The cat's name was Marshmoff, a Diva (age 2 1/2) word for mushroom. And the album was LSO Volume II.
The legendary [Marshmoff], the black one that sits on your shoulder and drools.
Earlier this year there was a report that you were going to write something for the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. Is that going ahead?
No, they decided that they can't get the orchestra for the date that they wanted to do it. This is the piece here (points to a large black folder containing the full orchestral score for the work). I write on it all the time. I've got two movements finished and . . . well you can see what it takes to prepare the thing . . . after I've done my scribbles it has to go to a copyist who has to prepare the pages that look like this (flips through pages) and then from this they make the individual parts.
This is for a full orchestra?
A monster orchestra.
And any rock instruments?
No. Anyway, I've decided to keep working on it even though they can't arrange it for the date that we want to do it. It was supposed to be for next May. What I'll probably do is to finish the piece off and then hire an orchestra and record it.
It's an expensive proposition.
Well, some rock and roll musicians make a bunch of money and stick it up their noses. I stick mine in my ear.
Genesis: What about new projects? What's happening?
Zappa: Well, every time I tell people about what I'm working on, they want to know where it is. They don't realize how long it takes to do these things. Like one thing that I've been working on for a couple of years is another orchestra album. But it takes a long time to prepare the music and an even longer time to save up the money to do it. It's an expensive project. It takes about a quarter of a million to three hundred thousand dollars.
Genesis: How do you put an orchestra together for that kind of album?
Zappa: You can go to Hollywood and call a contractor and order forty-five strings and twelve brass and so on, and he gets out the list and calls all the guys who are available. They've never really played together, but they're good musicians and they all know each other. You put them together and rehearse them, and you come up with a performance. Or you can go to Europe and find an existing orchestra and try to find a hole in their schedule when they can take a two- or three-week period of time to rehearse, then tape it over there. I think this time I'll do it in Europe.
If you want to write enormous orchestra pieces, who's going to pay for it? Who's paying for the musicians? Who pays the copyists? I mean, so far on this project, [a planned Vienna Symphony concert which has since been cancelled] I have spent $44,000 on copying. That's what I've spent—just to get this far with the project, so I had scores in my hand to show those people in Vienna. Now I have more copying bills to get the parts for the orchestra. The copying has been going on for over two years.
[FZ] recently completed a group of ambitious orchestral works that were scheduled for a world premiere in Vienna until the project's primary financial backer, the Austrian television network, pulled out at the last minute. Five years in the making, the works were composed for a 120-piece orchestra, necessitating the employment of five copyists, two of whom had been involved in the process for five years, with a total copying investment of fifty thousand dollars. Another fifty thousand dollars was expended on telephone calls from the U.S. to Austria. Bound in black morocco, one piece, "Mo And Herb's Vacation," which Zappa described as "a dramatic, dissonant piece," comprises 83 pages of music.
[...] One of Zappa's top priorities is seeing his orchestral works performed properly. "The music is done and the parts are copied, so if an orchestra anywhere wanted to give a performance of it, and they would guarantee the right amount of rehearsal time and pay the fees that are involved in performing the music, it could happen again. But," he asserted, "I have no intention of just sitting and spending thousands of dollars to produce reams of wallpaper. I want to hear the music performed right. I don't want to have to go to the concert and sit there and be embarrassed by 120 people playing it wrong. No matter what the audience thought about it—even if they loved the fuck out of it—if the orchestra played it wrong, I'd be very upset."
What I really want to hear is that orchestra stuff I wrote for the Vienna Symphony, but that's too expensive. That program was cancelled because the Austrian television station [which had planned to broadcast the program] backed out of the deal.
But behind that has been another pet project stretching back two or three years—an extravagant orchestral score running to two weighty manuscript tomes titled "Mo 'n' Herb's Vacation", and "Wøööøl", "Bob in Dacron and Sad Jane". It would need, Zappa estimates, about 110 musicians, vast sums of money and a month of rehearsals, six hours a day, five days a week. Zappa has never heard it. It is one of the pieces that sprang from the brain and appeared on paper. Short sections of the percussion track have been played, but he admits one of the main reasons he would like to get it on-stage is purely to hear what it sounds like.
The score is immensely complex. Flipping through the pages, he plucked out one drum line which required the gyro brained skin-basher to play 13 notes in the time of two. The rest of the time signatures are equally as haywire.
"In order for it to happen money has to be invested by me to have the stuff printed up, buy ad space you've really got to run a mail-order business in order to sell this stuff. Those books represent a few years worth of work and the copying bills for the people who drew up these things to make it look neat like that was astronomical."
[...] Now he's considering hiring over 100 top musicians—they'll have to be first rate to cope with the ultra-complex score—plus a conductor. Zappa has someone in mind, Friedrich Cerha of Vienna, but isn't sure if he's free.
"He has the scores now and he's interested in doing it. We almost got a performance of this stuff together last year. Austrian Television was contributing one of the largest parts of the budget and at the last minute they dropped out. That left me holding the bag. I'd already advertised that it was coming up, the hall was booked, the orchestra was being provided by the City of Vienna, the conductor had the score—the works, and at the last minute we had to cancel it.
"Since then they've called me back three or four times and asked if I was still interested in it and I told them "I can't do business with you because you've cost me so much money already". There was 50,000 dollars in score-copying bills and approximately 50,000 dollars in telephone calls and transporting my manager all over Europe trying to raise the money for finishing the thing off, and that's a total loss."
Now he has been offered a contract with a guarantee that it will happen in the Summer of 1981, but he still wants it firmed up well beforehand.
The orchestration includes a drum kit, electric keyboard, and electric bass, but the rest is an orchestral monstrosity.
"I know a lot of people already who can play it without too much trouble, but the trick is getting them there all at once. Who pays? Who flies them from LA or New York to Vienna and pays for their food, hotel and salary for the duration of the rehearsals? I'm sure they have some good musicians in Vienna, but no-one is going to sight-read that, I can guarantee it. To get it together, some of that stuff in there requires some specialists playing. Because of the rhythmic writing, unless you have people who can play those funny kinds of rhythms and play them with conviction, the performance wouldn't sound right."
Several years ago . . . five maybe . . . the people who promote our rock shows in Vienna (Stimmung Der Welt) approached me with the idea of doing a concert in Vienna with the Vienna Symphony. I said okay. After two or three years of pooting around with the mechanics of the deal, work began on the final preparations. The concert was to be funded by the City of Vienna, the Austrian Radio, the Austrian Television, and a substantial investment from me (the cost of preparing the scores and parts).
At the point when the official announcement was made that the concert would take place (I think it was in June or July), there was no written contract with any of the governmental agencies listed above. As it turned out, the person from the Austrian TV who pledged $300,000 toward the budget (which was to cover three weeks of rehearsal, shipping of our band equipment, air fares and housing for band members, and band and crew salaries . . . I was not getting paid for any of this) did not really have the authority to do so and was informed by his boss that that amount had already been committed to other TV projects. This created a situation wherein the remaining sponsors still had their funds available, and wished to proceed, but somebody had to round up the missing $300,000 from another source.
At this point Bennett Glotzer, my manager, got on a plane to Europe and spent the best part of a month thrashing around the continent trying to raise the missing bucks. No luck. Between his travel, food, hotels and intercontinental phone calls and my investment in copyist fees to prepare the music (not to mention the two or three years I had spent writing it), the total amount I had spent in cash at the time the concert was cancelled came to around $135,000 . . . this is not funny unless you're Nelson Bunker Hunt.
A moving moment as the Master summons his bodyguard to fetch two gigantic mammoth format bound notebooks containing the complete orchestrations for guitar, percussion and 108-piece orchestra of 4 great works: Bob in Dacron, Sad Jane, Mo 'n' Herb's Vacation and VOOOOL, bravura pieces of uncertain fortunes. Sad Jane was to have been performed by the Vienna Philharmonic, conducted by Frank, but the project had to be abandoned for lack of funds (yet again), Austrian TV refusing to pay the rights asked for recording the event. Frank has since entrusted the whole thing to the person responsible for the CBS classical catalogue so that they could end up with Pierre Boulez. But it seems more likely now that the works will be put on by the London Symphony Orchestra. Watch this space . . .
Zappa has also finished composing another grand-scale orchestral work, "Bob in Dacron and Sad Jane," written for 120 pieces. However, he still is having trouble finding an orchestra to play this and his other recent instrumental pieces. The reason: Sheer expense.
