Frank Zappa's musical language

Frank Zappa's musical language

A study of the music of Frank Zappa

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200 Motels For much of his musical creativity in 1970-71 Zappa was focused on the scores for "200 Motels", the low budget movie from 1971, about The Mothers of Invention on tour and everything that comes along with it. It's the first Zappa album featuring a large orchestra. It was shot in only five days in January and February 1971, with techniques that at that time were innovating, but by now have become obsolete. The sound quality and cardboard constructions make it clear that we're dealing with a movie from 1971. This doesn't go for its content and the music. The music is timeless, as its recent performances have shown. The script for "200 Motels" might just as well be filmed today. Subjects as one's penis dimension and the size of one's breasts seem only to have grown in importance. The term groupie has become outdated, but not the phenomenon.
To the right: still from the VPRO "Zappa films 200 Motels" documentary with Theodore Bikel, The Top Score Singers and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Next to the examples below, I've included links to outtakes from "200 Motels" that appear elsewhere in this study. "200 Motels" premiered in L.A. on 29 October with the along coming double-album in the same month. It's too bad that the touring in 1971 ended with misfortune, so that the project got less promotion.

"200 Motels, the suites" is the shape Zappa had in mind for performing "200 Motels" on stage by an orchestra (plus singers and some electric instruments), thus without the movie scenes and without the rock band songs. It got premiered in this set-up during the Holland Festival in 2000 (see the miscellaneous items section from the left menu). In 2013 two more performances followed. One by the BBC Concert Orchestra, Southbank Sinfonia and London Voices in the UK and one by the L.A. Philharmonic and Master chorale in the US. A live recording with the L.A. performance has appeared on CD in 2015.

From the perpective of the music, the movie itself is of interest as well, next to the soundtrack and the suites CDs. Zappa starts his liner notes for the album with saying that some of the music in the film is not included on the album and, as well as the other way round. Bars from "Naval aviation in art?" can be heard as background music during the movie. This piece premiered on the "Studio Tan" album from 1975 and got recorded again in a different version on the "Perfect stranger" CD. See the Drowning witch section for the details. There's also a "Go to the club..." intro to the so-called groupies opera on the "Tengo na minchia tanta" bootleg. The official version of this song can be found only on the movie version of "200 Motels" at about 1h:12. The "True story of 200 Motels" DVD is a documentary about making "200 Motels". In it can be seen that Zappa had planned the groupie opera from "Fillmore East, June 1971" to be part of the movie. A rehearsal for a scene with "Do you like me new car" got saved in this manner. One can read the biography by Neil Slaven, chapter 10, with the author interviewing Zappa about "200 Motels". All other unused tape got erased for re-use in order to save some money (the film went a little over budget).

"200 Motels" at first met with moderately positive and mixed reviews. Many critics found the movie incomprehensible and the music chaotic. This is only correct to a certain degree and depends upon what you expect of a movie. For a number of people, some "intellectual" Zappa fans included, it is unacceptable that something they like does not have a deeper meaning or a theory behind it. In my opinion there is nothing to be "understood" about "200 Motels". It's a series of episodes about what can happen to a band on the road without an overall plot or specific purpose. At first hearing "200 Motels" can indeed sound chaotic. The music is a bewildering mixture of styles and instrumentation. It's only the relation with the movie that gives the "200 Motels" CD its unity. There's an orchestra, a large percussion section, a choir and a rockband. The orchestra can play in full, but also more chaimber music like. Also here some people find that there has to be a system in the way Zappa composes, a theory that explains the method that makes music Zappa-like. My conclusion that Zappa didn't follow systems seems to be unacceptable to some just for conceptual reasons.
"Part of the problem is that Frank was clearly indefinable", co-producer Frank Filipetti says in the liner notes from "200 Motels - The suites". "Many people have a real problem with that. They find it necessary to categorize anything other than themselves. It makes it easier for us in this complicated world to compartmentalize everything outside of our own little circle."
Likewise some people seem to find that Zappa can be better understood by comparing him to other composers and their techniques of writing music. Of course there are simularities between Zappa and Stravinsky, Varèse, Bartok, Ravel etc. But there are also simularities between Zappa and David Bowie, Abba, The Beatles etc. In fact there are such simularities between Zappa and thousands other composers or songwriters, so one could easily fill a mass of pages with comparative studies. It's neither wrong nor much illuminating. Bottom line is that the only thing that can clarify why some composers are considered geniuses, is their music itself. In this case a few comparative remarks can suffice. There are simularities between Zappa's approach to constructing "200 Motels" and the concept of a "Gesamtkunstwerk" Richard Wagner propagated in the 19th century, the overall piece of art. For Wagner the ideal situation meant that an artist combined all forms of art. In case of an opera, a composer should not only compose the music, but write the libretto as well and do the stage designing himself. Zappa did the same for "200 Motels", eventually winding up doing the editing of the film himself as well. But there are also differences. "200 Motels" is a series of scenes that could be shot independently of each other. Their following order can be varied. For that matter the term "suites" is quite appropiate for the 2015 double CD with the orchestral parts on it. This was the form Zappa had in mind for playing "200 Motels" in the Royal Albert hall in 1971. It got banned for using inappropiate language and only got premiered during the Holland festival from 2000 (see the left menu, recent events). A live recording with the L.A. Philharmonic en the L.A. Master Chorale finally reached the market in 2015. It's a very wellcome addition to the Zappa catalogue. Not only does this version contain a half an hour of music that couldn't be recorded for the movie, the sound quality and accuracy are also much better compared to the budget strained situation from 1971.

