Frank Zappa's musical language

Frank Zappa's musical language

A study of the music of Frank Zappa

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Following upon a vocally oriented accessible album "You are what you is" (1981), Zappa concentrated on his further establishment as a composer of modern music for the coming albums. After the "200 motels" recordings he had repeatedly tried to get some more performances of his orchestral scores. Most attempts failed for all kinds of reasons, except for the "Orchestral favourites" sessions (recorded in 1975, released in 1979). In "The real Frank Zappa book" he's using several pages to utter his frustrations about unfulfilled agreements. In 1982 however Zappa had enough means to hire the London Symphony Orchestra (LSO) and Pierre Boulez commissioned him to compose a piece for the Ensemble Intercontemporain.


The LSO was given a large program of one and a half hour of music, which was originally released in two volumes. The first one of 1983 having new compositions, the second one of 1987 mostly containing large orchestra versions of music stemming from "200 motels" and "Orchestral favourites". With the Ensemble Intercontemporain three pieces of music were recorded, that together with computer performed music were released as "The perfect stranger" in 1984. Most of the new compositions show Zappa's atonal side full blown.
Zappa's music in general is not accessible, often sounding as loose ends when hearing it for the first time. The appreciation of his music is a matter of time and getting accustomed to his rhythmic and harmonic versatility. For the majority of CD buyers, who look for music for direct consumption, his name is familiar, but what he stands for remains obscure and inunderstandable. Inaccessibility applies most of all to atonal music, when you lose all technical grip of music you're acquainted with. The better atonal music starts to work when, after listening more frequently, you start recognizing the structure building elements in it and the composition comes alive. Most of Zappa's atonal music has this effect, in some cases it's more experimental. His atonal music is of the free kind; apart from some early stuff, he doesn't apply preconceived things as serialism.
The current CD release is carries the title "London Symphony Orchestra, Vol. I & II" in full. The material was released on two seperate vinyl albums in the eighties, with two individual album numbers in the official Zappa catalogue:
Volume I (1983), release nr. #38: Sad Jane, Pedro's dowry, Envelopes and Mo 'n Herbs vacation.
Volume II (1987), release nr. #48: Bogus Pomp, Bob in Dacron and Strictly genteel.

1.1-2. Bob in Dacron

The friendliest new piece recorded with the L.S.O. is probably "Sad Jane". Though not a regular tonal work, there can be diatonic material recognized in it. Possibly for this reason Zappa used it as the album opener on volume I. It was written however as part II of a two-part ballet with "Bob in Dacron" as part I. On the CD release volumes I and II are mingled and reordered. Now "Bob in Darcon" and "Sad Jane" are coupled as originally intended. In 2012 a dissertation by Vu Nguyen appeared, with a few bars from "Bob in Dacron" and quite a lot of examples from "Sad Jane" in it. See the literature list for the details.

Bob in Dacron, section (midi file)

Bob in Dacron, section (transcription)
Bars from Bob in Dacron and Sad Jane, lead melody (score)