"In a more gracious era it was not the composer's responsibility to work his ass off at a parttime job in order to pay for the privilege of hearing his music played. I find that just disgusting," Zappa said.
"Even if I could pay for it, that I would have to in order to hear it, that's an insult. I already did the hard part. I wrote it.
"The government should set enough money aside for the arts to the extent where it will help enough people. Right now it's dispensed by committees who give it to approved, clean sorts . . . you know the type."
Frank is working out a deal with the Dutch government for a presentation of his orchestral music next summer. Originally Zappa had planned to work with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra for a television program, "and the Austrian television was supposed to put up $300,000. Then, at the last minute, they backed out. I said, 'You want me to put up $300,000 of my own money? Look, I already did the hard part, I wrote the stuff!'" The deal was called off, but not before the Dutch heard about it.
"They sent me a list of things they wanted to perform. They wanted 'Music for Low-Budget Orchestra,' they wanted 'Let Me Take You to the Beach,' 'Waka/Jawaka,' all the stuff from The Grand Wazoo, and I said, 'I'll fix you right up.'" And to sweeten things, "they may get a choir, and if they do we'll be able to do some of the things from 200 Motels."
What difference does Zappa make between writing for an orchestra and writing for a band?
"I approach it the same way. Some of the members of the band will play parts, and there are a couple of guitar solos which I'll do."
Last year in Amsterdam, the head of The Holland Festival came to my hotel and said they wanted to do a special performance of my orchestral music with The Residentie Orchestra (from The Hague), as well as performances of certain other smaller pieces by The Nederlands Wind Ensemble, all of these performances were to take place during one whole week of the festival. I told him that I had received several offers in the past (including one from the Oslo Philharmonic where they thought they might be able to squeeze in two days of rehearsal), and described the whole Vienna business in glowing terrns. I told him that it would be nice to have the music performed, but, since there was a lot of it, and it was difficult stuff, there was no way I would discuss it any further without the guarantee of a minimum of three weeks rehearsal, and in no way was I interested in spending any more of my own money on projects such as this.
He assured me that they were committed to doing the project, and that the rehearsal schedule could be arranged, and not only that . . . they were willing to pay for the WHOLE THING. The Holland Festival put up the equivalent of $500,000 for the event. Deals were then made with CBS to record and release the music, more copyists were hired, musicians from the U.S. who were going to play the amplified parts of the score were hired, road crew people who would handle the P.A. equipment (as the concert was to be held in an 8,000 seat hall) were hired, and a rock tour of Europe was booked (to help pay the cost of shipping the equipment and the salaries of the U.S. people involved . . . again, I was not getting paid), all in preparation for another summer orchestral concert that was doomed like the other one.
What happened? Well, first, let's understand the economics of a project like this. It involves a lot of musicians and they all like to get paid (this is a mild way of putting it). Also, since it was to be an amplified concert, there is the problem of special equipment to make the sound as clear as possible in the hall (it was called "THE AHOY" . . . a charming sort of Dutch indoor bicycle racing arena with a concrete floor and a banked wooden track all around the room). Also there was going to be a recording of the music, necessitating the expenditure of even more money for the rental of the equipment, engineer's salary, travel expense, etc., etc.
After making a deal wıth CBS to cover expenses that the Dutch government wouldn't, a new problem arose that became insourmountable—the needs of the U.S. musicians. Despite earnings of $15.000 for 17 weeks in Europe, all expenses paid, a few of these musicians ["Vinnie Colaiuta and Jeff Berlin," FZ, TRFZB, p. 149] called our office shortly before the start of U.S. rehearsals and tried to make secret deals to get their salaries raised and "Don't tell the other guys . . ."
When I heard of this, I cancelled the usage of the electric group with the orchestra, saving myself a lot of time and trouble rehearsing them, and a lot of money moving them around. Plans remained in effect for the orchestral concerts to continue as acoustic events in smaller halls. The recording plans remained the same also . . . five days of recording following the live performances.
About a week or so after the attempted hijack by the U.S. musicians, our office received a letter from the head of the Residentie Orchestra. Among other things, it mentioned that the orchestra committee (a group of players that represents the orchestra members in discussions with the orchestra management) had hired a lawyer and were ready to begin negotiations to determine how much of a royalty they would get for making a record. Since I had already raised the funds from CBS to pay them the necessary recording scale for doing this work, such a demand seemed to be totally out of line with reality, as I had never heard of a situation wherein an orchestra demanded that the composer pay them royalties for their performance of works he had written, nor did I feel it would have been advisable to set a dangerous precedent that might affect the livelihood of other composers by acceding to the wishes of this greedy bunch of mechanics.
A short time after that, the orchestra manager and the guy we originally talked to from the Holland Festival flew to Los Angeles for a meeting to go over final details. They arrived at my house about midnight. By about 1:30 AM, I had told them that I never wished to see their mercenary little ensemble and that permission to perform any of my works would not be granted to them under any circumstances. They left soon after that.
It was determined shortly thereafter that the cost of going through all of this inter-continental hoo-hah had brought my "serious music investment" to about $250,000, and I still hadn't heard a note of it.
CDK: You sent me this letter about the HOLLAND FESTIVAL . . .
FZ: The reason why the people from that particular orchestra give out wrong information about it is because they don't wanna let people know how fucked they are, and that they have to cover it up to let it look like something other than what it was. It was a case of pure union greed, just like in the USA or in any country where unions think they're fantastic . . . FUCK UNIONS is what I got to say.
In 1980 Frank had a fight about an extra payment to the Residence Orchestra and withdrew his cooperation for a Zappa-week. Never ever would a Dutch orchestra play Zappa's music, was what he promised to put in his last will.
Wanna know why we didn't do this thing in the United States? Besides the bad attitude we encountered, it was a money situation. We were originally going to record this with the Syracuse Orchestra with Christopher Keene conducting, and it was going to be premiered at Lincoln Center in New York City. We had made a deal with the Syracuse Orchestra and within a matter of days they managed to double the price. It started out at $150,000 for the whole project and then somebody in the orchestra union had found a whole bunch of extra rules that brought the cost up to $300,000. So I said no way.
Well, as soon as we got this extortionary message from the Syracuse Orchestra we decided to try to contact a British orchestra. First we called the BBC Orchestra but they were booked solid for the next five years. Then we called the LSO and they said, "Well, we don't know whether we can do it because we're just finishing off a film score and the musicians have one week off before they have to do another film score." And since they get to vote on everything they want to do, they put it to the orchestra and the orchestra members chose to record my stuff rather than take a vacation. They went directly from Return Of The Jedi to my stuff to another film. We had just a certain number of days to do the whole thing, and they were rehearsing their butts off. We had 30 hours of rehearsal for one concert and three days to record. [...]
I went to Mexico City and actually conducted their orchestra for a little while. They were very interested in doing the project, then after we had the rehearsal and we got down to what it would cost, the guy I dealt with added it up and wanted $400,000. He had somehow gotten a hold of what the scale would have been if I had done it in New York City. And there was no way that they were as good as the New York Philharmonic and no way that I was gonna give them $400,000 . . . so I said, "Thank you, goodbye."
As far as the Krakow Orchestra goes, they had been after me for years and at one point last August, right at the end of a European tour, I was supposed to go from Sicily to Warsaw to start this project. It had all been set up at the beginning of the tour. Two weeks into the tour, martial law broke out in Poland and all this other crap was happening over there. So I said, "I don't think I want to take my recording truck into Poland next to the tanks. It's crazy to do that." So we passed.
There's no amplified instruments on there. It's all acoustic. That's just what the music was supposed to be. It wasn't supposed to be an electric band backed up by the London Symphony Orchestra. [...]
The problem is, any time somebody from rock and roll does anything with an orchestra, it's polluted by the rip-off type stuff that's been done in the past you know, with three or four guys playing fuzztone crap while the whole orchestra plays whole notes in the background, and then every 18 bars goes da da to daaah! Everybody has this picture of rock and roll vs. symphonic-fusion stuff. I didn't want to have anything to do with that. That's not what the intent of the album was.
Can you tell the whole story of the LSO?
