Alain: Are you currently working on a new recording?
Alain: Can we have an idea about it?
FZ: The next album is going to be called G-Spot Tornado.
Alain: Is it only rock material?
FZ: No, it's all done on the computer.
Alain: What is the lineup of your current band, if you have a current band?
FZ: My lineup is the computer.
His album "Jazz From Hell" recently received a red label warning of graphic contents by Fred Meyer, a chain of 125 department stores in the Pacific Northwest that applies its own labels to assist parents—even though "Jazz From Hell" is an instrumental album.
it was all done with samples and synthesis. It was all typed in or performed in on the keyboard, or performed in using [Roland] Octapads.
I worked for eight months on this album. So there's quite a bit of work in it.
When I first started with the Synclavier, we didn't have a very advanced sampling system. We had mono sampling with not a lot of RAM.
You see, with samples, not only are you getting the sound of the instrument, you're getting the ability to capture the instrument in different types of air spaces. For example, we have both dry and ambient room sound percussion noises, and dry and ambient wind. Even with the classical guitar, different types of environments make a big difference.
I'm not the one who actually trims the samples. Bob Rice, my assistant, does that. I build the patches. I'll tell him that I want a certain group of sounds. Our backlog of samples to trim is humongous, because it's far easier to record the samples. We record them on the [Sony] 1610, and then he puts them into the Synclavier, left side first, then right side, and then lines them up to make stereo samples. The easy part is recording the samples. The hard part is transferring and trimming and cataloguing. He's probably—let's be kind—eight months behind on the sample trimming. And as the samples get trimmed and organized, I build them into various types of patches, according to what composition I'm working on. We have things called pintos, which are mix-and-match patches. Instead of having a patch that is just a saxophone, for example, you can have a patch that is a few notes of the sax, a few of a clarinet, a few of an oboe, a few of a trombone, all different instruments, appearing on different notes, all of them on the keyboards. [...] that gives you instant orchestration. If you were to play an ordinary piano part on the keyboard with a patch like that, depending on where you put your finger, you'd get a different instrument coming at you from a different stereo location. It turns what would ordinarily be a mono-sounding keyboard part in to a whole ensemble playing stuff.
you start off by winging it, and then you refine it, depending on how the orchestration is going to lay. You've got a lot of possibilities for laying things under the keys. You can mix orchestral percussion with industrial noises, like drills and hammers and saws and vacuum tanks and things like that, all in the same patch. You can combine them and do some wonderful stuff with it.
That's on Jazz from Hell. You'll hear a noise in there which is a sample called TANK.REL. It's the release of a vacuum tank in a woodworking shop. And there are some other things. Nail guns are used in there. [...] That's part of our industrial percussion setup.
[...] There are three different ways to type in. One is in a language called Script, which I don't know. I don't use that at all. Bob Rice can type Script. But that's more like writing a computer program, so it has no charm for me. Another way is with their Music Printing program. You can enter or delete notes with the cursor while looking at real music on staves. And if you want to write in tuplets—if you have 7 over 3 or something like that—it's real easy to do it that way. You just make a couple of marks and then redraw the screen. You now have edit blocks that correspond to a septuplet over three quarters, or whatever you want. It could be anything. Then you just enter the pitches. For that kind of stuff, that's the easiest way for me to do it. The third way to type is a facility called the G Page. The screen is split into three segments, and you can display three tracks of data at the same time on the screen. In each of those three units, you have three columns of information. The left-hand one tells you the start time of the note. In other words, the beginning of the piece would be beat 1, and all the subsequent beats have numbers. This data reads out either in seconds, beats, or SMPTE numbers; that's all selectable. The center column gives you the name of the pitch an a number which tells you the octave that the pitch lives in. And the right-hand column gives you the duration. All that is editable, so you can move the cursor around, add and delete notes, change start times, which changes the rhythm, and change the pitch and the octave and how long the note lasts. I divide my time between doing stuff on the G Page and doing stuff in the Music Printing.
On Mr. Zappa's most recent album, "Jazz From Hell" (Barking Pumpkin, distributed by Capitol), which has been nominated for two Grammy awards, the composer used the synclavier to blend synthesized and digitally recorded "real" sounds in an accelerated burbling post-bebop electronic music. To Mr. Zappa, musical expression is often synonymous with contemptuously satiric anti-establishment nosethumbing, and the textures of "Jazz From Hell" have an almost fiendishly brittle, inhuman quality.
