Xenoarrangements, or, Insane Grafts Daydreamed by a Zappa Hardcore Fanatic Not Inclined To Come Out Of His Own Mono-Maniacal World


Francesco Gentile

paper delivered to the International Conference of Esemplasic Zappology (ICE-Z) at Theatro Technis, 26 Crowndale Road, London NW1 on Friday 16 January 2004. Francesco Gentile is from Debra Kadabra - the Italian Frank Zappa Appreciation Consortium <effeg@tiscali.it>


Drowning Witch is one of those pieces in which guitar improvisations play the role of actual Ďmovementsí with their own dignity, and with a musical meaning strictly connected to that soloist. To better explain through a contrast, the same thing is not as much true in songs like Cosmik Debris where the guitar solo is conceived, though a la Zappa, according to rock standards.

Also, it is worth recalling that Zappa has worked with remarkable accuracy at Drowning Witch, both during live performances, and in the studio post-production phase. The first released version has been constructed using fifteen 1981 live edits (see Tom Mulhern, ĎIím Different or Not Exactly Duane Allmaní, Guitar Player Magazine, February 1983). Some years later, thanks to YCDTOSA Vol. 3, we could hear a second version built upon at least 6 live edits from both 1982 and 1984 performances. In the liner notes FZ wrote "This is a hard song to play. How hard? The 1984 band never played it correctly during its 6-month tour, and the 1982 band only managed to get close on one occasion. This edit collates the best efforts of both groups".

Hence, how to deal with Drowning Witch if you lead a rock band wide enough or, even better, an orchestra like the Ensemble Modern? In the first case you may be hardly tempted to set up two solos in the sections where Zappa has improvised so many times according to the conception of the piece: the first solo builds tension, the second relaxes the listener and prepares to the finale.

Thinking about an orchestra arrangement, the temptation to conceive two different improvised sections could be not so hard, however the question of adequately rendering the piece remains. Prior to face the question, letís see what has happened in the case of Revised Music for Guitar and Low Budget Orchestra, where we can listen to a solo with a role similar to those included in Drowning Witch, as far as how that musical event contributes to the overall conception of the piece. Ali N. Askin has written an arrangement of Revised Music solving the problem transcribing that guitar solo for other instruments, like FZ himself has done in the case of Stairway to Heaven from the Best Band repertoire. In that version of the famous Led Zeppelin song, the Jimmy Page solo has been replaced by a transcription played by the wind section.

He then obeyed a Zappa custom, also considering that some of his compositions derive from transcriptions of guitar solos. The second movement of Sad Jane is one of them. "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", said Zappa to Guitar Player (Non-Foods column, November 1983).

Revised Music for Low Budget Orchestra, with a transcription of the guitar solo, is now in the repertoire that the Ensemble Modern performed in 2000 and last year in a show entitled Greggery Peccary and other Persuasions, which is also the program of the recent RCA Red Seal Cd with the same title. It is a very important album because includes a lot of arrangements written by Askin after 1993. Many groups and orchestras have performed music from the Zappa catalogue closed 10 years ago, the EM is probably the only one who played music that has moved since 1993, and has moved in the right ICE-Z - January 16, 2004, London, Theatro Technis xenoarrangements - fg 2/2 direction as the Askin choices for Revised Music prove. Unfortunately Askin has (temporarily?) ceased working with this music, we do hope that others will follow working with the same approach.

Anyway, letís go back to our question. Do there exist convincing alternatives to the transcription of the guitar solos or to venture upon new guitar improvisations? Presumably risking, we answer in the affirmative. We have emphasised how the solos we are dealing with play a very precise role in certain pieces. Therefore, if the arranger of Drowning Witch would replace the two solos with other two Zappa compositions derived from as many guitar solo transcriptions, such transcriptions should be expressively akin to the music he will be forced to renounce.

Since we do not have a vast catalogue of candidates (they say the Big Swifty theme should be one of them, but as for the others, the chase may start), it makes us feel like conceiving a real risk. If the arranger of this new hypothetical Drowning Witch comes to believe not to conceive new guitar improvisations in place of the two Ďmovementsí based upon the two Zappa solos, he could try to graft further two compositions of the very same guitarist that may play equivalent roles as far as statistical density and conceptual continuity are concerned.

We anticipate that such a risky project would bring ferocious criticism to the arranger, no matter how good would the outcome be. However we do think that the idea, apart from the specific piece of FZ manipulated music, is not so far from the one that brought to the conception of a lot Zappa patchworks, often constructed also using music of other composers (a remark that could bring us to conceive an even more risky project!). Recently, we have insanely day-dreamed of such grafts applied to Burnt Weeny Sandwich, an album that probably features one of the best Ďside aí of the Zappa opus. We were wondering "How BWS side a can be possibly performed for orchestra, vocals and rock rhythm section"? Of course, the first answer has been "without those guitar solos (Theme from Burnt Weeny Sandwich and Holiday in Berlin, Full Blown) or that guitarist, no way"! The second has generated the following program (grafted music underlined): 1 Wplj 2:53 2 Igorís Boogie, Phase One 0:36 3 Overture to a Holiday in Berlin 1:27 4 The Clap 1:23 5 Igorís Boogie, Phase Two 0:34 6 Bogus Pomp Overture 1:01 7 Would You Like a Snack? 1:22 8 Holiday In Berlin 2:41 9 Janetís Big Dance Number 1:18 10 Aybe Sea 2:46 1, 2, 3, 5 e 10 are those of BWS, 4 comes from Chungaís Revenge, 6 is the first minute of Bogus Pomp (LSO version), 7 (from 0:00 to 1:22) and 9 come from 200 Motels and 8 (track 12, from 1:55 to 4:36) from the bootleg Tengo ína Minchia Tanta (included in Beat the Boots II series). The 6, 7, 8 sequence replaces the first part of Holiday in Berlin, Full Blown, but itís the same music, plus this hypothetical arrangement includes the 1971 vocal version of Holiday, never published by FZ (with exception of the Rhino series). We have to admit that The Clap is not so satisfying as replacement of Theme from Burnt Weeny Sandwitch, however Janetís Big Dance Number seems sort of suitable (considering that it is a day-dream) to succeed the Holiday in Berlin, Full Blown guitar solo. Read it as a brute experiment, just to actually give the idea. We are ready to quarrel and to be insulted, we dream of risky projects of musicians, orchestra or generous and inspired institutions who are willing to give their commitment to a musical work ten years after the death of Frank Zappa. "So it goes" people on Tralfamadore say.


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