The LSO's kind of an interesting story in itself, because basically, if you every had the chance, and maybe you hadn't or you had, if you never had a chance to go around Frank's house and his basement, the basement connected to the— the regular house went through a basement, which we had a little film editing room in, and then we had a fireplace in there, with a guitar that Jimi Hendrix gave him, hanging up, which is kind of the mascot of the studio. You walk through that into the other studio. Well, in different corners, you would see stacks of sheet music. I mean stacked like three feet high. Huge stacks of sheet music. And they were all over the place. And I started asking him, "Frank," soon after I got there, I said, "Frank, what are these things?" He said, "Oh, just something I've been writing." It was his classical music that he was writing, and he was real serious about it. And because he was real serious about it, he didn't really talk about it a lot. So I kind of worked on him as a friend. I just kind of said, "How long you been writing this stuff?" He said, "Oh, 13, 14 years." He'd been working on it a real long time. And it was always his dream to record classical music. When we got our out-of-court settlement, with Warner Bros, we got a $12.5 million out-of-court settlement . . .
This is a resolution of the whole . . .
Of the five-and-a-half years of the whole Warner Bros thing, so he had a good chunk of money. So I said, "Frank, now that you got some money, why don't we record some of your classical stuff? Because we can afford it, right?" He said, "No." He kind of just didn't want to do it. We hemmed around like this for months and months, and just never— and then finally one day I said— I started every angle I could. You know how you would with friends? You'd go, "What do you gotta do, you gotta die first, and then somebody's gotta take the transcripts." You know what I mean. You just try every angle you can, because you realize that he was very sensitive about this stuff. It wasn't like another sarcasm album, like he was famous for doing. This was something that he took more personal, and I think he was afraid people might laugh at him.
He'd already done the Orchestral Favorites album.
Right. He'd done Orchestral Favorites, but this adventure was a little bit different, because even then, there was a sort of satire in that, if you think about it. All the stuff he did with "Billy The Mountain." Orchestral Favorites itself had a kind of a twist. That was kind of like his tribute to Varèse. His version of that. Where this other stuff here was just a little bit more of a serious tone. He was writing it more from a inside thing. He would be around his piano writing, and nobody could disturb him when he wrote. Not even his son, not his wife, not a telephone call, not me, not anybody. Nobody could walk in that room when he was writing that stuff. And he would chart stuff out. You just did not interrupt him at all. He would finish his train of thought, and get it all on paper. At any rate, to try to make a shorter story out of all this, because all this stuff is so long and detailed, he started trying out some different symphonies. We tried out the Mexican Symphony, and they didn't seem to be really very good. And Frank's dream was to do the Berlin Symphony. The real reason we had so many channels on the recording truck is that he had written— most of his stuff was written for 132 pieces. His whole ensembles were written— so what it all boiled down to is, we had a chance to do the London Symphony Orchestra, and it was only 107 pieces. And Frank had to condense down the writing, of course, he had to convert the writing down, and I had to go find a recording truck, because we didn't have enough time to bring our truck over there. Which was a real, it was a real sharp pain for me. I had to go over and use a Helios truck. But we made a deal with them, and we [end of side]
. . . so he got on with the manager, which had been Bennett Glotzer, and they basically fired the engineer. And Frank came into the control room and he said, "By the way, you're now the engineer for this whole project." I said, "Gee, Frank, thanks. But why are you doing that?" He said, "The guy never even heard of a PZM microphone." That's basically was his comment to me. He said, "There's no way I can work with an idiot like this guy I just talked to on the phone."
I was on Paris at IRCAM, which is run by Pierre Boulez, and what really stuck out on the project list was Frank Zappa's name involved in a concert and recording [The Perfect Stranger]. I was so surprised that he was not only an icon of popular and rock music, but also had captured the interest of such people as Boulez and the Ensemble Intercontemporain. So when I came back to California, I contacted—among other people—Don Menn and asked how I could get in touch with Frank, because I wanted to see his music myself. I was put in touch with his office, which informed me that he would be visiting my area shortly on tour, and if I was really interested they would send me up some scores. The scores never came, but Frank did. He phoned to introduce himself and explain that he'd heard I was interested in his music. He had some scores with him, which he would be happy to show me, but he didn't have time to deliver them: I would have to come to his concert and look at them.
Being a classical music student, I was pretty nervous about setting foot in a jam-packed theater full of impressive electronic equipment and amplifiers so tall they seemed like skyscrapers. I was even more nervous when Frank's bodyguard escorted me downstairs to a dressing room, and there I met Frank Zappa. He brought out some of his scores. I looked at them and realized they were far too complicated for me to comprehend just sitting there. I asked if I could study them a little more. Frank said, "Sure, go on, hold on to them as long as you want." And so, after watching a very interesting and complicated rock show complete with choreography and conducting, I left with the scores under my arm. [...]
I asked Frank if I could perform some of his music with the Berkeley Symphony. I thought it would be challenging for the musicians and interesting for our audiences, and we might actually serve the purpose of opening the window for the world to see what sort of compositions he had outside of the rock ensemble setting. One thing let to another, and Frank decided to have a huge project that would include a public performance of his works and a recording of these very large orchestral pieces. The London Symphony Orchestra was chosen, and the conductor selected was me, a choice that was totally unsolicited and a complete surprise to me. Frank Zappa is capable of choosing whomever he wants to work with. It certainly wasn't necessary at all for him to choose me. I had just had that one brief meeting with him in Berkeley, and had only spoken to him a few times over the telephone. But, of course, being chosen was a tremendous privilege, honor, and opportunity. I found out two years ago that he had done pretty detailed research on my work. He had called a lot of my colleagues—composers, conductors, and players in the various symphonies—to find out if I had any talent.
When I was working with this orchestra that didn't have any money (laugh) and didn't have any audience, I mention that it was really important to work very hard and fast and quickly, be efficient and my reputation was spreading by word of mouth of someone who had ears, could hear and good sense of precession for complex scores. So when Zappa was looking for a conductor for his music, which is extremely difficult, it's one of the most difficult music to count that's been written. The only thing comparable that will beat it, perhaps a very complex Elliot Carter score or Takahashi's music or perhaps some of Pierre Boulez' music, I mean it's mathematically how to count out the rhythms, it's extremely difficult and technically.. it's exercises the parts of instruments ranges that's not very easy to play, quite virtual (some writing). And large orchestras, complicated passages where You really have to have a good control of basic rhythm technic to help guide a orchestra through it. Unknown to me if Frank was doing some research to find out who could actually conduct his music. He had at that moment, just had a huge tremendous commercial success with one of his records and he wanted to realize a dream of his that he always had, which is to hear his symphonic scores played by one of the worlds great ensemble so that he actually could hear what it sounds alike instead of being massacred by.. by an orchestra that wasn't properly rehearsed. So he wanted the best orchestra that he could find and he wanted a conductor that could actually deal with it. And .. I've had heard of his music because I was visiting Mr. Boulez in the Institute of Research eh .. IRCAM at Georges Pompidou Center and I saw on the bulletin board "feature commissions" and on the list of composers who have been invited to write for Boulez and IRCAM was Frank Zappa's name and I couldn't believe it. You know I mean, this was for me a relic of the 1960:s. So I asked my friend of who worked there: what's the story with this Frank Zappa commission. He explained to me that there was a project that Pierre Boulez was going to conduct a concert of all Frank Zappa pieces and record them. And I thought God this is crazy, so I got in touch with Frank Zappa's manager and I said I like to see some of his scores but I never.. I never really heard anything for a long time until one day I just got a telephone call, it was from Frank Zappa, inviting me to come to one of his concerts. And he will give me some scores.
So I never in my life been to a rock concert before (laugh), having lived a very sheltered life as a classical musician, though I went out and bought some earplugs and went to this rock concert. And it was everything that I have feared. It was smokey and sort of light shows all over the place, crowded with thousands of people, dressed in very unusual clothing (laugh). During the intermission, this enormous bodyguard found me where I was sitting in the seats. He was so big, he looked lie a sumo wrestler and said "follow me" and of course I didn't argue and I followed him and he took me downstairs to the dressingroom. And there I met Frank Zappa. He was taking his intermission break and he showed me the score's he brought with him. He said, take a look at that, what do You think? And I open up the score's and they were really, as I said, so complicated that.. I was a bit taken aback and I didn't know what to make of them so I explained to him that I really didn't know what to make out of the score's. I had to take them home and study them a little bit before I could answer him. He said okay, he said take the score's, go home and let me know what You think. So I studied the scores and I had a great time because they were so complicated. They were challenging to figure out. And I found in my great surprise that in this stack of scores was some pieces that were really great, really exciting wonderful pieces. That, not only were it's complex but they were.. they were well written compositions.
