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Frank Zappa's EMU
MUFF WIGGLER Forum Index -> Modular Synth General Discussion  
Author Frank Zappa's EMU
sduck
While I've known about the EMU system that Frank Zappa had, I've never seen any good pictures of it. This one isn't much better, but it's at least fairly clear - from the new box set of Zappa In New York.



("Ruth, move your arm")
01235813
Check out these:

http://www.zappasgear.com/emupics.html
http://www.zappasgear.com/emumysterymodules.html
Graham Hinton
Do you realise that Zappa was very disappointed with this system after all the hype? He dumped it and bought a Synclavier instead. So it seems strange putting this on a pedestal when he never liked it or used it for his music.
Parnelli
I was privileged to see Frank in a concert at Cols. OH at Vet's Memorial in 82 or so.

We walked in a little early and there was hardly anyone there, so I sat right in front of the sound board. The stage was set up like a pyramid with a percussionist at the top who was the busiest guy I ever saw at a concert, he made the show for me! He'd pick up 4 sticks and play a xylophone run, throw them into the air, grab a mallet and smash a gong or a drum, etc. he was a riot!

The sound was perfect, though I was surprised to see only a couple relatively small speaker mains at either side of the stage. Frank more talked his way through the songs, but all and all it was one of the musically and technically best concerts I have ever seen. we're not worthy
01235813
Graham Hinton wrote:
Do you realise that Zappa was very disappointed with this system after all the hype? He dumped it and bought a Synclavier instead. So it seems strange putting this on a pedestal when he never liked it or used it for his music.


I knew he made extensive use of the Synclavier. The fact that he had a huge EMU custom made is nevertheless quite interesting. There were even several unmarked, custom modules in it. I hadn't heard anything about him being disappointed with it.

The website I linked to is actually about a book dedicated to Zappa's gear. The EMU didn't make it into said book, thus the author made a supplemental part dedicated to the EMU on the website. Quite the opposite of a pedestal. I hadn't heard anything about him being disappointed with it but I guess that could be a reason it wasn't really portrayed within the book.

An interesting piece of synth history.
Graham Hinton
01235813 wrote:
I knew he made extensive use of the Synclavier. The fact that he had a huge EMU custom made is nevertheless quite interesting.


He could afford to try it and write it off as a bad experience. It didn't work out and became a white mastodon.

Quote:

I hadn't heard anything about him being disappointed with it.


He made derogatory remarks in interviews at the time. In Synapse 3/1 he mentions not being able to find anybody who could play it (consider who he knew then) and having to put it in storage. After he got the Synclavier he was more scathing, as only he could be.
JohnLRice
Graham Hinton wrote:
Quote:

I hadn't heard anything about him being disappointed with it.


He made derogatory remarks in interviews at the time. In Synapse 3/1 he mentions not being able to find anybody who could play it (consider who he knew then) and having to put it in storage. After he got the Synclavier he was more scathing, as only he could be.
I think this is a good example of the fact that regardless of how brilliant and accomplished someone might be at a particular thing, there will be things they totally don't "get", even in closely related fields.

If you look at what is said about Zappa, see wiki quote below, at first it seems almost shocking that he himself couldn't figure out and make good use of a *"fairly basic modular synthesizer", although I would probably give Frank the benefit of the doubt and assume that at the time he encountered the Emu he was just too busy composing, recording, and touring to take the time to make use of it?

The moral of the story kids (no matter how old you are hihi ) just because something doesn't click with you doesn't mean there is anything "wrong" with you, either find and invest your time in what does make sense to you OR just pursue what ever makes you happy, even if you never become the greatest at it or even particularly skilled. Life is short, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" SlayerBadger! screaming goo yo w00t

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Zappa
Quote:
Frank Zappa was an American multi-instrumentalist musician, composer, and bandleader. His work is characterized by nonconformity, free-form improvisation, sound experiments, musical virtuosity, and satire of American culture. In a career spanning more than 30 years, Zappa composed rock, pop, jazz, jazz fusion, orchestral and musique concrète works, and produced almost all of the 60-plus albums that he released with his band the Mothers of Invention and as a solo artist. Zappa also directed feature-length films and music videos, and designed album covers. He is considered one of the most innovative and stylistically diverse rock musicians of his era.


*Edit Note: when I said it was a "fairly basic modular synthesizer" I was just looking at the picture in the original post. Just now I looked at the links 01235813 posted and since it was a much larger combined system than I had originally assumed, I'd revise what I said and say that while it might seem to me to be relatively straight forward by today's standards and by my perspective/experience, it was indeed a very large modular system by mid/late 1970's standards and had cutting if not bleeding edge technologies. Even these days not many people take the time to set up 6 voice poly modular patch! cool
sduck
Graham Hinton wrote:
01235813 wrote:
I knew he made extensive use of the Synclavier. The fact that he had a huge EMU custom made is nevertheless quite interesting.


He could afford to try it and write it off as a bad experience. It didn't work out and became a white mastodon.


While there are pictures of both Eddie Jobson and Ruth Underwood playing it in the same booklet I got that picture from, it was obviously underutilized in real life, especially considering the expense. My belief from the actual concert photos (and performances I was at) of the time is that it was largely on stage for show - or it may be set up for one patch or sound effect, and only used once. There is a minimoog set up in front of it in one picture, and a 2600 in another, both instruments that actually got some use. This was all in 1975-77 or so - Zappa and his various musicians were experimenting with how to work this new technology into the act, as were just about every other hip musician at the time. Starting in 78 they went to Oberheim poly keyboards, which were roadworthy and much more flexible musically.
MindMachine
Graham Hinton wrote:
Do you realise that Zappa was very disappointed with this system after all the hype? He dumped it and bought a Synclavier instead. So it seems strange putting this on a pedestal when he never liked it or used it for his music.


Yeah and he hated the EML's, the Moogs and all of the rest. That's why he had some hardwired for specific sounds or wired into Hammond organs for special percussive sounds.