The example above contains bars 243-259 from "Bob in Dacron". It corresponds with 4:21-5:04 from movement II on the "L.S.O." CD. It's a good example to look at for noticing the many ways Zappa is structuring his music, combined with an ongoing desire for variation. It goes as:
- Bars 243-6. A repeated figure in an odd meter and rhythm. On CD the figure from staff 3 starts at 4:11. This figure gets accompanied by a series of other figures. Bars 243-6 include are the last one from this series, a little counterpoint movement in staff 4. The whole is atonal.
- Bars 247-8. For the remainder of the example you can see the following global pattern: two bars in 3/4 with held notes, alternated with one bar in an odd meter with melody lines. These bars with odd meters are played by the string section only. All other bars are played by wind instruments. So the instrumentation is used as well as a method to support the alternation. The chord in bars 247-8 is pretty dissonant. It's made up of stacked major sevenths, as a series G-Gb-F-E.
- Bar 249. A bar in 7/8. Here the music becomes diatonic, but without a clear pedal note/tonic it can't be assigned to a specific key. This goes for much of "Sad Jane" too. Like Clement below, Vu Nguyen noted examples of rhythmic variations in his Sad Jane dissertation. Here it concerns the upper descant in staff 1 from the bars with odd meters. This melody line, with a different rhythm, can be found in other parts of "Bob in Dacron" and "Sad Jane" as well (see the lead melody example above). As happening more often, there can be differences between the score and the CD version(s). In this case they are minor. The three repeated B notes get combined to one dotted quarter note. The final A from bar 249 has either become inaudible or got skipped altogether. Most variations in "Sad Jane" or Zappa's music in general are standard, thus both melodic and rhythmical.
- Bars 250-1. The chord from bars 247-8 returns.
- Bar 252. A bar in 5/4. The music is atonal again. The style is homophonic, all parts are moving in the same direction. Something Vu Nguyen noted is that Zappa can let the single notes of his melodies go up and down after each other for longer periods. He's using the term contour interval (INT), that can have the values of + for ascending and - for descending. In this bar it's + - + - + + - + -. Thus apart from one time two times a subsequent plus happening, the remainder is plus and minus alternating.
- Bars 253-4. Another held dissonant chord. Here dynamics are used to give it some more variation: the volume decreases and swells again per bar.
- Bar 255. Another melodic bar in 5/4. Here the writing style has become polyphonic. Apart from the parallel thirds in staff 1, the other two melodies are following their own directions.
- Bars 256-7. These two bars are alike bars 253-4, but played louder and with the dissonants coming out more sharply.
- Bar 258. The second 7/8 bar in this example. The writing style is mixed. In bar 255 and 258 you can again see that on the CD the repeated eight notes get joined into a quarted note.
- Bar 259. The final chord of this passage, held over a longer period (I let it start in 3/4 again, but can't tell for sure that this is the case in the score). This ending chord is relatively consonant. The only minor second dissonance combination, F#-G, is taking place over a distance of two octaves, thus not that sharp. It clearly serves as a resting point. Consonants can really sound extra beautiful in a context like this.

1.3-4. Sad Jane

As indicated above, "Sad Jane" is the second movement of a ballet, with "Bob in Dacron" as its first movement. Some bars from "Sad Jane" were already shown above. The opening bars from "Sad Jane" contain:
- Bars 1-2. The piece opens with the chord C-E-A-B, accompanied by a repeating harp figure in staff 6. The bass pedal A implies A Dorian.
- Bars 3-4. The bass pedal note switches to G#, thus the scale becomes an A Dorian variant with a major 7th, instead of a standard diatonic scale. Nguyen calls it "A Dorian with a somewhat ambiguous leading tone". It makes the harmony more dissonant. In bar 6 the opening melody ends with G natural, thus normal A Dorian.
- Bars 4-6. Melodic material enters the picture. The music is through-composed with ongoing variations upon a series of motifs. The melody from staffs 5-6 could be called the first. As pointed at by Nguyen, the movement in its tail, F#-G#-E-G, with two upward steps followed by a descending step, is the element that gets varied upon frequently during the first movement of "Sad Jane".
- Bars 7-8. These two bars are composed in a so-called hocketing style. On every eighth tick another instrument plays one or more subsequent notes with varying durations. Bar 8 can be seen as a variation upon bar 7. The music is now made up of fragmented diatonic material. Beats 1-2 of bars 7-8 could be interpreted as belonging to one set and beats 3-4 as belonging to another set. Which scales can't be said. There is no key note, it's floating.
- Bars 9-10. Staffs 1-2 contain a variation upon motif 1. It's tail is identical. The other instruments continue to play in a hocketing manner.
- Bar 11. The meter switches to 7/8. The accent switches from the wind to the brass section. Motif 1 turns up in another variation. The variation upon the tail appears in staff 7 in the shape of E-F-A-D.
- Bar 12. Faintly the tail gets varied upon again. The bells from staff 5 play the three upward notes, after which staffs two and three continue with a lower chord. So far the rhythm has about all been evenly divided over the meters with the eight note as time unit. For Zappa standards that's uncommon, making the opening sound quite serene and beautifully orchestrated. The example described below shows more diversity regarding the rhythm aspect.

Sad Jane, opening (midi file)
Sad Jane, section (midi file)

Sad Jane, opening (transcription).
Sad Jane, section (transcription/score).

