Everything Is Healing Nicely

Christopher Ekman's Review

Christopher Ekman, "EIHN Review (Long-Winded)," alt.fan.frank-zappa

You know, I'd have expected much more to have been written about EIHN by now. It is, after all, an album for which we've been waiting for years, and the first release in a long time of which nobody had heard a note beforehand. So where's the hoopla? Where's the exultations and the nit-picking? The feuds and recriminations? The blood feuds and the awful vengeance of the relentless Furies? What's happened to us? Can't we feel anymore?

Therefore, I'm trying to fill the void with this long-winded post. Perjaps I shouldn't be pretending to review this yet, since I only got the album yesterday. (I was so eager to hear it that, rather than waiting to hear it for the first time, I took it to the gym with me to listen to on my Walkman. The nearby aerobics class drowned most of it out, but what the hell...) As the notes say, this is the kind of album that grows on you, so take these as first impressions.

Let's start by getting the requisite Barfko-Swill gripe out of the way. The album arrived nearly two weeks late. This wouldn't bother me much—they are a cottage industry, it was the holidays, and for a new FZ album I'd wait as long as I had to. But I ordered it the Monday before Christmas, and the clerk assured me that "we'll process it Tuesday and ship it Wednesday." The ZFT has a bad habit of setting unrealistic deadlines and then staying silent as they pass—remember how they announced EIHN for Halloween '98 and the videos for December '96?—and it's absolutely suicidal business.

Anyhow. The packaging is indeed deluxe. For starters, I think it's proof of the ZFT's devotion to the fans that they tracked down where Johnny Velvet was and put him to work in their design department. The cover art, which is very well painted, has what looks like a cross between FZ and the X-Files' Fluke Boy giving us an extreme close-up of the most scarifying dentition since Uncle Meat. (In contrast to this grimacing rictus, the photo on the inside back cover has Frank displaying the warmest smile I've ever seen on him.)

The photos are striking. The liner notes are friendly, direct, and it's a bit of a relief that they're not overwritten, as FZ liner notes have tended to be lately. (Gail's note ends by praising the EM's ability to "morph itself into other dimensions. This is where you get to see into the future. Will it work? You betcha!" Might this refer to future Zappa projects by the EM, for which this might be considered a warm-up? Let's hope so!)

By the way, I heard some complaints about the sound. Why? True, you have to make some allowances because these are rehearsals, not concerts, but I can't hear anything intrusive.

And now, to the music.

Library Card: This is an inauspicious way to start off the review, but I can't get a grip on this one. There's nothing to be said about the words—the library card text is not too meaty, and the rest is muttered German—and I have no vocabulary with which to describe the improvisation. Except I can't believe Frank's audacity in using, at around 2:15, those little novelty boxes that have tiny speakers or something in them that make cattle sounds when the box is turned upside-down. You know what I'm talking about. Do those things have a name?

Charles Ulrich

I don't know. But if you use one of those followed by a crybaby doll, it's definitely a case of moo waaah.

PWEI

It's actually called a 'cow in a can'—Frank actually used it to describe how he was feeling on the BP answering machine when he was starting to get really sick.

drumzspace

Hey...WOW, thanks for jostling a memory there. I remember that message back around 91 or 92...probably 91 given the cow-in-a-can and the date of EIHN. The message was something like "Hi, this is Frank. Yesterday I felt like this {mooohahhh}, but today I'm feeling like this {meoouuuuuahhhh}. CLICK"

Christopher Ekman

Anyhow, this is totally unclassifiable, and I'll have to leave it at that.

(Note: didn't Zappa say the EM accompanied another reading, of a gruesome German cautionary tale for children? I don't remember where I read that anymore. I was a little surprised to find that it wasn't included.)

This is a Test (Igor): As has been noted here, this is a theme from L'Histoire du Soldat which Zappa repeats, overlaps, transposes, twists, changes the backing for, and generally fiddles with any way he can think of. It's nice and jaunty, and at a minute and a half, it can't wear out its welcome.