"Composers are supposed to provide some reflection of the environment in which they write," Mr. Zappa explained. "I am a living composer doing work during the Reagan Administration. The sound of the album captures a certain part of the flavor of the last seven years."
On "Night School," for example, there's a sustained sound that has a piano attack and something else spliced onto it.
It's actually not spliced; it's simultaneous. It's a stereo sample, a combination of trumpet with pitch-bend and grand piano. The piano notes are not short. They attack, and then as they ring off, you get to hear an unusual noise, which is the acoustic piano playing bends. That's a real easy thing to do on the Synclavier.
So even though you're calling them stereo samples, they weren't always used to create a stereo field.
Well, when I say stereo sample, on the Synclavier you have four partials. You can have a different sound on each partial, which means that when you strike one note, you can have four completely different sounds come out, or you can have two stereo pairs. Or you can have a stereo pair and two other sounds at random. In the case of that particular sound, it is a mono piano and a mono trumpet sample. But the accompanying keyboard sounds are all stereo grand piano.
Night School started off as four or five chords, played into the Synclavier. I had some guys here hanging out in the studio one night and I was giving them a demonstration of the machine. I played these chords and saved them on a floppy, and that's how that one got started. Everything else was built up from that dahdahdat dadah thing. The melody that was super-imposed on top of it—it sounds kind of like a piano and kind of like a trumpet—was something I just improvised. All the rest of the rhythm-section data was added partially from the keyboard and partially from the Roland Octapads.
Beltway Bandits is a really old one. The rhythm is a round, the parts are staggered. They're staggered so they interlock with each other. A simple rhythm becomes more complex, times four, when you copy the same part and stagger it a certain number of beats. The harmony that's used is all derived from this book called The Chord Bible. Every composer has notes, chords and rhythms that he likes to hear. Some people keep it all in their head and some people will jot down little sketches. Several years ago I made a classification of all of my favorite chords plus the order in which I preferred to hear the pitches in the chords arpeggiated. It's all broken down from three-note, four-note, five-note, six-note, eight-note chords. The chords are in different classifications, starting with those chords that have a minor second as the uppermost interval, major second, minor third, blah blah blah blah blah, all the way down to the fewest chords that have the minor ninth as the upper interval of the chord. There are real dense voice chords and chords that cover four or five octaves. There's a whole variety in the book. The harmony in "Beltway Bandits" is derived from Chord Bible harmony, and usually it's four- and five-note harmony. There are a couple of seven-note chords in there also.
These people from the EAR Unit, which is two keyboards, two percussion, flute, clarinet and cello, asked me to arrange that for them. The guy who asked me was Art Jarvinen, so I wrote a piece called "While You Were Art," and I did it on the Synclavier, and used the Synclavier to print out the parts for the musicians and got it all ready and delivered it and they were supposed to play it, I guess it was about three weeks ago.
So here is what happened. He comes by to pick up the piece and since it was in the Synclavier I could actually play it back for him on the Synclavier so he could hear it. And he said, "You know, we're not gonna be able to learn that in time." And they'd already announced and it was already on the program. And they didn't think they would have enough rehearsal time to learn something that hard. So I said, "No problem. I'll just have the computer play it for you."
So we synthesize the sound of all the instruments in their group and treated the cello as if it was gonna be played through a flanger. We arranged to have wires coming out of every instrument on stage, and they were gonna go on stage of the Monday Evening Concerts—for those of you who don't know what the Monday Evening Concerts are, it's the prestigious modern music concert that's been going on for years and years in L.A., where they do all the really serious things. And it's gonna be at the County Museum, you know, really serious and there was another piece that required amplification on the program so there was already gonna be a PA system there, so it wouldn't have been too unusual to see the speakers on either side of this group.
So I gave each musician a cassette with his part prominently turned up so he can learn how to pretend to play it and then the sheet music of what he was supposed to pretend to play, and they went on stage and they did it. And I also gave them a digital cassette—they asked for a F1 VHS cassette—they didn't know the difference between VHS and Beta, so when they went to do the thing, they had the wrong machine. And so what they used was a little practise cassette. In spite of using a practise cassette, nobody in the audience knew that they never played a note.