Below I'm trying to describe the tracks from the "200 Motels" 1971 CD in a combined manner with the corresponding parts from "200 Motels - The suites". For the 1971 CD I'm using the track list from the two discs of this double CD. For "200 Motels - The suites" I'm mentioning the 13 movements. I'm following the track list of the 1971 CD as the starting point for its additional rock band songs.

Disc I track 1: Overture - Suites mvt. 1: Overture

With the "Overture" and "Would you like a snack?" from "200 Motels" Zappa returned to the opening theme from "Holiday in Berlin (full blown)" from "Burnt weeny sandwich". The first six bars from the "Overture" are a character variation, a variation upon the G-E-A-G motif, that can be heard right at the beginning of "Holiday in Berlin (full blown)" as well (here in staff 2). The bass line is specific for the "Overture", whereas the "Holiday in Berlin (full blown)" is applying some more chords here and passing much faster through the notes.

Overture, opening bars (midi file).

Overture, opening (notes).

The "Overture" starts in C with the I chord on beat one, to be blended with the II chord shortly afterwards in both bars 1 and 3 (C Lydian is also possible, the F/F# that makes the difference fails). These two bars are rhythmic variations upon each other. After the opening bars from below the original melody is followed more closely, now with an instrumentation for orchestra and choir. See below for "Would you like a snack?".

Disc I track 2: Mistery roach

"200 Motels" contains a set of regular pop songs. They are not presented as a suite of their own, but serve as resting points between the modern music for orchestra and choir. So they turn up spread out over the CD as individual songs. "Mistery roach" is placed between the previous "Overture" and the following "Dance of the rock and roll interviewers". It's straightforward rock 'n roll in 4/4.

Mystery roach, opening (midi file).

Mystery roach, opening (transcription).

The example contains the central theme:
- Bars 1-4. Instrumental opening with a I-VII alternation in E Dorian. A figure of two bars gets repeated four times. The example begins with the last two occurences of the figure. Beats 1-3 of the first bar is the E note pulsing. Beat 4 can be interpreted as I 7th with the A as passing through note or as V 7th. In the second bar the switch from the I chord to the VII chord takes places, syncopically during beat two.
- Bars 5-6. Phrase 1 of the theme. The bass continues with the I-VII alternation, while rhythmically the switch can now occur at various points during the second bar. The guitars change their pattern to a one-bar movement, also with an I-VII alternation. The VII chord for the guitars appears on beat 3 in the shape of a A-D-A-D string.
- Bars 7-8. Phrase 2. The singers continue in E Mixolydian, thus another example of mingling two closely related scales (E Dorian and E Mixolydian). As usual, when Zappa has more than one singer doing the lyrics, they don't sing their lines identically. It's done in a complementary form, enriching the harmonies.
- Bars 9-12. Phrase 3. Everybody is now playing or singing in E Dorian. The brass (staffs 2-3) is here getting clearer in the picture, while the opening is dominated by the classic rock band combination of guitars - bass - drums.
- Bars 13-15. Phrase 4, a variation upon phrase 2, played twice. Only briefly the piece returns to E Mixolydian. It's performed in two different manners with a lot of chromatic notes happening in it. During beats 3-4 of bar 15 bass and drum accelerate a bit, immediately to return to the original tempo in bar 16. The grammar and pronounciation of the lyrics get twisted to fit in better with the music. What seems to have been "The mistery roach is approaching" gets pronounced as "Dah mist'ry roach be 'proach-ah".
- Bar 16. Phrase 5, a one-bar figure played only once. Now the rhythm changes from standard on-beat 4/4 to a syncopic figure.

