The Yellow Shark

The Project

Ben Watson, "The Final Conflict," The Wire, February, 1996

In April 1991, Dieter Rexroth, the director of the Frankfurt Festival, and Andreas Mölich-Zebhauser, head of Frankfurt's deluxe contemporary orchestra The Ensemble Modern, flew to Los Angeles. Their mission was to persuade Frank Zappa [...] to contribute scores for an evening of concert music.

FZ, interviewed by Don Menn, Zappa!, 1992

They asked for 20 minutes of music to be divided into four or five sections, but it's not just the one piece, because what I've designed is a whole evening's worth of entertainment, including some older pieces that have been reorchestrated for this particular group, and pieces from the Synclavier. For the concerts, we will be joined onstage by a Canadian dance troupe called La La La Human Steps. They're quite unbelievable. The other thing that's going to be interesting about the presentation is the six-channel P.A. system. I don't think anybody's ever heard anything quite like this in a live situation. It's set up with a stereo pair in the front, a stereo pair in the middle, and a stereo pair in the rear.

 

The Program

Chunnel Mr. Boogins?

Rip Rense, The LA Times, October 1, 1992

Named after a fiberglass fish that used to rest against Zappa's listening-room fireplace, "The Yellow Shark" is a 90-minute program of transcriptions and new arrangements of existing Zappa works, such as "Be-Bop Tango," "Pound for a Brown," "G-Spot Tornado," "Dog Breath" and "Uncle Meat" (here combined as a suite, "Dog/Meat") and new compositions: "Chunnel Mr. Boogins," "Amnerica," "Get Whitey," "Welcome to America," "None of the Above".

Biffyshrew, November 17, 2007

An article in Society Pages USA #10 ("The Yellow Shark: A Preview") mentions that "Chunnel Mr. Boogins" is for "the full Ensemble," which rules out the strings-only "Questi Cazzi." The following issue [...] describes the music of "Questi Cazzi" as the second half of "Pentagon Afternoon."

"Pentagon Afternoon" itself is a full ensemble piece not mentioned either in the Rense paragraph or the Preview article. In the CD liner notes, Peter Rundel mentions that it used to be part of a longer piece.

Charles Ulrich, November 17, 2007

So I agree that Chunnel Mr. Boogins is most likely the title of the larger work containing Pentagon Afternoon, Questi Cazzi Di Piccione, and some other stuff that they didn't perform.

 

The Cover Art

The Yellow Shark

Liner notes

It begins with L.A. artist Mark Beam, a longtime Zappa appreciator who felt compelled to anonymously bestow upon the Zappa family a Christmas present in 1988. Carved out of a surfboard, Beam's "kind of a mutant fish" arrive unnanounced at the offices of Intercontinental Absurdities (Zappa HQ), and eventually found its way to Frank's basement. A note inviting the owner to complete the piece of art by placing an item of choice into the fish's bloody jaw was ignored.

In the summer of 1991, one Andreas Moelich-Zebhauser, manager of the European contemporary music group, Ensemble Modern, sat in the basement with Zappa and EM conductor Peter Rundel, discussing the music the Ensemble had just commissioned from Frank for the 1992 Frankfurt Festival. Suddenly, Moelich-Zebhauser spied the fish. He took its sailfin for a dorsal.

"When I saw the yellow shark" Moellich-Zebhauser recalled in English he apologized for, "for me it was completely clear that it must become the symbol of our event, of our tour! Because the yellow shark, he's so pregnant with some of Frank's characteristics. He's very hard and a little poison, but on the other hand he's very friendly and charming. Two things which Frank can be very often: poison for bad people, charming for good ones! Of course, also it's such a good logo."