The man who runs the Monday Evening Concerts didn't know that they didn't play any notes. Morton Subotnick didn't know they didn't play any notes. The Los Angeles Times critic didn't know they didn't play any notes. And neither did the Herald Examiner critic. Nobody knew, okay?
And so . . . instead of realising that this was the beginning of a new era—the missing link between performance art and electronic music—a medium that allows the musicians to what they always wanted to do on stage, concentrate on looking good, while all the hard stuff was being done for 'em—instead of treating it that way, many people are ashamed that the whole event even occured.
The sickest thing that has happened recently—what really showed me what bad shape modern music is in—was an incident with a group call the Ear Unit. It's two percussion, two keyboards, flute, clarinet, and cello. They commissioned a piece to be performed at the Monday Evening Concerts at the County Museum. They specifically requested an arrangement of one of the tunes on the guitar album—a piece called "While You Were Out." So I did it. And I did it here on the computer.
When it came time for them to pick up their parts, I played them the electronic realization on the Synclavier so they could have an idea of how it should sound. They said, "We can't play this. We don't have enough time to rehearse it, because we're playing Elliott Carter and that's hard, and we're playing this other thing, and that's hard, and we really don't have time to do this." So I said, " Well, you're either going to play it right or you're not going to play it at all."
They already had announced they were going to play it. The thing was already on the program, so the problem was solved in this manner: I said, "Here's what we'll do—I'll have the computer simulate the sound of all the instruments in your group, and I'll make a digital recording of this piece (the only time a composer ever got a perfect performance of a brand new piece at it premiere). I had the computer print out the parts for each musician. Then I made an analog cassette for each musician of what his part was supposed to sound like. That frees the performer to do what he really wants to do, which is look good on stage. He doesn't have to worry about a single note, because the machine takes care of that.
Since there were to have been some other pieces with amplification at the concert, I said, "OK, great, you're already going to have wires coming out of your instruments, so just go out there, push the button on the Sony PCM-F1 cassette, and out comes a perfect performance of the piece. You guys work on your choreography, and bingo, we have the missing link between electronic music and 'performance art.'"
So they did it. But they didn't know the difference between VHS and Beta., so when it came time to play the cassette, they couldn't use it. So what did they do? They used one of the analog practice cassettes, which put a wall of hiss out into the audience. I didn't go to the concert, but a friend of mine did. He said you could hardly make out the music; it was a wall of hiss. Nobody knew that they didn't play a note. Not the man who runs the Monday Evening Concerts, not Morton Subotnick, not either of the reviewers for the Los Angeles Times or the Herald Examiner . . . .
[...] Eventually, a guy from the LA Times editorial department called me up (after the reviewer had said how this group "played modern music with such vibrance"). He had heard from one of the members of the group what had actually happened, so he was a little embarrassed, and he's probably going to do another article about it. I said, "Do me a favor. Before you write it, come over to my studio and let me play you a recording of the piece the way it was supposed to sound, so you know what you're talking about." So far he hasn't been over. To me that's indicative of the type of attention, the type of stuff that goes on in the modern music world.
"While You Were Art II," that's really got a strange story to it. There's a song on the Shut Up 'N Play Yer Guitar album called "While You Were Out." A group at Cal Arts [California Institute of the Arts], led by a guy named Art Jarvinen, came to me and requested an arrangement of "While You Were Out" for their ensemble, so they could play it at a concert that they were giving in Los Angeles. So I had David Ocker, who was my assistant at that time, type into the Synclavier the actual transcription that Steve Vai did that is in the guitar book [The Frank Zappa Guitar Book, published by Hal Leonard]. That just gave me the chords and the melody line, which wasn't suitable for the instrumentation of their ensemble. Once the data was in there, then it was a matter of arranging it so that they could play it. So I put it through a bunch of permutations. For one thing, I squared off the rhythm to the nearest 32nd-note, instead of having all the tuplets and weird stuff going on. Then I hocketed the material, so that the line was bounced from instrument to instrument. And did a bunch of other stuff to it.