The second example above are bars 104-112, to be found a little after the beginning of movement II. With a number of corrections from the score the chords can be identified more clearly, so it can be seen better that much of "Sad Jane" is diatonic or made up of scale fragments, next to more atonal episodes. The identification of the chords as sus2 and sus4 chords by Nguyen suggest a diatonic environment. These two chord types are, in case of Zappa, common in his diatonic music. The example goes as:
- Bars 104-5: the chord is Gbsus2 plus F or Db plus Gb. There are not truely tonics operating here. The positioning of the chords give the note, that is played the lowest, a weak suggestion of being the tonic. In this case the implied scale is Gb, with only once an A natural in the melody turning up as an altered note within this scale. The notation is done in an atonal manner with enharmonic variants.
- Bars 106-7: the chord is Bbsus4 and the implied scale Bb. This second excerpt from "Sad Jane" shows a mix of regular and irregular rhythms in a 4/4 meter. The irregularity shows itself in the form of a quintuplet, but more so in the difficult clarinet-drumset part of bars 112-4.
- Bar 108: the chord is Dsus2. The melody uses C/G and C#/G#, making it impossible to assign this bar to one specific scale.
- Bar 109: the chord is a stacked fifth on Eb, corresponding with the notes from Bbsus4, and the implied scale is Eb Lydian.
- Bar 110: the chord is Dsus4 in the score (on CD I don't manage to hear it's positioning for certain, the fourth A-D is the best audible element). The implied scale is D or D Mixolydian.
- Bar 111: the chord is a stacked fifth on C, corresponding with the notes from Gsus4, and the implied scale is C Lydian.
- Bars 112-4: here the rhtyhm becomes the ear-catching factor. The melody is using D and C only. The timpani offer some more pitches and the whole gets atonal. In case of Zappa it's more a rule than exceptional that CD versions differ from the score (see the Uncle Meat section for an overview). Bar 112 and following got altered during the L.S.O. recording sessions, probably on the spot. All harmony notes got skipped and the rhythm goes differently. The descant pattern is D-C-D-pause-D-pause. In the score all notes and the pauses are of equal length, using eight notes as triplets. It's evenly divided over the beats. This is not the case on CD, where the pattern still exists, but with a much more irregular spreading of the notes over the beats.

The included bars in the dissertation of Nguyen cover:

Bob in Dacron
- Lead melody: bars 234-237, 249-258 and 291-294.
Sad Jane
- Reductions: bars 1-4, 104-116 and 149-152.
- Lead melody: bars 5-23, 35-36, 41-46, 54-64, 66-69, 77-78, 81-85 and 162-167.
- Harmony: bars 94-101.
- Wind ensemble arrangement: bars 27-30, 47-53, 119-121 and 158-160.

1.5-7. Mo and herb's vacation

Zappa's largest composition in the atonal area is the three part orchestral piece "Mo and herb's vacation", for which I'm giving a melody that is repeated and varied upon on different places in the piece. It's an example of a sort of cross-referencing figure on a macro scale (relationship at great distance), that builds coherence in such compositions.

Mo 'n Herbs vacation, part I, 2:18 till 2:25 (midi file)
Mo 'n Herbs vacation, part III, 1:41 till 1:48 (midi file)

Mo 'n Herbs vacation, part I, 2:18 till 2:25 and part III, 1:41 till 1:48 (transcription).

This melody is introduced by a clarinet in part I (starting at 2:18), where it is accompanied by two other clarinets, mainly playing parallel at varying interval distances. It is repeated by a solo clarinet in part III, starting at 1:41 and by a solo violin at 3:54, playing a fourth higher. On a micro scale motif variation can be detected in this melody in bars 4-7. The motif is here constructed as one starting note in the prior bar, one metric accent note, followed by a three times repeated note. The melodic line of the motif is mostly descending. Variations on this motif section of the melody return quite often:

- Part II, 2:46 till 2:57, 3:19 till 3:32, 3:39 till 3:51, 3:59 till 4:07, 5:03 till 5:04, 6:30 till 6:38, 7:21 till 7:43.
- Part III, 3:11 till 3:25, 11:40 till 12:17.

The last mentioned variation is given here beneath (the accompanying notes in the transcription are left out). It's played slowly at the end of part III, preceding the coda outburst. The three times repeating note is replaced by a twice repeating note.

Mo 'n Herbs vacation, part III, 11:40 till 12:19 (midi file)

Mo 'n Herbs vacation, part III, 11:40 till 12:19 (transcription).

During his lifetime Zappa never ceased expressing his admiration for Edgar Varèse, so it might be obvious that biographers and researchers attempt to compare Zappa's music with the music by Varèse. An essay by Allan Wright can be downloaded at This article collects some people's statements about this matter and further investigates them. His main conclusion on page 65 is that "although it is easy enough to indicate areas of his music that evoke some of Varèse's sounds, it would be a stretch to conclusively say that Zappa adopted Varèse's techniques of composition". Next is the opening page of the "Mo 'n Herbs vacation" score, as reproduced in Allan's essay (pick-up bar and bars 1-2).