It reminds me of a madrigal. Like Nigey said, Frank always had a weakness for the medieval. One person here assumed this dated from the days of the original MOI, and it's a completely understandable mistake—I can imagine this being paired up with, say, Dwarf Nebula.

Jolly Good Fellow: I like the story about the title, but I can't help hearing "you... it had to be you" instead. This is pretty lugubrious, don't you think? It's interesting that both this, a conducted improv, and This is a Test, a through-composed piece, rely in a similar way on recurrences of a main motif. The big finish is really funny.

Roland's Big Event/Strat Vindaloo: We start with a twiddly clarinet solo, delivered with assurance over the that's-not-really-a-raga beat. It's hard to believe, hearing this, that the EM was reluctant to improvise. At about 1:45, we switch to a Shankar/Zappa duel. Don't expect a duel like the one from Packard Goose on Halloween '78, the kind that could make the listener cry blood—this is a lot more reserved, and neither player tries to grab the spotlight. They support each other nicely. Considering that Zappa was very sick and had hardly touched the guitar in 3 years, it's a wonder that he wrung any sound out of it at all...

Master Ringo: "it hurt like hell! but I didn't want the artist to stop."

Once I was able to listen to this without protectively cupping my scrotum, I had myself a thought. This track, and the others like it, could be described in art-speak as "spontaneously collaged musique concrete overlayed with an appropriated and recontextualist text." Tack "and a good beat" to the end of that, and doesn't it sound like something, say, DJ Spooky might be into?

T'Mershi Duween: the unexpected return of the Queen of the Desert is a nice treat. Yes, it gets a little ragged as it goes along, but wotthehell, it is a first reading, and the most troublesome part is in 23 over 24, as the liner notes point out. (You learn something new every day.) What makes it longer than other Duweens is the ending, in which various "objects" are played over a drone with a disco beat.

Nap Time: Jeezus, is this ever mellow! I know, everyone said so—"makes While You Were Out sound like Echidna's Arf," invent your own comparison—but nothing prepared me for this. It does sound very soothing, though I suppose you can't go far wrong given such a spare accompaniment and an instrument that only plays notes from the harmonic series.

This had been reminiscent of something, but I couldn't put my finger on it. Then today, a friend of mine said it reminded him of a record he'd once owned of whale song set to music. I hope that doesn't sound derogatory—I really do think this sounds like music of the deep.

(Say—at 7:17 a female voice pops in and sings a non-English phrase, then promptly disappears. What is that?)

I have the album playing now, and I'd better skip the rest of this track before I doze off at the keyboard...

9/8 Objects: THAT'll wake you up! My runaway favorite thus far. I could listen to this groove all day. My only regret is that Frank didn't live to use this as the foundation for something even more involved. Still, there is a lot going on in this, especially with the metric overlapping. I'd still like to hear somebody else adopt this and play with it some more, like maybe Steve Vai.

Naked City: I am familiar with John Zorn only by his (formidable) reputation, so I have to ask; is the title of this piece a reference to him? Maybe it's due to the sinister noirish riff that opens the piece. At first this is a showcase for the classical guitar, accompanied mostly by outbursts from the full ensemble; as the piece goes on, other instruments get to break out on their own as well. This strikes me as a very successful improvisation.

Whitey (Prototype): Is this the original all-white-keys version? I suppose there isn't any way to know without looking at the score. There isn't much to this other than what I guess you'd call the bassline and some sparse accompaniment, but it's only a minute and gives us a glimpse at the genesis of FZ's ideas.

Amnerika Goes Home: Gorgeous. It took me a moment to get over the fact that it is, necessarily, a smidge less precise than the Synclavier version. But only a moment.

My mother heard this and joked that, without the fidgety accompaniment, the melody could be a hit for Henry Mancini.

None of the Above (Revised and Previsited): I'll admit to being a bit disappointed with this at first, because I was hoping for this to be the whole 4-movement None of the Above suite. Instead we get another improv, a staccato, percussive You-Call-That-Music?-type affair that pretty much focuses on one sound at a time. It may yet grow on me.

