Logo  
  | home | authors | calendar colophon | links | newsgroups | newsfeed | new | printer version |  
volume 4
june 2001

No Foolin'

 





  Dadaist strategies and instinct in Zappa and Beefheart (1966-1970)
by Marco Maurizi
Previous
  In the late 1960s and early 1970s, in the work of Captain Beefheart and Frank Zappa, Art Rock appropriated the modernist strands of Surrealism and Dadaism. However, Beefheart or Zappa, who of them really was the Surrealist and who the Dadaist? For an answer to that question, Marco Maurizi argues, one has to delve deeper into the strategies of both these forms of anti-Art, as Surrealism was fighting Reason from behind, laughing at its back, while Dadaism preferred to battle Logic by turning its own weapons against it.
 
1 Surrealism, Dada and Rock. One of the most famous critiques of Freak Out! (1966) describes the tracks of the album as "Surrealistic paintings in music". A common hermeneutic cliché about Beefheart talks of "Dada Rock". I think that if one delves deeper into the real influences of Dada and Surrealism on rock music, these opinions not only seem inadequate, but should be completely overturned: while the Mothers of Invention worked out a true Dadaist set, Beefheart's relation with Surrealism not only operates at the level of his lyrics but affects his whole concept of music.
  We should understand what kind of influence we are talking about first, and then, if we recognise some sort of ongoing modernist heritage in rock music, our analysis should enable us to grasp the difference between, say, "Call Any Vegetable" (1967) and "I Am The Walrus" (1967). Or, for instance, it should offer some clues to help us understand why We're Only in It for the Money (1968) parodies Sgt. Pepper's (1967) or why Beefheart wrote "Beatle Bones 'n' Smokin' Stones" (1968).
 
Call Any Vegetable

Call any vegetable
Pick up your phone
Think of a vegetable
Lonely at home
Call any vegetable
And the chances
are good
That a vegetable will
Respond to you

Rutabaga, Rutabaga,
Rutabaga, Rutabaga,
Rutabay-y-y-y ...

No one will know
If you don't want
To let them know
No one will know
'Less it's you that
Might tell them so
Call and they'll come
To you covered
with dew
Vegetables dream of
Responding to you
I Am The Walrus

Crabalocker fishwife
Pornographic priestess
[...]
Semolina pilchards
Climbing up the Eiffel Tower
Elementary penguin
Singing Hare Krishna
[...]
I am the eggman,
They are the eggman
I am the walrus,
Goo-goo-goo-joob



Lucy In The Sky

Picture yourself on
A train in a station
With plasticine porters
With looking glass ties
Suddenly someone is
There at the turnstile
The girl with
Kaleidoscope eyes
Beatle Bones 'n' Smokin' Stones'

Beatle bones and smokin' stones
The dry sands fall
The strawberry mouth;
Strawberry moth;
Strawberry caterpillar
Strawberry butterfly;
Strawberry fields
The winged eel slither
On the heels of today's children
"Strawberry fields forever"
[...]
Salt Man has just made
His mark — and crumbled
The dark — the light —
The dark — the day
Porcelain children see
Through white lights
Soft-cracker bats,
Cheshire cats named
The Dark — The Light —
The Dark —
The Day

 
2 Immediacy and mediation. Dada and music make a difficult couple. [1] Their combination is not simply a question of "weird lyrics" or "primitive music" nor something that necessarily deals with both. It's not just playing at being a fool: both Zappa and Beefheart reacted strongly against the attempts to catalogue them as "freak" or "weird". Although Dada exerted a great influence on Twentieth Century literature and painting, no great musician of the century could be regarded as "Dadaist". So, even if we have a certain idea of the visual and literary characteristics of Dada, we're not so sure about the musical ones. If the music of Zappa and Beefheart has something to do with Dada, we should make this point clear: what are we thinking of when we talk of Dadaist music?
Take a look at the programs and the chronicles of the Dada Soirée in Zurich and Paris and you will find some interesting things. [2] At the Cabaret Voltaire, Hugo Ball used to play novelty songs at the piano, while other people danced wearing big primitive masks. In the middle of this cabaret thing, the program reserved time and space for music by Schönberg. If we think that one of the manifestos of German Dada focussed on the rejection of expressionism, this may sound a bit strange. It is, however, not an incident. In his novel Dada Ascona and other memories Friedrich Glauser writes of a man simultaneously playing a piano and a harmonium with both his hands and feet. Just before, though, Glauser describes Tristan Tzara's poème simultan "Froide lumière" as a renovation of the chorus mixtus, underlining the hard polyphony of the work.
 