Mo 'n Herbs vacation, part I, 0:00 till 0:10 (midi file)

Mo 'n Herbs vacation, part I, 0:00 till 0:10 (score).

It's exemplary of the rhythmic variation and the outspoken atonal atmosphere to be heard in this composition. All is chromatic and the chords formed offer a wealth of dissonant harmonies. In these two bars, the following chords can be heard (bottom up, and ending with the intervals indicated as the number of minor seconds):

- Pick-up bar, beat 1: (C)-C-Db-E-Ab-Bb-Eb-G (chromatic 7-note combination), 1-3-4-2-5-4.
- Pick-up bar, beat 2: (C)-C-E-G-A-Bb-Db-F# (chromatic 7-note combination), 4-3-2-1-3-5.
- Bar 1, beat 1: (D)-D-Eb-Gb-Bb-C-F-A (chromatic 7-note combination), 1-3-4-2-5-4.
- Bar 1, beat 2: Bb-D-A-E-F-C-G (Bb Lydian scale), 4-7-7-1-7-7.
- Bar 1, beat 3, chord 1: Db-Ab-A-E-B-Eb-F# (Db Aeolian scale), 7-1-7-7-4-3.
- Bar 1, beat 3, chord 2: F-Bb-C-Db-Ab-Eb-G (F Aeolian scale), 5-2-1-7-7-4.
- Bar 1, beat 4: A-D-F-Gb-Bb-C-E-G (chromatic 8-note combination), 5-3-1-4-2-4-3.
- Bar 2, beats 1-2: Eb-G-Bb-C-Db-E-F-A (chromatic 8-note combination), 4-3-2-1-3-1-4.
- Bar 2, beats 3-4: (A-Db-E-F)-Db-E-F-A (chromatic 4-note combination).

For the human ear it's virtually impossible to identify each note in such a chord without having the score. Most chords are chromatic, but it can also happen that they can form a (part of a) diatonic scale. In this case Lydian and Aeolian, but it occurs upon different bass notes. With that many notes altering, the overall sound remains chromatic. The dissonant chords are dominating thus persistently that the few spots with consonants are notable, as at 9:27 through 9:38 at the end of movement II. Clarinet player David Ocker features as the protagonist of "Mo 'n Herbs vacation", most specifically in movement I. Using traditional terms, this three part work holds the middle between a symphony and a clarinet concert.

2.1 Envelopes

"Envelopes" was first released the year before in a rock band version. The differences between the orchestral and rock band version are numerous. Just to mention some, the rock band version goes much faster: 2:25 against 4:04. Secondly this version knows far more counterpoint lines, whereas the orchestral version is more dealing with harmonies. In the transcribed section however the orchestra is also playing three part counterpoint, as the rock band does from the beginning. It's all atonal here. Bars 9-11 offer a variation upon the material in bars 1-3. Bars 15 and 16 follow the chromatic scale with parallel playing, leading to the repeated figure of bar 17. "Envelopes" first appears in setlists from bootleg recordings from the 1977 fall tour. At one point it had lyrics, as you can hear on the 2010 "Hammersmith Odeon" release by the ZFT. The composition since then developed into three directions simultaneously. The ultimate rock band version from 1982, the orchestral version and a version for wind quintet. The last one gets mentioned by Jonathan Bernard in his article "Frank Zappa's crossover pieces".

Envelopes, 1:38-2:22 (midi file)

Envelopes, 1:38-2:22 (transcription).

2.2 Pedro's dowry

The tone for "Pedro's dowry" is set right at the beginning. Instead of developing a melody, it opens with a dissonant chord followed by various individual notes and percussion. Quite bizarre to begin an orchestral piece this way. The whole piece is extremely versatile, up to being aggressive, with all sort of sections following upon each other overnight. It can be calm chamber music at some moments, in other bars half the orchestra is playing dissonants along an energetic drum part. The following section shows a larger theme in 4/4 over a vamp, out of the blue followed by a chord in bar b). At this point it's polyrhythmic. The drumset and the brass part #2 continue in 4/4, while the celli and the brass part #1 are playing in 12/8. In all probability Zappa took one meter as leading to improve the readability, but I don't know which one (a couple of examples with the L.S.O. in this study are transcribed; the original scores are available at Barfko Swill).