Go be cranky on your own time. You are more divisive than contributive in a lot of these threads (no matter your stature). History is more than your lopsided view.

Guinness ftw!


edit - you know he also had synthesists and keyboardists that actually made this shit work.

double edit - another Emu modular deal here:

https://www.muffwiggler.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=220501
thetwlo
JohnLRice wrote:
Graham Hinton wrote:
Quote:

I hadn't heard anything about him being disappointed with it.


He made derogatory remarks in interviews at the time. In Synapse 3/1 he mentions not being able to find anybody who could play it (consider who he knew then) and having to put it in storage. After he got the Synclavier he was more scathing, as only he could be.
I think this is a good example of the fact that regardless of how brilliant and accomplished someone might be at a particular thing, there will be things they totally don't "get", even in closely related fields.

If you look at what is said about Zappa, see wiki quote below, at first it seems almost shocking that he himself couldn't figure out and make good use of a *"fairly basic modular synthesizer", although I would probably give Frank the benefit of the doubt and assume that at the time he encountered the Emu he was just too busy composing, recording, and touring to take the time to make use of it?

The moral of the story kids (no matter how old you are hihi ) just because something doesn't click with you doesn't mean there is anything "wrong" with you, either find and invest your time in what does make sense to you OR just pursue what ever makes you happy, even if you never become the greatest at it or even particularly skilled. Life is short, "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!" SlayerBadger! screaming goo yo w00t

From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Frank_Zappa
Quote:
Frank Zappa was an American multi-instrumentalist musician, composer, and bandleader. His work is characterized by nonconformity, free-form improvisation, sound experiments, musical virtuosity, and satire of American culture. In a career spanning more than 30 years, Zappa composed rock, pop, jazz, jazz fusion, orchestral and musique concrète works, and produced almost all of the 60-plus albums that he released with his band the Mothers of Invention and as a solo artist. Zappa also directed feature-length films and music videos, and designed album covers. He is considered one of the most innovative and stylistically diverse rock musicians of his era.


*Edit Note: when I said it was a "fairly basic modular synthesizer" I was just looking at the picture in the original post. Just now I looked at the links 01235813 posted and since it was a much larger combined system than I had originally assumed, I'd revise what I said and say that while it might seem to me to be relatively straight forward by today's standards and by my perspective/experience, it was indeed a very large modular system by mid/late 1970's standards and had cutting if not bleeding edge technologies. Even these days not many people take the time to set up 6 voice poly modular patch! cool



yes, that is weird, no recordings, but he could play a bicycle.?? i guess he was older.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y9P2V0_p6vE
notmiserlouagain
MindMachine wrote:

You are more divisive than contributive in a lot of these threads (no matter your stature). History is more than your lopsided view.


Disagree. He provided an interesting fact. He popped a filter bubble.
Why not?

Zappa´s music (the part I know) is a lot about instrumental virtuosity/total control and showoff too. So it makes sense to me, not to use a modular,
which is more about losing control... Dead Banana
Graham Hinton
MindMachine wrote:
Go be cranky on your own time. You are more divisive than contributive in a lot of these threads (no matter your stature). History is more than your lopsided view.


So history doesn't fit your rose tinted view and you go straight into ad hominem mode. Who's being cranky?

Quote:
you know he also had synthesists and keyboardists that actually made this shit work.


My point, which is really Zappa's point, is that he couldn't find any. Read the interview I referenced: Synapse_Vol_3_No_1 page 31. If Don Preston or George Duke had walked into a room with a massive modular and were told they were going on tour with it their first thought would be about screwing up in front of a large audience and looking a pratt and then how to get off the tour.

If whoever sold him that system knew anything about Zappa or his music they should have been careful promising what it could achieve instead of just seeing $$$. Zappa always knew what he wanted and anything less wasn't good enough.

When he got the Synclavier he was able to do things he had only dreamed of. One of those things was playing 57 notes in the time of 56 and he had been frustrated trying to get real musicians to play that from sheet music. I've heard the results and they are "meh", but he got it out of his system (in both senses). Would you want to be the hired synthesist on that E-mu system if that was the first thing he asked you to do after you had told him it could make any sound?
Pelsea
As great a fan of Emu as I am, I have to agree with GH and Mr. Zappa. Even though the Emu modular was probably the best available at the time, it was not ready for prime time. Remember, synthesis was a major paradigm shift for music, and few traditionally trained musicians in the 70s had the faintest clue what to do with one. They had something that looked like a keyboard, but did not behave like one-- otherwise it was just knobs and buttons, nothing you could get good at by practicing scales 4 hours a day.

The main thing missing was a way to play expressively. The Mini and imitators filled that need, but also established a rather limited definition of synthesis. A few years later the push for polyphony led to an even more limited definition of digital synthesis. We are only just beginning to emerge from those primitive days.

It's not too surprising really-- no instrument in the history of music has been accepted overnight.The Saxophone was invented in the 1840s, but only became common (outside of military bands) in the 1920s. Even the electric guitar required a couple of decades to gain its current ubiquity.

Neither of those instruments changed much to become acceptable, instead, music changed to take advantage of them. The saxophone blossomed with jazz, and rock could not have happened without amplified guitar & bass. Modular synthesizers were not capable of playing the music of Zappa's time, and the perfect music for synthesizers hasn't been invented yet. It's coming though.
zengomi
Pelsea wrote:
the perfect music for synthesizers hasn't been invented yet. It's coming though.


As I read through this thread, I had similar thoughts.

It's not the instrument. It's the mind wielding it.
JohnLRice
While I agree with most of what you said, I'll disagree with following:
Pelsea wrote:
and the perfect music for synthesizers hasn't been invented yet. It's coming though.
There is no "perfect music" for any instrument since it's a subjective assessment.

