taking out for the rest of this year is Chad Wackerman on drums, Scott Thunes on bass, Ray White on guitar and vocals, Ike Willis on vocals, Napoleon Murphy Brock on sax and vocals, Bobby Martin on keyboards and vocals. And we're still auditioning for another keyboard vocalist. The rehearsals start on monday.
CA: Really, right after ...
FZ: Yeah, so if, y'know, you got somebody out there who can ... ah ... play ... ah ... very proficient ... ah ... synthesizer and keyboards, and also happens to be able to sing like Frankie Valli ...
CA: High? [laughs]
FZ: Yeah, right, we need ... 'coz everybody else is singing in low, we need some more in the high vocal department. Tell 'em t' call your ... ah ... station and I'll arrange for an audition if he's really competent.
CA: All right, we'll do that. The number is area 415–848 67 67, and ask to speak to the general manager David Selneker (?). Ah, [laughing] I believe I'm so excited, I don't wanna have a lot of ...
FZ: Yeah, that's good, wake up, David.
CA: [laughing] Ah, we gone listen next to ... ah ... some things from the Drowning Witch album, the London Symphony recorded Envelopes, a piece of yours. It took 'em 4 minutes and 11 seconds, but your band plays it in 2'44. What happened here?
FZ: Well, y'know, the orchestra aside from being kind of this ... ah ... arche-dinosaur of an invention also tends to ponder along on things that Rock 'n' Roll bands can play a lot crisper and faster. And that was ... about as fast as we could get the LSO to play this particular piece. So, here's the LSO version of it and when that's over we just say we'd right into the Rock 'n' Roll version from the Drowning Witch" album.
CA: You just heard three works by Frank Zappa, the last Teen-age Prostitute from the Drowning Witch album, before that Envelopes and then we began with Kent Nagano conducting the London Symphony Orchestra at top speed playing Envelopes ...
FZ: Ripping along in 4 minutes and 11 seconds ...
CA: Ah, really amazing music. It was Envelopes, composed some times ago? Or is it ...
FZ: Envelopes was written in 1968 or '69 and it was originally ... we tried to record it with that band with Mark and Howard and George Duke and there ... there are still tapes from that recording session that had never been released, because they couldn't play it right. – So finally we have at least some version of it on tape.
There is another difference between the LSO-version and the ... ah ... Rock 'n' Roll-version. The LSO-version has completely different harmony for the melody line, which is something that you can do when you got a hundred and eleven guys sitting around: You can do strange harmony. A little bit different when you have an 8-piece band.
CA: The ... ah ... I recently heard a performance here in San Francisco of Amériques of Varese, who is one of the people you referred to in some of your writings as an influence and ... it was amazing to hear all those massed instruments, although – with all the to-do about it – it was hard to pick out the unusual wind instruments and so forth ...
FZ: That's a matter of the mix though ... ordinary thing loss (?)
CA: Well, probably the hall ... I was sitting in the orchestera section in Davy's hall, and just ... everything were right over my head whereas people on the balcony could really differentiate the sound a lot better, but in comparing that piece to Arcana, which is written years later, it seemed like Arcana was so much more developed and so much more exciting to me ... ahm ... but Varese really had a wonderful idea with these sound clusters sort of placed against one another ... and ... ah ...
FZ: Mhm ...
CA: ... I wonder if that's something that you work with, you get a sort of conglomerate of ... of ah ... timbre and ... melodic line going and then you place it against another one. Your's seems to be more modular in approach so that you have one discrete thing happen and then another thing follows and then you may repeat different items, but you don't seem to overlap them.
