Frank Zappa – links and suggestions

Here’s a very informative interview with Frank Zappa (by Barry Miles) in which Zappa talks about his editing techniques at some length


Give me some more apple…

…from “Peefeeyatko” at 2:51…

“The whole body of my work is one composition”

and a little later…

“You should be able to organize any kind of a sound and put it into your music. So, I wound up with a style of music that has snorks, burps, dissonant chords and nice tunes and triads and straight rhythms and complicated rhythms and just about anything in any order and the easiest way to sum up the aesthetic would be – anything, anytime, anyplace for no reason at all – and I think with an aesthetic like that you can have pretty good latitude for being creative”


…a little later:

“…if you just want to do what everybody thinks music ought to be, then…you know…get another career. I want to find out…”

“If you try and do anything that nobody has done before, basically you don’t know how to call it; you don’t know what to say about it, so you got to invent a vocabulary for it and invent your own processes and invent your own rules and the rules should be based on whatever it was that sounded good to you when you did that particular experiment”

Zappa was an early adopter of almost every significant new recording technology since the dawn of multitrack, and often used those technologies and devices in entirely original ways.

beginning a life of excessive overdubbage – nonstop, 12 hours a day.” This aberrant device-centric behavior, a theme that recurs frequently in Zappa’s lyrics, was made possible in part by the fact that Pal contained the world’s only staggered head, 5-track, half-inch tape recorder, constructed by Buff at a time when mono was the industry standard.

By the time Lumpy Gravy was eventually released, Zappa had transformed the all-instrumental project (“we’re only in it for the money”) into a bewildering collage of music, conspiratorial dialog recorded under the grand piano at Apostolic, Motorhead Sherwood riffing on cars, cartoonish sound effects and “snorks.” As Zappa himself recalled, he had spent nine months editing the 2-track master.

This wholesale revision of a completed work became a common theme in Zappa’s work. As he explained to Rolling Stone interviewer Jerry Hopkins in early 1968, “It’s all one album. All the material on the albums is organically related, and if I had all the master tapes and I could take a razor blade and cut them apart and put it together again in a different order, it would still make one piece of music you can listen to. Then, I could take that razor blade and cut it apart and reassemble it a different way and it would still make sense. I could do this 20 ways. The material is definitely related.”

Both Absolutely Free and We’re Only In It For the Money featured non-stop, segued album sides arranged as suites of songs, interspersed with field recordings of bandmembers’ dialog and sections of musique concrete (“natural” sounds modified by tape manipulation). These audio jump cuts and sudden changes in ambience were also reflected in the music, as doo-wop, pop songs, political commentary, fuzz guitar rock and cocktail jazz all piled up on each other. As the years went by, Zappa’s edits became smoother, to the point of undetectability, but he consistently used editing as a compositional tool and created many coherent (if idiosyncratic) compositions from apparently random audio scraps.

By late 1967, Apostolic Studios had installed a prototype Scully 12-track recorder

allowed engineer Dick Kunc to assemble one composition with 40 overdubbed tracks built into it, an extraordinary accomplishment in the days before noise reduction.

httpv:// (it must be a camel) (Inca Roads) (Stevie’s spanking) (inca roads live)

Though road tapes were typically recorded on a Scully 4-track at 30 ips with Telefunken C-40 noise reduction, Zappa also arranged for his guitar solos to be recorded wild onto a stereo Nagra, a technique that provided him with a ready library of solos more or less dissociated from their original accompaniment. “Frank was notorious for pulling solos off of songs that had been done years earlier,” recalls Moire. “He’d pull a guitar solo off this song and put it on that song – sometimes totally different songs.”

Zappa dubbed the technique “xenochrony,” from the Greek words xeno (strange or alien) and chrono (time). As he explained, “In this technique, various tracks from unrelated sources are randomly synchronized with each other to make a final composition with rhythmic relationships unachievable by other means.” For example, in the case of the Zoot Allures track “Friendly Little Finger,” the solo guitar and bass were recorded in a dressing room on a 2-track Nagra and then later combined with an unrelated drum track (out-take) from “The Ocean Is the Ultimate Solution,” with additional instrumentation scored to complement the newly produced time signatures. Xenochrony proved to be a powerful new compositional tool for Zappa, and he returned to it many times over later albums.


keep it greasy (from 3:40) (friendly little finger)

Frank once had me cut a piece of foam out and mount a Pignose amp on the harp of a Bosendorfer grand piano, pointing down to the soundboard in the piano. Then he went out and put a sandbag on the sustain pedal, determined what he was going to play, and then, with those little rubber mutes that piano tuners use, he muted out the detrimental harmonics, knowing what he was going to play, knowing which strings were going to resonate.” (the central scrutinizer – Joe’s Garage)


Overdubbing / bounce down, forced by track count limitation

Mixing desk ‘mentality’

Re-assembly of both stereo mixes and parts within multitracks

Mixing/combining live and studio performances (re-assembly and xenochrony)

Always bear in mind that the developers of these techniques, on the whole, moved with the times and embraced technological advances.

In that sense being victims of technological circumstances forced them to be creative despite those restrictions.

Did they ever go back?

About Gareth Stuart 59 Articles
studio owning tonmeister/pro tools engineer/musician/producer, p/t university lecturer, dad/husband, ironman (triathlete) & keen skier

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