Not realizing Moellich-Zebhauser's bizarre plot, Zappa generously gave the "shark" to him, writing a "little deed" in order to get it past any suspicious customs agents. The deed read: "This is to confirm to whom it may concern that this yellow shark is Andreas Moellich-Zebhauser's personal fish, and he can do with it whatever he wants. -Frank Zappa." "Andreas would drool over that object." said Zappa. "He loved it. The next thing I know, the whole project is being called 'The Yellow Shark', which he said sounds really good in German ("Der Gelbe Hai"), and I said it sounds really dorky in English. People think the name of the music is 'The Yellow Shark'. I said we'll call the evening 'The Yellow Shark'. What the fuck are you going to call it? Doesn't make any difference."

Mark Beam, on Splat's Zappapage (now on United Mutations)

I heard of the yellow shark project when i got a call from a friend telling me to read an article on fz in the la times calender section. in the arcticle they are talkin about this fiberglass fish that frank had in his listening room...i thoughr,"hey, thats me"....so i called 818 pumpkin, the guy was suprised, said they were wonderin who the fish guy was.....a few minutes later frank called... he was real nice...said he would include my name in any future promotion of the project, and thanked me. Later i was contacted by the german organization who produced the project and they paid me...it was a great little experience

 

Contributors

Todd Yvega, Spence Chrislu & Dave Dondorf

FZ, interviewed by Don Menn, "The Mother Of All Interviews, Part 1," Zappa!, 1992, p. 41

Let me give credit where credit is due. Todd [Yvega] is really Mr. Synclavier.

The other guy whom I regard as a major talent and a major asset in preparing the work that I'm doing now is the new recording engineer, Spence Chrislu, because Bob Stone is no longer here. And this other guy who makes sure that everything works is Dave "The Tree Hugger" Dondorf. So between Dave, Spence, Todd, and myself, when we all get together and all the equipment is working, we can rule the world! The days on which everybody's here and all the equipment is working are so few and far between, I think the world is still very safe.

David Ocker

David Ocker, The David Ocker Internet Interview, 1994-1995

The one phone call I got from Frank was at the beginning of the Yellow Shark project. I was invited over to meet people from Ensemble Modern and I took samples of my computer music engraving to show them. Frank wanted me hired as musical assistant and the EM people were willing to do that. There were some problems getting a contract signed between me and EM—but I started work and made it through the initial rehearsals. Then it was clear that I couldn't come to an agreement (purely monetary) with EM and I was replaced by Ali Askin. I guess if I had kept the job I'd have been one of the piano people on CPIII maybe instead of Ali. It's okay, though. I had my time with Frank. Working with him was like standing next to a whirlwind. Things were always going on. I did it for 7 years—enough was enough.

Ali N. Askin

Zappa!, 1992

[Ali N.] Askin spent two weeks in a music dictation nightmare, typing in the blur of notes as the assembled virtuosi imitated and expanded upon ideas improvised on guitar by Zappa. Askin has the appealing and appalling challenge of making arrangements for Zappa's contribution to the Frankfurt Festival in September. Besides the new material produced with the Ensemble last summer, Askin is working as an arranger, creating new versions of Zappa standards. Most difficult of all, he has been asked to make some of Frank's most rhythmically and melodically complex music from the Synclavier playable by human musicians. [...] 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." [...] Besides creating finished scores in conventional notation, Askin is also now transcribing earlier Zappa recordings for new arrangements. In particular, he cites a Bruce Fowler trombone line doubling a Zappa guitar solo where one layer is recorded at half-speed and then speeded up to sound like a trumpet. "Frank wanted me to transcribe it so he can maybe use it for some composition where it might be played by a viola, for example. There's another very nice piece with just Frank and someone else on acoustic guitars which someone has now played into the Synclavier, and Frank is thinking about possibly using that as a solo piece for strings. He's always experimenting with taking solos of his earlier works, having them transcribed, and transferring them to another instrument. Some parts are obvious as to which instrument has to play what. The problem is more with the Synclavier music, which is very difficult, often with very fast, tiny high notes that don't always have obvious relations to meters or measures. In general, orchestration and instrumentation are the hardest parts. You have to think about which instrument can play something so it sounds good. Is it in the range? Is it too hard to play? Can it be bowed by strings? I think about it, give my recommendations to Frank, and see what he thinks for a final decision." [...] All these tasks require a minimum of ten-hour shifts, six to seven days a week. "But I enjoy it very much," he emphasizes. "Long hours are not something new to me. I'm having a good time, so it doesn't matter. The thing is, it's challenging. Everybody who works with him is challenged to go to their limits. 'Can you do that? Can you do that? Can you transcribe that?' He's always asking for limits."