Poème simultan par R. Huelsenbeck, M. Janko, Tr. Tzara.

HUELSENBECK Ahoi ahoi Des Admirals gwirktes Beinkleid schnell zerfällt Teerpappe macht Rawagen in der Nacht und der Conciergenbäuche Klapperschlangengrün sind milde ach verzerrt in der Natur chrza prrrza chrrrza

JANKO (chant) Where the honny suckle wine twines ilself arround the door a swetheart mine is waiting patiently for me I can hear the weopour will arround arround the hill my great room is

TZARA Boum boum boum Il déshabilla sa chair quand les grenouilles humides commancèrent à bruler j'ai mis le cheval dans l'âme du serpent à Bucarest on dépendra mes amis dorénavant et c'est très intéressant les griffes des morsures équatoriales
 
  Alongside Dada's fascination for primitive cultures, bruitism and immediacy — symbolised by the archetypal reference to Mother Africa — we find a deep interest for the intellectual logic of the absurd. The real Dadaist aspect of the Soirée seems its ability to merge the highs and lows of Art, seriousness and smile, construction and intuition into one; that is, its ability to penetrate the underlying unity and its rebuttal of any hierarchical order. Dada embodied the crucial experience of modern art, the dialectics between immediacy and mediation. Dada expresses both these elements by turning the one into the other.
  At one hand Dada was violence, chaos, shout and dance. All those African masks, the primitive lines of Arp and Mirò, witnessed Dada's research of a vital relationship to Life. Immediacy, here, went beyond any regressive mysticism of the body as it meant shock and openness in opposition to the rigid moral norms of the bourgeoisie. On the other hand, Dada meant absurd meticulous action too, starting from a new concept of philosophy, one that denied the established rules of logic and did so with the obstinacy of the logician. Dada's urge for mediation and articulation works by denying any telos to the course of thought: "Thought is born in the mouth," Tzara said. Dada's arguments, Dada's thoughts and Dada's discourses can be highly complex and vast — your mind can get lost in its mazes — but when you arrive at their conclusions you're bound to discover that they all end up in rubbish.
3 New Dada and Pop Art. Dada played a major role in the imagination of rock counter culture. During the 1960s Dada made a smashing strike back into the spirit of arts. New Dada and Pop Art openly recalled the experience of American and European Dada. But if we look at pop music, we see that this Dada heritage works in a totally different way. The connections between pop art and pop music in the late 1960s are well known. Warhol supports the Velvet Underground, while Blake works at the cover of Sgt. Pepper's (1967). Let's think of the peculiar prospective chiasm we find here: the Pop artist works with the stylistic means of design and réclame, he flirts with and makes abuse of culture industry's products. It's a rape of High Art by kitsch and vice versa: it's the eye of the artist that penetrates into the golden realm of Hollywood, making it look strange and deranged by decomposing and mutilating its images and texts.
  Now, in Sgt. Pepper's (1967), one of the manifestos of art rock, the process by which the two spheres get closer to one another works just the other way around: it's from the patinaeted world of popular music that the artist tries to enter the tortuous and intellectual world of the avant-garde, introducing sounds and patterns derived from the imagery and gestures of art music into the popular song-form. Confronting pop music and pop art we see that the context is changed: the showcase is not the museum but the LP. This makes a whole lot of difference; it causes a radical mutation of perspective though we may assume a certain identity of contents. Whenever form changes, the whole meaning of the object of art changes. That's because Pop Art and pop music come from different experiences and problems of Form.
When Sgt. Pepper's and The Piper at the Gates of Dawn (1967) were released, they were not challenging the idea of informal art, nor the triumph of Surrealism throughout the 1940s and 1950s. [3] They came right out of the streets of Rock 'n' Roll, out of Tin Pan Alley and the field of commercial jazz, willing and trying to appropriate the tricks and trades of High Art. This explains why art rock moves toward complexity rather than simplification, toward dissonance rather than the clean and right line, toward obscurity rather than glamour.
  In this process some of Art Rock's products, however, more clearly reached out for Dada's concepts and strategies than others. Dada's merging of intellect and clowneries, for instance, returns in Zappa's meticulous construction of Uncle Meat (1969) in which an unbelievable mastery of composition, improvisation and direction is used to comment a terrifying B-movie — something wonderfully immortalised in the clean and tortuous xylophone line of its main theme. In a similar way, the carefully structured songs of Trout Mask Replika (1969) are written and arranged to perfectly mime a sense of cacophony and utter chaos. So, how does this Dadaist heritage work in Zappa's and Beefheart's music?
 