To aid in their performance, since it was already typed into the Synclavier, I produced a little practice cassette for them to play the piece by. When Art came to pick up the musical parts, he listened to it and he said, "There's no way that we can learn this in time for the show. It's too hard." So I said, "No problem. We'll just have the machine play it. All you do is go onstage and pretend that you're playing your instrument. You'll have wires coming out of your instruments, leading to some speakers, and play a cassette, and nobody will know the difference." Well, they did it. And guess what? Nobody knew the difference! The music critics of the Los Angeles Times didn't know, the man who was in charge of the concert series didn't know. The only person in that audience who knew was David Ocker, because he had typed it in. Nobody Knew! We've seen rock and roll videos where you have a model pretending to play an isntrument. In this case, you have musicians pretending to play instruments. They were actually looking at the sheet music, and moving their hands the way you would normally do it.
But to make matters worse, the version that is on Jazz from Hell is not the version that they played. The version that they played had no samples. It was only FM synthesis. And even at that, nobody knew. It doesn't even sound like the version played with samples that's on the album. This is quite deluxe.
It caused a scandal, to the point where three members of the group actually apologized to the musical community and swore that they would never do anything like that again. Instead, they should have been going, "Yeah, look at this! People who write about and critcize classical music can't even recognize a cheesy cassette." It wasn't even a digital tape that they played. It was a normal audio cassette played through a little P.A. system in this hall. And nobody knew that these people weren't playing the instruments. That, I think, is the real artistic statement of the piece. That's why it is called "While You Were Art."
While You Were Art began as a guitar solo on a song called "While You Were Out" on an album released in 1980. A chamber group from Cal Arts commissioned me to write an arrangement of that guitar solo for their ensemble—cello, clarinet, two percussion, two keyboards. There might have been a flute, too. No guitar. The solo on the LP had been transcribed by Steve Vai and was available in this guitar book of solos, so Bob Rice typed into the Synclavier the original rhythms, which were all real complicated, and then taking that basic material I put it through a bunch of permutations and came out with this piece. They came over to pick up the parts and they looked at it and said, "Oh, this is real hard. We don't have enough time to rehearse it. What are we going to do?" I said, "No Problem. I'll have the machine play it for you and we'll make this tape and you guys will go on stage and you'll lip-sync it and nobody will know." And nobody knew. Not the Los Angeles Times critic, not the Herald Examiner critic, not the guy who ran the concert series. None of them knew they didn't play a note and that all the sound was coming off of a little cassette. They found out afterward, of course. So what? That's really the music of the Eighties. Nobody listens any more. You just want to watch stuff anyway. This is not that arrangement because that performance didn't even have any samples. It was all FM synthesis. That gives you a rough idea how far away from real sounds the performance actually was and people still didn't actually know. So when I got the polyphonic sampling system I took the thing they had played, put some samples on it, tweaked it again and that's the version on the record.
Art Jarvinen is a percussionist and former instructor at Cal-Arts. He put together a chamber ensemble called the E.A.R. Unit: two percussion, two keyboards, clarinet and cello.
He asked me to write an arrangement of "While You Were Out," a solo from the Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar album, for his ensemble to play at one of the Monday Evening Concerts [...].
I created the arrangement on the Synclavier, and, using another of the machine's features, printed out the parts. When he saw them, he realized that it was a difficult piece, and worried that his ensemble wouldn't have enough time to rehearse it, as the concert was imminent.
"You're in luck," I told him, "because you won't even have to play it. All you have to do is learn to pretend to play it, and I'll have the Synclavier take care of the rest. Just go out there and do what all the 'Big Rock Groups' have done for years—lip-sync it and make sure you look good on stage."
I made them a tape copy of the Synclavier performance and told him, "The way to pull this off is to have wires hanging out of your instruments leading into amplifiers and effects boxes on the floor. Any sound the audience hears that might be deemed 'synthesized' will be overlooked because there's a wire coming out of your instrument."
Final result? The man who ran the concert series didn't know the difference. The two classical reviewers from the major Los Angeles newspapers didn't notice anything either. Nobody in the audience knew, except for David Ocker, my computer assistant, who had helped prepare the materials. Nobody knew that the musicians never played a note.
It produced quite a scandal in 'modern music circles.' Several members of the ensemble, mortified by all the hoo-ha, swore they would never "do it again." (Do what again? Prove to the world that nobody really knows what the fuck is going on at a contemporary music concert?)
Art Jarvinen is a composer and percussionist and sometime music copyist. [...] He's a member of a well-known new-music ensemble called The California EAR Unit. He was one of Franks music copyists—he worked on extracting orchestra parts and also doing two-piano reductions of some of the large orchestra music. (His reductions are available from Barfko-Swill.)