La La La Human Steps

Neil Slaven, Electric Don Quixote, 1996, p. 385-386

There was also the Canadian dance troupe, La La La Human Steps, three male and three female dancers who Frank had seen on video and requested their involvement.

 

Anniversary Version?

Paolo Biamonte, "New Edition Of Of Zappa's Last Album," ANSA, December 4, 2003

U.S. legendary composer Frank Zappa will be commemorated 10 ten years after his death with a new edition of his album "The Yellow Shark" [...]. The new edition will be produced by Gail Zappa, Frank's widow [...].

"We had not planned to commemorate the tenth anniversary of Frank's death, if I have to be honest, I did not know until recently when the album would be published," she said. [...]

"The fact is that how could reject the 'Ensemble Moderne', the only group in the world capable of performing live the pieces from Yellow Shark like Frank Zappa himself, who for a year had repeatedly asked for my permission to record the album again, swearing they would follow the scores note by note?

"Then it was the chance that let the album to be released these days. There are strong emotions which makes Ensemble Moderne more appropriate than any other group because for Frank and for us, it was his last band."

 

Acknowledgements

Liner notes

Acknowledgements: Dr. Dieter Rexroth, Director, Frankfurt Feste / Frankfurt Projekte GmbH, President, Deutsche Ensemble Academy. Dr. Rudolf Sailer, Managing Director, Alte Oper. Michael Rossnagl, Siemens Culture Program. Andreas Mölich-Zebhauser, Director, Ensemble Modern. Karsten Witt, Director, Concert House, Vienna. Gerbard Gruber, Siemens Audio Inc. Marvin Caesar, Aphex Systems. Steve Mason & Martin Hooker, Music For Nations. Than you for your support and commitment to this endeavor.

For making this Event possible: Brian Michaels, Bernd Layendecker. Eduoard Lock & La La La Human Steps: Louise Lecavalier, Pim Boonprakob, Sarah Williams, Donald Weikert, Marito Olson-Forsberg, Bernardus Bartels. Ilona Grundmann, Hennes Grossmann. Egbert van Hees, Astrid Babonnick, Marcel Osterweg, Gabriele Faust. The Fabrik, Andreas Knapp, Ulf Werner, Silvia Seibert, Monika Cordero, the fabulous Raymund Burghardt, Les Stuck. Arnie Tosbner. Joe's Garage: Marqueson Coy. For excellence beyond the call of duty: Le Voyageur. Rene Weis, Alain Leduc, Richard Parsons. Jurgen Dudda Audio Service: Ralf Freudenberg, Norbert Ommer. Special merit badges to Van Carlson, Peter Rundel and Family, Ali N. Askin, Henning Lohner.

Thanks also to: The Conciergerie, the Porters and the fax ladies at the Steigenberger Frankfurter Hof, Meditrans: Mathias Schmidt, Lufthansa: Captain Wolfgang Dzulko, Blondr': Debbi Howard, Hilton Sound: Andy Hilton, Performance Trucking: Manfred Schacht, Volker Mohr, Olaf Winter, Firma StageLight, Rock-it Cargo: Duane Wood, Judy Green Music, Tracy Veal, Jesse di Franco, Don Menn and Family.