Disc I track 3: Dance of the rock & roll interviewers - Suites mvt. 7: What's the name of your group

Here the effect of the limited recording time becomes clear. The music from "What's the name of your group" is doable and its corresponding scene would have fitted well in the movie. It lasts 11 minutes in total, but only one minute could be recorded as the "Dance of the rock & roll interviewers". The main theme from its opening block is derived from the "Epilogue", a piece that was played live earlier in 1968. Bars 5-10 from my Epilogue example from the uncle Meat section re-appear a couple of times and get varied upon. The example below is from the second block, where the choir and the solo soprano stand central.

What's the name of your group, section (midi file).

What's the name of your group, section (transcription).

This second block features a series of different settings for the text "How do they like your music over there", of which I'm presenting the second half. It's written for the entire choir with limited accompaniment by the orchestra section (contrabasses, bassoons and occasionally the horns). The example goes as:
- Bar 1: The writing style in this example is mixed, to a degree homophonic and to a degree polyphonic. One can see that the four parts from the choir and the accompaniment follow their own lines. But their rhythm is identical, so combined they also sound as a series of chords. During bar 1 the series of intervals between the alts and sopranos is 7-4-7-4-7-4-7 (as the number of minor second steps), so an alternation between a 5th and a major third. The sopranos sing a downward line, the altos a line that alternates going up and going down. The final eight note is a repetition of the fifth note from both rows. The key tends towards D Dorian, with some altered notes.
- Bar 2: The interval series now is 7-4-4-7-7, thus continuing with 5ths and major thirds in a different pattern. The contrabass, bassoons and horns are continuing a pattern that was also used during the bars preceding this example. In this particular bar the scale becomes D minor/Aeolian with a Bb. In every bar a change to a different meter is happening, but the principal time units remain fourth and eight notes.
- Bar 3: The tenors and basses are taking over, singing unisono.
- Bar 4: A D pedal for the whole bar, with the scale returning to a clear D Dorian with no altered notes. The alts and sopranos return with the interval series 7-4-4-5-8, so other intervals enter the picture.
- Bar 5: The female singers continue with the interval series 4-8-4-8-7-3. The contrabasses and bassoons are playing some counterpoint notes, as in bar 3.
- Bar 6: This is mainly the male singers and the accompaniment playing unisono, but there are also various supplementary harmony notes. At this point the contrabasses and bassoons start to divert themselves from each other.
- Bars 7-8: These two bars are purely homophonic. A chord with the notes D-A-B-E-G# in it is being built up in layers in two slight different manners, spread out over more than three octaves. It's a relatively consonant chord till the final G# by the soprano turns up, in dissonance with A by the tenors. During bars 5-8 the idea of a D Dorian scale gets abandoned, but the D turns up as pedal note again for the final chord. One might call the implied scale at this point D Lydian, as far as one interprets these bars as diatonic.

During the final block of "What's the name of your group" the orchestra is playing in full. You can hear motifs from the previous block returning. It's also this block where the orchestral track "Dance of the rock & roll interviewers" stems from. The piece ends with the soprano, the rock & roll interviewer, fading out.

Suites mvt. 8: Can I help you with this dummy?

During the suites, "What's the name of your group" gets segued by "Can I help you with this dummy?". The score is reproduced in total in The Frank Zappa songbook, vol. I. As Zappa comments in the Songbook, this piece didn't make it to the movie because of performing difficulties. The L.A. Philharmonic is playing a revised version. Both the notes and the orchestration are different in a multitude of aspects. While the score for the 1971 recordings were adapted on the spot to ease the performability, in this case the conclusion can only by that there are two versions of the score of this movement itself. Below I'm describing bars 11-17.

Can I help you with this dummy?, bars 11-17, suites version (midi file).
Can I help you with this dummy?, bars 11-17, Songbook version (midi file).

Can I help you with this dummy?, bars 11-17, suites version (transcription).
Can I help you with this dummy?, bars 11-17, Songbook version (score).