And few weeks went by and I got a telephone call from Frank Zappa, again announced out of the blue, said: well, what do You think, Would You be interested in the scores. And I said: well yes, I'm really interested in a couple of scores and I would like to perform them. He said: how would You like to come with me. I've hired the London Symphony Orchestra, how would You like to come with me to London and record these pieces, do public concerts in London and record them? And at this point I was really unknown, I was just basically out of school and I was working with this orchestra that's having a tough time. This is one of the very few times in my life when I tried to be coy (laugh), cause I want to be cool. So, of course I wanted to go, and I liked the music a lot, but I said: well gee, I don't know. I have to think about it, and of course that was being dishonest. But I said it anyway and Frank said: hmm, well I tell You what. I'll give You fifteen seconds to think about it, and after fifteen seconds You either say yes or no and if You don't say anything at all, I'll just go to another conductor. So I said: well actually Mr. Zappa I am.. I am interested (laugh) and that was the last time that I actually ever tried to be coy. Because when You're dealing with people who are really serious, there's really no room to play games. I mean people who are really concerned about making music, just want to make good music, so in a way he taught me a lesson very early on in my career.
And it was a wonderful experience. Frank Zappa is a great musician. He has ears that can hear things that are just phenomenal. Extremely complex textures and we founded partnership because they were... I could call a lot of wrong notes but actually so could he. He could hear this incredibly complex orchestrations and identify what wasn't working right. And because of that, he earned my great respect. Oftentimes a composer doesn't even know what he's written and then... I can't be serious about his music if the composer is not serious. He earned my respect and the London Symphony's respect. They stood up and gave him a standing ovation after the public concert. And we produced three albums during that period and that was my introduction to the London Symphony, a group whom I still serve today as principal guest conductor. It's a funny way to make the acquaintance of an orchestra but I suppose You have to started somewhere (laugh) and so now, twelve years later we were a lot together and record a lot together.
When I heard that Frank Zappa had been commissioned to write some pieces for Pierre Boulez, I was really curious, because that's one of the biggest honors a composer can possibly get—to have Boulez ask you to write a piece for his ensemble.
So I contacted Frank's management and met with him backstage when he played the Berkeley Community Theater, late in 1981. He showed me a score and said, "This is what I do." So I sat there and looked at it, and it was just an amazing score. It was not some thing that I could just sit and casually glance over. Very, very sophisticated stuff; I couldn't even hear it—I had to take it home and look at it at the piano. He let me borrow it to study and gave me a couple of other ones. It took me a long time just to get through it. Bear in mind, I'm one of those overly educated erudite jerks—heavy theory background. I was very excited by it. For someone like me, who peruses—without exaggeration—maybe 50 or 60 brand new scores a year, it was so refreshing to see a very finely crafted score like that. So I called Frank and explained that I'd like to perform the piece. His answer, which now I realize is typical but at the time sort of took me aback, was, "What makes you think you can play the piece?"
We had a meeting about it, but the main issue was being able to pull together enough rehearsal time to do it properly, which is a very expensive venture. The music is so difficult it requires maybe five times the normal amount of rehearsal, so if you're working with a union orchestra it means big dollars. But then Frank called me with the invitation to go to London.
Nagano came to see Frank Zappa backstage during a 1981 Zappa tour, and mentioned some pieces he had heard Zappa had been working on, which hadn't been performed. Zappa was reluctant to pull them out and rework them, but Nagano's perseverance apparently convinced him. Nagano calls Zappa's scores "phenomenal." The two started working together on the four pieces—Bob in Dacron/Sad Jane, Mo 'n Herb's Vacation, Sinister Footwear, and Pedro's Dowry—and soon afterwards Nagano led the London Symphony Orchestra for the recording. The Berkeley Symphony's "Zappa Affair" marked the first performance In the United States.
I still remember that my parents forbade Zappa's music in our house after watching one of his concerts on TV. In their opinion, Zappa was absolutely not for children. I discovered Zappa in the late seventies on a first short trip to Paris. Pierre Boulez wanted to perform several of Zappa's works with the Ensemble intercontemporain. It aroused my interest. I marveled.
At home in California, I decided to contact his manager so I could take a look at some of his scores. But for a very long time, I did not get any response to the message I had left. Then, all of a sudden, out of nowhere, Zappa himself called me. He first wanted to know what my interest in his compositions was based on. Then he invited me to one of his concerts, which was to take place in Berkeley. He wanted to meet me there and show me some of his scores.
Even as an adult, I had never in my life been to a rock concert. As a classical music artist I had grown up quite sheltered. Rock concerts were out of the question. The concert in Berkeley was a completely new experience for me, a mass event, teeming with thousands of people. One lightshow after the other, endless smoking—it was all entirely unfamiliar to me. During the break one of his gigantic bodyguards, named Big John, came up to me, ordered me to follow him and brought me to the superstar's dressing room.
There he sat, Frank Zappa, admired, controversial and as a symphonic composer by and large unknown. he was eating caviar with sour cream. After a short exchange, he handed me quite a number of his scores. I took a look and found some unbelievably complex orchestral music that I was barely able to evaluate at first glance. He let me take the scores home. I wanted to look at them more closely there. Given their complexity, it turned into a quite a challenge, to be honest. I was completely surprised to find incredible passages of serious music on many of those sheets of music, exciting, excellently written, tremendously colorful. I had his music in my head for days. However, I didn't hear from Zappa for weeks. I had neither his phone number nor his address, and thus no way of contacting him.
Then, suddenly, and again completely out of noweher, he called me. "And," he asked, "what do you make of it all?" He wanted me to visit him at his home, so we fixed a date and time and he collected me from the airport, but then we didn't drive to his place after all; instead, we went straight to the university campus. There he had hired an orchestra, with whom I was meant to rehearse several of his works—as a trial run, so to speak. I caught my breath, yet I had no choice but to comply. After a lengthy rehearsal we drove to his home. There he told me about his big dream. One day, he wanted to have his symphonic works performed. This was why he had started looking for an orchestra and a conductor who could make his dream come true. I left deeply impressed with the seriousness of his request.
A few days later again, I received another call from him. Quite abruptly, he asked me this time if I wanted to accompany him to London to record his music with the London Symphony Orchestra. At that time, I was not yet particularly well know as a conductor—and I hesitated. A little too nonchalant, I told him I would think about it. Frank's response was both a shock and an impressive lesson about the intransigence of great artists: "I give you exactly fifteen seconds to say either yes or no," he replied calmly. "You have to decide now. If you say nothing at all, I'll hang up and find myself a different conductor." After less than fifteen seconds I said yes—accompanied by a feeling of deep shame for having hesitated, and not giving a straight answer to an artist who cared so deeply about his art. Those who really mean it seriously do not make a fuss and do not play games. That was a lesson I learned from Zappa.
We had flown into London about a week earlier, there were lots of rehearsals at Hammersmith Odeon (but Frank wouldn't record there because he was bothered by transformer noise backstage) and a new studio was found at very, very short notice. [...]
Orchestra seating is another subject. As soon as the project was confirmed Frank started redesigning the layout of the orchestra to achieve maximum recording separation. He made charts and graphs of who should sit where. Orchestra seating is very standardized and Frank was making radical changes. My advice against it was met with deaf ears. As soon as rehearsals started certain sections of the orchestra began complaining—each rehearsal had some different changes to the seating arrangement. It became a very chaotic issue which was complicated by the Barbican stage which wasn't really big enough for a 100 piece band. Changes were being made as late as the day of the concert. After the concert Frank gave up on the idea and had the recordings done in conventional setup. All in all, I think he did it backwards. The concert and rehearsals would have gone much better in standard setup while the recordings—in that huge room—could have been recorded in virtually any layout without much problem.
I copied music for [Envelopes, Pedro's Dowry, Bogus Pomp and Strictly Genteel] and I worked as orchestrator on the last two (the music of those two comes from 200 Motels).
The LSO gives its performances in a wretchedly 'modern' concert hall called the Barbican. The stage was too small to hold the full orchestra, so a bunch of musicians who wouldn't fit (mostly viola players) got to go home—and get paid for it.
One unique facility offered by the Barbican is the stand-up bar backstage—for the use of the orchestra members. It is well stocked and very efficient. They can pour a whole orchestra's worth of booze in nanoseconds. During the break between pieces, the LSO left the stage and availed itself of this convenience. When it returned to play the next piece, many members were roasted—and so was my music.
