Warner Bros. Soundstage, Burbank, California
Ensemble Modern conducted by Peter Eötvös
Produced by FZ
The year is . Frank Zappa told me excitedly how he telephoned Varèse in the 1950s. In his last project before his death, Zappa recorded several of Varèse's ensemble pieces in Hollywood with the Ensemble Modern under my direction: Hyperprim, Octandre, Intégrales, Density 21.5, Ionisation, Désert, and a remastered version of Poème électronique (he also remastered the tape interpolations in Déserts). While I conducted he sat beside me in an armchair and listened with eyes closed. While we were recording Ionisation we received a visit from Nicolas Slonimsky, "le premier Ionisateur," who had conducted the premiere of the piece in Carnegie Hall on 6 March 1933. Slonimsky, who was almost a hundred years old at the time, conducted the piece, immediately followed by Zappa. It was a profoundly moving scene of farewell. In autumn , with his last ounce of strength, Zappa managed in masterly fashion to mix the tapes. This unique and priceless recording has remained unpublished to the present day.
What do you mean by "rework"? I was at one of the sessions (July '93, they were recording Integrales) and I was very impressed by what I saw. Frank worked with each musician on details, some very "minor" and concerning only those familiar with (some Souter-hearings language is appropriate here) "arcana and minutia" (such as little tweezes of the oboe and trumpet parts, and recording passages twice with different notes so's when they found out which version was the "true" one they'd have it for use—Varese scholars will love this album!). [And "arcana" is appropriate for any discussion of Varese!] Incidentally, they used TWO big bass drums for the bass drum part!—nice drum rolls! (If the ZFT is reading this and getting teed off for me revealing "trade secrets", well, why don't you jest release the damn album??? Next, I'll tell *where* it was taped!!!!!!!)
(Ah, that would be at Warnner Bros in LA I belive.)
[This meeting with E.M. was good for me since I could talk to the players individually and their comments backed up *my* way of editing Ives' music over some of my upper-level overseers' ways in the CEI heirarchy!]
There are audio samples of this album at: http://www.zappa.com/
I have heard rumors that the [Varèse] sessions with Ensemble Modern produced by Frank were somewhat 'unfocused' so I don't really know what to expect when they're released.
If Slonimsky said that, then the album should be released IMMEDIATELY.
I was astounded! I went to this thing— I'd heard a lot of Varèse, but I'd never heard it done like this. And they played it brilliantly. And I was there with Nicolas, and I kept saying to Nicolas, "Do you realize what's happening here? These guys play it as though it is their heritage, which it is."
Recording sessions for the Varese album took place over 10 days in July 1993, five months before Zappa's death, on a Warner Bros. soundstage in Burbank not far from Zappa's home in the Hollywood Hills. The musicians involved were members of the German new music group Ensemble Modern, which had greatly impressed the demanding Zappa on a recording of Zappa's classical compositions, "The Yellow Shark." The Varese album was to include "Hyperprism," "Octandre," "Integrales," "Density 21.5," "Ionisation," "Deserts" and Varese's original tape of "Poeme Electronique"—which is roughly half of Varese's total published output.
[...] The noted new music conductor Peter Eotvos actually wielded the baton at the sessions, while Zappa rested on a couch directly in back of him, conferring frequently with the conductor, speaking directly to the musicians, using facial expressions to get what he wanted. [...]
Not exactly a secret, the sessions were attended by some celebrated contemporary music figures. John Adams showed up at the "Ionisation" session and according to [Rip] Rense looked "utterly delighted" by the goings-on. And the 99-year-old Nicolas Slonimsky, who had conducted the premiere of "Ionisation" in 1933, briefly took the baton and led the musicians in the piece, an event that was captured on film (Slonimsky would ultimately survive Zappa by two years).
[...] THE mix is unusual too, with sometimes extreme separation of the instruments on the stereo channels, and the sessions were recorded with all-tube microphone preamps connected to a digital tape machine in another studio. Zappa "wanted to record it the way he thought Edgard would want it to be recorded had he been a record producer," Gail Zappa recalls. "We had to find a place that could record the way Frank intended and mike it the way Frank intended. Warners had one old studio that we could set up the instruments in, but the control room wasn't up to the task, so we built a special snake [a cable that accommodated all the wires] from a brand-new control room to the old studio with the wood floors."