 
4 Different kinds of logic. If we get closer to some concrete Dadaist strategies of meaning, we find at least two different ways by which Dada organises the phonetic material; these are also relevant to trace possible lines in the interaction between text and music. I'll list them as two different kinds of logic or attitudes of thought towards logic:
I. The proto-logic of origin. Kurt Schwitters claimed that the original material of poetry is sound rather than words. This theory was at the heart of his Ursonate and Hugo Ball's Gaji Beri Bimba. As Ben Watson argues these kinds of experiments had an internationalist value in the age of European Imperialism. [4] Experiments like these treated the onomatopoeia as catching the human language statu nascendi. By uttering onomatopoeia the voice was thought to produce an unstructured sound, a sound not yet become "word". It can't be denied that there are some elements of a regressive attitude in this "proto-logic of origin", as in any research into the unity of expression and meaning beyond History. But alongside this regressive element there's also the idea, that the use of voice as pure sound can support transcendent ideals and unhistorical conceptions of human nature. Thus, expressing the body rather than the spirit, vocal noises at the same time symbolise the original material the spirit is made of.
This ambivalent primitivism can be traced back to Italian Futurism: with their theorisation of "abstract onomatopoeia", Filippo Marinetti and Luigi Russolo encouraged the use of meaningless syllables as a fine instrument in the hands of the Artist to describe the inner movements of his Soul. [5] We even can date the concept back as far as St. Augustine who rejected the use of words in sacred music because he believed in the superior function of pure voice. In this respect the saintly bishop of Hippo pointed at the typical prolongation of the ending vocals of the psalm, the Alleluia where the human voice seems to unchain itself and hover in the sky. Thus, according to this "proto-logic of origin", we can explain the role played by many onomatopoeia both in High Art and Rock 'n' Roll as regressive whenever the vocals express the urge of the repressed body against the cage of affirmative culture. However, they also can aim at a spiritual freedom when they state the superiority of Spirit within the limits of language. This distinction, for instance, sets the difference between Poulenc's Rapsodie Negre and Stockhausen's Stimmung.
 