I never saw anyone drink during rehearsal or concert, only before and after (and intermissions). I saw a back-stage bar in use before a concert at the Queen Elizabeth Hall as well as the Barbican so I concluded that must be a common thing. I suspect, however, that this is a cultural difference between Britain and the US, not something limited to orchestra life. [...]
That performance was the high point of my life, no question about it—my 20 minutes of fame. I distinctly remember standing on the little podium (in the middle of the string section) just before the performance and reminding myself "I'm playing with the London Symphony Orchestra". It was mind boggling for me. The next day the recordings were definitely anti-climactic for me (not for Frank of course—his entire focus was on getting the music recorded not on the live performance).
[...] As for performance stuff—the music was super-challenging—especially in the realm of rhythms and cross-rhythms. When I started with him I had some idea of how to play them. He got me playing things I never could have imagined previously. As for Mo 'n Herb—just thinking about it now—it's kind of frightening: I actually played a solo from memory with a professional symphony orchestra. I'd played a couple concertos in college. Never had played ANYTHING from memory before that day. Those minutes in the Barbican were the high point of my life—no question about it (I say that line a lot!).
The LSO session was largely paid for by Valley Girl profits.
Rock journalists (especially the British ones) who have complained about the "coldness," the "attempts at perfection," and missing "human elements" in JAZZ FROM HELL should find L.S.O. Volume II a real treat. It is infested with wrong notes and out-of-tune passages. I postponed its release for several years, hoping that a digital technologist somewhere might develop a piece of machinery powerful enough to conceal the evils lurking on the master tapes. Since 1983 there have been a few advances, but nothing sophisticated enough to remove "human elements" like the out-of-tune trumpets in 'STRICTLY GENTEEL,' or the lack of rhythmic coordination elsewhere.
The rehearsals were from January 7th 1983 and before that we had the last 5 sessions on a film called Krull with James Horner, so there is no truth in the holiday change idea. In fact, in those days the orchestra didn't have a fixed holiday period (although we do now) and each player took time off at a time to suit themselves, with very little pay.
Most of us saw the music on the day we started. There was a Principal Flute on trial who eventually got the position and the way he coped with Zappa's intricate rhythms helped him make his mark. Usually with such music when the composer comes from abroad they bring the music with them so it's only available at the last minute. First reactions were, Oh My God! Lots of practising ensued I can assure you! London musicians are known as the fastest in the world at sorting out music but I can assure you we were pushed to the limits that week
The music was considered to be extremely complex. Lots of 11's, 15's, 17's, 19's etc, all against each other—which in real terms would have been impossible to play. It was a really difficult few days, I remember. We were rehearsed in Abbey Road and did the recordings down in some TV studios in Twickenham and a young conductor called Kent Nagano was brought in as he had a fantastic reputation in California for coping with modern music and had worked with Zappa in California! He, of course, went on to a permanent relationship with us becoming our Associate Guest Conductor for many years (in the 90's) and became the Halle's Principal Conductor.
[FZ] threw a champagne or drinks party at the end so he couldn't have been that unhappy!
There were 12 extra rehearsals before the concert day running from Jan 7-10, with a Barbican concert on the 11th January. I can't think of any other project that has had anywhere near that many rehearsals! We then had 6 sessions in Twickenham after all this so it was given an extraordinary amount of time.
The timpanist gave me a 1-hour lesson that was the most insightful ever regarding the physical action of a drumhead and tuning. I walked out of that understanding even more that I am not a real-serious timpanist. The brass players were sceptical—just not completely committed to the whole idea. Frank and Mark Pinske had developed (and were experimenting with) really wild and unorthodox mic'ing methods, and had constructed these weird mic'd glass panels that were looming over people's heads. But it sounded great, considering the recordings were made on an early digital machine. The orchestra was NOT used to playing music that was so difficult and that required homework—and there was some grumbling which of course made Frank irate because he was, after all, paying them. It did feel strange at first playing some of the band music with the LSO (like 'Strictly Genteel')—we were all used to it being so BIG. But what a great orchestra, and in the end I think that Frank was happy too.
In 1982 I was working for Ken Wahrenbrock developing and selling Pressure Zone Microphones (PZMs) when I received a call from Tom "Coach" Ehle at Frank's studio. Frank was finally going to be recording his orchestral compositions and he wanted to use Pressure Zone Microphones to record the London Symphony Orchestra. I agreed to go to the UMRK and was given the address in the Hollywood Hills. Frank was familiar with the flat plate version of the PZM and invited us into his living room to watch the Dub Room Video which has him wearing one on his forehead. We had been developing different baffle configurations for use with the San Diego Symphony and other live stage productions. Frank became very excited and started to make plans as to what to use to record the different instruments. I made arrangements with Crown, who was manufacturing the PZMs, to provide 60 of the capsules which we mounted in custom made baffles to fit Frank's requirements. Frank took them to London, did the recording and when he returned he invited Ken and me to the studio to hear the recordings.
Like to solve problems? Consider these. Arrive in London to record a music project that has been developing since 1975. The leased hall for the recording with the London Symphony (107 musicians) is too small. An immovable motion picture screen about eight feet from the rear wall (which the leasing agent forgot to mention) makes the room even smaller. It is also too noisy, and all the other major concert halls are booked.
Frank Zappa faced this as he arrived last January in London to record the ballet music he had been composing for the last eight years. He finally found space in Twickenham Studios, using a sound stage where the "007" movies had been shot. It was rather dead, which made it difficult for the orchestra but provided dry tracks for better mixdown and final editing. The music was also presented at a live concert at the [Barbican]. [...]
As he prepared for this project, Frank had Thom Ehle, one of his engineers, contact Vince Motel of Wahrenbrock Sound to check out some new prototype PZMs. Vince took several models to The Utility Muffin Research Kitchen, their recording studio. Frank and Mark Pinske, his recording engineer, tested them and wanted to explore PZMicrophony more. [...]
Frank chose to take many of the traditional microphones with him also and had arranged for the remote recording van to have many of them available, including a Calrec Soundfield mike. As they prepared for the recording session, Mark had 90 minutes to place the microphones after the stage crew placed the stands and chairs. He set up the microphones as they had planned with PZMs for strings and some percussion, and regular mikes for many of the instruments were set up in the usual way. As the rehearsal started and he checked each mike on the "solo buss," he found such vast differences in pickup quality that at each break he was scrambling to replace as many other mikes as he could with PZMs.
Due to the nature of the acoustics in the new venue and the size of the orchestra, PZMs became the overwhelming choice for this job. Because there were not quite enough PZMs available to use them exclusively, a few AKG 451s and an RCA ribbon mike were left in the setup. The hall, the musicians, the timing, all demanded a quality of microphone pickup that would lay down tracks for extensive editing work with little loss of quality and minimum noise and leakage. According to Zappa, this record could not have been made without PZMs, the Sony PCM 24-track digital recorder and the Lexicon programmable reverb unit. The recording studio in London turned out to be very dry and the Lexicon unit added the needed richness. And the thousands of edits for the final mix were humanly possible, Zappa says, only because of the outstanding features of the Sony recorder.
Frank Zappa during rehearsal break during the recording with the London Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Kent Nagano, in January 1983. Picture by Karl Dallas.
Those recordings have no overdubs that I'm aware of. Everything was recorded in one big airplane-hanger studio. The whole orchestra took up only half of it. It was a big orchestra—with (as I remember) 9 percussionists (including Chad and Ed). The recordings were made in a sound truck parked outside. There were miles of cable, each section was miked every which way with PZM mikes attached to strangely shaped plexiglas baffles. Each section was recorded to a separate digital track—so it's no surprise that the recording sound have a kind of studio over-dub sound to it.
It wasn't that the performances were bad it was more about—the way Frank put it—107 people all playing the parts right at the same time. Frank originally wrote many of his charts for another orchestra of 132 pieces (the Berlin Symphony Orchestra), so he had to condense it down to 107 pieces, which is all that the LSO had. He wanted to get the songs mixed with as many of the parts as he wrote them. So, a lot of edits.
I decided to remix all the stuff from the London Symphony album— [...] I was the engineer on the first one and there's no way that I'll ever be able to mix as good as Bob Stone. And I was going for a completely different—'cause Bob had hepatitis when the mix was done, he couldn't do it. But, what I tried to do on the first mix of the London Symphony album was to bring out details by moving the faders up and making things happen that you couldn't get acoustically and, that succeeds, but it doesn't make it sound so much like an orchestra but more like a rock & roll record. And the character of theses mixes that Bob has done is more set the faders to a balance, get the echo just right, and get your hands off of it and leave it alone. So that's more of an orchestral blend.