Wonderful Tattoo!: A continuation of Master Ringo, but with a lot more music, and good music it is too. That makes the text more diffuse, which makes one wish that it had been pared down a little. But the best lines are to be found here, especially all that gas about the dawning of "ze qvint-es-sencial being," which sounds eerily like Dom DeWild/Biff DeBris' manifesto. Reinhard's delivery is perfect as ever. I was especially tickled the way he tried to pronounce "gynecologist." Dada lives.

Bottom line; this album is a bit frustrating, because, intriguing as this material is, one can imagine it becoming as truly mighty as the Yellow Shark itself if Frank had only had a little more time. Nevertheless, what we get is filled with spontaneity, enthusiasm and creativity, and I think we can agree that this look behind the scenes was very much worth the while.

Chris Ekman

 

5. Master Ringo

FZ, interviewed by Don Menn & Matt Groening, "The Mother Of All Interviews, Act II," Zappa!, 1992, p. 61

MG: Where did the idea of using the didgeridu and the coffee can and water come from?

Well, a long time ago, we had a contact mic that we put on a Sparkletts bottle, and we got this really close-up sound of this horrible gurgling, glugging stuff. I used it as a sample on the '88 tour in a lot of songs. So it seemed to me the idea of bubble-like sounds of all densities and magnitudes could be used as interesting source material for a composition. Because the musicians in this ensemble take everything so seriously—and I mean seriously: If you tell them to scrape their instrument or do something weird to their instrument, they don't look at you out of the comer of their eye, they'll just do it, and do it very seriously.

The oboe player was blowing bubbles, and when I suggested that she take her didgeridu and stick it into a pot of water and grunt through it and blow bubbles at the same time, she didn't say, "You're out of your mind. I'm a lady. I shouldn't do that!" She got the didgeridu, and a couple of the other guys went out and got the little jug of water, and she knew that she was advancing the science of music like every player ever has, but the sound made me laugh so much I had to leave the room while she was recording it. I couldn't believe it. I'd imagined it would be fairly grotesque when I suggested she do it, but when I heard it, I couldn't stop laughing. I was spoiling the tape. I had to leave. You know, "Just do a bunch of these, and I'll come back."

 

8. 9/8 Objects

Don Menn, "Ali Askin," Zappa!, 1992, p. 83

When the Ensemble Modern decided to feature Zappa at the Frankfurt Festival, because of his prior association with the group, Askin received the call to come and start preparing scores—on the spot. "It was fantastic, just fantastic," he recalls. "Frank had the idea to assemble so-called music objects—just dictating chords or lines on the guitar and getting the Ensemble to imitate them on their instruments. He was composing while playing, trying every possibility. The musicians wrote down what Frank dictated or what he told them to improvise, and I was sitting there with my small keyboard and writing it down also. And then I went through everyone's stuff and compared what I had written with what they had written, and we finally came up with the best version."

 

12. None Of The Above (Revised & Previsited)

Liner notes by Todd Yvega

None Of The Above started out as a collection ot String Quartets composed on the Synclavier for the Kronos Quartet in 1985. Some movements were expanded to String Quintet [see FZ comments on "Yellow Shark" cd—you might want to listen to Ill Revised also] for the Ensemble Modern, and some were further expanded to Chamber Orchestra form (actually String Quintet with Orchestral embellishment). The Orchestral sections are from the UMRK rehearsals; the String Quintet rehearsals were recorded in Frankfurt, 1992.

Liner notes by GZ

This is a 'twisted' version of FZ's Xenochrony [...] in that written bits occur simultaneously with real time compositional elements.

Edits

Special thanks to Charles Ulrich.

Contents UMRK, July, 1991 Frankfurt, July, 1992
None Of The Above III   0:00-1:09
1:09-2:15  
Improvisations 2:15-8:38  

 

 

Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos
http://globalia.net/donlope/fz/
This page updated: 2017-11-03