And the following statement is flat out false and laughable! eek! seriously, i just don't get it meh lol
Pelsea wrote:
Modular synthesizers were not capable of playing the music of Zappa's time
Blairio
JohnLRice wrote:
While I agree with most of what you said, I'll disagree with following:
Pelsea wrote:
and the perfect music for synthesizers hasn't been invented yet. It's coming though.
There is no "perfect music" for any instrument since it's a subjective assessment.



At the end of the day a synthesiser is a tool . If you don't get on with a particular hammer or spade, you don't agonise over your deficiencies in getting the best out of that hammer or spade. You just go out and find another that suits you and the task at hand better..

Surely an instrument is just the delivery mechanism for an artist's vision. It is not an end in itself. So I find the idea of a particular instrument that does not yet have music created that is worthy of it, a wee bit like the tail that wagged the dog.
zengomi
Modular synthesis enables and invites the creation of radically non-traditional music. Some are inclined to embrace that possibility; others are not.
commodorejohn
Pelsea wrote:
Remember, synthesis was a major paradigm shift for music, and few traditionally trained musicians in the 70s had the faintest clue what to do with one.

That's utter nonsense; there were piles of keyboardists who'd cut their teeth on the organ and piano who embraced the synthesizer in the '70s.
Blairio
zengomi wrote:
Modular synthesis enables and invites the creation of radically non-traditional music. Some are inclined to embrace that possibility; others are not.


Which camp do you fall into?

I don't think there has been anything radically different from 'traditional' music since since music concrete. Its not the technologies that count. Its the ideas. and beware, there are modular music tropes, just like there are tropes for all the other kinds of music.
Graham Hinton
commodorejohn wrote:

That's utter nonsense; there were piles of keyboardists who'd cut their teeth on the organ and piano who embraced the synthesizer in the '70s.


But they didn't use modulars on stage. When they did appear on stage they were mainly used as a visual prop (ELP, Roger Powell, even T.Dream), the sound was made by keyboard synthesizers and conventional keyboards. Both Weather Report and Steve Hillage had done an album with TONTO, and Stevie Wonder several, but they didn't dare try to take it on stage--they knew how difficult it was in the studio.

The idea of building a polyphonic modular without auto-tuning and using it live was always going to be a non-starter. Accusing experienced musicians of not understanding modulars is a bit lame, it was modular manufacturers that didn't understand what musicians really needed. So they end up in museums being described as something they never were. If Zappa could see this one he would cite it as conclusive proof of his theory about hydrogen.
gryfon1
Graham Hinton wrote:
commodorejohn wrote:

That's utter nonsense; there were piles of keyboardists who'd cut their teeth on the organ and piano who embraced the synthesizer in the '70s.


But they didn't use modulars on stage. ...


Non sequitur. Why accept the assumption that live performance is more important than the music?
What’s wrong with treating modular as studio instruments, particularly given their advent post-recording studio technology?
Given the history of the development of electronic music, I would think the perverse use is for live performance. No one expects musique concrete to be performed live on stage. No one liked works for live performer plus tape; I would argue that’s a sign of the transition off the stage and into the studio, as one example.
Pelsea
gryfon1 wrote:
Graham Hinton wrote:
commodorejohn wrote:

That's utter nonsense; there were piles of keyboardists who'd cut their teeth on the organ and piano who embraced the synthesizer in the '70s.


But they didn't use modulars on stage. ...


Non sequitur. Why accept the assumption that live performance is more important than the music?
What’s wrong with treating modular as studio instruments, particularly given their advent post-recording studio technology?
Given the history of the development of electronic music, I would think the perverse use is for live performance. No one expects musique concrete to be performed live on stage. No one liked works for live performer plus tape; I would argue that’s a sign of the transition off the stage and into the studio, as one example.


At $0.00074 per stream? You can't make a living as a musician unless you get out and play in front of people. You can put on a dandy performance with modern equipment-- thousands of members of this list will testify to that. I'm not even dissing the live capabilities of the Emu-- I've put on dozens of shows with one. I just wouldn't want to drag it out to 200 motels or play a backing track for "Capitan America".
gryfon1
Pelsea wrote:
gryfon1 wrote:
Graham Hinton wrote:
commodorejohn wrote:

That's utter nonsense; there were piles of keyboardists who'd cut their teeth on the organ and piano who embraced the synthesizer in the '70s.


But they didn't use modulars on stage. ...


Non sequitur. Why accept the assumption that live performance is more important than the music?
What’s wrong with treating modular as studio instruments, particularly given their advent post-recording studio technology?
Given the history of the development of electronic music, I would think the perverse use is for live performance. No one expects musique concrete to be performed live on stage. No one liked works for live performer plus tape; I would argue that’s a sign of the transition off the stage and into the studio, as one example.


At $0.00074 per stream? You can't make a living as a musician unless you get out and play in front of people. You can put on a dandy performance with modern equipment-- thousands of members of this list will testify to that. I'm not even dissing the live capabilities of the Emu-- I've put on dozens of shows with one. I just wouldn't want to drag it out to 200 motels or play a backing track for "Capitan America".


There wasn’t any streaming in the 70s.
Bands then made money off albums, not live gigs. That’s still true outside the (broadly taken) world of ‘popular music.’
So I’ll stand by my claim of non sequitur given the context.
Dr. Sketch-n-Etch
If you want to see Frank Zappa's EMU system up close and personal, I believe it is on permanent display at the music museum at Cite de la Musique in Paris. If you are ever in Paris and have a few hours to kill, there is probably no better music museum in the world. My 5 hours there felt like 5 minutes.
Pelsea
gryfon1 wrote:

There wasn’t any streaming in the 70s.
Bands then made money off albums, not live gigs. That’s still true outside the (broadly taken) world of ‘popular music.’
So I’ll stand by my claim of non sequitur given the context.


OK, $0.025 a track then. That's for the songwriter, an equal amount went to the record company. (Of course that's after all production expenses were met according to the record company's accounting department. It usually took a lawsuit to see the books.) Sidemen get zilch from sales, just union scale for the recording sessions. A band organized as an LLP may share record income, but a band leader/producer like Zappa paid mostly work for hire. In all cases, touring is necessary to drive album sales and pay rent.