- Bar 11: The Songbook version is deliberately irregular and dissonant. Guitars II and III are playing the same chord type, but with a minor second between them. The suites version is also irregular, but more moderately. Other than the atonal Songbook version, beats 1-2 can be seen as diatonic, forming the Bb Lydian collection.
- Bar 12: During this bar both versions are diatonic and the chords contain largely the same notes. The suites version builds a chord up in layers towards a 13th chord on G, the scale being G major. Apart from a number of other details, the differences lie in the instrumentation and positioning of the chords. For the suites the horns have been substituted by the string section. The Songbook also knows a contrabassoon, playing a low C. The scale then becomes C Lydian.
- Bar 13: In the Songbook the last chord from bar 12 gets repeated on the first tick of bar 13, while the chord changes to another larger chord during the suites. On the fourth tick a held chord enteres the picture, again a larger chord comprehending the notes E-A-B-D. It's played by the guitars and horns in the Songbook and by wind instruments solely during the suites.
- Bar 14: The chord from bar 13 is held in both versions. The differences between the two versions otherwise only concern the instrumentation. The flutes in the Songbook have been replaced by the strings during the suites.
- Bar 15: Here for the first time the soprano part starts to deviate as well. Some of the notes from the ninetuplet are different. In the Songbook Zappa is very precise about the accents: the fourth note of the ninetuplet is accentuated and the other notes should be played as even. The suites version doesn't have this. There are only light accents on the higher notes. In the Songbook score you'll find the piccolo, bass flute and guitar I playing parallel with the soprano during the ninetuplet. The intervals are kept the constant for the duration of the ninetuplet. The piccolo plays the same part as the soprano, the bass flute is playing a minor tenth lower and the guitar is playing a tritone lower than the soprano. The chord can be seen as a diminished minor fifth, with the third played an octave lower. The whole is atonal. During the suites only a flute plays along with the soprano. The guitars aren't playing the held chord and for this bar. Instead they are used to pick some notes in an irregular manner.
- Bars 16-17: The music becomes diatonic, using the E Mixolydian scale. The horns are playing the progression I-V 7th-I. During the tail of bar 16 the A alters to A sharp, implying a switch to E Lydian. In the Songbook score guitars I/II and the solo violin and cello are playing fast strings of notes, largely absent during the suites.

Disc I tracks 4-8: Tuna sandwich sequence - Suites mvt. 4: This town is a sealed tuna sandwich

On the 1971 album you'll find the Tuna sandwich material subdivided into five tracks:
- "This town is a sealed tuna sandwich (prologue)". I'm dealing with this prologue in the Studio Tan section, where you can see some differences between the score and the 1971 album version.
- "Tuna fish promenade".
- "Dance of the just plain folks". The Tuna sandwich music received its first public performane in 1970 with Zubin Mehta conducting the L.A. Philharmonic. In the Quaudiophiliac section I'm showing the opening pages of the score, where this section is called "The tuna sandwich ballet".
- "This town is a sealed tuna sandwich (reprise)".
- "The sealed tuna bolero".

Zappa started working on this material around 1968. Various elements can be recognized in tracks from the "Ahead from their time" CD. See the corresponding section with "The rejected Mexican pope leaves the stage" as an example. As mentioned above part of the "Epilogue" from this CD returns in "What's the name of your group?" from the suites.

Walt Disney Hall This sequence got reworked upon twice for a smaller and a large ochestra, on both occasions without lyrics. Zappa changed the title for this seperate piece from "This town is a sealed tuna sandwich" to "Bogus pomp":
- "Bogus pomp" (1975). Three smaller examples from "Bogus pomp" are presented in the Studio Tan section of this study.
- "Bogus pomp" (1983). This is the last appearance of the Tuna sandwich music, this time combined with the "Overture" and "Centerville" movements from "200 Motels". It's played as one piece, without lyrics. It also has a new coda. I'm describing it briefly in the L.S.O section of this study, with a couple of re-orchestrated bars as an example.

Right: performance of 200 Motels at the L.A.’s Walt Disney Hall. Photo by Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging.

Disc I track 9: Lonesome cowboy Burt

A parody-like country and western song, featuring Jimmy Carl Black as the ill-mannered redneck Burt. He would return to do a cowboy song once more on "You are what you is" from 1981 (see the corresponding section).
Zappa released a live version from 1987 on "The best band you never heard in your life", with various differences with the original and the lyrics adapted for commenting upon Jimmy Swaggart's recent arrest.

Disc I track 10: Touring can make you crazy - Suites mvt. 6: Touring can make you crazy

Touring can make you crazy Modern orchestra music, played integrally on the 1971 album as it is played during the suites. It's written for the string section, with a couple of notes for the clavichord added to it.
During the early seventies, when Zappa wrote for orchestras, the Wazoo band and the Roxy band, he had ensembles at his disposal where most people could read sheet music. It was also a period where everything had to be hand-written and duplicated by copyists. The official 200 Motels scores are only for rent, but quite a number of examples are available through other sources. The Frank Zappa songbook contains three original manuscripts and in the CD booklet four sample pages of the full orchestra score are reproduced. You need a magnifying glass for these last examples. Apparently not everybody was asked to return their scores in those days. Frequently handwritten scores by Zappa himself are being auctioned.