FZ: Well, most of what I write is ... ah ... for small ensembles of electric instuments and too much overlapping causes ... amplified instruments tend to become very muddy when they're playing things that are not either unison or some kind of harmony that's related to the rest of the ... rest of the thing. And I try to avoid that for the stuff I write for the band. As far as the orchestral stuff goes ... just about anything can happen, and the thing that ... kind o' holds me back is, the experiences I 've had working with orchestras, is this that ... they can't count. They really can't. They have ... orchestras 're having uncredibly lousy rhythm, just about any ... ah ... beginner's accordion band, like at the Milton Man Accordion Studio, probably has better rhythm than the London Symphony Orchestra. And it's kind of depressing, so I like to write things that have interesting rhythm, but people in orchestras are usually so tired and they can't really just be spending their time counting these things out, they're used to playin' those eighth-notes and quarter-notes and stuff or maybe they're whizzing along with the Flight of the Bumblebee every once in a while but they ... they don't like sevenths and thirteenths and things like that, especially when you say the entire second violin section will now play thirteen over seven, in harmony, it ... that doesn't work!
FZ: It looks good on paper, but they ... they don't do it right. And so, but you can get a Rock 'n' Roll band to do it so long as they're all rehearsed properly and they'll take their time to figure it out 'n make it work right. And we 've been doin' stuff like that on the road for years, that's why it's such a shock to come in contact with so-called incredibly professional musicians who have world-wide reputations who can't do it. Y'know, that's depressing.
CA: No, it's probably because the demands haven't been made on them because the conductors don't play the music, because the boards won't let them have concerts which half the hall is filled for three performances, I don't now what it is ...
FZ: Well ...
CA: ... but it seems to me that if ... ah ...
FZ: ... it's humanly possible to do ...
CA: ... surely ...
FZ: ... but it's just a matter of being lazy about it and it's a great ... ah ... credit to Kent Nagano that he will take the time and try and play something this difficult. And ... ah ...
CA: And make it clear and give it a profile, yeah, that's hard, that's not so easy. Ahm, but once again, if you hadn't made the demands on your musicians they wouldn't have done it. It has to be ... to come from the top somewhere.
FZ: Yeah, but see, it not happens when you make demands like that on a musician. Sometimes you'll get them to play it and the rest of the time they wind up doing interviews saying I'm being too hard on them. You know, saying that I'm such a hard test master. And it's only because you're lazy. If they weren't lazy, then they would say, what a great challenge, nobody's ever played this before. Let's go do it. BUT NOOO!!
CA: [silently laughing] Have you ever written pieces that were so impossible for the group to do, that you just dropped them?
FZ: Oh yeah. But see, that they'll ... what constitutes an impossibility for this year's band may be a breeze for next year's band. You can only play music of a difficulty level that is ... ahm ... it's related to the ... ah ... skills of the people who are in the band and you can always get the right guys to be in the band.
I know there are mutants out there who can play and sing all the things that I write but finding them is a big problem, you kow, I found quite a few but ... I haven't found 'em all yet, that's for sure.
CA: You know, I've really liked to know, the text things that you ... in these ### and these pieces they are ... the material you take mostly probably from real life or slight distortions of it ... ahm ... I wonder how you first did that and was there anything you look to as a predecessor? ... when verses writing or any ...
FZ: In Lumpy Gravy you mean?
CA: Yeah, in Lumpy Gravy for example. Is that the first time you used the ... ah ...
FZ: Those kind of talking things?
FZ: Oh that's the beginning of it. Well, it's not. It's the first time it was ever on a record, I'd been doing that since about ... ah, hrm ... I guess 1962. Seriously editing tape and putting little things together, and what I used to do was ... ah ... and why people alw... I mean, I just I'd meet just some strange ... geek someplace and say, 'come over and tell me your life story', you know and I had this really horrible Pentron tape recorder with a green blinking eye, y'know, some of you may know what that thing is, they definitely ...
CA: I remember the green eyes, but they weren't ... ah ... there wasn't able... [laughs] ...
FZ: Webcorse had 'em too. The Pentron had this big horrible knob on it, they went crank like that and maybe others huge clanking noises when you turned it on, it was like this ... big, ah ... steel trap closing in on, that was the mechanism for the machine. There was a worse machine you could use, by the way, it was the Wilcox Gay. And the erase-head on the Wilcox Gay was roughly the equivalent of the magnets on the bottom of a Scotty Dog (?), you know this little things that repell each other on the table? It was something like that came in with a lever and ... sat near the tape as it went by, it was really mongoloid.