Under normal performance conditions, this piece is coupled with SAD JANE (L.S.O. Volume I). It is a ballet, and has been performed as such by the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra (Kent Nagano conducting). The scenario depicts an unpleasant urban scoundrel (BOB) in his quest for mid-life erotic gratification in a singles bar. The first section, subtitled "Bob's Clothes," is a musical description of patterns which do not blend and textures only a BOB could love, as he gets dressed for the evening foray. Battery-operated plastic 'laugh boxes' represent the voices of the 'imaginary girls' BOB seeks to impress. The second section, "Bob Gets Drunk," shows him in action at the bar. During the Berkeley dance premiere, the bartender, portrayed by a life-sized puppet (operated by two dancers in black), gets so busy serving the thirsty yupsters he literally splits in half, continuing his shift with entrails dangling behind. The rest of the scenario is too lengthy to include here.
Work on this item began in 1971. During the following eight years several versions were completed and modified. This is the final version . . . unless I decide to change it again.
The original version was a chamber piece for seven instruments. This version uses the seven instruments alternating with the entire sections from which they emerge in a contrapuntal setting that purposely crosses all the voices in a way that generates seven independent ugly melody lines which, when heard simultaneously, blend together into a moving pattern of relatively disquieting harmonic aggregates. This seemed to be a nice way to musically depict the situation in Part One . . . entitled BOB'S CLOTHES.
Rather than describe the rest of the musical machinery utilized herein, for the purposes of this brochure, we present the following description of the staging and choreography . . .
I. BOB'S CLOTHES
The stage is brightly lit in yellow, orange and green. The scene is BOB'S BEDROOM. The back curtain is black. On three moveable platforms we see three extremely large racks of extremely large, extremely ugly male person clothing. There is a right rack, a center rack and a left rack. Between the left rack and the center rack there is a large dressing mirror. The center rack is equipped with a device that causes the ugly clothes to part like theater curtains when activated by three female dancers concealed behind. These characters represent the kinds of girls who might become stimulated by a guy like BOB when he gets all dressed up. We'll call them THE IMAGINARY GIRLS.
Bob leaps in from the right wearing shiny black dress shoes, mid-calf black wool socks, garters, boxer shorts and an undershirt. He is wearing an absurd wig that makes him look like he has tall hair. His choreography leads him from rack to rack, trying on a variety of ugly clothes. Each version of his evening ensemble is scrutinized in front of the mirror. Each trip to the mirror results in an appearance by THE IMAGINARY GIRLS who gesture approvingly as BOB fantasizes how he's going to knock 'em dead at the singles bar downtown. Finally convinced he has found the perfect ensemble, he admires himself one last time and exits left.
II. WHAT BOB'S BODY REALLY LOOKS LIKE
As soon as he leaves, an enormous inflatable highly stylized replica of BOB's nude body is lowered from above. The lights take on a dreamlike quality as the THE IMAGINARY GIRLS emerge from behind the rack and roll around on the floor, laughing at BOB'S BODY. The platforms housing the racks and the mirror are rolled offstage (either by dancers in total black or pulled off on tracks by cable).
As the racks and mirror depart, three male dancers enter and examine BOB'S BODY. One is a doctor. He has a little rubber hammer for reflex-testing. The next is a shoe-shine boy (for, although BOB'S BODY replica is nude . . . it still has those horrible shoes, socks and garters painted on). He has a little box and a rag. The next is a tennis instructor (there is a disproportionately small inflatable tennis racket replica in the hand of BOB'S BODY). He tries to help BOB'S BODY with his forearm.
During this, on another moveable platform, a surrealistic approximation of a bar, with usable utensils and a weird sort of a bartender person behind it wiping glasses, rolls in from the left.
III. BOB GETS DRUNK
As the bar arrives, the lighting changes so that the inflatable BOB'S BODY is illuminated as if it were a large piece of statuary decor in the singles bar. A concealed hose allows bubbles to spew out of various parts of his ridiculous physique. The rest of the lights include the inevitable rotating disco mirror ball (emphasizing the bubbles) and intense red and blue beams. At this point, THE IMAGINARY GIRLS pair off with the DOCTOR, THE SHOE-SHINE BOY and THE TENNIS INSTRUCTOR and perform stylized versions of the types of social dancing normally attributable to persons in these fields.
In the midst of this, THE REAL BOB leaps in from the left, goes immediately to the bar, has one drink, becomes instantly intoxicated and makes an ass of himself in the middle of the dance floor. Disgusted, the other couples move away from him, observing him as he decides that he needs another drink. As he gropes his way toward the bar, it is pulled offstage to the left. The other dancers back off the stage to the right. BOB'S BODY (still with bubbles coming out of it) is hoisted away, leaving BOB alone on the floor in an empty stage.
IV. BOB MEETS JANE
The lights change to an exterior moonlight feel. From the left, pushing a chrome supermarket cart full of clothes and parcels tied with string, JANE enters. She is wearing a special costume which appears to be three ancient raggedy overcoats, worn one on top of the other, and a horrible felt hat which conceals her face. Her feet are wrapped in newspaper and string (special shoes which look like that). She is obviously a homeless Bag Lady making her nightly rounds before settling down in the street for her desperate slumber. As she arrives with her worldly treasures and searches the stage for a suitable place to sleep, BOB, still on the floor from the last scene, sees JANE and remains very still, hoping she won't notice him . . . because he thinks she is DISGUSTING.
At last, JANE finds her spot and settles down. She has noticed BOB but she doesn't care how disgusting he is, so long as he doesn't mess with the stuff she has in her basket.
V. JANE'S CLOTHES
The lights change to include shadow projections of dream-like patterns in JANE'S vicinity. Smoke hovers near the floor. Writing in her sleep, as BOB watches in amazement, JANE emerges from her horrible overcoat cocoon as a beautiful girl . . . totally nude except for the newspaper and string wrapped around her feet. The overcoat and hat are left in a pile on the stage to dream on by themselves. THE NEW IMPROVED JANE takes various treasured items from the basket. She pretends to try on various pieces of ragged clothing, tossing each garment on the overcoat as she finishes. BOB moves around the stage, observing, but not believing, what he sees.
VI. WHAT JANE'S BODY REALLY LOOKS LIKE
In the midst of this, an enormous inflatable replica of a genuinely disgusting version of JANE'S NUDE BODY is lowered to the stage causing BOB to recoil in terror, as he obviously prefers THE OTHER JANE. The lighting changes, casting purple and red shadows from below the inflatable monstrosity making it look even worse. The beautiful naked OTHER JANE dances around it, laughing at BOB . . . as his inflatable replica appears again, also made uglier by the low angle lighting effect. THE REAL BOB tries to keep the beautiful naked OTHER JANE from looking at his replica. The bubbles start coming out again as both replicas are deflated and the dancers disappear into the darkness on opposite sides of the stage. As the curtains close, the stage holds only two empty gas-bag replicas (in the ugly light) and the debris around the supermarket cart lit from above with a bright spotlight as if it had been the star of the show.
There are also unperformed scores which were interim versions of later pieces. I remember particularly an early version of "Sad Jane" for about 8 players. At one point in time this was finished although I don't remember parts being copied.
DS: (laughs) In another Charles Amirkhanian interview [KPFA, Berkeley, May 2. 1983], you mentioned that Sad Jane was originally written as a tune for one of your rock bands, who wasn't able to execute it sufficiently for stage.
FZ: Right. It was the '79 band.
DS: I'd really like to hear a rock version of that.
FZ: Actually, maybe it was even before that. I might've even started working on that when Bozzio was in the band. Yeah. It could even go back to '76.
The last movement of "Sad Jane," kind of a marching thing, is actually a transcription of a guitar solo from the Shrine Auditorium, 1968, that Ian Underwood wrote out back then, and I came across one day in a pile of papers. I played it on the piano and liked the tune, and proceeded to orchestrate it.
The opening phrase of the first movement of "Mo 'N Herb's Vacation," the clarinet figure in the front, was from a guitar solo recorded at the Palladium, Christmas, 1976, from a big band version of "Cruisin' For Burgers" [Uncle Meat, Bizarre, MS-2024]. A lot of things start off on the guitar, but wind up being orchestrational events that could never be played on a guitar.