Disc I track 11: Would you like a snack? - Suites mvt. 2: Went on the road

To the standard orchestra set-up for playing the suites, a small electric combo is added. They stand central during this movement and the vamping part of "Penis dimension". Like the "Overture", "Would you like a snack?" refers to the opening theme from "Holiday in Berlin (full blown)" for its thematic material.

Would you like a snack?, 0:39 till 1:09 (midi file).

Would you like a snack?, 0:39 till 1:09 (transcription).

It's a variation upon this theme, played in two different instrumentations. The first one is all instrumental, the second one is with lyrics. It's this last one that's transcribed above. Notable are the various modulations and the way they are handled. During bars 1-4 the music is in C with the I 5th chord. Then in bar 5 it turns to Eb Lydian I 7th. The chords belong to different keys and only have a G in common, only vaguely audible in the second chord. In a traditional harmony class they'd say you need some more linking chords. Here you get the interesting effect of a harmonic surprise. Bars 13-15 are in C# minor (C# pedal), bars 16-17 in Ab Lydian (Ab chord) and with bar 18 the transcription ends in D Lydian (D chord). Remarkable are also the large interval jumps the singers are making, for instance a 10th from bar 5 to 6 ("What a drag ...").

Disc I track 12: Redneck eats - Suites mvt. 5: The restaurant scene

The opening features spoken text combined with harmony notes. It involves the chorus as well, so to let everybody stay equal, at least the rhythm of the words had to be written out. Staff eight of the left image is the "cowboy" part by Jimmy Carl Black, saying "hey, who are these two, are they boys or girls ...". In bars 3-4 the chorus joins in with "or a turkey, ha-ha-ha ..." (staves 10-11). All spoken words are notated with crotches, so no exact pitches are prescribed. The accompanying harmony notes by the instruments do have pitches.

The restaurant scene

Left: the opening page from "The restaurant scene" in Zappa's handwriting.
Right: the chorus part taken from it, in the handwriting of a copyist.

The first four bars of both images coincide. The A block from the right image is the percussion section from this piece. The chord by choir sets off the B block, to be heard at 0:38 on the "200 Motels" CD from 1971. This block begins with a series of pizzicato notes for the string sections, followed by a section with the piano standing central. At the end the cowboy returns, with "ha-ha-ha ..." for the chorus in an exact rhythm some more.

Disc I track 13: Centerville - Suites mvt. 3: Centerville

Centerville was the name of an imaginary small town, constructed in one of the Pinewood studios, where "200 Motels" was filmed. The music appears without many differences on the 1971 album, the suites as well as a movement from the 1983 version of "Bogus pomp". During the latter piece "Centerville", however, is performed without lyrics.


Left: samples from the scores in Zappa's handwriting.
Right: bars from the chorus part of Centerville (handwriting of a copyist).

Disc I tracks 14-19: She painted up her face sequence - Suites mvt. 11: Shove it right in

Most of the music from "Shove it right in" appears on the 1971 album as well, where it gets alternated with the theme from "She painted up her face", a pop song. For this reasom I'm calling the album set-up an example of a rondo in the Studio Tan section. The tracks, as they are titled on the album:
- "She painted up her face".
- "Janet's big dance number".
- "Half a dozen provocative squats".
- "Mysterioso".
- "Shove it right in".
- "Lucy's seduction of a bored violinist & postlude".

She painted up her face, main theme (midi file).

She painted up her face, main theme (transcription).

"She painted up her face" is one of the themes Flo and Eddie are singing on "200 Motels". It's the opposite of the fast strings Zappa can be using in songs like "Call any vegetable", going slowly with notes lasting over bars. Personally I like the way they're singing here best, namely with bright voices, not the raw screaming notes they often apply elsewhere. Bars 1-3 are in B Dorian. Over the Bm chord a downwards string is played, touching all notes but the A. From bar 4 onwards this piece is in E Mixolydian. The harmonic basis of the main theme is a slow I-VII alternation.

Disc II tracks 1-3: Stealing the room, Dental hygiena dilemma and Does this kind of life look interesting to you? - Suites mvt. 10: I'm stealing the room

Both movements 10 and 11 from the suites are a couple of individual tracks from the 1971 album grouped, rather than that the album tracks are subdivisions of one piece. In this case:
- "I'm stealing the room".
- "Dental hygiena dilemma".

Dental hygiene dilemma (album version), opening bars (midi file).

