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My review of Dance Me This
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yetanother
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Post 2015-07-09 23:27   [Quote] 
Although I can't really afford to do a lot of volunteer work these days, since so many users (starting here) asked so emphatically for it, I decided to try and allocate some time to writing my review of DMT. However, keep in mind that, because I haven't yet been able to acquire a copy of the CD, I don't have access to the liner notes, and therefore suspect I may be missing quite a bit of relevant technical information about the compositional process of these pieces.

This album was a surprise for me in many senses. In stark contrast with Civilization Phaze III, the music is surprisingly "consonant", so to speak: of the seven pieces that make up the album, four are entirely or primarily diatonic. Of these, three deal directly with elements from Western popular music, and when I say "directly" I don't mean in a "Put a Motor in Yourself"- or "Navanax"-sort of way. For me, these aspects place this music much closer to stuff like "Aerobics in Bondage" or "One Man, One Vote" than to any of CPIII, despite the abyssal difference in timbral complexity. The music is also mostly non-melodic, and this may be a shock considering how heavily melody-driven most of FZ's music is. With the exception of very brief passages in "Goat Polo" and "Piano", there is no explicit "melody" to speak of in this album.

Though hardly surprising, another aspect of the music that many may find difficult to relate to is its strong proximity to non-Western musical cultures - and I don't mean simply the use of Tuvan throat singing. FZ's view of time as a "spherical constant" really shows throughout the CD: most of the music takes place in "vertical time", being based on cyclical and/or static temporal structures - as opposed to the linear, causal, directional, "start-middle-end" conception of time that dominates most Western music. For more biased listeners, this may result in a feeling that the music is "monotonous" or "doesn't go anywhere". The idea that music (like time) must "go somewhere" is, of course, exclusive to the West, and I think it is a vice inherited from the common-practice period, where tonal cadences like II-V-I implied a clear sense of direction and causality.

Anyway, here's a basic rundown...

"Dance Me This" is probably the one track on the album with the largest potential commercial, although that doesn't say a lot. It even has a guitar solo. On the other hand, it is based on quite an intricate rhythmic cycle which is repeated three times (to be clear, I mean stated once, then repeated twice). What's interesting is that, while the idea of structuring music around rhythmic cycles is a millenial practice in Indian classical music and in many African cultures, here it is fused with the Western tradition of time signatures based on hierarchies of "strong" vs. "weak" beats (originating from the stylization of popular dances in court music during the Renaissance). For you music nerds, the cycle can be divided in four quasi-symmetrical parts, each consisting of two 6/4 bars (or, in the last part, one 6/4 bar plus one 5/4 bar) followed by one bar in a different signature, respectively 9/8, 5/4, 3/4, and 11/8 (the second statement omits one quarter note in the 3/4 bar, turning it into a 2/4 bar).

"Pachuco Gavotte" is, of course, anything but a gavotte. To be honest, it doesn't sound too pachuco either, but who cares... I must admit I have a hard time understanding this piece, but I find it quite enjoyable anyway.

"Wolf Harbor" is a monster. It seems by this time FZ was getting really good at large-scale forms, as its five movements don't sound anything like a suite, in the sense of five different pieces thrown together in a collection; rather, they combine to create a carefully woven, unified piece of music. While the melodic dimension is entirely absent and the harmony, when it appears, is absolutely static, it seems to me the dimensions of timbre and space are just as integral to the work's structure as the durations/rhythm. I wish FZ had mixed a four- or eight-channel acousmatic version of this, and we could listen to it (the former is quite possible, the latter I doubt very much).

"Goat Polo" is my personal favorite on the album. It showcases FZ's absolute command of diatonic harmony, fusing elements from at least three different harmonic models, namely those of traditional Tuvan music, Western Renaissance music (even throwing in a Resolver for good measure), and FZ's own diatonic music. And it proves that you can still maintain a high level of weirdness while being strictly diatonic.