Musicians in the EU get a slightly better deal-- the only royalties I ever get are from the occasional European broadcast of a John Cage premier I played on.

https://www.amazon.com/dp/B00GQZQ8K4/ref=dp-kindle-redirect?_encoding= UTF8&btkr=1
https://www.amazon.com/Rest-Noise-Listening-Twentieth-Century-ebook/dp  /B000UZQIDI/ref=sr_1_1?keywords=20th+century+classical+music&qid=1565 641455&s=digital-text&sr=1-1

Anyway, I've gotten off the track-- we're talking about Frank Zappa's Emu modular and why he didn't like it. It boils down to he couldn't hire anyone who could play the music he was writing, on tour.

I contend few traditional musicians understood modulars, and many were not interested for various reasons:
* Lack of access (I'm talking modulars, not Minimoogs and imitators.) Most were locked away in university studios.
* Lack of training. I was lucky enough to have a teacher who understood the synthesizer as an instrument (with no technical understanding at all.), but there were not many such. Most instructors took a boring tech approach.
* Association with those wild eyed creatures in the basement who like to set fire to pianos.
* Perceived difficulty. Sure, everyone loved SOB, but everybody also knew the hassles Wendy went through to make that happen.
* Lack of perceived job market.

Luckily for all of us, the situation has changed.
zengomi
Dr. Sketch-n-Etch wrote:
If you want to see Frank Zappa's EMU system up close and personal, I believe it is on permanent display at the music museum at Cite de la Musique in Paris. If you are ever in Paris and have a few hours to kill, there is probably no better music museum in the world. My 5 hours there felt like 5 minutes.


Thanks for the recommendation!
commodorejohn
Graham Hinton wrote:
commodorejohn wrote:
That's utter nonsense; there were piles of keyboardists who'd cut their teeth on the organ and piano who embraced the synthesizer in the '70s.

But they didn't use modulars on stage.

You talked about synthesis in general. It's definitely true that modular rigs were tricky to incorporate into a live environment, but they were far from the only option; the Minimoog came out in 1970 and inspired a flood of imitators aimed at the performing musician, and were adopted by a wide range of artists in a huge variety of genres.

(It's also silly to pretend that nobody had any ideas for using synthesizers before portable, road-worthy models were available. People were incorporating them into pop/rock music pretty much as soon as the Moog was demonstrated - hell, the Monkees were using it on their albums all the way back in 1967!)
zengomi
Blairio wrote:
zengomi wrote:
Modular synthesis enables and invites the creation of radically non-traditional music. Some are inclined to embrace that possibility; others are not.


Which camp do you fall into?

I don't think there has been anything radically different from 'traditional' music since since music concrete. Its not the technologies that count. Its the ideas. and beware, there are modular music tropes, just like there are tropes for all the other kinds of music.


The phrase
Quote:
the creation of radically non-traditional music
does not mean the creation of brand new forms of music.

Of course I'm aware of modular music tropes.

I'm not much of a camper, but I do like to go wild sometimes.
cornutt
Pelsea wrote:

The main thing missing was a way to play expressively. The Mini and imitators filled that need, but also established a rather limited definition of synthesis. A few years later the push for polyphony led to an even more limited definition of digital synthesis. We are only just beginning to emerge from those primitive days.


There was the huge push for realism in synthesis in the '80s, kicked off by the DX7. (I've met performers who bought a DX7 solely to be a replacement for a Rhodes -- they never changed patches, much less build their own.) Then, as the cost of memory came down through the decade, sample playback machines came along and they dragged most of the synth market with them. For a lot of these machines, the value of the box was mainly in the samples that it had in ROM, rather than in the circuit design or its capabilities. Many of the people who bought them had no interest in synthesis as such; they wanted imitations of conventional instruments.

The arranger workstation sprung from that. Fortunately for us, the workstations have since gone down their own path, to the point where nobody really thinks of them as synths any more. That was a good thing because it re-opened a part of the synth market for, you know, synths. Musicians are catching up and amazing things are starting to happen.

As for Zappa and the E-mu -- he didn't like it. It happens. A musical instrument is a highly personal thing, and the experience of playing one is almost entirely subjective. C'est la vie.
fireclown
https://youtu.be/YBbH6EsNBAQ?t=16
naturligfunktion
zengomi wrote:
Modular synthesis enables and invites the creation of radically non-traditional music. Some are inclined to embrace that possibility; others are not.


... I kinda like using my modular as an ordinary (but really phat-sounding) monophonic synth

(hides)
zengomi
naturligfunktion wrote:
zengomi wrote:
Modular synthesis enables and invites the creation of radically non-traditional music. Some are inclined to embrace that possibility; others are not.


... I kinda like using my modular as an ordinary (but really phat-sounding) monophonic synth

(hides)


That's always a possibility. My point is that it can be a lot more. It can be an orchestra.
Blairio
zengomi wrote:
naturligfunktion wrote:
zengomi wrote:
Modular synthesis enables and invites the creation of radically non-traditional music. Some are inclined to embrace that possibility; others are not.


... I kinda like using my modular as an ordinary (but really phat-sounding) monophonic synth

(hides)


That's always a possibility. My point is that it can be a lot more. It can be an orchestra.


That's a fair point. Alas, orchestration really benefits from polyphony, which is very expensive in modular. My rack has the equivalent of 6 individual voices (oscillator, filter, vca, mod sources etc). For the most part those 6 voices are articulating different polyrhythms, melodies, harmonies, random patterns generated by sources of uncertainty, and so on.

Apart from chord mode in my MI Braids, I use a JU-06 or some such small inexpensive polysynth for chordal stuff - even duophony. The JU-06 or Microkorg or Micromonsta all blend in well with modular sound sources, do the polyphony 'heavy lifting', and free the modular voices to do what they are best at.