Dental hygiene dilemma, opening bars (transcription).

A thumbnail of the orchestra sheet with the first four bars from "Dental hygiene dilemma" can be found in the CD booklet with the 1971 version, next to three other samples. They are small images, barely legible. The album version is not bright enough to be positive about every note in the transcription above. Still it can be observed that, again due to the limited rehearsal time, concessions to the score were made:
- Bars 1: Opening motif. This motif by itself could be interpreted as diatonic, if it weren't for the other parts visible in the score. The whole is atonal. The score starts on A and the transcription on Bb, so the track must have been sped up. The Jeff character sings along with the line for the cellos instead of using spoken language, as prescribed in the score. This is another change that must have been made on the spot.
- Bar 2: Strings of 16th notes, in the shape of quintuplets. Zappa scored this out in detail for a celeste, piano and harp. All three are playing up- and downwards, but not in the same manner. On album this got simplified. It looks like an improvised bar with only the rhythm maintained.
- Bars 3-4: Second motif, played twice. Also here the score seems to be played with some liberty.
- Spoken block without a meter.
- Bar 5: Variation upon the opening motif. This time the other parts from the score are better audible, making the atonal character of the composition coming out better.
The "200 Motels" scores need a better recording than the 1971 album. The three more recent performances of "200 Motels, the suites", have ultimately lead to a double CD with the L.A. Philharmonic (released in November 2015). It's recorded under better conditions, regarding accuracy but mostly regarding sound quality. In 1971 Zappa wanted the project to succeed one way or the other, so a lot of concessions were made, both to the music and the number of scenes that could be filmed. He also had to deal with extra problems that arose during the shooting of the film. The script deals with all kind of subjects about a band on the road, directly derived from Zappa's own experience. One scene is about the aspirations of bass player Jeff Simmons to start a band of his own. Zappa knew this was on his mind, but it became very real when Jeff Simmons actually did what the song is about: he left the group right before the filming would start. So Zappa had to find another bass player in a rush and for the film this Jeff Simmons scene got replaced by a cartoon episode.

- "Does this kind of life look interesting to you?"
A thumnail of the coda is included in the CD booklet of the 1971 version. It's also included as a bonus track in the "Greggery peccary & other persuasions" CD by the Ensemble Modern from 2003.

Disc II track 4: Daddy, daddy, daddy

An accessible pop song. In content it's related to the "Do you like me new car" song from "Fillmore East, June 1971". Its general outlines:
- 0:00 intro in F# Mixolydian.
- 0:16 theme 1, continuing in F# Mixolydian.
- 0:31 theme 2 in C# Mixolydian.
- 0:53 theme 1.
- 1:20 theme 3, the "if his dick is a monster" theme, ending with a chord sequence from "Do you like my new car?", as included in the example from the Fillmore East section of this study (bars 6-9).
- 1:36 themes 1 and 2 alternating.
- 2:28 outro as a variation upon the intro.
- 3:11 end.

Disc II track 5: Penis dimension - Suites mvt. 12: Penis dimension

A piano reduction of the score of "Penis dimension" is included in the Frank Zappa songbook vol. I, while a thumbnail of a page from the full orchestra score is included in the CD booklet of the 1971 version. An example with the opening is included in the previous section of my study, where it is presented as an example of an atonal sequence. The version from The suites lasts longer with material from "Bwana Dik" added to it.

Disc II track 6: What will this evening bring me this morning

Another pop song from the 1971 album. I'm dealing with "What will this evening bring me this morning" in the counterpoint part 1 section from this study. It's an example of Zappa applying classical counterpoint, here in the shape of a canon. It's also an example of a Zappa song with an explicit emotional recognizability. Its lyrics could only be related to when you're a famous rock artist, but otherwise it's much exhilarant. In some cases one might wonder what could have happened to Zappa songs if the lyrics would have better appealed to the general public. I'm adressing myself to this matter as well in case of "Bobby Brown" (see the Does humor belong to music section).

Disc II tracks 7-14: A nun suit through Courduroy ponce - Suites mvt. 9: The pleated gazelle

Next is an example of an atonal score for choir for "200 Motels", called "A nun suit painted on some old boxes". It's one of the three "200 Motels" scores that got published in the Songbook. First below is the album version, that goes differently from the original handwritten version of the Songbook (secondly below). Zappa could change his scores during rehearsals, as he himself expressed it, "anytime anyplace anyway for no reason at all". The other reason it got changed upon is in all probability the limited rehearsal time. The most notable differences are the absence of various harmony notes and the original sixtuplet, that now gets spread out over two bars.