In addition to ALL THE MUSICIANS and every one at Ensemble Modern & Utility Muffin Research Kitchen Frank and Gall would like to thank the following people for their very special but no less significant contributions: Diva, Ahmet, Dweezil, Moon, Beverly D'Angelo, Crystal, Coralie, Chloe, Chi Chi & Claude Barthelemy, Pamela Wynn, Bob Kaban, Gary Iskowitz, Alison Van Pelt, Cynthia Watson, Susan Rubio, Ira Herzog, Giuseppe Franco, Yoko Ono, Dick Avedon, Utie. Matt Groening, Larry Flynt, Dave Moulder, Chris, Jamie Lee & Annie Guest, Lynda Barry, Rutger Hauer, Tory Mell, Michelle Matisse, Owen Sloane, Domenico DiGiacinto, Dottie Flynn, Mark Holdom, Garry Marshall, RJ Wagner, Tom Mitchell, Dean & Rochelle Kraft, Tom & Roseanne Arnold, Nicholas Slonimsky, Pierre Boulez, Kent Nagano, Stephen Hawking, Warren DiMartini, Don Cerveris, Johnny Carson, Dennis Miller, David Raksin, Rip Rense, Simon Prentis, Lois Mancuso, Jack Nicholson, Liz Wells, James Burke.

 

FZ's Ensembles

FZ, interviewed by Don Paulsen, December 22, 1966 (from Hit Parader, June, 1968)

The instrumentation of the ideal Mothers rock and roll band is two piccolos, two flutes, two bass flutes, two oboes, English horn, three bassoons, a contrabassoon, four clarinets (with the fourth player doubling on alto clarinet), bass clarinet, contrabass clarinet, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass saxophones, four trumpets, four French horns, three trombones, one bass trombone, one tuba, one contrabass tuba, two harps, two keyboard men playing piano, electric piano, electric harpsichord, electric clavichord, Hammond organ, celeste, and piano bass, ten first violins, ten second violins, eight violas, six cellos, four string bass, four percussionists playing twelve timpani, chimes, gongs, field drums, bass drums, snare drums, woodblocks, lion's roar, vibes, xylophone and marimba, three electric guitars, one electric 12-string guitar, electric bass and electric bass guitar and two drummers at sets, plus vocalists who play tambourines. And I won't be happy until I have it.

The different ensembles

The instruments between parenthesis are doubles.

Ideal Instrumentation, 1966 The Grand Wazoo, 1972 AEESO, 1975 LSO, 1983 EIC, 1984 BSO, 1984 Ensemble Modern, 1992
2 piccolos (1 piccolo)   (2 piccolos)      
2 flutes (1 flute) (4 flutes) 5 flutes 2 flutes 7 flutes 1 flute
2 bass flutes            
2 oboes 1 oboe 3 oboes 4 oboes 2 oboes 4 oboes 1 oboe
1 English horn   (2 English horns) (1 English horn)     (1 English horn)
    (1 baritone oboe)        
4 clarinets 3 clarinets (2 clarinets) 5+1 clarinets 2 clarinets 9 clarinets 1 clarinet
(1 alto clarinet)            
1 bass clarinet (1 bass clarinet) (1 bass clarinet) (1 bass clarinet) 1 bass clarinet   1 bass clarinet
1 contrabass clarinet     (1 contrabass clarinet)     (1 contrabass clarinet)
1 soprano saxophone (1 soprano saxophone)          
1 alto saxophone (1 alto saxophone) 2 alto saxophones        
1 tenor saxophone (2 tenor saxophones) 4 tenor saxophones     7 saxophones (1 tenor saxophone)
1 baritone saxophone   1 baritone saxophone        
1 bass saxophone            
3 bassoons 1 bassoon 3 bassoons 4 bassoons 1 bassoon 5 bassoons 1 bassoon
1 contrabassoon   (1 contrabassoon) (2 contrabassoons)     (1 contrabassoon)
4 horns   4 horns 8 horns 2 horns 8 horns 2 horns
4 trumpets 3 trumpets 3 trumpets 5 trumpets 2 trumpets 4 trumpets 2 trumpets
3 trombones 3 trombones 3 trombones 5 trombones 2 trombones 5 trombones 2 trombones
1 bass trombone            
1 tuba (1 tuba) 1 tuba 1 tuba 1 tuba 1 tuba 1 tuba
1 contrabass tuba            
4 percussionists 2 percussionists 4 percussionists 7+1 percussionists 3 percussionists 8 percussionists 3 percussionists
2 harps   1 harp 1 harp 1 harp 1 harp 1 harp
2 keyboards 1 keyboard 3 keyboards 1 keyboard 2 keyboards 3 keyboards 2 keyboards
3 electric guitars 2 electric guitars 1 electric guitar     1 guitar 1 guitar
1 electric 12-string guitar           1 mandolin
20 violins   2 violins 24 violins 3 violins 29 violins 3 violins
8 violas   1 viola 12 violas 2 violas 8 violas 1 viola
6 cellos 1 cello 1 cello 12 cellos 2 cellos 9 cellos 1 cello
4 string bass     8 string bass 1 string bass 6 string bass 1 string bass
1 electric bass 1 electric bass 1 electric bass       (1 electro-contrabass)
2 drumsets 1 drumset 1 drumset 1 drumset      