The EAR Unit plays a regular series of concerts at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art—either part of the (unjustly) famous Monday Evening Concerts or a separate series of EAR Unit concerts which had sprung from their frequent Monday Evening performances. Sometime around 1983 Art asked Frank if he would compose a piece for the Ear Unit to perform at one of these concerts. Lots of groups were having the same idea—the pieces for Kronos and the Aspen Wind Quintet were happening about this time.
Frank was eager to use his new Synclavier to write the piece—and an agreement was made and a date set. I don't believe the Ear Unit could pay Frank anything for this, so Frank could do pretty much whatever he wanted. Frank wanted to arrange his piece While You Were Out—a transcribed Guitar Solo—he says that the Unit asked him for While You Were Out, so that's probably true. (Steve Vai's original transcription appears in the FZ Guitar Book.) This was when I was working as a Synclavier assistant and part of my job was to work on the computer files, entering and modifying them according to Franks instructions.
[...] At some point the title was changed to "While You Were Art"—this had a double meaning—it referred to Art Jarvinen himself, who was motivating the project and acting as go-between between Frank and the ensemble—several of whom had to be convinced to go along with this project. "ART" also referred, I think, to the "ART" in worlds like "Art-world", "Art-music" or"High-art"—in other words, Frank was using it as a term of derision.
[...] Frank wanted to check these concerts out—something about checking the acoustics. So I accompanied him and (I think) Gail to a typical event. [...] I doubt Frank really learned anything useful about the acoustics—he probably learned a lot more about the Monday Evening Concerts. It didn't take long before it became clear that While You Were Art was going to be very difficult and that there was not going to be enough time for the players to learn the piece and be able to give it a decent performance. Frank's solution to this was to have the players pretend to play their parts while the Synclavier output was played on a PA system. This was before Milli-Vanilli, but the concept of a band miming to pre-recordings was well known. It was not unusual for there to be an amplified piece on an EAR Unit concert. The tape would be recorded on a video cassette in utmost digital high fidelity using the F-1 format. According to Frank's wishes the miming was to be a secret—the ensemble was to make every effort to make the performance look as though they were actually performing.
The instrumentation was close to this: flute, clarinet, violin, cello, multiple keyboards and percussion.
Each part was developed as a separate Synclavier track. The music was printed out for each player and a special analog cassette was recorded for them to practice along with. One side of the cassette had the final piece—as it was to be performed—and the other side had a practice recording with that players part brought forward in the mix. This was to make it easier to learn. One of the contributing factors to the difficulty of the learning the piece was the Synclavier's music-printing capabilities—which were (uh) "limited".
Finally a master tape to be used in performance was recorded on video cassette. A good deal of effort went into making this tape—and Frank and Bob Stone wanted to know what format the tape should be—Beta or VHS? After considerable checking with the members of the ensemble Art returned with the answer "Beta"—I remember that it was difficult to get a beta-max video recorder installed in Frank's studio for this purpose.
Frank chose not to attend the concert. No one in the (sparsely attended) hall knew of the deception—except me and a few close friends of members of the Unit. A lot of useless electronic equipment was brought on stage for the performance, keyboards were conveniently turned so that the players hands were not visible from the audience. Microphones(non-functional, of course) were everywhere. The players who knew their parts best were placed forward on stage. Art himself, who had learned his part on Marimba well enough that he could have actually played it, was front and center. Unlike a clarinet or flute, it's almost impossible to fake playing a marimba so he created some special mallets with huge puffy heads on them allowing him to actually hit the bars and make an insignificant sound.
As soon as they turned on the sound system I knew there was a problem. I described it as "a wall of hiss" and when the tape started to play it was instantly clear that the sound was coming from one of the practice cassettes, not off the digital beta-max tape. I slunk down in my seat, I was sure that every one in the audience would instantly know what was going on. I mentally prepared myself for a disaster. Of course you must remember that I'd heard this exact same tape countless times in Frank's studio where the sound quality was the best. Even so, the sound in the Bing Theater that night can only be described as "wretched". Much to my surprise the audience sat quietly throughout. And there was polite and extremely unenthusiastic applause afterwards. The Unit trudged out for an bow and then went right onto the next piece.