Using that kind of equipment I would ... record people just telling me stuff about their lives and they're always happy to do it and I had hours and hours and hours of tape to choose from ...
CA: Well, you saying then is, that the tape recorder was in itself an influence, a ... it gave you the idea to ...
FZ: Oh, it was a musical instrument.
CA: Yeah, exactly. You're talking about your collage work with tape recorders ...
FZ: Yeah. On the Mystery Disc, that's gonna be included in the first ... ah ... seven record box set of those Old Masters, there is a ... there's an example of one of my first collages based on material recorded the night that I took over occupancy at Studio Z, my first recording studio. We had a party there with a bunch of ... ah ... strange people including Captain Beefheart and this guy named Bob Narciso, who is doing Pachuco comedy about ten years before Cheech & Chong, and I chopped all this conversation up and there's a part about three minutes segment of that in there.
CA: And that was from '62 or something?
FZ: Yeah, it's about '62.
CA: Our guest on the program is Frank Zappa and you just heard a little excerpt from the classic album Lumpy Gravy in which a lot of tape collage techniques were used. I must say, for that date that sounds very sophisticated to me.
FZ: Well, it's pretty sophisticated, yeah ... [laughs]
CA: There's some stuff going on that I know I couldn't do with my stuff that I had those days, I ... it seems like you were taking some of the ... ah ... tape sounds of the voices and the ... well I guess you've speed change in them and doing some other blending with it, it sounded a little bit more ... polished, than a lot of similar work that composers I knew were doing, so ...
FZ: Well, get a good razor blade and a Roberts tape recorder and get in there and start choppin' it up. I'd ... I learned how to edit it at Three and Three Quarters(?). And if you can hit ... if you could cut dialog at Three and Three Quarters and make it sound seemless you can edit 8-mm movies.
CA: [laughs] Which you did, I'm sure. Ahm, if I do, I might do once again with Frank Zappa's appearing at the Speeking Of Music series at the Exploratorium, actually the Palace of Fine Arts theatre next door. You can catch that Sunday night at 8 o'clock and he's gonna be playing some incredible tapes, ten or so pieces of various kinds from his symphonic music to his rock music, and also talking about his work, and Calvin Ahlgren is gonna join us, he's gonna read The Life of Francesco, which is about Francesco Zappa, who is the real 18th century name-sake of our guest this program. Francesco Zappa wrote string trios and lived the life of an obscure Italian composer and Frank Zappa's written a marvelous play about it, which Calvin Ahlgren is going to read, so it's part of the program on Sunday night. Tickets available at the Stubs Box Office on Union Square or you can get them at the door, tickets go on sale at 6:30 Sunday night. Be early or don't be there at all, because there won't be any tickets left.
We gonna continue with a couple of selections from the Man From Utopia album and if you haven't seen the drawing on the cover, it's worth that just for the price of the album to get the album cover, but the music is also exciting. And I, you know, you get the idea from looking at the cover that it might have been a live album. It wasn't recorded live ...
FZ: No, what the cover is commemorating, is the riot in Palermo.
CA: Oh, really ...
FZ: ... and this sign here that says "3-1 VAFFUNCULO" ...
CA: Yeah, what was that?
FZ: Hrm, well that's ... ahm ... the Italians won the World Soccer Cup against I think it was Germany, so 3-1 was the score, and we all know what the other word means ("Vaffunculo" means "Fuck you" in slang Italian; Ed.)...
FZ: ... and so there were people with signs like that all over Italy during the time that we were playing there.
CA: It's a big sport. But not in America. Well ... [laughs]
FZ: Thank God. Because if you could see what it's done to Italy, y'know, when they won it might as well have World War III there, they went crazy. We were in Rome the night they won.