 
  If Poulenc's work employs the humorist effect of meaningless words to parody the colonial fashion of Africa and black extravaganza, Stockhausen's composition relies on common clichés about the unhistorical value of holy names. In popular music vocals could burst out with the wildness of "Tutti Frutti" (1956) or they could be wining and vacuous like the Platters' falsettos. Beefheart's howling woofs surely do fall in the first category. However, to understand some of the other characteristics of his music, as well as Zappa's use of Pachuco's mumblings, we have to analyse some other types of linguistic strategies: the not-logic of Surrealism and the anti-logic of Dada.
  II. The not-logic of Surrealism and the anti-logic of Dada. These strategies, that should not be confused, are less interested in onomatopoeia by itself. Instead they play with the articulations of words. André Breton's research into the structures of desire beyond Reason directly explores the unconscious sub-continent that controls the articulation of language and thought. I call this attitude toward reason "not-logic", because it denies reason as a whole, proceeding from a different scenario, with different procedures as well. The central mechanism of this critique, thus, is positive. It is Freudian free association, forging a connection between thoughts that does not submit itself to the censorship of Reason. The importance of sound, here, is related to the physical experience of language where words like "incest" and "injust" are similar.
  Free association, however, is not the principle on which Dada's texts are built. Tzara's manifestos should question any easy identification of Dada with instinct and the extemporaneous. The vitalism that bursts out from these pages tries to break the abstract logic of philosophy and grab a sort of "logic of living" (logique de vivant). This logic, being a negation of philosophical sclerotisation, is an "anti-logic", a method able to revitalise the impoverished experience that bourgeois science, morality and art have produced. At a level of artistic means Surrealism relies on unconscious analogy, Dada on conscious dissociation.
5 Turning logic against itself. Understanding is said to be "an organism". So, Dada's instinct — and primitivism — is allusion, a residue of mimesis beyond/before logic. A Dadaist text, even those programmatic manifestos, follows intricate paths and then loses itself. It indicates meanings, goals, beliefs and then, with nonchalance, everything butts against a wall of absurd association, syntactic and entangled composts that delude our desire to grasp, to arrive at a unique, strong, central Sense. Yet, the subject is not simply denied — we should look at Dada's individualism to understand (at a sociopolitical level) the difference with the collective trance-experience of contemporaneous Surrealism.

The emphasis on "new", of course, is not what's new in Dada aesthetics. New is an idea that's common among avant-gardes. What is new, radical and refreshing in Dada, is that its negation is such that it questions the role of the artist as well as the idea of art itself. How? First of all: newness, for Dada, means a liberation from the weight of the object. Dadaist objects no longer are objects of art and, thereby, refuse any meaningful objectification. The object is, properly speaking, the absence of the Object. It is this iconoclastic pureness in which Dada's Truth resides. The effect, thus, is the new "as such", as a disruptive experience, even if abstract.

  The Particular, the hic et nunc of a Dada work, always bears the mark of the Universal. The Universal and Particular are put in a dialectical tension by force of their absoluteness, like pure extremes. In Schamber's God, for example, a maximum of abstraction is related to the most common of objects: a crooked iron bar, a tap. Yet, one could think that the returning of the iron bar to itself symbolises the Neoplatonic procession of One-Mind-Soul, that later became God-Christ-Holy Spirit in Christian theology, and ended as the formal basis of idealistic dialectics. Anyway, the interest in scatology and trash are the opposite site, extremity, otherness, in respect of what is considered noble, ideal, spirit.
Dada's negation is not abstract, it's a determinate negation: primitiveness and exoticism are not unhistorical but pregnant with history. They're the reflex of a conscious refusal of driven models. It's always the philosophical idea that Tzara hides, as negation, behind the individual work, which is reduced to an autarchic gesture: an agglomerate of matter, chaos, rubbish. At a structural level this is perceivable both in figurative and literary works, as the typical Dadaist idea of the superfluous, of the parasitical, the misshapen addition that revokes intention (Benjamin's "Truth is the Death of Intention?" [6]), diverts it, unlocking every safety valve, reducing the whole work to an unsuccessful expressive panting.
What is important, though, is that all this happens not before, like an a priori, like simple openness of the gesture towards the unknown (like the biomorphism of Moore and Arp) but post festum, materialistically, like a correction of logic in anti-logic, like a posthumous denial. Although aware of Freud's discoveries Tzara still works at the level of consciousness and so I assume his work to be properly anti-logic rather than simply illogic or not-logic. [7] Tzara tries a deconstruction of Reason ante litteram: the onomatopoeias are means to an end, something that breaks the veil of current logic, they're in dialectical tension with it. Tzara gave up writing sound poems because he preferred playing with unexpected successions of words, making common language assume a strange, irritating aspect.
  We have different points of view, here. The Surrealists fought against logic by changing the battlefield, fighting reason at its back, while Tzara and Duchamp used logic against itself, fighting an inner battle to show the limits of reason from within. I think this distinction can be used to explain the main differences between Beefheart and Zappa. Beefheart's vitalism has nothing to do with Zappa's rationalism. The belief in magic of the first disappears in the critical attitude of the latter. The same difference applies to the specific musical means used by the two. If Uncle Meat (1969) seems various and contradictory in its run through different genres and styles, Trout Mask Replika (1969) seems amorphous and repetitive — at least at a first listening.
6 The common vision of the Magic Band. Beefheart's music is muscular and obscure, electric and visionary. In Trout Mask Replika — like in all rock music — each instrumental part seems a fragment of the unconscious, filled with the paranoid repetitions of the infantile libido. Nowhere do they take form: they appear as suddenly as they come, like in a dream. The absurd changes in the Replika stand in strong contradiction with the accurateness used in the writing of the single parts and the construction of the whole. Like in all pop music the relation between the overarching form and the musical material is exterior; they're juxtaposed. There's no integration, no development in the classical Bachian sense of the word. The greatness of the Captain lies in his ability to release paranoia by taking it to the extreme, without the conciliatory closures of traditional pop songs. His songs celebrate release rather than constriction, freedom rather than impotence.
  If we get closer to Beefheart's songs we see a strange kind of unity in the way the music and the words collide, something the Captain himself called the "common vision" of the Magic Band. This unity is not only due to Beefheart's supervision over the performed material, but also a global consequence of his voice, I'd say, the musical body of his voice. This body is the solid ground of his music: the wild, pulsating, vital centre of it. At this centre meaning, rhythm and melody are merged into a single, dynamic intuition. Beefheart grumbles his lyrics making the words obscure and ambiguous, causing continuous changes of meaning via alliteration — listen to songs like "Neon Meate Dream Of An Octafish" (1969) or "Mirror Man" (1970).
 
