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Thread: Yellow Shark

  1. #1
    Captain of Water Music some guy's Avatar
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    Jul 2007
    Portland, OR

    Yellow Shark

    On another forum, now defunct, someone asked about Frank Zappa's classical music. I don't think there's a causal relationship between the asking and the defunctness. I hope not, anyway.

    At the time, I was not familiar with anything except what the Mothers of Invention did. That, I thought, was all very clever and entertaining. But rojo, a fellow traveller on that other forum, recently asked me if I would give Yellow Shark a listen and then slap an opinion or two on the table.

    So here goes: I didn't like the opening cuts. The first piece sounds like what a very talented high school kid would write for his band. The next like what Charles Ives had already done a hundred times before, a hundred times better.

    But then we get to the vaguely twelve-tone slash serial slash atonal pieces. These are quite solid and very tasty indeed. Nothing to write home about, but good solid pieces. As polished and as likable as anything by oh say Egon Wellesz. That may be too high praise, but they are really pretty good.

    Then there's some stuff with words, which is really hokey. Even Mimaroglu, whose Sing Me a Song of Songmy this bit emulates, couldn't quite avoid the hoke. But the album ends strong, so that's ok.

    I guess my very tentative and preliminary assessment of Zappa as a classical composer is that I prefer when he's not trying to be funny on the one hand (that works so much better--at least for him--over on the rock side) or preachy on the other. (And when he tries to do both, eugh!!) When he just writes a nice straightforward piece of music with atonal lines and quirky rhythms--if that doesn't sound too terribly oxymoronic--that's what really rewards repeated listenings. (Yes, I'm aware that at least in the titles, he's trying to be preachy/funny in all the cuts.)

    OK, over to you, sir.

    (Oh wait. One more thing. The whole thing is played by Ensemble Modern, that is, expertly and sympathetically. Ensemble Modern also plays the music on the Greggory Peccary album, which isn't "classical" by any stretch, but is great fun. I don't know Civilization, Phaze III, but I'm sure I will some day.)

  2. #2
    Vice Admiral Virtuoso rojo's Avatar
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    Aug 2005
    Montreal, Canada
    Hey, thanks for all that, some guy. Just by the by, I`m of the female persuasion. Don`t feel bad, you`re not the first on the net to think I`m not, and there`s really no way to know on the net, now is there. I only mention it for future reference.

    Ok, so here is, or was my 'sort of' review of Zappa`s Yellow Shark from said defunct forum-

    ''FINally, I`m set up to give my impressions of Zappa`s Yellow Shark.
    I`ve listened to it five times, and am currently listening to it while
    I write my thoughts. The tracks are each very different. So I`ll go
    through them one by one.

    Intro- Amusing.
    Dog Breath Variations- Solid piece to start, fairly accessible.
    Pleasant listening, fun; a thoroughly enjoyable work. Clear main
    Uncle Meat- Solid work as well.
    Outrage at Valdez- Slower, more atmospheric work. Effective.
    Times Beach II- Purely atonal work. Mute on trumpet, overtone notes on
    flute, double tones on oboe. The ending with voices I found somewhat
    unconvincing. Maybe he felt he needed something different to finish
    the piece? Hmm. Still, not a bad work, if one likes atonal works.
    III Revised- String piece. Atonal. Is this an intro for the next
    track? Because it goes straight into-
    The Girl With the Magnesium Dress- Very busy, atonal. Did I hear
    synthesized piano in there? Pretty crazy work. Not really my cup of
    tea; verges on being many notes for many notes` sake...
    Bebop Tango- Opens with a section extremely similar to one in
    Stravinsky`s Rite of Spring. Odd party sections with loungey jazzy sax
    and piano. An odd work in general. Not sure I get this one. Crowd sure
    liked it. I kind of liked it as well. What the heck is that four note
    sax theme from (like at the end?) Everyone`s heard it... can`t think
    of where it`s from...
    Ruth is Sleeping- Piano work. Atonal. Couple of jazz chord passages
    here and there. Gets pretty busy. Not a bad work, but tbh, I lost
    interest in this one. I guess I exceeded my limit for purely atonal
    None of the Above- Yet another atonal work. For strings. Goes straight into
    Pentagon Afternoon- More atonal. Lots of notes. Rapidly losing
    interest. Odd game noises etc. at the end, echoed from the beginning.
    Questi Cazzi di Piccione- Atonal. For strings.
    Times Beach III- Atonal, but I liked this one better, maybe because I
    found the instrumentation more interesting. It seemed more lyrical,
    less notey, maybe better phrased than the previous ones. Yup, I like
    this one.
    Food Gathering...- Spoken voice. Political commentary. Amusing, but I
    don`t get anything else out of this.
    Welcome to the United States- Again, amusing, but too circusy for my
    taste. Never liked the circus. Anyway, spoken voice with German
    Pound for a Brown- Heard this one on youtube. I really like it a lot.
    Very nice work.
    Exercise no.4- Very nice. Smart to put the more accessible pieces at
    the beginning and end of the cd.
    Get Whitey- Also a nice work, a bit long though. The tempo never varies.
    G-Spot Tornado- Fun work.