FZ: And from ten o'clock at night till five o'clock in the morning it was the loudest noise, the loudest most continous noise I've ever heard in my life. Unbelievable.
CA: Anybody taped it?
FZ: I taped it.
CA: Did you?
FZ: Yeah, it's ... I m... it's ugly, it's unbelievably ugly and it's ... y'know, and it goes on and on and on and it's like ... a whole city with all these ancient monuments right all the history of Rome, right ... and it's full of people like three at a time on a Vespa, all banging on pots and blowing horns and just screaming and driving 'round in circles in the street just because their football team beat Germany.
CA: Happened here once, when we won the Super Bowl,'81, yeah ...
FZ: ...(?) is the international language!
CA: [laughs] But, ah, what was even more amazing was, when Italy ..., I was there in '72 during election and people would run out of espresso bars with their coffee in their hands and bang on little Fiats, yelling at people who all had bull horns who were shouting out election slogans and that was colossal for me.
FZ: Yeah ... ah, that's great!
CA: I'd never seen that before.
FZ: I made some great tapes when I was in Italy, when I was in Sicily they were playin', they're doing the feast of Saint Cecilia, or whatever the patron saint of Palermo is and ... ahm ... they had all this little boutiques or little shops set up along the road where I saw this dreadful merchandise and each shop had his own record player, playing all different kinds of really ugly music, I mean really depressing, and we're driving down the street in a Volvo, pretty slow, and I just put the microphone out o' the window and this Doppler shift from boutique to boutique with all these ugly things going on was great and also that the conversation in the car and you can pick up little conversations out in the street.
And I got another good tape of a dinner at a restaurant in Milan, where a conversation is being conducted about two girls, who are locked in a bathroom at the hotel.
FZ: It's ... ah ... I don't know what I'm gonna do with these things that they're pretty obscure recordings and they ...
CA: I was gonna ask you, do you ever use that stuff in your ... recordings or ...
FZ: Well, in the ... the stuff that I've been working on recently, I haven't found a good reason to put it in, but I'm building up another collection of found objects and I'm pretty sure that there's gonna be a second installment of a Lumpy Gravy-type album, because from the original Lumpy Gravy there's at least another hour's worth of dialogue of those people inside the piano. The missing elements of that story could be combined with some of these other things to make another real strange record.
CA: Well, have a little music. [laughs]
FZ: Sure, why not.
CA: We're going to listen to a couple of selections from the Barking Pumpkin album, called Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch, which came out in what, '82?
CA: This is the one that had Valley Girl on it, but it also had some other pieces which we're now going to hear, along with Valley Girl, including ... ah ...
CA and FZ: I Come From Nowhere.
FZ: Featuring the voice of Roy Estrada.
CA: Who is Roy Estrada?
FZ: He was bass player in the original Mothers of Invention.
CA: Oh really? That's right, yeah, hah ... is his hair still long or is it, ah ...
FZ: Mmm, medium.
CA: Is it different? Medium?
CA: And then ... ah ... also you got Stucco Homes which is from ... the Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar ...
FZ: The Return Of The Son of Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar.
CA: The third volume, huh. Ahm, I Come From Nowhere, what about that? Is there anything ... you'd say about it ...
FZ: It's, well, I think that people who smile too much are ... dangerous, and that's a song about people who smile too much.
CA: And Stucco Homes, is there any vocals in that?
FZ: No, it's just guitar music. That was recorded ... ah ... with myself and ... ah... Warren Cuccurullo, playin' rhythm and the drums are Vinnie Colaiuta.
CA: This were three pieces from Barking Pumpkin records, Frank Zappa's label. You heard Valley Girl, I Come From Nowhere and Stucco Homes. The first two selections from the album called Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch and the ... ah ... third selection is from the guitar box, Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar, third reord in the set, Return Of The Son of ....
You're listening to KPFA, our guest today is Frank Zappa, who will be speaking Sunday night at the Exploratorium's Speaking Of Music series, and ... ah ... we'll be introducing a selection of digital master tapes, which are going to be incredible to hear. He'll be also talking about his music, and Calvin Ahlgren will be along ... I heard you say, that Kent Nagano is not coming. What's happening?