Mirror man mirror man mirror me
Mirror than mirror me mirror man
Mirror than mirror land farther than
Mirror day mirror way mirror man mirror way
Mirror dawn dawnin' on me crack o dawn mirror dawn
Mirror man mirror gone mirror fall down mirror gone down
Mirror girl mirror boy mirror frog mirror man
Mirror worm mirror worm
Mirror bird mirror germ
  Fack' n fesast 'n tubes tubs bulbs
In jest incest injest injust in feast incest
'n specks 'n spreckled spreckled
Speckled speculation
 
This predilection for the rhythmic clash and euphonic overlapping of syllables denies chorus symmetries and explains the strange rhythmic value of Beefheart's songs even when his vocal line dances against an elementary 4/4. Again, the Captain's voice shows a parallel melodic insistence by restricting the melody to small blues movements around a fixed centre. Beefheart's singing shows a unity of Melody, Time and Meaning; this circular determination avoids any hierarchy in the dialectics of form and content. Immediacy and intuition provoke complexity through the construction of a whole, the projection of a new totality from the singular elements just like Surrealism intended to project the surrealité, the superior unity of Reality and Dream. [8]
 
 
  Dada rejected any compromise in this sense. Dada's negative attitude, its strictly polemical approach, played with the dialectics of structure and chaos with no conciliatory intent. Dada aims at the perception of a persisting guiding structure; its nihilism is meant as a reaction to such an oppressive order. Dada in Berlin recognised that the persistence of this structure was bound to an underlying, repressive economic system and answered, as Walter Benjamin later suggested, with the politicisation of Art. Dada also questions the separation of form and content, although its own means are premeditated collisions, impacts, openings and shatterings.
  One of the most important means invented by Dadaists, for instance, was the use of degraded or not signifying materials like in Schwitters' Merzbaus and Duchamp's ready made. It's hard to imagine this kind of objectual fetishism without an academic obsession for high values and noble arguments. This, however, is precisely the structure Dada is perceiving as unbearable. So it is treated by a shock, by playing with the incongruence of an object in relation to a specific context. Another famous Dadaist trick is the semantic conflict caused by the introduction of a not-congruent detail inside the work, something that "should not be there", that "has no reason to be there"; this element often generates a sense of flaking off in the work, it's like a parasite. The same can be said for Zappa's abuse of "Louie Louie", for the hard dissonance and the short chromatic intervals in the chorus of "Who Are The Brain Police?" (1966) that openly contradict the rhythmic, harmonic and melodic development of the first two lines of the song.
7 Centerville is everywhere. The most intellectual experiments in Dadaist literature, celebrating the absurd and inserting sudden twists in the construction of the text, reveal the real nature of abstract and incontestable logic by transforming its course into the noisy operation of a useless machine, something implied in the visual aesthetics of Francis Picabia.
 