An unsung hero in this regard us the DSI Tetra, which is effectively Four Mophos in a single box - great for synth quartet arrangements.
dubonaire
fireclown wrote:
https://youtu.be/YBbH6EsNBAQ?t=16


That video says it all really. The Zappa interview that Hinton linked to was quite conceited, as was that video which was Doors-style organ setting Zappa up for the spotlight spoken lyrics and guitar solo. Zappa didn't actually say he hated the Emu in that interview, he said he was annoyed that he couldn't find a musician competent enough to play it live and that didn't gel with his need to be making money gigging, and that synth musicians were just frustrated guitar soloists. The reality may have been somewhat different to his version. He said that after mentioning how he had patched a complex polyphonic patch.

I never really got the Zappa thing. Brilliant musically but often overlaid with cold, nasty, cynical, barely sung lyrics. A self indulgent ego-tripping savant if you ask me.
Dr. Sketch-n-Etch
dubonaire wrote:
I never really got the Zappa thing. Brilliant musically but often overlaid with cold, nasty, cynical, barely sung lyrics. A self indulgent ego-tripping savant if you ask me.


I'm largely with you on this one, dubonaire.
commodorejohn
He's definitely someone who put out some great work (I'll stand by Freak Out! and Joe's Garage until my dying day) but had a tendency to get lost up his own ass the more he was left to his own devices. I wish I could find it, but there was an interview I read with him back when he was first getting into the Synclavier where he was talking about how the future of music was custom-tailored algorithmic machine composition and musicians and composers alike were going to be irrelevant and all I could think was, that doesn't sound like any future I want to live in, were people really this deluded in the '80s or was it just you, Frank?
adam
Brian Eno had similar thoughts, I played with koan pro quite a bit which he was involved with, could turn out some very pleasing stuff
Parnelli
Dr. Sketch-n-Etch wrote:
dubonaire wrote:
I never really got the Zappa thing. Brilliant musically but often overlaid with cold, nasty, cynical, barely sung lyrics. A self indulgent ego-tripping savant if you ask me.


I'm largely with you on this one, dubonaire.


My respect for Frank comes from his "damn the record company I'll do what I want" attitude, I really admired that, especially in a time when the record companies controlled just about every aspect of music production.

Yeah his music was different, certainly far from main stream, but he survived doing what few other could have accomplished in that time in my opinion, and for that he gained my respect. Guinness ftw!
Parnelli
Parnelli wrote:
Dr. Sketch-n-Etch wrote:
dubonaire wrote:
I never really got the Zappa thing. Brilliant musically but often overlaid with cold, nasty, cynical, barely sung lyrics. A self indulgent ego-tripping savant if you ask me.


I'm largely with you on this one, dubonaire.


My respect for Frank comes from his "damn the record company I'll do what I want" attitude, I really admired that, especially in a time when the record companies controlled just about every aspect of music production.

Yeah his music was different, certainly far from main stream, but he survived doing what few other could have accomplished in that time in my opinion, and for that he gained my respect. Guinness ftw!


edit: Back in the 70's my friend's sister would set up concert venues at Central Michigan University. Well they set up a concert for Zappa, and one of the contract stipulations was for bags of Tootsie Rolls; they wondered why they needed so many until they went in to clean the motel rooms the next day. The Tootsie Rolls had been torn in half wrapper and all, and then the open end was stuck to the wall with a bit of a twist and some pressure.

She said that they must have used one whole bag on the toilet seat alone...
zengomi
1996...his death was still a thing.

A couple of friends came over for New Years eve. Eventually we gravitated to my studio.

Should you listen, you'll be hearing: Korg MonoPoly and Prophecy; Roland 8000; 3 voices (2 occasionally in Japanese); a glitched drum loop.

Hello Frank Zappa
zengomi
Blairio wrote:
zengomi wrote:
naturligfunktion wrote:
zengomi wrote:
Modular synthesis enables and invites the creation of radically non-traditional music. Some are inclined to embrace that possibility; others are not.


... I kinda like using my modular as an ordinary (but really phat-sounding) monophonic synth

(hides)


That's always a possibility. My point is that it can be a lot more. It can be an orchestra.


That's a fair point. Alas, orchestration really benefits from polyphony, which is very expensive in modular. My rack has the equivalent of 6 individual voices (oscillator, filter, vca, mod sources etc). For the most part those 6 voices are articulating different polyrhythms, melodies, harmonies, random patterns generated by sources of uncertainty, and so on.

Apart from chord mode in my MI Braids, I use a JU-06 or some such small inexpensive polysynth for chordal stuff - even duophony. The JU-06 or Microkorg or Micromonsta all blend in well with modular sound sources, do the polyphony 'heavy lifting', and free the modular voices to do what they are best at.

An unsung hero in this regard us the DSI Tetra, which is effectively Four Mophos in a single box - great for synth quartet arrangements.


Traditionally, the standard Western orchestra, and, more to the point, music written for it, has not relied upon polyphonic instruments. The piano-forte expanded possibilities.

While I do appreciate instrument polyphony (I have 3 guitars), I regard it as unessential, but tasty at times.
MindMachine
dubonaire wrote:
fireclown wrote:
https://youtu.be/YBbH6EsNBAQ?t=16


That video says it all really. The Zappa interview that Hinton linked to was quite conceited, as was that video which was Doors-style organ setting Zappa up for the spotlight spoken lyrics and guitar solo. Zappa didn't actually say he hated the Emu in that interview, he said he was annoyed that he couldn't find a musician competent enough to play it live and that didn't gel with his need to be making money gigging, and that synth musicians were just frustrated guitar soloists. The reality may have been somewhat different to his version. He said that after mentioning how he had patched a complex polyphonic patch.

I never really got the Zappa thing. Brilliant musically but often overlaid with cold, nasty, cynical, barely sung lyrics. A self indulgent ego-tripping savant if you ask me.