Nun suit (album version), opening (midi file).
Nun suit (Songbook version), opening (midi file).

Nun suit, opening (score/transcription).

"Nun suit" is part of a series of compositions for choir and orchestra to be found on what used to be side four of the original double album. The series is titled "The pleated gazelle" (above are two sample images of an auctioned copy). Among others it includes the 1971 album tracks:
- "A nun suit painted on some old boxes".
- "Motorhead's midnight ranch".
- "Dew on the newts we got".
- "The lad searches the night for his newts".
- "The girl wants to fix him some broth".
- "The girls's dream".
- "Little green scratchy sweaters & courduroy ponce".
This album sequence is different from the suites version and a pop song, called "Magic fingers", got added to it. "The pleated gazelle" gazelle from the suites has a lot more to it. About ten of the 21 minutes aren't on the album. Among the sections unavailable on the 1971 album is the whole opening block of seven minutes.

The pleated gazelle (1971 score/the suites), bars 1-7 (midi file).
The pleated gazelle (the suites), bars 1-7 (midi file).

The pleated gazelle, bars 1-7 (score/transcription).
The pleated gazelle, bars 1-4 (transcription).

This opening block is made up of a series of atonal miniatures, with a narrator telling a story either along with it, or between the miniatures. It is one of the rare occasions where the I-figure is not Zappa impersonating somebody. It is actually is about the real himself, starting to write music after a concert. Bars 1-4 are the first miniature. It is played over an A pedal with four repeated piano chords per bar. The chords for the string section are dense and clustered. The celli part gets spread out over twelve individual players. The first six are playing pizzicato notes. Chords of three notes at first and a second cluster at the end in bar 4. The first six are playing a clustered block of stacked minor seconds. The violas get divided into four groups and the violins into eight. The whole becomes a torpid atonal mass of notes. It can be easily seen in the score how the components of this mass are moving up and down via mostly triplets. Above, with the "Can I help you with this dummy?" example, I've shown that the suites are a revised version of the 1971 score, at least for some of its movements. In this case the revision meant a strong reduction of the notes to be played. A few ornamentary notes got added as well. The majority however got skipped and as a consequence the character of these bars changed drastically. Instead of featuring dissonant clusters we're getting at a light transparant miniature, where during bars 1-4 the spoken text stand central. Zappa notates these spoken lyrics as plain text within the bars the words get pronounced, or - when there is no accompaniment - in an empty bar or space behind a bar. I've written out the pitches and rhythm from the suites version to be able to include it in the midi file. With bars 5-7 the next atonal miniature starts. It features a series of piano chords played over held notes by the string section. The sample pages I encountered on internet included bars 1-4 and bars 27-40, so I can't tell if there are differences between the 1971 and the suites version for these bars. Bars 27-40 are again atonal miniatures and yet again stylistically much different from the previous example. It features a difficult soprano part with the chorus snapping their fingers as well as chords and counterpoint lines by a few instruments. Thus not as dense as bars 1-4. It gets interrupted twice by the narrator telling his story unaccompanied.

The next example contains the five final bars from "The girl's dream" and the first five bars from "Little green scratchy sweaters". Both pieces are atonal. Regarding their compositoral style these two sections are opposites. "The girl's dream" ends deliberately irregular. It contains spoken parts, sung parts, high whistling, a guitar chord and four bassoon parts. These bassoon parts follow their own lines. They have some regularity by themselves, but these parts as a group are melodically and rhythmically unrelated. Zappa specifically wrote it in a manner that the rhythms don't coincide, creating some sort of a deliberate cacophony. Such examples are rare (bar 97 from "The girl in the magnesium dress" is another example in this study). To play it literally in this manner would have cost rehearsal time. On album we have yet another example how the scores were changed during the recording sessions, in this case rather drastically:
- All four bassoon parts got skipped. They are replaced by improvised notes by two bassoons, a flute and one of the guitars.
- The soprano does not follow the prescribed melody literally, but is improvising as well.
- The chorus in bar 4 only follows the prescribed rhythm, not the pitches.

The girl's dream - Little green scratchy sweaters (album version), transition (midi file).
The girl's dream (Songbook version), end (midi file).

The girl's dream, end (transcription/score).
Little green scratchy sweaters, opening (score).