Tristan Tzara, Dada Manifesto, 1918

"I am writing a manifesto and there's nothing I want, and yet I'm saying certain things, and in principle I am against manifestos, as I against principles (quantifying measures of the moral value of every phrase — too easy; approximation was invented by the impressionists). I'm writing this manifesto to show that you can perform contrary actions at the same time, in one single, fresh breath; I am against action; as for continual contradiction, and affirmation too, I am neither for nor against them, and I won't explain myself because I hate common sense. DADA — this is a word that throws up ideas so that they can be shot down; every bourgeois is a little playwright, who invents different subjects and who, instead of situating suitable characters on the level of his own intelligence, like chrysalises on chairs, tries to find causes or objects (according to whichever psychoanalytic method he practices) to give weight to his plot, a talking and self defining story. Every spectator is a plotter, if he tries to explain a word (to know!) From his padded refuge of serpentine complications, he allows his instincts to be manipulated. Whence the sorrows of conjugal life. To be plain: The amusement of redbellies in the mills of empty skulls."
 
  Dada's careful constructions of useless machines do not aim at projecting something, but at taking totality to pieces and Zappa's music perfectly mirrors this self-deconstruction of the system of reason. Logic is not simply refused, as in Surrealism, but assumed and denied at once and Zappa's ability to create and destroy musical tension — i.e. the logical development in music — is unsurpassed. In his work the balance between system and chaos, between composition and improvisation generates a continuous self-negation of compositional rules.
  Thus, Zappa introduces several derailments in the course of his music. Some of those are generated by a skilful cartoonist comment over the text, while others are completely incongruous — like quotes from Stravinsky in the middle of a Rock 'n' Roll thing. A close look at Zappa's songs reveals recurrent interactions between words and music although some of them usually lean on the major importance of one or the other. In "Hungry Freaks, Daddy" (1966), for instance, a steady rock beat supplies nothing more than a declaration of intents, making the statement more accessible or fascinating. Some other songs have a true Dadaist content although this has no real influence on the music. "Big Leg Emma" (1967) and "Sleeping In A Jar" (1969) are songs of this kind.
Songs like "Wowie Zowie" (1966) and "Love Of My Life" (1968) are parodies of common musical and sentimental clichés; they emphasise the stupidity of the original models through exaggeration and deformation both in lyrics and music, with the silly and redundant xylophone line of the first and the idiot backing vocals of the second. A song that seems to combine all these elements is "What's The Ugliest Part Of Your Body?" (1968). The first part of the song is a sarcastic parody of 1950s love songs: a 12/8 tempo, based on a harmonic cliché (I-»VI-»II-»V) [9], supports a sweet melody that instead of rhetorically asking about the beauty of the partner, wonders about her ugliness and ends in a frontal attack on middle class conformism. The song suddenly bursts in a fast irregular tempo while the words become emphatic and direct.

Being aware of the representative nature of Art, Zappa does not pretend to make reality speak, but unmasks the ideological consolations by making them face their limits. [10] His negative attitude, his sceptical outlook deviates sharply from Beefheart's belief in a superior form of immediacy. Zappa once declared: "The illusion of freedom will continue as long as it's profitable to continue the illusion. At the point where the illusion becomes too expensive to maintain they will just take down the scenery, they will pull back the curtains, they will move the tables and the chairs out of the way, and you will see the brick wall at the back of the theatre." [11]