After the concert I went on-stage to talk to Art. He was standing in a small group—one of whom was the composer Morton Subotnick—a former teacher of mine whose music is frequently performed by the EAR Unit. I told Art "It sounded Awful!" Bad-mouthing a performance directly like that is a "no-no" in the chamber music world and this comment was greeted with some surprise. When it was explained that the "awful" comment referred to the quality of tape-reproduction, it became immediately clear that the audience had not understood the pantomime quality of the performance.
In fact, of the audience comments I heard or heard about, the closest to anyone figuring it out was a person who was sitting close to the stage. He said "I wondered why there wasn't more direct sound from the instruments themselves." In my opinion, most of the audience was not interested in Franks music at all—and had not paid attention. There were two reviews which didn't mention the deception.
The beta-max tape had not been used because (you guessed it) the tape player was actually a VHS machine. This was not discovered until late in the dress-rehearsal on the day of the concert. A few days later the LA Times published a story about "what really happened". They called up an EAR Unit member (cellist Erika Duke) who had a very contrite attitude about the affair—saying things like "We shouldn't have done this. We'll never do it again." Of course if the paper had interviewed someone else in the ensemble they might have gotten a more positive, tactful answer. And indeed, all the EAR Unit had done was what the composer had requested of them. Frank was amused by the story of what happened in the concert, but he was furious about the subsequent article and Erika's comments. He insisted that all the materials (tapes and music) be returned and that the EAR unit never perform the music again. I personally mark that concert as the beginning of my loss of faith in the chamber-music audience.
I asked Frank if he would be willing to write a piece for us.
Hell, it worked for David, so I figured I'd give it a try. He said that he couldn't really commit to writing us a whole new piece (no money was changing hands, that's for sure—and I still really appreciate Frank's generosity in this regard), but suggested he would maybe be willing to arrange something for us, preferably one of the guitar transcriptions. I really liked Stucco Homes and suggested that. He said "How about 'While You Were Out'? They're basically the same piece anyway, since they're parts of the same improvisation, but WYWO would work better." So the specific piece was Frank's own choice.
As for not noticing the deception. That was so incredibly weird. I assumed that people would start laughing fairly soon, and that it would be really funny. But no one laughed. Ever. Once I realized that no one was getting it, it was really hard work to get through the rest of it. It was like "Holy shit, I really am on my way to the moon—no going back now". It might have been so easy if people had noticed. But we had to go through the whole experience knowing that they thought we were playing. I've done A LOT of weird things as a performer, but that performance felt REALLY strange. No guilt, I want to say emphatically. I have not one regret about that amazing and wonderful experience that only Frank could provide.
The only one who got it, that I know of for sure, was Steve Vai. He told me he knew immediately. He also was clearly disappointed. He said "You guys played Carter on the same show. If you could play that you could have played Frank's piece." He was right, but it was a matter of timing (in those days we rehearsed the shit out of things like Carter pieces) and Frank's designs for the piece. We agreed to do it a certain way, at Frank's suggestion. He didn't want to hear us play it at all.
[The E.A.R. Unit] asked me to join about three times before I finally did. I wasn't that interested in the repertoire that they were doing in the beginning. Once I joined I had a lot to do with bringing programming ideas to the table, and I think the most interesting thing about the group is the amazing diversity of repertoire that we did, because we all had different things we were interested in. You can't show me another ensemble on the planet that covers the territory we did over the years. The group is still together, but I left about seven years ago. Eighteen years was enough.
Every once in a while I sit down intending to write the definitive account as I know it, once and for all, and post it on-line so I never have to tell the story again. Basically, as far as I can tell, Frank never did intend to give us a piece we could actually play. We could have played it, and intended to eventually, but he delivered it late enough that we could not possibly have learned it well enough in the time left before the scheduled performance. So he asked us if we would be willing to "lip synch" it. And we said yes. Then several people got cold feet, but we did it anyway. It was no big deal for people who could hide behind their instrument or music stand, but I busted my ass for almost a month to learn that marimba part, and played it with foam rubber mallets. I was actually playing the part, but you couldn't hear me. I had no choice, because if the marimba is near the edge of the stage in plain sight, you can't pantomime playing it.
