Cruising for Burgers (Frank Zappa) #arpOslo2014


Martin Knakkergaard, University of Aalborg

IMG_0805ABSTRACT: Frank Zappa’s concept album Uncle Meat from 1969 can in many ways be seen as a key to his art, his view of society and his understanding of life. Even the title seems to cover a simultaneously humorous and odd, almost macabre and somewhat vulgar dramatic universe, and the long program note – Preamble – supports this impression with its semblance of mythology and caricatured science fiction.

In its concrete material Uncle Meat appears both textually and musically as a close-voiced pastiche – a multi-faced stretto, kaleidoscopically put together from a unique debris of mainly rock, jazz, musique concrète, pop, electronic and Neoclassical idioms, which, together with texts, is based on an occasionally absurd imagery, picturing human alienation, degradation and reification.

The paper is a rendering of Uncle Meat as a phonographic universe of its own, pieced together by descriptive analyses of a variety of the piece’ key elements, their phonographic realisation and implicit acoustical idealisations, in order to identify correlations and clashes between production, music, text and ideology. It is also a reflection on the relevance of Zappa’s collected works as a prophetic dystopia.

[with apologies for missing the start of this session]. I arrive as Martin is referring to Luhmanian system theory, whereby Zappa is part of an ‘auto-poetic system’, and Fairclough’s orders of discourse. He argues that Zappa’s oeuvre is not a phonographic work. Uncle Meat, he suggests, has a chamber-music-like atmosphere, but incorporates rock and pop pastiche, classical and baroque references and musique concrete. Uncle Meat represents a kind of index to Zappa’s work. We hear audio of Uncle Meat: main title theme, Zolar Czaki, The Legend of the Golden Arches, The Uncle Meat Variations, and A Pound for a Brown on the Bus. From side three, Project X is played. Sonic allusions to the preceding examples are highlighted.

We hear A Pound For a Brown on the Bus; it is provided as an example of nested ritornello. Martin highlights the remarkable ability of Zappa’s band to nail the tempo across many years/performances.

[JB note – Martin’s presentation contained some very sophisticated theoretical frameworks and detailed musical and cultural analyses, and because I missed the start of the presentation I don’t think I’ve really done it justice here with these brief notes. Interested scholars check out Martin’s work on Academia, his non-Zappa material on PMO and his full list of publications.]

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