    This cd is a great mix. Of course with music as complex as this, many,
    many listens are required to fully appreciate it. My comments were
    impressions only, having done no real theoretical analysis of the
    works. Overall the pieces were very well-played, and well-presented.
    There were several Stravinsky-like references in there, and there may
    well be references to other composers as well that I may have missed.

    I find Zappa to be a very capable composer who utilizes instruments to
    their potential and he certainly knows what he is doing. Only time
    will tell whether these pieces of music will endure.

    The cd is a quality work, but tbh, I didn`t hear anything really
    original or ground-breaking on the cd; most of those multitonal-type
    works I had heard plenty of in uni music history classes.

    The importance of rhythm is obvious here, and this music must surely
    appeal to folks who are rhythm fans. I cannot dismiss the importance
    of rhythm in all music, and yes, the rhythm plays an extremely
    important role in Zappa`s work here. Rhythm plays an important part in
    many works I love, including Rite of Spring to name just one work.
    However, it is not the element that interests me the most personally.
    Without it the music would not be possible, nor what it is, but I
    don`t enjoy rhythm by itself particularly.

    I did find Food Gathering and Welcome to America were more original.
    But if the political and social relevance is the entire relevance, that
    turns me right off. If I wanted to listen to political commentary, I
    would listen to political speeches. True, often there is a meaning of
    a social and political kind in lots of works, but one should be able
    to appreciate the work without knowing that is has one. Examples-
    Shostakovich`s 5th Symphony. Loved that work without knowing what it
    was about. Same as Ravel`s La Valse, Bartok`s Concerto for Orchestra.
    I don`t listen to music for political and social enlightenment, I
    listen to it because I enjoy it and it moves me. I don`t need the
    piece background to enjoy a work.''

    Well, that`s it. I had to do some editing, because I had a conversation with a fellow forum-ite (the one who originally asked me to review YS) and I needed to chop out his commentary from our verbal exchanges while retaining some sense in my post, because I don`t have his permission to post what he said at this time. Haven`t asked, actually. Don`t know how to contact him.

    Anyway, to sum up so far it seems some guy and I agree on most things; we both enjoyed the end of the cd, we don`t like the preachiness, and that it`s well played, but I liked the beginning and he liked the middle.
    Last edited by rojo; Jul-14-2007 at 06:53.
    ''Music, I feel, should be emotional first and intellectual second.'' - Maurice Ravel
    ''The greatest education in the world is watching the masters at work.'' - Michael Jackson

  3. #3
    Vice Admiral Virtuoso rojo's Avatar
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    Aug 2005
    Montreal, Canada
    Oh yeah- the four note sax theme I mentioned? I think it`s from the end of some celebratory birthday song, when peeps sing 'and many mooooore'. Although it`s probably used in other songs as well.
    ''Music, I feel, should be emotional first and intellectual second.'' - Maurice Ravel
    ''The greatest education in the world is watching the masters at work.'' - Michael Jackson

  4. #4
    Captain of Water Music some guy's Avatar
    Join Date
    Jul 2007
    Portland, OR

    Sorry about the "sir." I'm not one to assume maleness (or femaleness for that matter), but I do occasionally slip into semi-quotes from favorite shows, in this case mst3k, or mystery science theater 3000.

    If I ever have occasion to use a pronoun, I'll be sure it's the right one!! (Have I been carelessly using "he" on you in previous posts? Sackcloth and ashes for me, then.)

    Seems we do pretty much agree about Yellow Shark overall, and about Mr. Zappa as well. My ears don't have any particular limits for atonality, per se, that's the only difference I can see. But then I habitually listen to electroacoustic music and noise bands and a lot of recent music for which tonality or atonality are equally inapposite (unless, of course, "atonal" means "anything that's not tonal," which is certainly possible. I find that in practice, however, "atonal" means "what I don't like" followed closely by "anything that sounds like the twelve-tone/serial music of Schoenberg and Boulez and their circles," which is how you and I use it. But that's, of course, a whole 'nother thread.)

  5. #5
    Vice Admiral Virtuoso rojo's Avatar
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    Aug 2005
    Montreal, Canada
    I don`t think you have referred to me with a pronoun before, or I would have already said something. Although it doesn`t really matter; we`re all just folks. I`ll just take the semi-quote.

    I think I should have listened to YS more spread out over time, instead of in one shot. Too much of anything is too much. Just to say, I like many atonal works, as I think you know, but not all. And most of my fav stuff is music that pushes tonality to it`s limits.

    I wonder if any other members here have an opinion on Zappa`s Yellow Shark...
    ''Music, I feel, should be emotional first and intellectual second.'' - Maurice Ravel
    ''The greatest education in the world is watching the masters at work.'' - Michael Jackson

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