Pedro's dowry, section (midi file)

Pedro's dowry, section (transcription).

2.3 Bogus pomp (1983)

One of the examined pieces in the Allen Wright study (see above) is "Bogus pomp" (L.S.O. version), where he looks at the orchestration. In his opinion "Bogus pomp" is made up of smaller blocks of around two minutes with various types of orchestration. He notes that it is "the recurring deployment of a given orchestration [that] provides a sense of overall continuity to the piece". My study hardly deals with this subject so it offers a quite different angle to look at Zappa's music. He also notes that "Bogus pomp" is highly sectional, having a lack of thematic form. It is true that this piece was composed in blocks, as indicated in the tracklist from "200 Motels" and the scores then used. The "Overture" and "Centerville" sections, that were added to the 1983 version, are unrelated separate blocks. They now serve as some sort of prelude to the 1975 version, but could just as well have been indicated as separate movements. I agree with Allan's conclusions, though I feel uncomfortable with the assertiveness of his choice of words. I'd rather say that the unity in "Bogus pomp" comes from various elements equally important as motivic relationships (in the Orchestral favorites sections I've presented some of them), stylistic continuity (Zappa talked about "cheesy fanfare music") and the orchestration.

David ocker was also asked to re-orchestrate "Bogus pomp". Zappa could neither apply the "200 Motels" nor the "Orchestral favorites" scores one on one to the L.S.O. Sections from "Bogus pomp" aren't in present in "200 Motels" and the "Orchestral favorites" orchestra was much smaller than the L.S.O. orchestra. So the "Bogus pomp" (1975) piano variation, as presented in the "Orchestral favorites" section, now gets spread out over the string sections from the L.S.O. The notes are identical, the sound is much different.

Bogus pomp (1983), section (midi file)

Bogus pomp (1983), section (transcription).

The material from "Bogus pomp" was built up in a couple of phases:
- Zappa started composing themes from "Bogus pomp" around 1968 and several pieces were performed by members of the BBC Symphony Orchestra in that year. In this study a section from "The rejected Mexican pope leaves the stage" is an example from this 1968 execution. That particular section is a variation upon one of the themes from "Bogus pomp", that later on would get skipped.
- In 1970 Zubin Mehta conducted the L.A. Philharmonic, playing some of the scores Zappa had prepared for his upcoming "200 Motels project", including parts from the later "Bogus pomp". The opening bars from "Dance of the just plain folks" are present in the Fillmore East 1970 section.
- The scores for "200 Motels" and "200 Motels - the suites" contain most of "Bogus pomp". See the 200 Motels section for the "Overture", that in 1983 came to serve as the opening block of "Bogus pomp".
- See the Orchestral favorites section for variations upon the "This town is a sealed tuna sandwich" theme, the theme that returns the most during "Bogus pomp". The piano variation already got mentioned above.

2.4 Strictly genteel

In the Orchestral favorites section, I mentioned "Strictly genteel" as a composition where Zappa is applying classical structures. In this case the variations form. A couple of sections from "Strictly genteel" are present in the Yellow shark section.

Kent NeganoThe performances of Zappa's orchestral works were haunted by low budgets, limited rehearsal times and union regulations. The first recording stems from 1961 with the Pamona Symphony Orchestra for the "World's greatest sinner" movie. It had a very poor budget and the whole orchestra went on a single track. Zappa called the result rancid. The recordings for "Lumpy gravy" and "200 Motels" also suffered from low budgets. At the end of the seventies talks were held with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra and the Residence Orchestra of The Hague for doing sponsored concerts. In both cases Zappa got confronted with unannounced extra costs along the way. The projects were annulled, but Zappa had by now all his scores copied at his own expense.
After the ill-fated 1982 European tour, he decided not to wait for another chance, but to get his scores performed one way or the other by hiring an orchestra himself. The LSO was a self-governed orchestra that volunteered to take this opportunity. In Kent Nagano Zappa had found an enthusiastic conductor (photo to the left by KassKara). The way Zappa describes the event in The real Frank Zappa book is good reading stuff but tendentious. The aim was to get as much recordings as accurate as possible in the about eight days that were available. That was an inner conflict of course. It came to a head during the last hour that was reserved for the final take for "Strictly Genteel". The trumpet section came in 15 minutes late after a break in the pub and Zappa, who was paying for every minute, hated it seeing the chance for a better performance lost. It's a pity that this has become to overshadow that in general everything went well. I personally consider Vol. I a masterpiece. Zappa had impeccable ears and apologizes for the mistakes in the recordings, but the average listener probably won't notice (including myself). His sense for accuracy also inhibited some further performances to appear on record as the concert including "Sinister Footwear" by the Berkeley Symphony Orchestra in 1984. When rehearsal times were too short, he wouldn't even allow a performance at all.