  The image of plastic and simulacra is central to Zappa's aesthetics, it's a productive element of his music. While Beefheart starts with what he considers Truth (the vital, the magic, the artistic), something that leads him to direct, positive statements about life, Zappa starts with the untrue (the plastic, the robot, the stupid) to reach a negative perception of reality. While the Captain leaves this gloomy "Frownland" (1969) trying to find his way back home, Zappa knows that "Centerville" (1971) is everywhere, there's no simple, direct way to escape. Unlike Hegel's Unhappy Conscience and Neoplatonic Negative Theology whose ontological distance from Truth means constant self-repression and delusion, Zappa learned from Dada the possibility to negate something through play and self-expression.
8 In search for cheap Elysian fields. Dadaist scepticism is an exercise of joy rather than doom. This oblique strategy of satire has nothing to do with Cage's post-modern Zen: it's no imaginary jump out of the socially mediated space of representation and concept. The efficiency of Hollywood's products as well as the clean and mechanical routine of philharmonics, the positivist techniques involved here, make aesthetic objects impermeable and autarchic; the perfect closure of representation sets their transcendence within the real world.
  As he works with the broken line, the open shape that questions the transcendence between the inside and the outside, between the background and the figure before it, Zappa stands in line of Dadaist imperfection rather than Dali's glamour and Magritte's idolatry of everyday icons. Zappa loved B-movies because the representation they offer is bumpy and patched-up, is candidly unbelievable, weak and not violent; they express the "aroma" of momentum in front of the eternal pretensions of instrumental ratio, they're monuments of human resistance against total integration.
  Words like "cheap" and "low budget" characterised those aspects of the Culture Industry that rationalisation eventually has left behind both in pop charts and in academic avant-garde. These are the same aspects — though always technically updated — that Zappa celebrates in his aesthetics. Remarkably Tzara once said that Dada was in search for "cheap Elysian fields" because traditional ideas about paradise and soul had betrayed humanity and were to be unmasked by the Dadaist reaction against them. "Take down the scenery" is a materialistic and Dadaist statement at once.
   