Anyway, Frank himself leaked the secret to a reporter during a flight, so I'm told, and the shit hit the fan. That would have been such a great opportunity for all kinds of critical dialogue, not to mention great publicity. We could have programmed the piece on lots of concerts so audiences could see for themselves what we had puled off. But the E.A.R. Unit has worked a lot with Morton Subotnick, and several people in the group at that time were particularly close to him. Mort was very upset by what we had done, and some people were made to feel very ashamed. So when a reporter from the L.A. Times called CalArts and wanted to talk to someone in the E.A.R. Unit about While You Were Art, they got the "wrong" person on the phone. Had they talked to me, history would have unfolded differently. Instead one or two people in the group put their tails between their legs and basically apologized for the error of our ways, on behalf of the group. That pissed me off, but Frank was livid. He called me and said we could never play his music again and made me send all the material back.
I assured him that the sentiment expressed in the newspaper article was not a group consensus, so he said I should tell that to Time Magazine, who had just interviewed him about the event. But Time never called, and I don't think they even ran the article.
There's more to the story, but that's the basic plot.
Jazz From Hell is from within the last four months. It started off with a patch that was built that contained a tenor sax, some samples of this little string-section chords, odds and ends. The basic sound of the patch was the tenor sax, but every time you'd hit a note to get the tenor sax you'd have something else added to it. In one octave it might be a re-synth solo violin; another octave it might be a gut-string guitar. It was just a mix-and-match patch. It was pressure-sensitive so you could get in and style it. That started off with me just laying down a stylized melody line with the tenor sax, and the rest was added as accompaniment, like all the keyboard parts; the Fender Rhodes part in there is just me grabbing my favorite mystery chord at random and plopping it in. Even though the intervals are a little peculiar, in some ways it's got the feeling like someone could have been comping that twisted solo that's there.
"Jazz From Hell" (the tune) contains not only a quote but an actual SAMPLE from "The Perfect Stranger". Check out JFH from 1'28"-1'31" and TPS from 0'46"-0'49". And he uses the same bit again (cut even shorter) in 2'49"-2'50" in that same track.
Speaking of the progression between TPS, JFH and CPIII, that same snippet appears again exactly at 8'00" on 'Beat the Reaper'. And it actually appears at least once before that, at 7'22". There may be other occurrences in there, but I'd have to listen to the whole track again focusing specifically on those snippets. The connections never end!
G-Spot Tornado is kind of put together as a twisted version of Ravel's "Bolero" where you've got a tune you can recognize and it goes through a lot of orchestration changes, segment by segment, with the synthesizer solos in the middle. That's another improvised solo I stuck in.
Damp Ankles is probably about two years old. It had been sitting around. I've got boxes of floppies with compositions that have been started and are in various stages of development I've had since I got the Synclavier. I don't work on one thing all the way through. "Damp Ankles" was the one I had the most trouble with because of the nature of the sounds that were in it. When it was originally typed in, we didn't have a velocity keyboard, so I had to find a way to artificially impose dynamic information onto those sounds. I had tried replacing the original FM timbres that were used with samples and it didn't have the same character. So I went back to the original timbres to keep the original mood of the piece and then added some samples around it for the rhythm section. But it just wouldn't behave. I worked on that one for a long time.
The dynamics of the velocity information exist in that computer as a list of numbers of amplitude values from 0 to 100. So 100 means that's all you get. That's as loud as it'll ever be. When there's no velocity information, all the parts are at 100 percent. It's fairly charmless, especially if you have kind of a synthesizer woodwind sound. It just grates on you after a while. C7 is the highest note on the keyboard so that's 100 percent. C7 equals 100. C2 is not the lowest note; the lowest playable note is A0, but C2 is about the quietest dynamic you might want to use. Below that it's very, very subtle. So you write an extra composition using only the notes between C2 and C7 and those pitches you type in in this auxiliary composition then become the dynamic code for the individual instrument that's reading that. So you set up a situation where the computer reads this other piece of music and converts the musical data into dynamics. That's how we did it. That's taxing the system.
There's this guy named Steve Ciedian(?) who used to be an art director at Hustler [Magazine]. He worked as an orderly in a mental institution. This is gonna sound like a science fiction story, but he was, like, the scoutmaster in the pinhead hut, and the pinheads liked him, and they would express their appreciation by licking his ankles. He had to start wearing these muffs on his ankles.
St. Etienne was included because I felt it might be nice to have a contrast with something that sounded like a real live band in the middle of all the mechanical stuff.
Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos