Friday, February 22, 2008

111. FRANK ZAPPA: The Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet

A detailed analysis of the above Frank Zappa composition, including notated musical examples.
The Return Of The Son Of Monster Magnet


NOTES ON THE COMPOSITIONS INCLUDED HEREIN: "THE RETURN OF THE SON OF MONSTER MAGNET ... (Unfinished Ballet in Two Tableaux) I. Ritual Dance of the Child-Killer. II. Nullis Pretii (No commercial potential), is what freaks sound like when you turn them loose in a recording studio at one o'clock in the morning on $500 worth of rented percussion equipment. A bright snappy number. Hotcha!"

The title of "I." above references Stravinsky's "Le Sacre du Printemps."

Key of E
Quarter note = ca. 120
There are 429 bars

BARFINDER: The word "Suzy" is on the first beat of Bar 1

PERCEIVED INSTRUMENTATION: Vocals, electric guitars, electric bass, piano, vibraphone, Theremin(?), drums and percussion.

Part 1
Bar 1
"Suzy" ... "into ya"

One long bar full of fermatas.

Part 2
Bars 2-29
Ray (?) sings

Bars 4-5 are repeated a few times. Bar 3 is in 3/4.

Part 3
Bars 30-76
Piano solo

A piano solo? That's right, but (we believe) it is a "prepared" piano solo, with portions played INSIDE the piano (possibly with mallets) on the piano strings! Did FZ invent this? No, he was obviously very taken with the "prepared piano" pieces of John Cage and Henry Cowell and others (Nancarrow falls into a different category). "Preparing" a piano involves putting nuts, screws, pencils, and anything you can think of in between the strings of the piano. That is to say, many pitches on the piano are produced by three separate strings (that's what gives you "harmonic resonance"), and Cage and Cowell carefully "prepared" their pianos by putting various objects in between these "resonating" strings. Check those pieces out if you dare -- they're pretty revolutionary! If you listen carefully you will hear that FZ "prepared" this piano as well -- there are moments where you can hear the telltale clunk of a "prepared" note being struck! At Bar 61 he gets funky.

The Varèse "lion-roar" occurs frequently in this section.

By the time we near Bar 77, below, you can begin to hear a great thickening of the sonic layers -- a great morass of voices all washed together in a dense cluster of sound.

Part 4
Bars 77-173
Accelerando to quarter-note = ca. 160

As JCB accelerates the tempo, the voice clusters continue, a bit of Theremin here and there. Not much else. JCB gives us one bar of 2/4 at Bar 100. The piano (inside and out) solo continues. If you are with us with your "barfinding" check out the piano licks (either "prepared" or played with mallets inside!) beginning at around Bars 125-130, immediately before our theme from Part 2, notated above, returns (very briefly) at Bars 131-132. At Bar 160, someone says cream. And shortly thereafter

Part 5
Bars 174-274
Back to quarter-note = 120 ... "Happenin' man"

A quick ritard takes us back to the original tempo. This long section is immediately distinct from Part 4 in that the close-miked voices return. The washy vocal clusters disappear in favor of Foreign languages, girls giggling and/or Panting, Roy and Ray singing high, more Varèse lion-roar, and a cuckoo-bird call (notated below) and echo in the background (my, we wonder if Frank was listening to Mahler that day? :)-

Actually the cuckoo-bird call and echo (Bars 184-191) and some female Panting (Bars 224-226, and elsewhere) are great examples of FZ's compositional genius in creating genuine musical "surprise." These bars occur in a completely different tempo and accordingly create beautiful jarring cross-rhythms. Hotcha!

The cuckoo-bird call and echo occur again at Bar 223, along with a new vocal chorus of ha-ha-ha's and the Panting Girl: this notation is meant to show how many different musical "events" happening simultaneously fit together over the constant 4/4 beat.

At around Bar 237 we have some more interesting cross-rhythms with the Panting Girl

At around Bar 245 we have what appears to be a "lion roar" solo (which may be the section which inspired an early reviewer of this release to proclaim that this work sounded like a "herd of half-slaughtered cattle" [they spelled the title, "Friek Out"!] -- the review is reprinted in the booklet to "The Old Masters, Box I").

At around Bar 252 the cuckoo-bird call reappears, but electronically sped-up. Almost at that precise moment, the piano begins to pound out the 1/8th-1/8th-1/4 rhythm which was notated above as Vocal #3 (ha-ha-ha)

At Bar 259 -- another accelerando and suddenly

The beat fades and we land at

Part 6
Bars 275-278
"I'm crashing man" ... "creamcheese"

Four separate bars filled with fermatas and incredibly exotic noises. Listen carefully to Bar 278 (after creamcheese). Here is what we hear, in sequence:

  1. Some instrument sounding a B
  2. A slippery recorder-type sound
  3. A series of very fast "tape-blips"
  4. Inside the piano strumming
  5. Sped-up snork-type sound (was Dick Barber there?)
  6. Sped-up kazoo bleep (?)
  7. A loud reed-ish sound
  8. Faint sped-up vocal laughing; and
  9. (Our favorite) a sped-up voice (panned to one channel) which sounds like a short giggle!
And then we drop into

Part 7
Bars 279-292
Munchkin Music.

Fast 4/4. It's the cuckoo call again, sped up, with what sounds like the prepared piano, also sped up. In fact, this entire section is sped up!

Part 8
Bars 293-294
(whispered) Wai-ka-vo-jeen-ya ... wai-ya ka-ma-tay ...

Two long bars with fermatas

Part 9
Bars 295-302
"Minute man" ... "It really makes it"

Listen carefully to the background here. Take away the lyric and you could be listening to Penderecki!

Part 10
Bars 303-352
"Funcha funcha"..."Creamcheese"

Much of the previous thematic material is bundled up together here, all at once!
  1. Foreign language
  2. Flashing man/Faster/Higher
  3. Cuckoo call and echo
  4. Panting girl
  5. Prepared piano background
At Bar 329, we kick it into a snappy 4/4 tempo -- semi-whispered Foreign Language, prepared piano and what sounds like SPOONS accompaniment(?) When the SPOONS stop we are at

Part 11
Bars 353-356
"Creamcheese" ... "Creamcheese"

Four bars filled with fermatas. Again, vocal writing worthy of Penderecki.

Part 12
Bars 357-429
More Munchkin Music

Very fast 4/4. Bar 373: did you pick up on that? has a fermata ... and then it's full speed ahead, with a nod to Cecil, until that wonderful final lick in the piano, and our final Freak Out! notated example, the final two bars of this release: Bars 428-429 (did you really count them all?):

Next album

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