DAVID OCKER, the clarinet soloist who will perform the premiere, commissioned MO 'N HERB as a piece for clarinet with no accompaniment. Well, folks, I'm not all that enthusiastic about the Bb Clarinet as a source of audio entertainment to begin with, since they always sound so inoffensive (except when they play Dixieland music, at which time they strike me as EXTREMELY OFFENSIVE, but in an aesthetically unusable way) . . . so, David asked for some clarinet music, and I wrote it, and he learned it, and later I added the orchestra parts.
MO 'N HERB'S VACATION, in this large version, can be thought of as an extension of that amusing romantic tradition known as "The Tone Poem" . . . meadows, frolics, birds of various persuasions, thunder, wind, etc. In this permutation, however, (actually performable as a ballet/pantomime), the listener is invited to relax and travel with my former manager and the president of Warner Bros. Records as they take their wives on a trip to Pamplona to watch the bulls run and the peasants get gored, while several people in the adjacent elsewhere attempt to discern who paid for the tickets.
Mo's Vacation was originally written for clarinet solo, and it's got a lot of weird stuff in it, but there's no problem with one musician, he either learns it or he doesn't. And then I wrote out the bass and drum part for it and they tend to reinforce each other.
Frank started Mo 'n Herb's Vacation because I asked him to write a *solo* clarinet piece. He was dubious about the idea, but he did it—eventually it was called "Mo's Vacation" but he didn't like it so he added a simultaneous drum solo called "Herb's Vacation". He still wasn't happy so he added 3 more clarinets and 4 bassoons, bass and a few other audio events. (This is what John Steinmetz and I were recording at Frank's studio) I guess it was still not big enough so he added two more movements for huge orchestra—becoming the "Mo 'n Herb's Vacation" on the LSO album. He finally liked it at that stage, because it was only then that he expressed any thanks to me for asking him to write the piece. After the premiere in London I also got a big hug from him—a very unusual event!
(BTW—I paid him for that piece because I could have had a raise in my salary instead. I think I made the right choice.)
[...] MO 'N HERB'S VACATION is about Herb Cohen spending money Frank thought wasn't Herbs. (Frank never actually used the word "theft" that I know of, but he was certainly writing music about getting shafted in shady business deals. How many big donors to the Philharmonic Society want to hear music about that?)
[...] When I asked him to write a solo clarinet piece (the original Mo's Vacation) I premiered it at a small ICA [Independent Composers Association] concert at the Schoenberg Institute at USC. There were other composers pieces on the program, but we used the presence of a "Zappa" piece as a hook to get audience. Ultimately it sounded like just another new-music piece on just another new-music recital. It got a lousy review too.
[...] The highest number ratios I ever worked on for him were in Mo 'n Herb's Vacation—17 in the time of 16, or 17 notes in the time of 4 quarters (actually quite easy to play if you think of them as rushed 16th notes). In the first movement there's a place where 4 clarinets are playing 17 tuplets in parallel harmony—it's really the climax of the movement. Once I asked him why he didn't seem to write 13 tuplets—I was familiar with 11 tuplets and 15 and 17 tuplets at the time. Naturally, he pulled out a page that he had just been working on and there was a 13 tuplet (it's now in the last movement of Mo 'n Herb somewhere).
[...] The music started as a solo clarinet piece "Mo's Vacation" then Frank added a drum part "Herb's Vacation"—when played together they became (you got it) "Mo 'n Herb's Vacation". I think Ed Mann learned some of the solo part and there was a bass part as well (emphasis on the "I think" in that sentence 'cause the bass part may have only arrived later). In any case, I remember going to a rehearsal once and playing the music for Frank with Vinnie [Colaiuta].
Did you know that the original title of "Mo 'N Herb's Vacation" was "Wøööøł"? Only it was spelled W-Ø-Ö-Ö-Ø-Ł with two umlauts and a tilde.
04/13/81 (2-5PM and 6-9PM) Studio Z (soon to be known as UMRK), Los Angeles, CA—Mo & Herb's Vacation; Stevie's Spanking
MUSICIANS: FZ (leader), Arthur William Barrow, David Ocker (6-9PM), John Steinmetz (6-9PM)
[My] second visit [to the UMRK] was when you recorded the 4 clarinet parts and I recorded the 4 bassoon parts of Mo 'n Herb's Vacation.
On the LSO album, the first movement quotes the central themes of both the second and third movements.
Mo 2 is quoted in Mo 1 (2:20-2:25).
Mo 3 is quoted in Mo 1 (2:33-2:39).
The violin solo figure, the theme for the second movement of "Mo 'N Herb's Vacation," was a lick that I used to play in that band with [bassist] Patrick O'Hearn and [drummer] Terry Bozzio. I would use that during the solo in the "The Sheik Yerbouti Tango" [Sheik Yerbouti, Zappa, 2-150 1] or "Little House I Used To Live In" [Burnt Weeny Sandwich, Bizarre, 6370] songs we played during that era.
The first version of ENVELOPES was written for two amplified keyboard instruments with rhythm section accompaniment, and an attempt was made to record it at Trident Studios in London in 1968. The performance was not good enough and was never released. Eventually musicians entered my touring group who possessed the manual dexterity required to perform it, and so it became a part of the repertoire. A good recording of the keyboard version can be heard on the album SHIP ARRIVING TOO LATE TO SAVE A DROWNING WITCH.
In response to a request from the Netherlands Wind Ensemble for several compositions designed for their instrumentation, a special raggae version was prepared, eventually leading to this version for large orchestra. (There is also an obscure version with lyrics which was filmed in 1978 along with the concert material for BABY SNAKES, but it has not been released either.)
ENVELOPES utilizes a new harmonic technique based on seven and eight note chords which generate their own counterpoint as an automatic result of the voice leading. This technique is used extensively in other musics performed tonight.
I recorded at Trident once and didn't care for it much.
A WOMAN WITH OCEAN FRONT PROPERTY waits for a guy named PEDRO to sail into her back yard.
PEDRO is the kind of a guy who ties his shirt in a knot at the bottom and stands up in a rowboat.
When he arrives they perform a romantic pantomime duet. She pretends to be a viola. He pretends to be a trombone.
She prepares for him a special drink to arouse his passion.
Eventually, animal activities are performed on the floor in the living room, during which she loses her pearls.
PEDRO smokes a cigarette and a male housekeeper named MERLE cleans the rug.
Most of the stage is occupied by the interior of an expensively decorated beach house with the wall supposedly facing the water removed, as if it were a large sliding glass door completely opened. This structure fills 3/4 of the stage from mid-left to right. The left 1/4 of the stage has a small fake ocean, as indicated by two pieces of fiberboard cut to look like waves, painted blue and white, mounted on elastic bands and moved back and forth in front of each other in a surf-like motion. Behind this apparatus, the small boat which will deliver PEDRO to the beach house appears, also mounted on machinery causing it to rock in a motion contrary to the fake ocean.
As the ballet begins A WOMAN WITH OCEAN FRONT PROPERTY wearing a transparent turquoise blue negligee with blue fur around the bottom, blue fuzzy slippers, many strands of abnormally large pearls and starched blue hair, stands in the empty area where the sliding wall would have been, fondling her pearls. She waits for her fantasy lover PEDRO to arrive and provide her with some exciting recreation.
PEDRO is dashing (indicated by the fact that his shirt is tied in a knot at the bottom), brave (indicated by the fact that he stands up in a little boat while it gets bounced around) and sensitive (indicated by the way he jumps almost directly from the boat into her arms).
The rest of the choreography shows THE WOMAN WITH OCEAN FRONT PROPERTY seducing him in an elaborate ritual which includes the preparation of a mysteriously stimulating beverage (complete with smoldering dry ice).
Under the influence of her animal magnetism, PEDRO is subjected to bondage and humiliation, leading to a climax in which her pearls explode all over the floor. At this point, a male housekeeper named MERLE enters, clad only in a small ruffled pink apron, wielding an industrial vacuum cleaner. As the curtain close, THE WOMAN WITH OCEAN FRONT PROPERTY has collapsed on the sofa, PEDRO smokes a cigarette and MERLE cleans the rug.
Pedro's dowry has the doorbell from perfect stranger. [...] The doorbell on Pedros is at the very end played by the piano. I would never have noticed it but frank told me himself.
