Friday, August 16, 2019

Frank Zappa 38: Francesco Zappa

This wacky record consists of music originally composed in the late 18th-century by a Milanese fellow with the same last name as our Frank. Basically, Frank’s copyist found out about the guy, and Frank wondered what the music sounded like, so they acquired some sheet music of some trio sonatas, and the copyist transferred it to the Synclavier, Frank’s latest composing toy. Then Frank reassigned different sounds to the different parts, so instead of violins and a cello, we’ve got twinkles and tweets and occasional whoops and burps, which one might expect. Sometimes there’s even an approximation of a harpsichord or strings. (But to be clear, all the sounds you hear come from a programmed machine. Which is fine.)
This might all sound like a case of other people doing all the work only for Frank to screw with it and call it his own, but Francesco Zappa is actually quite listenable, toe-tappingly catchy, and very pleasant. It’s chamber music, with no jokes, and no irony, other than the fact that there was once another Zappa writing music not a lot of people got to hear. As hinted at on The Perfect Stranger, the sounds used evoke Switched-On Bach. Plus, there’s that dog again on the cover.
So is this just a vanity project? Probably. Would anyone care about this music if Frank hadn’t made it available? Well, the man really did exist, and other pieces have since been exhumed and recorded by actual classical ensembles. Is it essential? Hardly. Is it historically important? Only in the context of Frank’s journey with the Synclavier. Is it worth hearing? Sure. And there you go.

The Barking Pumpkin Digital Gratification Consort Francesco Zappa (1984)—3


  1. Hi wardo,
    You say "This might all sound like, once again, other people doing all the work only for Frank to screw with it and call it his own...". Once again? I wonder what you are referring to. Would you mind to elaborate? Thanks and best regards.

    1. I've since amended it, since in hindsight it seemed harsh, plus I haven't find links to exact quotes. But while his bands did rehearse to charts written by Frank, a lot of improvisation went into the live performances that wasn't written by him per se. Also, spoken passages on albums weren't written out either, but are copyrighted as his compositions. I agree that these things wouldn't exist if he hadn't constructed the framework for them, but there are those who say he didn't practice what he preached when it came to credit for creation.

  2. Got it. Thanks for your answer!