"Little green scratchy sweaters & courduroy ponce" segues upon "The girl's dream" in a much different style. The example above shows the start of this piece in 3/4, after which it continues in 5/8. The irregularity of the "The girl's dream" is gone: both the chorus and the instrumental parts neatly complement the soprano lead melody with harmonies, while all parts are basically following the same rhythm. Strong dissonances are avoided. The score and the album version are mostly the same, though some notes aren't clearly audible. The main difference must have been made by Zappa himself on the spot, namely the rhythm of bar 4. Performing difficulties can't have been the reason. Bar 4, as prescribed, is easy to perform, and the album version is a little more complicated. The example above contains the first three phrases of the soprano part:

Bars 1-2: phrase 1. The chorus sings Cmaj7 (no 3rd) all through bar 1, followed by Ab-Eb-D (Ab 11th) in bar 2. The trumpets accompany the soprano lead melody via parallel thirds, of which the higher note is identical to the sung melody.
Bars 3-4: phrase 2, a variation upon phrase 1. Phrase 1 gets reiterated a minor second lower. The rhythm goes much different. Compared to bar 2, two extra notes are added in in bar 4, before the soprano gets at E. The chorus sings Bm#7 in bar 3 and the trumpets are playing parallel thirds again. The combination of the soprano and harmony notes in bar 4 is such, that it's largely consonant. Only one major 7th interval, D-C#, causes some sharper dissonance. For the rhythm of bar 4 Zappa decided for an acceleration: a normal eight note got replaced by an eight note in triplet time. The bar in total lasts about an eight note longer because there is some pausing at the end. See the "This town is a sealed tuna sandwich" example from the Orchestral favorites section for another example of changes, that probably were also made on the spot.
Bars 5-6: phrase 3, a character variation: only the upward going chromatic line resembles the previous two phrases. Again there are no dissonances till we get at the final chord. In this last chord we get at two minor seconds dissonances between the parts: F-F# and A-A#.

Disc II track 15: Strictly genteel - Suites mvt. 13: Strictly genteel

This finale for "200 Motels" is the part Zappa returned to the most. Not only does it re-appear on Studio Tan and the L.S.O. CDs for orchestra only, two live versions by his rock band can be found on "YCDTOSA vol. VI" and "Make a jazz noise here". In this study I've included four examples from "Strictly genteel" in the Counterpart #2 section.

Disc II tracks 16-20: Promotional radio-spots and Magic fingers

As an United Artists production, the "200 Motels" album wasn't part of the agreement Zappa reached with Warner Bros. in 1982. At that time the album was still available, but the latest pressings had become terrible. It took a while to get "200 Motels" re-released on CD. As a bonus for the re-release four promotional radio spots and the single edit of "Magic fingers" got added. The lead melody from "Magic fingers" can be found in the Ludwig study.

BBC Concert Orchestra

The BBC Concert Orchestra, Southbank Sinfonia and the London Voices, performing "200 Motels - The suites". Photographer unknown.

In pop music people focus on the currently popular artists and the attention Zappa is getting is a bit waning. Classical music is for posterity and it's good to see that from this angle Zappa keeps being performed. I think his best chances lie in this direction and in my opinion at least part of Zappa's pop albums also deserve to be interpreted as classic, not just in the context of pop music. Pieces as "Drowning witch" and "It must be a camel" are classic in every sense. I also hope the policies of the ZFT become less severe as it comes to conditions for performing Zappa.
To the left a review of "200 Motels, the Suites", showing the ongoing interest in Zappa's (classic) music. It's from the Volkskrant, January 20th 2016, written by Frits van der Waa. I'm including it here, because, as a Dutch newspaper, you're unlikely to find this one on-line, and I like the way it's written: "45 years ago, when he was 30 years of age, Frank Zappa went into a London filmstudio, together with his Mothers of Invention, a complete choir and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. 200 Motels, about a rock band on tour, would become his most ambitious project of his life. The resulting movie was disorderly. The accompanying double album a bit of everything, but with Zappa's mark all over it, him being the master of musical collages. The 200 Motels, the Suites concert version, that was constructed after his death [KS: by FZ himself], got premiered during the Holland Festival 2000. Only some obscure copies of that performance circulate on internet. Now we finally have an official registration, by the Los Angeles Philharmonic with Esa-Pekka Salonen as conductor and a wide range of vocalists. It's not easy music: Zappa let his erratic imagination run free uninhibitedly. This suite version has little to do with pop music, rather with Stravinsky and Varèse, but also these two almost disappear in this exuberant crossroad of changing directions, that's even more also full of cartoon-like monologues and dialogues. The balance of this live-recording isn't ideal. But in between this debris, you'll find diamonds glinstering and other exciting material, that didn't make it to the orginal album. Zappa was a genius, though not always self-critical. It's a pity forever he couldn't continue this intriguing direction his work took because of his early death."

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