This piece is a parody of movie music cliches and mannerisms. It is derived from themes first performed by members of the BBC Symphony during a MOTHERS OF INVENTION concert October 28, 1968 at the Royal Festival Hall in London (the original recording has been included in the Mystery Disc of THE OLD MASTERS, BOX II). The themes were further developed in the film '200 MOTELS.' An early version of BOGUS POMP (for 40-piece orchestra) was released on the ill-fated ORCHESTRAL FAVORITES album in the mid-70's.
Built into the compositions is a little psychodrama based on the idea that in an orchestra, the principal violist never gets a good solo. What happens in the minds of the other principal string players when the lowly viola gets all the hot licks? Something stupid, of course, culminating in the principal cellist's improvised emotional outburst near the end of the piece. All of this is supported by cheesy fanfares, drooling sentimental passages and predictable 'scary music.'
This is an orchestral suite based on themes from a film called "200 MOTELS," released by United Artists in 1971. The subject of the film, in the most general sense, was MUSICIANS (all types) and THEIR PECULIAR BEHAVIOR. Many people have erroneously described the film as being about rock musicians on the road . . . and some parts of the film do deal with that sort of thing, but the film also had an orchestra in it (The Royal Philharmonic), and the behavior of its members, as an example of Typical Tuxedo Types (on and off the screen), provided a "special dimension" to the surrealistic style in which the "story" was told.
In BOGUS POMP, the melodies of the SEMI-FRAUDULENT-DIRECT-FROM-HOLLYWOOD OVERTURE, BEGIN TO LOWER THE DWARF, TOURING CAN MAKE YOU CRAZY, CENTERVILLE, DANCE OF THE JUST PLAIN FOLKS, REDNECK EATS, THIS TOWN IS A SEALED TUNA SANDWICH and the TUNA SANDWICH BOLERO all make appearances.
Other themes that might not be familiar are derived from the special score performed by The Mothers of Invention and 14 members of the BBC Orchestra at a concert in Festival Hall, 1968. At this concert we performed a musical play based on the idea that members of rock groups always want to quit and do something else . . . some wanted to join the BBC, some just wanted to drink beer and dress up like Jimi Hendrix. Many of these concepts found their way into the "200 MOTELS" film, and so it seemed fitting that the music from that little play should be included in this suite.
The title BOGUS POMP is a reference to the style in which most "movie music" is written and performed, and much of the piece contains parodies of the more offensive types of orchestrational abuses perpetrated by practitioners in that medium.
Along with the stupid fanfares and turgid flux (and as a conceptual extension of the musical play that generated this derangement), BOGUS POMP was prepared with its own choreographed physical activity, since, just as some people in the world of rock wait for that moment when they can QUIT THE GROUP AND BE FAMOUS, the same steaming desires seem to lurk in every orchestra.
In this scenario, the principal violist is convinced that nobody ever gives the viola a GOOD SOLO . . . and the desire to stand in the spotlight and show off the beauties and sensitivities of this wondrous instrument torment the musician to the point that, in spite of a world-wide lack of interest in The Viola As A Way Of Life (and in spite of the fact that there never seems to be a really convenient time or place for the viola to fulfill its little brown destiny), THIS PRINCIPAL VIOLIST WILL SOLVE ALL OF THAT BY INFLICTING THE COMPOSITION AT HAND WITH A SERIES OF LYDIAN-BASED, BLUES-ORIENTED, MARGINALLY UNRELATED CADENZAS . . . after all, who's going to stop an emotionally unbalanced viola player?
No sooner has this question been asked, than the answers begin to be suggested by other members of the string section. The principal cellist believes his instrument should rule the orchestra, and to prove it, he plays his own cadenza, but it seems the rest of the orchestra is wise to his scheme and obliterates the most exciting notes of his melody with a massive tutti as if to say, "We already knew how that one was going to end . . . ", causing him to dejectedly gli altri (reassume his place in the section).
The next suggestion comes from the principal 2nd violinist . . . another cadenza . . . another dismissal.
The final solution to the Viola Problem is propounded by the concertmaster as he stands, plays a few stupid double stops followed by a bunch of naughty little sextuplets, along with some giant brass chords. Since he is THE CONCERTMASTER (and also because he is not playing a viola), the other members of the orchestra cheer wildly for him and the harpist gives him a bunch of flowers that just happen to be hanging around near her instrument.
BOGUS POMP's choreography also includes the crinkling of cellophane and the exhalation of cigarette smoke (where permitted).
I remember being at Frank's UMRK studio when Bob Stone was mixing the LSO recording of Bogus Pomp—he referred to it as an "epic". He was absolutely correct.
If you know the music to 200 Motels, as most Zappa fans do, Bogus Pomp is sort of a travelogue—a series of scenes all set off by fanfares. Frank chose which music to include and I orchestrated it, under his supervision, into one continuous performable piece. [...] I began to think of Bogus Pomp as a symphony in four movements. These are played without pause like many modern symphonies. Speaking of it in these terms might help non-Zappa fans appreciate it as more abstract music.
The first movement (centered around Centerville with sprechstimme trombones) is followed by the "slow" movement (the Tuna Sandwich music mostly). Or maybe it's just one long first movement. Then, about half way through Bogus Pomp, we get the "Scherzo"; I mean the word "scherzo" in the sense of a "joke". Maybe even a "parody". This is where the pomp really gets bogus, and, for me, it's the heart of the entire piece. Frank follows this with a frantic presto finale. After the climax he tosses in just a touch of deja vu—a wistful memory of the "slow movement" reminds us just how much territory we've covered. When performed well, it's a wild ride. Who is not going to like this?
orchestration by David Ocker (1983)
This was written for the finale of '200 MOTELS.' It has lyrics and was sung by Theodore Bikel, Mark Volman, and Howard Kaylan on the original United Artists soundtrack album released in 1971.
The performance included here was recorded in the last hour of the last session of the last night . . . with no possibility of overtime (at any price) to correct mistakes. During the final 'rest period' just before the big push to get a good take, the entire trumpet section decided to visit a pub across the street. They returned 15 minutes late. No recording could be done without them. The orchestra refused to spend another 15 minutes at the end of the session to make up for their glowing brass section neighbors. I have done as much as possible to enhance this fine British 'craftmanship' (at least 50 edits in 6:53), but, to no avail . . . the 'human element' remains intact.
I was standing about 5 feet from the trumpet players when they finally did return from lunch and watched the LSO personel manager ask one for some change for the payphone so he "could call some new trumpet players"—it seemed to be a subtle joke as if to say that he had noticed which players had screwed up. He certainly didn't say "You'll never work in this town again." Were the trumpeters late? Yes. Had they been drinking? Probably. Were they drunk? Not that I could tell. Was their playing worse after lunch? Probably. I'd believe Frank & he thought so.
[...] The orchestra as a whole was unwilling when it came to doing (paid) overtime There was one overtime session that I remember—just clarinets and bassoons to record some of the more fiendish sections of Mo 'n Herb's Vacation first movement. Some of those players were still unhappy 'cause the overtime would finish after pub closing, so someone was sent to procure some alcohol to bring back to the session. He returned with two fifths of hard whiskey (for 7 guys) and the players happily poured themselves 4oz. portions into paper cups.
Overall the members of the orchestra were very friendly—one bassoonist had played 200 Motels in the RPO and had asked to be on this gig. I'm sure that when we Americans were out of earshot they complained long and loud about how difficult the music was. Of course, they are not paid extra just because the music is difficult. And believe me, that music was hard, hard, hard. Some did the absolute mimimum to get by—others knuckled down and played their parts well (the timpanist blew us away by playing what I thought was a virtually impossible part and he did it on just two kettles.) Given the amount of rehearsal time, I feel that the orchestra did a very creditble job overall both playing and recording Frank's music. Give much of the credit to Kent Nagano (who, you'll notice, now works with the LSO regularly). Was it perfect (i.e. up to Frank's standards and expectations)? No way! Not even close.
But it must be said that the performances could only have improved if the amount of 'elbow bending' had been reduced. By American orchestra standards there was a lot of liquor being drunk by the musicians. The Barbican had a full bar backstage just for the orchestra. It was well used. I admit that this behavior dumbfounded me. The orchestra played much less well on the second half of the concert than on the first. I remember that distinctly. Frank was aghast at all this—he was paying his good money for musicians to perform for him. A guy in the band who abused drugs in that way would have been out on his ear before he had finished his last swallow.
Research, compilation and maintenance by Román García Albertos