Did Zappa want to record the complete Varèse? His widow doesn't think so. ("His days were severely numbered at that point, and he couldn't manage the larger pieces," she says.) In any case, the remaining works demand either huge, expensive orchestras ("Amériques," "Arcana"), voices ("Offrandes," "Ecuatorial," the unfinished "Nocturnal") or some hard-to-find instrument such as the obsolete electronic ondes martenot.
When we were recording the Varèse pieces in the summer of 93, the role of Frank was being a kind of artistic adviser, anyway the sound director for the whole recording set-up, and finally the mixing and so on, but most of the time Frank had no score in front of him, but he knew every note of the pieces, it was really incredible, and he gave such intelligent remarks and propositions to the conductor and the musicians—how he interpreted a phrase, it was really really interesting. He showed an extremely deep knowledge of the music without—that was my feeling—having really studied the scores. It's interesting isn't it?
I was let into the [Zappa] house by Mark Holdom, who takes care of Zappa Records business, walked past a sticker from the SST label ("Corporate rock sucks!") to the "listening room". The music of Edgard Varèse—in a startlingly impactful version which I was to learn was played by the Ensemble Modern, conducted by Frank—was playing from six wall-mounted speakers, sounding deliriously beautiful.
Title: Varese, rage & the fury.
Description: Sound cassette.
Claimant: (p) Zappa Family Trust
Author on © Application: recording: Frank Zappa , 1940-1993.
Special Codes: 7/U
Gail Zappa is preparing for release on her own Barking Pumpkin label The Rage and the Fury, FZ's tribute to Edgard Varese, who in 1921 made the original claim to the modern-day composer's refusal of mortality.
We are proud to announce a new album of Varèse's works, produced by FZ.
Varèse: The Rage and The Fury.
FZ's final project: The music of his favorite composer, Edgard Varèse.
He wanted a performance and a recording that would sound the way he had always dreamed of hearing it. This is finally a state-of-the-art recording that captures the true power and inner detail of Varèse's works. FZ said,"Varèse's music has never been given the credit it deserves and I believe it's because the technology was never there to record the compositions properly". This album was recorded in July of 1993 at the Warner Bros. soundstage in Burbank, CA utilizing custom audio snakes and all tube microphone pre-amps recorded directly to the Sony 3324 digital multi-track.
The music was conducted by Peter Eötvös and performed by some of the members of The Ensemble Modern. A release date has not yet been set.
FZ thought it was the best version he'd ever heard.
The reason for it's delay in release is that it's caught up in legal battles (not with the Varese family or anyone directly associated with Varese).
Now look at the html-source of that page. (http://www.zappa.com/)
The Zappa Family Trust plans to issue several archive audio and video recordings by Frank Zappa later this year, overseen by Frank's wife, Gail, and his son, Dweezil Zappa. A documentary film about Zappa's classical music, directed by Frank Scheffer, should emerge by Christmas. Remastered reissues of the Dance Me This and Trance-Fusion albums are planned too, along with two films and their soundtracks. One is about one of Zappa's inspirations, Edgard Varese, and the other a revamp of the 1974 in-concert film, Roxy And Elsewhere.
The last completed project of Zappa's life—an album of Varese's compositions selected, supervised and, after a fashion, "conducted" by Zappa—has yet to be released. [...]
The Zappa Family Trust, which controls Zappa's musical legacy, announced the impending release of the album on its website back in 1997, complete with a listing of the selections and even brief sound bites from each composition (except "Poeme Electronique"). Little has been heard about it since.
Yet fear not, oh Zappa legions. The long-awaited Varese album may be coming out after all, possibly by the end of this year. "The Varese album is on hold for a very specific reason," Zappa's widow, Gail, said in December. "We documented three recording sessions with a film crew, and they absconded with the film and tapes, and it took me eight years and lawsuits to get the sucker back. And even so, they did not return the DAT. They were bad guys. I would never call them men; men don't behave that way.
"Now my plan is, I would love to get it out next year , to put out a recording and a film on DVD because I really believe in the power of the music as a visceral experience without the visual aids."
Are there any plans to release The Rage And The Fury?
That's a very personal—and brilliant—album. He wasn't bothered if it was released or not. It was a project done when Frank's life lasted longer than anyone could have anticipated. He didn't care if anyone heard it or not—and I feel the same. It was enough that Frank heard it. No amount of money could equal that.
