ascolta plays Zappa

ascolta plays Frank Zappa

The beginnings of this project lie in ascolta's performance at the exhibition "Comics and Cartoons in Contemporary Art" at the Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart, 2005 which included a ten minute block of Zappa's "comedy music". On this basis ascolta was invited to play a whole concert of Zappa's music on June 22nd 2006 during the ISCM World Music Days at the Theaterhaus in Stuttgart. The first part of this concert was broadcast live on DeutschlandRadio. For this programme, entirely transcribed and arranged by ascolta members Andrew Digby, Hubert Steiner and Boris Müller, a selection of Zappa's jazz-rock music was performed and two new transcriptions of previously unplayed music for synclavier, from the album "Civilization Phaze III", were premiered.

The synclavier music is the culmination of Zappa's compositional work. He regarded "Civilization Phaze III" as the his chef d'œuvre. Around 300 pieces for the snyclavier, an expanded sampler synthesizer, were created in Zappa's studio, of which only a small part has been published.

The ensemble ascolta was privileged to gain the permission of the Zappa Family Trust to perform this concert.

In March 2007 a 4 member delegation from the ensemble ascolta flew to Los Angeles to meet and speak with Gail Zappa, the composer's widow, and with Todd Yvega, Zappa's erstwhile synclavier specialist, about the extant music for the instrument. The compositions are largely locked away inside various data banks while Zappa's own highly modified synclavier, the only instrument which can play them, is lying mothballed and currently unworkable in a corner of the studio. However, Gail Zappa was extraordinarily generous in agreeing a long term collaboration for ascolta to transcribe, perform and record music from this priceless collection.

At a sell-out concert in Berlin on July 14th 2007 ascolta was able to perform transcriptions of two more previously unpublished and hitherto unheard compositions by Frank Zappa in addition to the two synclavier pieces played in Stuttgart. These were recorded, together with a selection of the rest of the programme, in the fantastic studios of the DLR in Berlin and should be released on Zappa Records, Los Angeles.

The ensemble ascolta is able to field the experience necessary to perform this complex and eclectic music. The broad range of styles demands an openness and ability to cross boundaries of all musical genres: rhythm&blues, the twentieth-century avant garde, jazz, pastiche and persiflage, music theatre, free improvisation, concrete and electronic sounds, tonal and atonal rockmusic in changing and irregular metres.

Frank Zappa

The Zappa family was never long in one place during the composer's childhood. Zappa was the son of sicilian immigrants and went out of his way to acquire as much knowledge and experience as possible. He began by playing drums in R&B bands and listening to Varése and Stravinsky while accumulating a library of records and composing orchestral music. Already work-a-holic he took up the guitar aged 19, ran a recording studio and seemed to live only on coffee and cigarettes.

He wrote songs aboout the life he saw around him. friends, monster movies, freaks, sex toys, dental floss; he mocked american sentimentality, groupies and hippie culture and vilified many aspects of human behaviour. He recorded every concert and usually also had the tape rolling backstage and in the band bus. Practically any recording, observation or trivial event could find its way into his work. In this sheer all encompassing versatility he resembles James Joyce. Several films and stage projects are further testament to his boundless energies.

He moved through all musical genres and across the boundaries between them, to the limits of playablility and, some would say, of good taste. So Zappa is, variously, a master of the electric guitar, a politically responsible presidential nominee, a politically irresponsible scatological anarchist, an inexhaustible and endlessly inventive composer. In short, an american icon.