Then again, for the first several times I listened to this album, I was totally oblivious of "Rykoniki" as a separate track, so I got used to hearing it as a coda to "Goat Polo". Although it's not even diatonic, it still makes sense to me that way; the diatonicism of "Goat Polo" seems to blend seamlessly into the non-diatonicism of "Rykoniki", which in turn also makes for a perfect transition to the heavily saturated chromaticism of "Piano". Anyway, "Rykoniki" is based on a "moto perpetuo" kind of structure, a pitch/rhythmic cycle repeated twelve times (the last one cut abruptly in the middle), on top of which a harmonic progression is built. Oddly, this piece features a return (as does "Goat Polo", to a lesser extent) to the lo-fi FM synth sounds characteristic of FZ's early Synclavier works, especially Jazz From Hell, here combined with the new high-quality percussion samples that abound throughout the rest of the album.

"Piano" is my least favorite piece in this collection. Coming from the composer of "Ruth Is Sleeping", "I'm Stealing the Towels" or even the "Little House" piano intro, I can only describe the piano writing in this little concertante piece as "uninspired". Harmonically, it is the most complex piece in the album, but it ends up sounding a bit unidimensional to me.

"Calculus" is a fun example of algorithmic music based on Anatoly Kuular's throat singing. It is a simple and concise piece which uses extreme tempo elasticity to provide a rock 'n' roll rhythmic accompaniment to the Tuvan "melody" sung by Kuular.

Overall, I must say that, despite being very different from what I expected, this album didn't disappoint me. It is the work of a mature composer, and FZ was probably well aware as he worked on it that it would be his last. For those who are into speculation, it also points to a number of different directions his music might have taken had he lived on. As for its intended function as a soundtrack for modern dance groups, I'm a bit confused as to how such groups would be able to use individual pieces from the album, since each segues gaplessly into the next and most of them don't have a clearly marked beginning or ending. They would probably have to resort to makeshift fade ins and/or fade outs.

To conclude, I must say I was positively surprised by the overall reception of the Zappateers community - when I first wrote about this album on a brief FB post, I said even more avid listeners of "contemporary" music would find it hard to listen to, and those who liked it would probably still dislike part of it. Apparently that is not the case with most hardcore Zappa fans, even if there are still a few that feel entitled to judge as "crap" anything that doesn't fit within the narrow limits of their musical background. Poster orontea put it beautifully: "It is clearly music by a person who doesn't care about our ears anymore. It really doesn't matter if this divides the Zappa-Crowd." FZ was a composer. He didn't care about your ears, nor should him - get over it. If any of his music ever sounded good to you, you should be happy for that, instead of whining about all the rest that you don't like.


Last edited by yetanother on 2015-07-14 21:46; edited 6 times in total
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brainpang
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Post 2015-07-09 23:53   [Quote] 
Terrific job, ya. Don't worry about missing out on the liners, yours should have been in there instead.
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franktomatozappa
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Post 2015-07-10 00:07   [Quote] 
Lovely! Nice work Yeti! imslow
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uncle max
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Post 2015-07-10 00:09   [Quote] 
Wow yetanother !!!!!!

This is great clap

I wonder if you can say something on the whole FZ synclavier opus as we know it, in the light of DMT.

Do you feel DMT as being in some way a "logical" extension of the other synclavier albums or is it a completely different animal ?

Is there anything that hits you in DMT for being a dramatic improvement (cannot find a better word) in respect of CPIII ?

Which was your biggest surprise in listening to DMT based on the idea you had about Frank as a composer, before DMT ?

Sorry for bothering with so many questions. Thanks for listening Smile

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yetanother
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Post 2015-07-10 02:05   [Quote] 
Thanks everyone for the feedback, and good questions, uncle max. For once, I'll try to be succint. Very Happy

uncle max wrote:
Do you feel DMT as being in some way a "logical" extension of the other synclavier albums or is it a completely different animal ?

