November 14, 2010

Frank Zappa circa 1959 - Oh, what was in store for us just around the corner . . .

This is actually a rather famous and famously circulated batch of recordings made during a concert put together by then-fledgling composer Frank Zappa under the auspices of Mount St. Mary's College on May 19, 1963.

The recordist, Carlos Hagen was my very first teacher in the area of phono-montage and experimental music. It was through him I wound up working at KPFK in the autumn of 1966 and it was because of him I developed a great love for the experimental music of Harry Partch, John Cage, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Frank Zappa and countless others. He was (and mostly likely still is) the person you would see at all sorts of gatherings with a portable tape recorder (a Uher 5000 if I correctly remember), recording endless hours of everything, not only for his weekly radio program, but for his archives. Everything that had any relation to sound held enormous fascination for him and it was his lifelong desire to preserve those sounds and to turn other people on to them that has made him something of an institution, not only among the eclectic population but among historians as well.

And so recording this concert was right up his street - in fact, it actually was since he has been associated with UCLA for many years and had an office on campus which was a few blocks away from Mount St. Mary's.

For those of you who know this tape (and I'm sure there are a lot), there's nothing I can add to it, other than list below was the pieces are. For those of you not familiar with it, a lot has been chronicled about Frank's early experimental work and that this was where his passion was. The Mothers Of Invention was a commercial side line as far as he was concerned; a means to an end - the thing that brought the money in to pay for what he was really interested in doing. And I'm pretty sure had there not been a Mothers Of Invention and the outrageous reputation they acquired over the years, he may not have attracted the attention of people like Pierre Boulez who championed his more serious work in Europe. So sometimes the sidelines do pay off.

At any rate, here is the concert. The sound isn't all that good. Carlos recorded almost all of what he did on the fly and getting it right was a hit-and-miss affair as it always is. But we can all be thankful he had the foresight to actually be there in the first place. Thanks Carlos - once again, you were where history happened. Also, remember (if you're not all that familiar with early Frank Zappa) that this is experimental music and it's not for all tastes - you are almost required not to dance to it. I am sure a lot of you will absolutely hate it - some things just never change. But, as everything with life, if you approach it with an open mind and a tiny bit of willingness, it could be pretty amazing.


Mount St. Mary's College, LA May 19, 1963
* Variables II for Orchestra
* Variables I for Any Five Instruments
* Opus 5, for Four Orchestras
* Rehearsalism
* Three Pieces of Visual Music with Jazz Group

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