FZ: I don't think that he can, because ... ah ... tomorrow, er ... Sunday is going to be the first of a full rehearsal of the orchestra. They been doin' it sectionals until now, and it'll the first time the whole orchestra has gotten together to rehearse Sinister Footwear, actually I wish I could be there to check that out, but now, it's a ... I'll be at the Exploratorium but I don't think Kent will, he's goin' to be waving the stick.
CA: The programs to which Frank just referred are going to happen on June 15th and 16th at Zellerbach Auditorium and the Berkely Symphony performs ... ah ... what is it, four pieces, I think, huh?
FZ: They're performing Bob In Dacron/Sad Jane, Mo 'n Herb's Vacation, Sinister Footwear, and Pedro's Dowry, it's a whole evening of orchestral music and dance featuring the enormous ... ah ... puppets ... by John Gilkerson from the San Fransisco Miniature Theatre. These are not puppets that go on your hand, these are puppets that are larger than people and I went over and saw the progress on the stuff today and it's unbelievable, wait until you see the ugliest shoe in the world.
CA: [laughs] Is that ... which piece is that?
FZ: That's from Sinister Foortwear which is a ... it's a ballet about a guy who designs the ugliest shoe in the world and then all the things that happen before you get to wear it. And the shoe has been designed and I just saw like about ... twenty pairs of it, sitting around this place, it's really great.
CA: [laughs] The Mo 'n Herb's Vacation-scenarios are pretty heavy ones, is that actually done to your specifications, ...
FZ: Yes, it is.
CA: So, ah ... you can have the enormous hair-dryers and everything?
FZ: Absolutely. The enormous hair-dryers and the wifes that are imagining themselves and all that stuff, the enormous hair-dryers are 18 feet tall.
CA: 18 feet?!
CA: Well ...
FZ: And, ah ... then those things open up, the women who are sitting under the hair-dryers, they open up and then the wives, as they imagine themselves, come out ... and, ah, it's a lot of strange things you gonna see. In one of the pieces, in Bob In Dacron, there's a bartender, who gets so busy, that he splits in half so that he can wait on two tables and his guts fall out and he's hopping around on one leg – this puppet is operated by two dancers obviously – and he splits in half, he's a beatnik. Splits in half and he goes on with his business.
CA: That's goin' to ... ah ... all be portrayed on June 15th and 16th at Zellerbach Auditorium, I suggest you get tickets for it now. Ah, the Berkeley Symphony is a pretty ambitious organisation and this is no doubt their most ambitious program today, Kent Nagano will be conducting.
It was formerly gonna be a ballet, right? Wasn't it a ballet that gotta ...
FZ: Yeah, there were a number of problems with that, including the problem about having the bartender split in half, but ah ...
CA: Yeah, they're all belly dancers, they're so lurid ... [laughs]
FZ: Yeah, they always fuss about the little stuff. If it ain't one thing it's another.
CA: We're goin' listening to ... ah ... another selection by Frank Zappa. This is called Moggio. And ... it's great title, but what does it mean?
FZ: My daughter Diva, who is 4 years old, has a number of imaginary playmates, well I think they're imaginary, she has ... ah ... one called Moggio, who is her tiny father, the father that sleeps underneath of her pillow. And that's what the song is.
CA: From the album Man From Utopia you've heard Moggio by Frank Zappa, and that album is on Barking Pumpkin Records. Barking Pumpkin is currently available by mail order, is that right? 7720 Sunset Boulevard?
FZ: No, the mail order ... ahm ... adress is a post office box in North Hollywood which I haven't memorized.
CA: You haven't memorized it? Is in on any the albums?
FZ: No ... it's not on those. Because it's only recently since we had this law-suit with CBS, that we've had to do that, but very shortly the albums will be available in stores distributed by MCA. The contracts are being drawn up for that deal right now.