Bingo. He would bad mouth Tommy Mars and the guys that DID use the Emu and EML live, He also disparaged the technology on occasion. And noodling guitarists besides himself. But he bought the stuff that was pricey and used it. Even the crap sounding Synclavier.
Dr. Sketch-n-Etch
Parnelli wrote:
Dr. Sketch-n-Etch wrote:
dubonaire wrote:
I never really got the Zappa thing. Brilliant musically but often overlaid with cold, nasty, cynical, barely sung lyrics. A self indulgent ego-tripping savant if you ask me.


I'm largely with you on this one, dubonaire.


My respect for Frank comes from his "damn the record company I'll do what I want" attitude, I really admired that, especially in a time when the record companies controlled just about every aspect of music production.

Yeah his music was different, certainly far from main stream, but he survived doing what few other could have accomplished in that time in my opinion, and for that he gained my respect. Guinness ftw!


I don't really pay too much attention to all that meta-stuff. I just listen to the music. Most of it leaves me cold. I don't believe I've ever heard a Zappa piece that I felt compelled to listen to again.
pianoscope
just goes to show one mans poison...!

I find the synclavier music to be some of the most interesting great sounding electronic music I Know of. Possibly I am appreciating qualities that Zappa didn't intend or forsee, and I infact only enjoy listening to the synclavier music, not the rest of his works.

Strange hyper real, like a weird inhuman classical ensemble. Beautifully recorded, it sonically sounds like absolutely nothing else before or since. The more fake and plastic it sounds, the more I enjoy it.

There is so little electronic music that deals with contemporary post tonal harmony, not just timbre. Its normally completely arhythmic and atonal or the usual endlessly regurgitated minimal tropes, or drone. Its electronic music that carries on in the spirit of pieces like Raymond Scotts baseline generator.

Yes there may be some bluff, but so what. It's very fakeness and unreality are what makes it so beguiling. And for me the synclavier sounds incredible. It's up there sonically in my personal emotional listening pleasure with the early tape pioneers before they started ditching their studers and vintage tube gear.

I just wish there was more!
zengomi
pianoscope wrote:
There is so little electronic music that deals with contemporary post tonal harmony, not just timbre.


If you wouldn't mind, please expound a bit more on the above, and the following (beyond fixing the grammar of 'its').

Quote:
Its normally completely arhythmic and atonal or the usual endlessly regurgitated minimal tropes, or drone. Its electronic music that carries on in the spirit of pieces like Raymond Scotts baseline generator.
EATyourGUITAR
I think we are already into the time period of contemporary post tonal harmony if that is the term we are going to use. to then turn around one sentence later and use the word "atonal" in the derogatory sense is extremely hypocritical in my humble opinion. I don't see how you can hear any consonant sounds at all if you are the elite evolution of human hearing in the sense that post tonal harmony implies there will be no consonance or dissonance in the evolved human perception of sound. taken to the extremely absurd conclusion of what atonal music would actually sound like, we arrive at the definition of 1/f white noise completely lacking any defined sine waves or tones however I think it is clear that that was never the goal of post tonal harmony. neither was it the goal to replace TET with micro or macrotonal systems of a new fascist order. there is so much variety available today on the internet I think it would be more likely than not that you can find your foot fetish on band camp and be happy with it. I can empathize your porridge being too hot or too cold all the time. but I don't think that you need to change the world. you just need to keep looking.
commodorejohn
Did...did we just stumble into Timecube...?
pianoscope
Atonal, careless, apologies, I didn’t use the right term. Not meant to be derogatory at all but I can see how it appeared that way.


I like some dodecaphonic synth music, but get tired of endless shades of grey even thought machines like the RCA sound so beautiful. Apart from Raymond Scott can’t think of anyone doing more harmonic electronic 12 tone, think Scott Bradley, Berg Stravinsky.
There is a natural synergy between 12 tone techniques and the modular approach on a compositional level. But I haven’t heard any music consistently working this angle electronically since the 60’s anyway. Pieces like the ensembles for synthesizer is aesthetically a precursor to Zappaz Synclavier music.

The Emu was just unsuitable for realising works like civilisation phase 3. Perhaps when he slagged it off he was just pissed off with that fact.
pianoscope
Eatyourguitar for what its worth I don't actually believe in harmonic consonance and dissonance.
I think the entire concept is an pedagogical invention that actually has ultimately nothing to do with harmony at all.
It’s a model. Follow the rules and get predictable results. Obviously it “works” in that sense. But to extend that further and claim it says something fundamental about the inner workings and nature of harmony or music is a conceit.
Tomorrow Sounds Good
eek!
diller
Graham Hinton wrote:
Do you realise that Zappa was very disappointed with this system after all the hype? He dumped it and bought a Synclavier instead. So it seems strange putting this on a pedestal when he never liked it or used it for his music.


Graham Hinton should stick to talking down people about their inferior power supplies.

BTW Frank Zappa left the custom EMU in his will to Philharmonie de Paris. It's still there. Maybe you should cross the channel and try to see if your bullshitting can get you access. Just tell them everything they are doing is wrong, I'm sure they will let you right in.
atimbral
lolspew
Reality Checkpoint
diller wrote:
Graham Hinton wrote:
Do you realise that Zappa was very disappointed with this system after all the hype? He dumped it and bought a Synclavier instead. So it seems strange putting this on a pedestal when he never liked it or used it for his music.


Graham Hinton should stick to talking down people about their inferior power supplies.

BTW Frank Zappa left the custom EMU in his will to Philharmonie de Paris. It's still there. Maybe you should cross the channel and try to see if your bullshitting can get you access. Just tell them everything they are doing is wrong, I'm sure they will let you right in.


Sarcastic and unwarranted comments such as these have no place on this forum.
fireclown
Reality Checkpoint wrote:
diller wrote:
Graham Hinton wrote:
Do you realise that Zappa was very disappointed with this system after all the hype? He dumped it and bought a Synclavier instead. So it seems strange putting this on a pedestal when he never liked it or used it for his music.