Previous
  Notes
1. In his Penser la musique aujourd'hui Boulez criticised the persisting fashion of Dada in music (P. Boulez (1979), Pensare la musica oggi. Torino: Einaudi, p. 18). Boulez, however, fails to explain what he's aiming at; he probably uses the word Dada generically, although assuming that post-webernism is all but Dadaist — an assumption that Zappa's scores have somewhat made questionable. The post-webernian school established the rule of integral composition during the 1950s and 1960s. Nothing could escape the rigid system of total composition, no heterogeneous fragment could fit into the highly rationalised schemas the composer imposed on the rebellious musical material. That way the twelve-tone system almost developed into an idealistic system of Identity in which every extraneous body must be suppressed. Thus, the dream of a pure music, a music that stands in itself, released from the superstructures of tonal tradition, eventually became inexpressive. The more it reached the high standards of vertical and horizontal organisation, the more it lost its ability of mimesis, metaphor and feeling.
  As Adorno argued in his Modern music growing old the serial school expressed the shock of World War II through a process of paranoid rationalisation (Th.W. Adorno, Das Altern der Neuen Musik. Gesammelte Schriften, Vol. 14, pp. 141-167). The inhuman coldness of integral compositions presented the alter ego of the stereotyped feelings of pop songs: restless fun and adolescent sadness. The allergy to sorrow and expression that characterised the most advanced production at Darmstadt was, according to Adorno, a sort of mechanism of defence. The work of the serial school sounded as if Auschwitz had anaesthetised its subject from suffering with the unbearable pain of its stroke.
  While Expressionism made a similar refusal of the Great War emphasising the inner expression and sensibility of the artist — something that caused Berlin Dada to react through the praxis of humour and absurd — post-webernism neutralised the anguish of the second Viennese School in a perfect machinery of catatonic contemplation. If we place this aristocratic ataraxia in conjunction with the unseemly sensibility of contemporaneous pop music, we see that, far from constituting an irreducible contradiction, they're just moments of the same phenomenon. In this field Zappa's serious fun, his terrifying humour, stands like a third way, a ferry that crosses the whole sea of music possibilities, questioning the romantic distinction between Reason and Feeling and exposing the unconscious passions that rule Reason and the geometry of emotions that underlies any social ritual.
  By assuming song patterns that clearly support standardised emotions, such as the sad descending triads in "How Could I Be Such A Fool?" (1966) and the bright beats of "Any Way The Wind Blows" (1966), Zappa's use of these forms remains cold, strange and unnatural. On the other hand the order he imposes on his material is violent, illogical and gloomy. Just like the social universe he describes, his description itself is untrue — in Adornian terms it's an antagonistische Ganze. The peaceful looking town of "Centerville" (1971) is continuously disturbed by subterranean rages and repressed instincts, dwelled by child-killers and killer-children. Zappa's music combines big structures and centrifugal forces to develop a terrifying order, a not comfortable system. He who wishes to distinguish Zappa from the rest of Art Rock should reflect over these topics. Return to text
2. F. Glauser (1991), Dada Ascona e altri ricordi. Palermo: Sellerio Editore, p. 37; H. Richter (1966), Dada, Arte e anti-arte. Milano: Mazzotta, pp. 94-97. Other sources are: H. Ball (1927), Die Flucht aus der Zeit. München, Leipzig: Duncher und Humblot; and: G. Hugnet (1971), L'aventure Dada (1916-1922), Paris: Seghers. Return to text
3. M. Calvesi (1991), Le due avanguardie. Dal Futurismo alla Pop Art. Roma, Bari: Laterza, pp. 207-210. Return to text
4. B. Watson (1996), Frank Zappa's Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, p. 12. Return to text
5. L. Russolo (1916), L'arte dei rumori. Milano: Edizioni Futuriste di "Poesia", pp. 51-57. Return to text
6. W. Benjamin (1971), Origini del dramma barocco tedesco. Torino: Einaudi, p. 13. Return to text
7. T. Tzara (1990), 'Manifesto del Signor Aa, l'anti-filosofo.' In: T. Tzara, Manifesti del Dadaismo. Torino: Einaudi, pp. 17-18. Return to text
8. "Everything tends to make us believe that there exists a certain point of the mind at which life and death, the real and the imagined, past and future, the communicable and the incommunicable, high and low, cease to be perceived as contradictions. Now, search as one may one will never find any other motivating force in the activities of the Surrealists than the hope of finding and fixing this point. From this it becomes obvious how absurd it would be to define Surrealism solely as constructive or destructive: the point to which we are referring is a fortiori that point where construction and destruction can no longer be brandished one against the other.
  It is also clear that Surrealism is not interested in giving very serious consideration to anything that happens outside of itself, under the guise of art, or even anti-art, of philosophy or anti-philosophy — in short, at anything not aimed at the annihilation of the being into a diamond, all blind and interior, which is no more the soul of ice than that of fire." (A. Breton (1930), The Second Manifesto of Surrealism.) Return to text
9. Zappa claimed that the harmonic progression II-»V-»I is the essence of "ugly music for whites". See: F. Zappa - P. Occhiogrosso (1995), L'autobiografia. Milano: Arcana, p. 57. Return to text
10. A common feature in many novelty songs, the use of an aside becomes part of Zappa's project/object. His lyrics often are a mixture of sung and spoken lines. The first are often direct and integrate themselves with the rest of the song, both musically and lyrically. The spoken asides are like holes in the text, gashes that do not fit in with the whole construction of the song, nor in musical terms (they're spoken quickly and barely respect the bars) nor literally. They're often oblique and contradict the melodic line putting an end to the theatrical dimension of the singing voice: this is untrue, mere representation, its human immediacy an ideological superstructure.
  Anyhow, Zappa uses his asides in different ways depending on the lyrics sung by the direct voice in the middle of the song. In "You're Probably Wondering Why I'm Here" (1966) the disturbing aside says: "I wanna hear Caravan with a drum solo ..." and "Mom, I tore a big hole in the convertible." These asides are part of Zappa's violent attack on stupidity, normality and plasticity conducted in Absolutely Free from "Plastic People" (1967) to "America Drinks And Goes Home" (1967). The aside "I'm Jimmy Carl Black and I'm the Indian of the group" in "Concentration Moon" (1968) is part of Zappa's documentation of freakdom and the Los Angeles underground scene, while more extemporaneous expressions like "What the fuck?!" mime the direct voice of the singer outside the role coined for him by the record industry. Return to text
11. Quoted by B. Watson (1996), Frank Zappa's Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, p. 217. Return to text
   
Previous
  2001 © Soundscapes