Music

Frank Zappa: Dance Me This

Congratulations, Frank Zappa fans, you've made it to album number 100! Time to do a little dance.


Frank Zappa

Dance Me This

Label: Zappa
US Release Date: 2015-07-21
UK Release Date: IMPORT
Label website
Artist website
Amazon
iTunes

A few years after he was awarded a Grammy for his instrumental album Jazz from Hell, Frank Zappa explained how his synclavier computer program worked while being interviewed by a morning news program. When the anchor inquired if the musical technology being used was threatening to overtake the human element of the music, Zappa dismissively said that his new way of composing and recording did away with human error. In other words, musical accuracy was very important to Zappa. He was famously discouraged with the outcome of recording sessions with the London Symphony Orchestra in the early '80s when the esteemed organization failed to prepare themselves for the rigors that Frank Zappa's complicated scores brought.

By 1984, this very unique voice in rock who was now stretching out to the worlds of chamber and symphonic classical music was learning how to make things work in his favor on the flip side of Boulez Conducts Zappa: The Perfect Stranger. From this point forward, the synclavier and its corresponding software were just as much a driving creative force in Zappa's music than any other tool. It dominated releases such as Francesco Zappa, the aforementioned Jazz from Hell (save for one tracks), and the posthumously released mammoth double album Civilization Phaze III. Dance Me This, Zappa's 100th release, clings to the musical purity that Zappa strived for through his technology. This could be why the album sat around for more than twenty years after his death; to free itself from context. Dance Me This occupies is a dimension where you don't analysis whether or not rock music "rocks" or if jazz really "swings". There are no buzzwords to get in the way, no attitude or swagger. It's music all the way down.

If you need context, here are the basics: Frank Zappa programmed his synclavier with the assistance of Todd Yvega. Frank Zappa's son Dweezil Zappa had left his guitar rig set up inside his father's studio, prompting the elder Zappa to lay down his last known recorded guitar performance. Three throat singers from the Republic of Tuva were on tour and stopped by for a visit. Zappa and Yvega had Anatolii Kuular, Kaigl-Ool Khovalyg, and Kongar-Ool Ondar lay their unique vocal style on top of the music. Completed in 1993 and released in 2015, Dance Me This is a modern smorgasbord of sounds that somehow doesn't turn the page to navel noodling. What initially comes across as chaotic will eventually reveal an impressive overall arc. It is wild and coherent -- you know, a Frank Zappa album.

When discussing the content of Dance Me This, you have to dive into an area of the album where guitars and throat singers are absent. This is the musique concrète-esque suite "Wolf Harbor", whose five movements take up just a little more than half the album's length. This collection of sampled sounds may not be, at its core, an electro-acoustic work, but it certainly behaves like one. Dripping water, humidity-soaked sirens, metal clangs, intricately delivered percussion, castanets, and ghostly high-pitched tones prove to be as hypnotic a combination as the best ambient music on the market. The title "Wolf Harbor" feels appropriate, though it's difficult to pinpoint why.

The strange suite is book-ended by compositions that carry Zappa's unique sense of sophistication but still manage to leave an imprint on your mind. The title track begins the album like it were a slowed-down and tonally reverent version of Jazz From Hell. For "Pachuco Gavotte", the dance becomes harder to pin down as keyboard and percussion are seemingly at odds with one another. The Republic of Tuva trio announce the album's second half as "Wolf Harbor V" seamlessly hands the baton to "Goat Polo". "Goat Polo"'s ever-modulating melody gives the listener a sense of temporary confusion, a feeling that is confirmed when "Rykoniki"'s stranger yet more reliable melody arrives. The sand blows away for "Piano", seven minutes of the track's namesake running through a dizzying series of leap-frogging arpeggios. This may not be the moment that Dance Me This was leading up to, but the track carries a certain weight that would never cause it to be confused for falling action. You can't say that for closing track "Calculus" either, as "Piano" gently drops the album to the ground so that it can sprint to the finish line. The throat singing keeps pace with the tempo's tricky ebb-and-flow as the jazz/rock fusion in the background quietly gains momentum. When it's done, the listener can look forward to that inner debate where one side of the brain asks "What the hell was that, exactly?" while the other sides says "That was kinda cool, let's hear it again!"

9

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

Aaron Sorkin's real-life twister about Molly Bloom, an Olympic skier turned high-stakes poker wrangler, is scorchingly fun but never takes its heroine as seriously as the men.

Chances are, we will never see a heartwarming Aaron Sorkin movie about somebody with a learning disability or severe handicap they had to overcome. This is for the best. The most caffeinated major American screenwriter, Sorkin only seems to find his voice when inhabiting a frantically energetic persona whose thoughts outrun their ability to verbalize and emote them. The start of his latest movie, Molly's Game, is so resolutely Sorkin-esque that it's almost a self-parody. Only this time, like most of his better work, it's based on a true story.

Keep reading... Show less
7

There's something characteristically English about the Royal Society, whereby strangers gather under the aegis of some shared interest to read, study, and form friendships and in which they are implicitly agreed to exist insulated and apart from political differences.

There is an amusing detail in The Curious World of Samuel Pepys and John Evelyn that is emblematic of the kind of intellectual passions that animated the educated elite of late 17th-century England. We learn that Henry Oldenburg, the first secretary of the Royal Society, had for many years carried on a bitter dispute with Robert Hooke, one of the great polymaths of the era whose name still appears to students of physics and biology. Was the root of their quarrel a personality clash, was it over money or property, over love, ego, values? Something simple and recognizable? The precise source of their conflict was none of the above exactly but is nevertheless revealing of a specific early modern English context: They were in dispute, Margaret Willes writes, "over the development of the balance-spring regulator watch mechanism."

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image