Zappa- Peefeeyatko

It’s been a while since I’ve had a chance to explore YouTube. Today, however, I made a discovery that I’m awfully happy about.

Some kind soul has posted a documentary on Frank Zappa called Peefeeyatko.

I’ve only ever really wanted three jobs in my life- to be a cellist in a good string quartet, to be music director of a great orchestra and to play guitar and cello for Frank Zappa. Okay, I also desperately wanted to play guitar for Miles Davis, but that seemed less realistic.

There are great interview segments with Xenakis, Boulez and Stockhausen (even Matt Groening!), but it’s most interesting to finally hear Frank speak about music free of his public persona.

Everything he says is fascinating, thought-provoking and utterly compelling. It’s time once and for all that the musical establishment lift the rock label from him and acknowledge him as one of the greatest composers of his time.

On the other hand, there’s a part of me that can’t help but feel a certain melancholy at hearing the technical limitations of the technology he was working on in the last decade of his life, in spite of the genius with which he approached it. It’s infectious and inspiring to hear him talking about what he could do with the synclavier, but 20 years on, the tonal palette sometimes sounds sadly pale and badly dated (more so when you hear the work in progress than in the final mixes).

What is the future for this music? Should we live with the recordings Frank left us? Should new studio brains recreate some of those electronic compositions with better machines? The machines may be better, but there will never be a brain like Frank’s. Does one transcribe the electronic works for acoustic instruments? Is that tampering? I’m tempted to think that his happy experience with the Ensemble Moderne in 1992 might indicate that he would have liked to see more of the synclavier pieces done live, just done well.

I don’t know, I just know that the performer in me feels the same way I always do when listening to music I love, which is that I want to participate. If I listened to Dixieland all the time, I’d be playing that instead of conducting Schumann and Elgar.

Right now, I feel like I’m 20 years old and dreaming of auditioning for Zappa’s band all over again.

c. 2007 Kenneth Woods

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About the author

American conductor, composer and cellist Kenneth Woods is Principal Conductor of the English Symphony Orchestra, Artistic Director of the Colorado MahlerFest and cellist of the string trio Ensemble Epomeo. He records for the Avie, Somm, Nimbus, Signum, MSR and Toccata labels.

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