The co-operation with the Ensemble Intercontemporain worked well for both sides for the publicity aspect, but not for building a good relationship. Some members had expected arranged pop music and doubted whether Zappa could write scores himself. The atmosphere changed to the bad when the ensemble found itself sweating on the compositions and Zappa demanded perfection, sending away musicians that weren't performing up to his standards. The European continental world of modern music used to be full of intellectualism and leftism. It only survived on government subsidies. In 2001 Karl-Heinz Stockhausen was videotaped calling the September 11th attack a masterpiece of art. Flirting with communism was fashionable among European intellectuals during the seventies and the death rates under Mao and Pol Pot only became better known in the nineties.

1. The perfect stranger

DoelenensembleThe piece that Pierre Boulez originally commissioned and got the project going. It follows directly upon the material on "The LSO Vol. I", stylistically and in orchestration. It's more loosely constructed than the LSO pieces and Zappa left his drumset home this time. In October 2011 The Doelenensemble played some pieces from "The perfect stranger", including the title track. To the left you can see them during their concert at The Doelen, a concert hall in the city of Rotterdam, Holland. The scores are today only for rent for public performances. A flash file on Youtube makes a transcription much easier, because one now has the opportunity to follow their conductor. The following is 1:18-1:40 from their performance, that corresponds with 1:02-1:21 on the Boulez album (the time difference is due to an opening pause). Again there are version differences, as happens more often in Zappa's output. Because I don't have the original score, I can't tell what causes it. There might very well be different versions of the score itself, because there are various examples of Zappa revising his compositions. If this is not the case then either during the Boulez recordings adaptations were made or during the Doelenensemble rehearsals. It's theoretically also possible that Zappa edited the tape in his studio after it got recorded. The CD I have carries the edition number Rykodisc RCD 10542, referring to a master tape, approved by Zappa in 1993. In the Boulez version the irregular groupings within a 9/8 meter may look awkward, but it's something Zappa could do, also for his rock band (see the second "Drowning witch" example with the figure for "she could mutate insanely").

The perfect stranger, 1:22-1:40 (Doelenensemble) (midi file)
The perfect stranger, 1:02-1:21 (Boulez conducts Zappa) (midi file)

The perfect stranger, fragment (transcription)

The differences to be heard in the Doelenensemble version are:
- Preliminary notes: 4:5 eight notes become a regular intro, lasting 3/4.
- Bar 1: the 4:5 eight notes become 4:3 quarter notes. The meter of bar 1 thus becomes 5/4.
- Bar 3: the 5:4 eight notes become 4:3 quarter notes followed by a dotted eighth note. The first note of the ninetuplet gets into the 4th beat followed by normal 16th notes. Bar 3 then lasts 6/4.

The picture you're getting is clear: "The perfect stranger" is an outspoken atonal composition with various forms of irregular groupings. Everybody is playing the same rhythm, thus you're creating a series of chords made up of three parts: the descant in the first two staffs, a part in the middle (staff 3) and a bass part (bottom staff).

With the original scores unavailable to the general public, reproduced sections in studies can be helpfull. In this case "The perfect stranger" gets ample attention in two academic studies. These are the one by Martin Herraiz (H.) and Brett Clement (Cl.). See the references in the left menu for the details. Their analyses deal with the thematic construction of these pieces, but mostly with the formation of harmonies. An attempt is done to identify several chords as being part of a so-called chord bible, a set of preferred chords Zappa appears to have used around this time for his orchestral works (this chord bible is unpublished, so its content is not really my business; otherwise see the 2009 study by Clement, or my left menu, Lydian theory, chapter V). Combined these two studies offer enough examples from the original score to get a reasonable estimation of "The perfect stranger". Thus it can seen that the score knows two movements. On the Perfect stranger CD the transition, happening at 3:50, is not perceptible: there is no pause taken, or any clear change for that matter. Strange, because the audible ceasure at 10:14 (bar 213) apparently does not coincide with a new movement.
The reproduced examples cover:

Movement 1
- Excerpts: bars 5-17, 43-46 and 48-51 (Cl.).
- Chords: bar 37 (Cl.).
- Lead melody, with chords indications: bars 52-62, 65, 71-77 and 79-85 (H.)
- Reduction: bars 79-85 (H.)
My first example from above can be found half way between bars 17 and 43.
Movement 2
- Excerpts: bars 1-8, 16-20, 21-25 and 56-60 (Cl.)
- Lead melody: bars 17-32, 48-70, 71-78, 199-222 and 234 (H.)
- Harmony, reduced: bars 48-77 and 215-217 (H.)
- Reduction: bars 221-226 (H.)