All I can say for sure is that I do want to release it with video documentation and sometime near the end of the year—any year.
Joe Travers: The Rage And The Fury. Well, what special record that is. And I do hope that, you know, in the future—soon in the future—that the world would be able to hear that because, in my opinion and other people's opinion that have been in the studio, that listened to it, that it most likely is the definitive Varèse recordings. Frank's interpretation of that stuff. So, definitely a—
Ahmet Zappa: Another way of saying that is: soon.
Joe Travers: Yes! There you go!
Another of his recordings that remains unpublished at the present time is The Rage And The Fury, with music by Edgar Varèse. Do you have plans for its release? Do you plan to edit more films on or by Frank Zappa?
We could make a whole movie about that, we have those final moments. But that record's amazing. It'll come out.
That is such a special project. That is the last record Frank put together that has still to have an official release. But I'm a mom and pop operation trying to get the funds together to be able to make some of these things, and I don't feel like it can be done half-assed.
I do want people to have the whole experience. And what I mean by that is, we have the film footage and, because of the nature of Frank's health and what was going on, I do want people to have a look behind the curtain of all that with a video companion piece.
That's the intention with that project.
That's kind of a boring answer, but with our partnership with Universal I do want to have more orchestral work going out. We're looking at better ways to support it, so more people can discover it—because it's really important. We are building up a really strong relationship with Universal and I feel more excited about the future of projects like The Rage & The Fury. We have such a strong team—not just the Zappa team but the Universal team too: new people, passionate people. It's exciting.
Reportedly, [FZ's recording of 'Déserts'] is the version Bill Viola used in his 'Déserts' video from 1994. This claim is made by Philippe Lalitte in "La filiation Varèse—Zappa en question" in Boisnel—Castanet (ed.): Frank Zappa, l'Un et le Multiple (2017), p.59, based on two facts:
—according to Peter Eötvös, quoted in this paper, Zappa's 1993 remaster of the original Interpolations was used in the film
—the instrumental parts are performed by the Ensemble Modern.
Although Zappa is not mentioned in the credits of the Bill Viola video (if memory serves), one might infer that this is indeed the Rage & the Fury version.
Here’s an addition to the above. I googled some more and found the following in Bettina Keller-Back, Bill Viola. Bilder des Sturzes. Stürzende Bilder (Books on Demand, 2018), p. 56 fn. 4:
„Am 23. Oktober 1994 wurde Violas Déserts mit dem Ensemble Modern in Wien anlässlich der Konzertserie Wien modern uraufgeführt und am 21. Dezember 1994 bei arte ausgestrahlt.“
(“On October 23rd, 1991, Viola’s Déserts was premiered with the Ensemble Modern in Vienna in the course of the concert series Wien modern, and televised on arte [a European TV station] on December 21, 1994.”)
The tape itself is cited as (op.cit. p. 222):
“Bill Viola. Déserts. 1994. Konzertfilm/Videoband. Farbe, Stereoton. 28:09 Minuten. Musik von Edgard Varèse. Aufgeführt vom Ensemble Modern. Dirigent Peter Eotvos. In Auftrag des ZDF, Deutsche Fernsehanstalt und Ensemble Modern. Konzertversion projiziert mit Live Orchester Aufführung.”
(“Bill Viola. Déserts. 1994. Concert film/Video tape. Colour, stereo tone. 28:09 min. Music by Edgard Varèse. Performed by the Ensemble Modern. Conductor: Peter Eotvos. Commissioned by the ZDF [a German TV station], Deutsche Fernsehanstalt [=?] and Ensemble Modern. Concert version projected with live orchestra performance.”)
This sounds very much like the music on my copy at least does not come from Zappa’s sessions but from the live performance in Vienna. If there are also other versions of the video in circulation (or if there exist any other versions with music altogether) is something I don’t know. Likeweise I don’t know whether the broadcast on Frank’s birthday happened by accident or by design, but if Henning Lohner was involved it may well have been by design (recall that Lohner was the maker of Peefeeyatko ).
However, Viola certainly had some recorded music available when making/compiling the video for the live performance. Since the video was co-commissioned by the EM, it may well be that the EM provided him with a recording for the video to be aligned with. This again may have been (one of) their recording(s) from the Zappa sessions—in case Frank ever gave them a tape.
Maintained by Román García Albertos