 

1. Intro

I understand there is a sign in the audience that once again says: "What's the secret word for tonight?" The secret word for tonight is . . .

FZ, interviewed by Michael Heinze, July 30, 1990

There are these three guys from Germany, Dirk [Weitz], Tom [Nagla] and Tommy [Mikkat], I don't know their last names, but they came to almost every concert in Germany in '88, and they would hold up a big sign in the audience that would say: "Frank, what's the secret word for tonight?"

 

2. Dog Breath Variations

cyranoDB, zappateers.com, June 16, 2013

Dog Breath Variations / Uncle Meat [tracks 2 & 3]

September 19, 1992
Alte Oper, Frankfurt, Germany

 

4. Outrage At Valdez

Richar Gehr, "Frank Zappa: Too Much Or Not Enough?", Jam Bands, April, 1999

"Zappa constantly snuck in musical references, quotes, and parodies," [Matt] Groening explains. "Once he played me some music he'd written for a documentary on the Exxon Valdez disaster. 'Did you hear that?' he asked me. In the middle of this beautiful Synclavier score, he'd hid the 'What do you do with a drunken sailor?' melody."

 

5. Times Beach II

FZ, quoted in the liner notes

"Time's Beach" was commissioned by the Aspen Wind Quintet, and it was in five movements, one of which seemed to be unplayable at the time that they gave its premiere performance in Alice Tulley Hall, in 1985. Nobody has played it (in full) since they tried it. The title refers to our special little toxic town—you know, Time's Beach, the dioxin-infested town that was the first major U.S. environmental disaster where they had to move everybody out because of all the dioxin.

 

6. III Revised

FZ, quoted in the liner notes

This is one of the movements of the string quartet, "None of the Above," that the Kronos Quartet asked me to write for them. In this case, the revision includes making a string quintet out of it, so we wouldn't have the bass player just sitting around while the other guys were just sawing away. The whole of "None of the Above" was re-orchestrated to include the bass.

 

9. Ruth Is Sleeping

FZ, quoted in the liner notes

It was the first piece that I tried on the Synclavier. [...] It dates from around '82-'83. It sat around for a number of years until the Roland Digital Piano became available. This is a little MIDI box that you could hook up to the Synclavier, and the sounds that would come out really resembled a piano, which is something the early Synclavier could not do. When I heard that, I did some more work on it, and printed out the sheet music for it. There's a version for solo piano which is very, very, very difficult, and there's this version, for two pianos, which is less difficult, but still hard. Ali [N. Askin] took the version for one piano, and since he is a piano player, worked out the fingering positions and the ways to split up the solo piano version for two players. (...) The title derives from the fact that sometimes during rehearsal of the '72-'73 band, while I was giving instructions to other members of the group, Ruth Underwood would curl up underneath the marimba and go to sleep.