Clement for instance notices thematic variations over a distance, like I did above with "Mo 'n Herb's vacation". On page 229 of his study he describes what he calls the main theme from "The perfect stranger", a melody of 12 notes, first occurring during bars 8 through 16 of movement I (not a 12-note serial string to avoid any confusion). These concern bars 8-17 (see below), his example 5.38a. Further below on the same page he continues with: "now consider Example 5.38b, the second statement of the theme in “The Perfect Stranger I.” Here, the melody appears in isomelic variation, with the first three pitches transposed by T2.". His example 5.38b are bars 43-46. Isomelism is a term he's using for a rhythmic variation, where the pitches of the melody are kept the same, or transposed only (the word isomelism is academic Greek for "same melody"). T2 stands for a transposition with a major second. On page 231 Clement continues with "[...] the fourth, and final, statement of the theme in “The Perfect Stranger,” occurring at m. 199 of “The Perfect Stranger II.” This final statement initiates a huge isomelic restatement of the previously discussed mm. 16–78, which plays out until the close of the piece. Here, however, the theme is returned to its initial pitch level (beginning on F, as in Example 5.38a)."
These examples seem to corroborate that there are version differences between the first Boulez recording and the score distributed today. The Clement examples of bars 5-17 include the clarinet and the string section. He doesn't explicitely say if his examples are the complete score or not and obviously they aren't. Even so differences can be noticed, also for the string section. First of all there are tempo changes needed to get it synchronous with the CD. Bars 5-6 last as long as bar 7, a bit puzzling. So either Zappa prescribed a change to half tempo, or it's a serious version difference. There are also little differences to be heard in the lead melody (staffs 4-5 in my example). In bar 8 there you've got two extra notes being played. In bar 9 an A natural is played instead of an A flat. Because of these differences it can't be taken for granted that all of the analyses by Herraiz and Clement apply to the Boulez version as well.

The perfect stranger, opening (Boulez conducts Zappa) (midi file)

The perfect stranger, bars 5-10 (Boulez conducts Zappa), transcription
The perfect stranger I, bars 5-17 and 43-46, plus The perfect stranger II, bars 199-212 (score)

Something you can also notice is the high degree of syncopism. Zappa willingly avoided any perception of steady rhythms within this piece, with downbeats only happening half of the time, something which may explain why irritations grew during the recording sessions with the Ensemble Intercontemporain. Zappa's music requires a perfect understanding of timing, which, in case of a larger group of musicians playing together, can be demanding without much rehearsing time.

2. Naval aviation in art?

A large sequence, moving motifs over a changing chord texture. According to Gail Zappa it dates from the "200 Motels" period. It got first recorded in 1975 for the "Orchestral favorites" album. As with more of Zappa's works it's a one time only type of composition, adagio all through and dealing intensely with harmonies. Quite uncharacteristic for Zappa. The origins of "Naval aviation in art?" indeed lie around 1971, when elements of this composition were used as background music for "200 Motels". Two later versions are coming by in the Them or us section of this study.

3. The girl in the magnesium dress

In the Guitar Player special issue Zappa! of 1992, Zappa explained the origins of "The girl in the magnesium dress": "The piece was made from Synclavier digital dust ... [explains the existence of this dust as G numbers, inaudible musical parameter data]. So we converted this dust into something I could then edit for pitch, and the dust indicated a rhythm. So what I did was take the rhythm of the dust and impose pitch data on the dust and thereby move the inaudible G number into the world of audibility with a pitch name on it".
Originally the piece went directly from the synclavier onto the tapes for the album. Later on the scores were printed, reworked upon and orchestrated. In 1993 the Ensemble Modern opted for inclusion of the piece for their concert program. The piece moves around between relative ease and, if you ask me, complete irregularity. Zappa prescribes a constant high tempo. Bars 48 and 97 below are two opposite sides of the piece.