Graham Hinton should stick to talking down people about their inferior power supplies.

BTW Frank Zappa left the custom EMU in his will to Philharmonie de Paris. It's still there. Maybe you should cross the channel and try to see if your bullshitting can get you access. Just tell them everything they are doing is wrong, I'm sure they will let you right in.


Sarcastic and unwarranted comments such as these have no place on this forum.


good one!
Phil999
unwarranted indeed.
zengomi
And yet, "Frank Zappa left the custom EMU in his will to Philharmonie de Paris."
Blairio
Iconoclasts get a rough ride in this forum. I wonder why? Maybe we are not as 'free thinking' as we would have ourselves believe.
dubonaire
Blairio wrote:
Iconoclasts get a rough ride in this forum. I wonder why? Maybe we are not as 'free thinking' as we would have ourselves believe.


I'm trying to work out who you are thinking of because there several poeple in or the subject of this thread who could be considered to be iconoclastic.
JohnLRice
sar·casm
the use of irony to mock or convey contempt.

i·con·o·clas·tic
characterized by attack on cherished beliefs or institutions.

While I liked a lot of Zappa's music, was impressed with the his and his band's technical musicianship, and was sometimes amused by the humor, I wasn't a major fan and didn't follow his writings and interviews closely but my impression is that his bread and butter, beyond his purely musical output, was sarcastic and iconoclastic comments? hmmm..... lol So it seems that any thread putting Zappa on a pedestal would delight in sarcastic and/or iconoclastic comments? (hides)
Blairio
dubonaire wrote:
Blairio wrote:
Iconoclasts get a rough ride in this forum. I wonder why? Maybe we are not as 'free thinking' as we would have ourselves believe.


I'm trying to work out who you are thinking of because there several poeple in or the subject of this thread who could be considered to be iconoclastic.


Zappa was an iconoclast - he had no interest in the EMU's reputation per se - he just wanted an instrument to do a job of work. I think it is to his credit that he left the instrument to the "Philharmonie de Paris". It wasn't for him, but he must have reckoned it carried some cultural or historic value.

The folk who dare to suggest Zappa's body of work as mostly smoke and mirrors, are iconoclasts. I had several of his albums as a callow youth, probably because my elders and 'betters' also had them. Years later I revisited those albums and they left me stone cold. Clever-clever, technically proficient, and not much else.

Iconoclasm is a good thing, and should be celebrated - a healthy counterbalance to lionisation. It helps keep folk honest.
dubonaire
Blairio wrote:
dubonaire wrote:
Blairio wrote:
Iconoclasts get a rough ride in this forum. I wonder why? Maybe we are not as 'free thinking' as we would have ourselves believe.


I'm trying to work out who you are thinking of because there several poeple in or the subject of this thread who could be considered to be iconoclastic.


Zappa was an iconoclast - he had no interest in the EMU's reputation per se - he just wanted an instrument to do a job of work. I think it is to his credit that he left the instrument to the "Philharmonie de Paris". It wasn't for him, but he must have reckoned it carried some cultural or historic value.

The folk who dare to suggest Zappa's body of work as mostly smoke and mirrors, are iconoclasts. I had several of his albums as a callow youth, probably because my elders and 'betters' also had them. Years later I revisited those albums and they left me stone cold. Clever-clever, technically proficient, and not much else.

Iconoclasm is a good thing, and should be celebrated - a healthy counterbalance to lionisation. It helps keep folk honest.


It is a good thing, and Zappa has become an icon, so people who criticize Zappa are also iconoclasts. Actually I don’t entirely see Zappa, making music as a late jazz musician taking aim at the obvious, to be an amazing iconoclast. And the interview Hinton linked too was not much more than “no one is as good a musician as me.” You could even argue he was conservative. Read the article, not what I would call the words of a revolutionary.
diller
If it wasn't for my "sarcastic" comments everyone reading this thread would think Zappa 'dumped' the EMU. I have never heard of Frank selling any gear. The man rarely gifted or gave away gear during his lifetime. Unless it was to someone like Jimi Hendrix or his children, someone he valued as being important in some respects.

dubonaire He was very conservative, but I'm not sure what that has to do with his musicianship and composition skills?
Graham Hinton
dubonaire wrote:
And the interview Hinton linked too was not much more than “no one is as good a musician as me.”.


All is yellow to a jaundiced eye.
I referenced that interview because it supported the fact that the E-mu was put into storage and I could lay my hands on that magazine. There were other interviews at the time, as I previously said, in magazines that I never kept.

This is not about whether anybody likes Zappa himself or his music or not. It is about the absurdity of a object that has spent most of its existence unused either as a stage prop, in storage or in a museum being billed as Zappa's (read anybody famous') synthesizer. What do you get out of seeing a synthesizer behind glass in a museum that you can't get out of a picture on a web page? You can't try it out. Would you put anybody famous' TV set in a museum just because they happened to own it and never watched it?

I know two people a short drive away both with E-mu systems that I have tried out and they do get used for albums. So I personally don't rate the E-mu modular that highly precisely because it isn't an untouchable myth for me whereas when it's locked up in a museum you can believe anything that isn't true, even that Zappa owned it has any meaning.

I feel the same way about the use of TONTO in 'The Phantom of the Paradise' or an ARP 2500 in 'Close Encounters'. It's just misrepresentation.
fireclown
diller wrote:
If it wasn't for my "sarcastic" comments everyone reading this thread would think Zappa 'dumped' the EMU. I have never heard of Frank selling any gear. The man rarely gifted or gave away gear during his lifetime. Unless it was to someone like Jimi Hendrix or his children, someone he valued as being important in some respects.

dubonaire He was very conservative, but I'm not sure what that has to do with his musicianship and composition skills?