Jeffrey Burns, Jeffrey Burns Plays Frank Zappa (Pool Music 76013, 1992) liner notes

I met Frank Zappa in October 1991. The Academy of the Arts in Berlin was planning to present his new compositions in Germany, and I wanted to ask him if he had written any piano music which I could play on this occasion. In Zappa's living room we listened to each other's latest recordings. His newest works were composed on and performed by his computer, as their complexity rendered them very difficult to be written down and played by live musicians. He gave me the score of the piano piece, "Ruth Is Sleeping," which had been written some years before but had not yet been performed. Its simultaneous use of different registers of the piano to achieve multiple combinations of major sevenths made it an interesting challenge to me. I also found that Zappa, by not indicating any dynamics or tempo changes, stimulated the performer to improvise the interpretation, as it were, evoking sometimes dreamy, sometimes tempestuous moments of Ruth's sleep. I premiered the piece in Berlin on September 21, 1992.

Morgan Ågren, Facebook, June 25, 2015 (quoted by DoctorNerve, Zappateers, June 25, 2015)

In 1993 Zappa invited me and Mats to be a part of an orchestral project at Lincoln Center NYC, playing Franks music w full orchestra. One of the cool things was that Mats was going to perform the world premiere of Franks solo piano piece called ”Ruth Is Sleeping”. Mats got very excited off course, until he received the tape of the piece . . . Mats started bravely to pick out the notes but it was too fast and too hard to hear the notes on this tape (in original speed). So a score was sent over. Mats borrowed some time from the great pianist Carl Axel Dominique who recorded the whole piece for Mats in a slower tempo. Mats got reliefed and continued to work on the piece. Just a few weeks before the concert Mats was only 60-70% through the piece and had to call Frank about this. Knowing how strict Frank could be, his answer was just amazing. He told Mats ”play the parts you know, then improvise, and just add the ending” . . .—which he did. When it was time for this piece to be performed me Scott, Keneally & co. was standing on the side of the stage watching Mats go for it. It was dead silent in the hall, and it was sooo great, the improvised parts too off course. In my opinion Mats version had moments that was even better than the original Yellow Shark performance. Now the funny thing was that Scott had asked Mats if he wanted to stop halfway through his performance and shout to the audience "oh my God I'm blind!”—but that didn’t happen! Hahahaha… Happy memory anyways!

 

10. None Of The Above

FZ, quoted in the liner notes

It got the title because I didn't think that it fell into the normal descriptive orbit of what string quartet or string quintet music is supposed to be. (See "III Revised.")

 

14. Food Gathering In Post-Industrial America, 1992

All floating in a broth of tritium-enriched sewage

FZ, quoted in the liner notes

At the point where she gets to the text, "tritium-enriched sewage", there's an awful gurgling sound. That's Cathy (Catherine Milliken), the Australian horn player, sticking a Didgeridoo into a spitoon full of water with Vermiculite floating on the surface. Vermiculite is a kind of 'humus helper'. It didn't really help the tone, but it looked good for the television cameras that zoomed in on these little brown scummy things floating on top of the water, and this girl earnestly honking into the spitoon with this enormous wooden dork sticking out of her mouth.

 

17. Exercise #4

FZ, quoted in the liner notes

"Exercise #4" is another one of the tunes from the Uncle Meat album. The theme actually dates from about 1962.

 

18. Get Whitey

FZ, quoted in the liner notes

The title originally came because the first version, the prototype "Whitey" that was rehearsed in '91 when the group came to Los Angeles, dealt only with the white keys on the piano. But this version is more chromatic. I was thinking about changing the title to something else, but the general opinion of people in the group was they liked "Get Whitey".

 

 

 

Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos
http://globalia.net/donlope/fz/
This page updated: 2017-10-03