CA: I've noticed that ... ah ... you've got a credit here for droodles, copyright 1953.
FZ: Yeah, the illustration on the cover, yeah.
CA: Oh, is it this old things like on party napkins?
FZ: Right, yeah!
CA: Really, droodles! [laughs]
FZ: Yeah, I remembered that one, that one was my favorite droodle of all time, is that one right there. And, and I went on a search to find Roger Price, the guy who did those things and found out that he lived in the San Fernando Valley and works for a publishing company down there and ... ah ... licensed the right to use that droodle on the cover. That's the original droodle!
CA: My mother used to have a party paper store in Frisno, called the Paper Carousel, and we had napkins of droodles, and ...
FZ: Yeah ...
CA: ... I don't know where the complete collections went, but, the just little lines drawings are very simple, they're magic forms and they represent ... ah ...
FZ: Great concepts!
CA: Great concepts and heavy implications. Ahm, Drowning Witch is the piece we're going to hear next, from the album on the Barking Pumkin called Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A ... ah ... A Droodle, and Frank is at, Zappa's on lead guitar and vocals, here it is.
CA: You just heard The Drowning Witch from an album by Frank Zappa on Barking Pumpkin called Ship Arriving Too Late To Save A Drowning Witch from 1982. And, we have time perhaps to fill in an orchestra piece before we go. How about Pedro's Dowry?
FZ: Ow, how about the Last Movement of Mo 'n Herb's Vacation ...
CA: That's a better idea, 12:56.
FZ: Yeah, that'll go.
CA: Is it banded (?) here, can I find it on a ...
FZ: Yes, it's ...
CA: Terrific. The London Symphonic conducted by Kent Nagano, ahm, this is the longest piece on the album. Does it have the most instruments also?
FZ: Each piece has the same amount of instruments, this is 112, all of them.
CA: 112? That's a big band, huh?
FZ: A big, sluggish, cumbersome, expensive, humorless, brown, boring orchestra.
CA: Now, wait a minute! You said they had a good Australian violinist.
FZ: Yeah, he had a sense of humor, but one ...
CA: Is he ...?
FZ: ... one good Australian violinist does not make a charming ensemble.
CA: By the way, before we hear this. Did you ever get your suit against the Queen of England settled?
FZ: No, I had to stop that, because we went to trial over there, and ... the ...
CA: It was for non-performance of a piece of music, right?
FZ: It was for ... it was breach of contract.
FZ: We were booked into the Albert Hall and because of a complaint lodged by a trumpet player in the orchestra to a matron, who is the booking agent of the Albert Hall, that ... ah ... he felt that the music that they're gonna be playing was gonna be pornographic, she cancelled that booking! Now, you tell me, if there's no words in the piece, where's the pornography if you just got an orchestra sitting on stage?
Well, the name was Penis Dimension, and the man complained. And he was a member of the Salvation Army and one of these th..., y'know, just another religious fanatic. And, so, she locked us out of the hall. And, we sued because it was a breach o' contract. It was a sold-out show, and we lost all this income from the thing. And so I spent about 50.000 Dollars sueing the Crown, because it's this ... The Royal Albert Hall and the final word from the judge was, "You're right, this is not obscene. You're right, they breached the conract. But, it's Royal. So, Yankee, go home!" That was the net result of the whole ...
CA: Really, that's what happened, aw, it's amazing.
CA: Uhm, well, here it is, back to England ...
FZ: Jolly Old England!
FZ: For the Orchestra that gave you Star Wars ...
CA: Is that right? The did that? They did, that's right? [laughs]
FZ: Yes, as a matter of fact there was one girl, this miserable little wretch, sitting in about the 18th row of the violins, that any time the music stops she would play a couple o'bars of Star Wars gladly to herself.
CA: Oh boy!
CA: Well, that put you in your place.
FZ: Yeah, showed me! It was all that showed me what they could really play well!
CA: Thanks a lot for visiting, Frank Zappa. [laughs]
FZ: Okay ...