I suppose the CS80's for $500 and all the other gear was after his passing, I cant recall that far back the order of events.
I was taken aback to hear that Ruth Underwood and others had played the EMU on stage. A lot more use than i realized, and being described as a lack thereof?
I dont see the potential for monotimbral polyphonics or the need to diminish what Emu put out there. Trailblazers who contributed much more than they ever received credit for.
If all Zappa ever squeezed out of the Emu was the big brassy chords on Sheik Yerbouti behind some transplanted guitar solos? Worth every penny. that synth wont be forgotten.
Conservative as in "Freedom of Speech" conservating? I suppose so, but he called out the lies and oppression being passed off as Apple Pie from the very get go, and he continued to harangue the perpetrators of hypocrisy, misery and death with gusto for his entire career in ways NOBODY else did.
I think he got beat at his own entertainment game by The Tubes, and compositionally Don Van Vliet worked some real magic which Zappa never really achieved.
But as a citizen and human, he did INCREDIBLE things.
I cant imagine seeing it any other way.
dubonaire
Graham Hinton wrote:
dubonaire wrote:
And the interview Hinton linked too was not much more than “no one is as good a musician as me.”.


All is yellow to a jaundiced eye.


That's a good one coming from you.
dubonaire
diller wrote:
dubonaire He was very conservative, but I'm not sure what that has to do with his musicianship and composition skills?


Nothing, I was responding to Zappa being described as an iconoclast.

Anyway, I don't really care too much about Zappa or the old Emu modular, so enough from me.
oberdada
What about serge? Apparently Zappa used one (as claimed here), but in which recordings?

As for his rejection of the modular as a live instrument it shouldn't come as a surprise given Zappa's approach to composition. He wasn't really much of an experimental composer in the sense of one who explores uncertain outcomes, unstable media, accidents, randomness and happy coincidences. It was always much more about self-expression, perfect control and deterministic structures. For a person with that kind of inclination a modular might not make as much sense as for someone more interested in open-ended exploration.
sduck
oberdada wrote:
What about serge? Apparently Zappa used one (as claimed here), but in which recordings?


I have quite a few books about Zappa and his equipment and such, and have never ran across a Serge system mentioned or pictured anywhere.
MindMachine
sduck wrote:
Graham Hinton wrote:
01235813 wrote:
I knew he made extensive use of the Synclavier. The fact that he had a huge EMU custom made is nevertheless quite interesting.


He could afford to try it and write it off as a bad experience. It didn't work out and became a white mastodon.


While there are pictures of both Eddie Jobson and Ruth Underwood playing it in the same booklet I got that picture from, it was obviously underutilized in real life, especially considering the expense. My belief from the actual concert photos (and performances I was at) of the time is that it was largely on stage for show - or it may be set up for one patch or sound effect, and only used once. There is a minimoog set up in front of it in one picture, and a 2600 in another, both instruments that actually got some use. This was all in 1975-77 or so - Zappa and his various musicians were experimenting with how to work this new technology into the act, as were just about every other hip musician at the time. Starting in 78 they went to Oberheim poly keyboards, which were roadworthy and much more flexible musically.


Yes, with a little perusing of the old Contemporary Keyboard magazines, you will find that for a few tours they had their EML and Emu synths hardwired for a few sounds. Their Hammonds were also wired to Minimoogs or some other voice for particular sounds/songs pre-MIDI.

Then they toured with the Synclavier extensively. Mr. Green
MindMachine
Graham Hinton wrote:
MindMachine wrote:
Go be cranky on your own time. You are more divisive than contributive in a lot of these threads (no matter your stature). History is more than your lopsided view.


So history doesn't fit your rose tinted view and you go straight into ad hominem mode. Who's being cranky?

Quote:
you know he also had synthesists and keyboardists that actually made this shit work.


My point, which is really Zappa's point, is that he couldn't find any. Read the interview I referenced: Synapse_Vol_3_No_1 page 31. If Don Preston or George Duke had walked into a room with a massive modular and were told they were going on tour with it their first thought would be about screwing up in front of a large audience and looking a pratt and then how to get off the tour.

If whoever sold him that system knew anything about Zappa or his music they should have been careful promising what it could achieve instead of just seeing $$$. Zappa always knew what he wanted and anything less wasn't good enough.

When he got the Synclavier he was able to do things he had only dreamed of. One of those things was playing 57 notes in the time of 56 and he had been frustrated trying to get real musicians to play that from sheet music. I've heard the results and they are "meh", but he got it out of his system (in both senses). Would you want to be the hired synthesist on that E-mu system if that was the first thing he asked you to do after you had told him it could make any sound?


No rose colored view. Just different magazine articles than you referenced. He was a crank who routinely disparaged his players, genres of music, etc.

Patrick Gleeson was amazed how the Emu was far beyond the Moog and ARP 2600's that he used. He made some great music with it (not live of course). It was an evolution of things I suppose. If Zappa didn't like the Emu he didn't have to use it, but he did.

I don't care for either Zappa's or Gleeson's Synclavier music. I bet Zappa could find players to make his hardware work. He was just a prick apparently.

Anyhow your initial post seemed to betray the hardware more than the operator, at least to me. And that would be bunk.

ps - I would rather hear Larry Fast on a Polymoog than any Synclavier recording.
mr anxiety
I never realized how hip this set-up was during it's time with Zappa. It was the forerunner to all of those big brass patches we tried to make with our polysynths.

Awesome!
MindMachine
mr anxiety wrote:
I never realized how hip this set-up was during it's time with Zappa. It was the forerunner to all of those big brass patches we tried to make with our polysynths.

Awesome!


If you can find the old Contemporary Keyboard issue with Peter Wolfe and Tommy Mars, they detail how they had Emu wired for patches. They also detail the Hammond Minimoog combo and the hard wiring of the EML for a French horn (if I remember correctly).

Faahhhhh.
3hands
The thing I’ve gotten from Zappa, is that his music was so hilariously overdone, I’m sure he sat back and made massive fun of anyone who liked it. Zappa could gar been the originator if the Rick Roll.

He was never as serious as everyone wanted him to be.
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