Well, to some extent, everything is an extension of everything else in FZ's oeuvre. And as I mentioned, there are obvious links throughout these pieces to previous works like JFH, FZMTMOP, and CPIII. On the other hand, FZ was always very intent on giving each album a unique concept and identity (a "personality", so to speak) to set it apart from all others, and DMT is no exception. So both aspects are not mutually exclusive.

uncle max wrote:
Is there anything that hits you in DMT for being a dramatic improvement (cannot find a better word) in respect of CPIII ?

I think it would be risky to look for any kind of linear progress between both them. We know that FZ had been working on many of these pieces for years prior to their release, and as far as I know there is no evidence (please correct me if the liner notes provide any) of how much time has actually elapsed between the completion of both albums. Having said that, DMT does seem to feature a larger array of percussion samples (in addition to his own collection of percussion instruments, I believe FZ may have taken advantage of the Rage & the Fury sessions/rehearsals to record quite a few more) and a greater technical command of the Synclavier, especially regarding synthesis techniques. I think somehow much of DMT also sounds more "natural" than CPIII, i.e. more as though it had been played by actual human beings. But this may be a result of FZ having better quantization algorithms at his disposal.

uncle max wrote:
Which was your biggest surprise in listening to DMT based on the idea you had about Frank as a composer, before DMT ?

I'm not sure I had any big surprises in this respect. The most significant ones, which I mentioned in my original post, refer to the idea I had about the directions his music was taking at the time, rather than about him as a composer.

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Ob
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Post 2015-07-10 06:10   [Quote] 
Thanks Yetti,

Just what I was thinking! But my review was something like: all the little blips and blurps sound like they are in the right place and want me to listen more.

Cheers

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uncle max
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Post 2015-07-10 07:11   [Quote] 
Thank yet. Very very interesting cheers

Just yesterday I bought the OSFA transcriptions by Hal-Leonard and there is this nice foreword by Steve Vai who at a certain point says:

"... it's good to keep in mind what Frank once said when asked what advice he would give a young musician just starting out:
"There are only two things to remember. Number one, don't stop, and number two, keep going"
Three decades later, I keep those words taped to my computer."

Few hours later, through your review, I could see how Frank would always stick to the above. Smile

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Post 2015-07-10 09:53   [Quote] 
Very interesting, thanks Yetanother!
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Post 2015-07-10 10:04   [Quote] 
Thank you Yetti (love this one!)!

Much appreciated

Totally agree on:

Quote:
FZ's view of time as a "spherical constant" really shows throughout the CD: most of the music takes place in "vertical time", being based on cyclical and/or static temporal structures


a truly accurate statement.

And here is my lo-tech, "instinctual" view of Dance Me This

http://rhoerer.wordpress.com/2015/07/07/dance-me-this/

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uncle Z
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Post 2015-07-10 10:50   [Quote] 
Thanks a lot Yetanother ! You should try to write a book examines Zappa's musical heritage - I am sure it will be a success .

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CheepnisAroma
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Post 2015-07-10 11:05   [Quote] 
Way to go, yetanother. Thanks for this! Now, I need to buy the CD at last Wink


Last edited by CheepnisAroma on 2015-07-10 13:55; edited 1 time in total
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yetanother
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Post 2015-07-10 11:26   [Quote] 
Cheers, I'm glad you all like it. tioa, always enjoy reading your reviews. Wink

uncle Z: I already wrote a 250-page dissertation on that (in Portuguese), but I have no hope of finding a publisher who might wish to invest money on it (either in Brazil or abroad, which would be even more expensive because it would require the whole thing to be translated to English). But if you can read Portuguese, you can find it here (yes, the PDF includes an English version of the abstract).

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uncle Z
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Post 2015-07-10 11:34   [Quote] 
Thank you very much! Unfortunately I do not know Portuguese but I already have your dissertation in the collection (not reading). It seemed to me that you enjoyed while writing a review on DMT that tells me that a book about the work of Zappa brought pleasure to both you and readers. Smile

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yetanother
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Post 2015-07-10 11:46   [Quote] 
Just get me a rich publisher, and I'll see to that. Wink

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Post 2015-07-10 12:17   [Quote] 
We need the rich fan of Zappa Smile

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