The girl in the magnesium dress, bar 48 (1993 CD: 1:55 till 1:58) (midi file)
The girl in the magnesium dress, bar 97 (1993 CD: 3:56 till 3:59) (midi file)

The girl in the magnesium dress, bars 48 and 97 (notes)

Bar 48 is relaxed, as good as following a scale. The E first jumps in octaves and then the E chord is formed. Octave jumps and repeating notes return frequently in the score. Bar 97 at the end of the piece is the opposite, a total frenzy, deliberately irregular. Zappa thought of the piece as unfit for human performance, but the Ensemble Modern preferred to proceed. To make it performable changes were made during rehearsals, in bar 97 for instance notes were skipped.

4-5. Outside now again - Love story

Here Zappa typed in an improvisation over one of his favorite vamps. It goes much as a guitar solo, though there are some differences. First there are no dynamics per note, the dynamics are here achieved via doubling parts in different staffs. Secondly - I can't say this for certain - I have the impression that at this point the synclavier could only perform triplets as an irregular grouping. It is for sure that that would change drastically later on. See "Get whitey" for an example of what the synclavier ultimately could do in the nineties. Eventually the "Outside now" vamp became used for five different solos. Compared to the "Joe's garage" version of "Outside now", it's notable that the Bb-C alternation in the bass isn't present. It makes it impossible for this version to determine what the keynote is. It's floating.

Outside now again, 1:26 till 1:49 (midi file)

Outside now again, 1:26 till 1:49 (transcription)

Pierre BoulezOn side two of the original vinyl album the accent shifted towards the synclavier. "Love story" is a short and energetic synclavier composition. In the CD booklet Zappa describes the seven pieces from "The perfect stranger" as dance pieces, each with a story and built-in sound effects.

Pierre Boulez has followed a triple career in music. He is best known as conductor of the modern classics from Wagner onwards. Secondly he was the driving force behind the Paris IRCAM institute for exploring modern music, to which the Ensemble Intercontemporain belonged. Thirdly he is a composer himself. Zappa for instance was well familiar with Boulez' composition "Le marteau sans maître" (photo downloaded, source unknown).

6. Dupree's paradise (1984)

The theme from the piece was first used in the seventies to set off soloing of the group members. Here it has become an elaborate composition.
"Dupree's paradise" today exists in three quite different versions in Zappa's catalogue. The theme was first used for the 1974 tour to introduce a large experimental improvisation block for the group members. See the YCDTOSA II section for a detailed description of this "Dupree's paradise" (1974) performance. The 1984 execution only overlaps with the 1974 score for what I call phrases 1 and 2 in that section. In 1988 it returned for incorporating a trumpet solo over a vamp, followed by synclavier-rock band "jazz noise". In the version presented to the Ensemble Intercontemporain it's an 8 minutes piece composed all through without any improvisation. An exciting masterpiece mixing diatonic and atonal material as presented in the following two examples. The first contains bars from the opening with varying meters. It's played over E pedal and follows the E Lydian scale. The other stems from the middle section with two pianos playing in straight 3/4 over a bass counterpoint line. Here it's all atonal. The movement is a sort of chromatic dance in a waltz meter, full of second intervals where the larger intervals serve to keep repositioning the tiny seconds phrases.

Dupree's paradise, opening bars 5-13 (midi file)
Dupree's paradise, bars 167-184 (3:45 till 4:11) (midi file)

Dupree's paradise, bars 5-13 (notes)
Dupree's paradise, bars 167-184 (notes)

7. Jonestown

Right after Zappa obtained a synclavier, he started using if for both note entry and the construction of sound collages. "Jonestown" is an early one, described by Zappa himself as an ugly dance evoking the essential nature of all religions.
These sound collages became ever more elaborate and eventually a form of art by themselves on "Civilization phaze III" and "Dance me this". As I'm describing in the Baby snakes and Civilization phaze III sections, it's difficult to approach sound collages in the shape of sheet music in a normal way. Theoretically it can be done, but I doubt how much wiser you might be getting from it. The problem lies in sounds, that aren't constant, and the improvised duration lengths of notes. See for instance the shifting sounds of only three bars from "Basement music #2", that I've tried visualize in the Baby snakes section. The meters and rhythms of collages are or can be chosen at will, so on paper they can be only approached and they will look weird when you want to obtain some degree of accuracy.

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