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Sofanic Messages in Frank Zappa's Music revealed


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There are many examples in Frank Zappa's musical output that were recorded at higher or lower speeds or backwards. In addition, there are many examples of conceptual continuity where musical themes in one piece can be found in another context somewhere else. The purpose of this Web page is to decode some of some of these puzzle pieces using some of the frightening little techniques science has made available. What was sped up is slowed down. What was recorded backwards is reversed. Themes that are found in entirely different musical contexts are recorded side by side -- version one on the left channel and version two on the right. For these stereo samples, I recommend listening to each channel separately (through headphones) if you can.

To keep their size and download time reasonable, these are eight-bit samples, recorded at 22kHz, so the sound quality is not terrific. Some of them are still pretty large (up to almost 700 KB). If you have your browser configured with a viewer for .WAV files, I recommend your downloading and saving them to disk rather than "viewing" them online. (In Netscape and Mosaic, press the shift key and click on the link to the .WAV file.) I hope you find these samples interesting.


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BulletYAHOZNA1.WAV -- The song, Ya Hozna,from the album Them or Us, contains backwards vocal material from the song, Sofa No. 2 from the album One Size Fits All. The lyrics are in German: "Ich bin hier, und du bist mein sofa" -- "I am here, and you are my sofa." The sample is 15.3 seconds, 336.7 KB.

Bullet YAHOZNA2.WAV -- The other backwards material on Ya Hozna features outtakes from the well-known song, Valley Girl, sung by FZ's daughter, Moon. From what I can hear, the words are: "Yeah, right. Faster, faster. Go. Do it, do it. Right. Yeeeeaah. I'm feelin' good. I'm lookin' great. Yeah, fur sure. Like, no waayyyy." In addition to these two segments, Ya Hozna contains more backwards Moon and German material. The sample is 11.5 seconds, 254.4 KB.

BulletGREGGORY.WAV -- One doesn't need to slow down The Adventures of Greggory Peccary from the album, Studio Tan, to realize that the porcine protagonist is played by FZ. Still, it's interesting to hear it demunchkinized. The sample sounded most natural to me transposed down a perfect fourth. It sounds like the guitar was also sped up with the vocal in this segment, and probably the synth as well. The sample is 6.3 seconds, 139.1 KB.

BulletCALVPECC.WAV -- On the left channel we have Greggory Peccary singing a musical phrase which is also found as a trombone part on For Calvin (And His Next Two Hitchhikers) on the Grand Wazoo album, which you can hear on the right channel. The Calvin version was faster than the Peccary sample, so to make them play at the same speed, I played the Calvin sample a minor second lower, which reduced both the pitch and the speed. To make the pitches match, I ran the Wazoo sample through a pitch shifter, a digital signal processing algorithm which can alter pitch while maintaining the same playing time. The sample was pitch shifted up an augmented fourth to match the Peccary sample. The sample is 7 seconds, 307.6 KB.

BulletPEACPOMP.WAV -- On the left channel we have a line from Who Needs The Peace Corps? from the We're Only In It For The Money album, and on the right channel we have the same melody scored for brass and strings as found on the piece, Bogus Pomp from the album, London Symphony Orchestra Vol. 2. This sample was processed in a manner similar to CALVPECC.WAV to have both channels in sync rhythmically and in complimentary keys. It is 7.3 seconds and 321.3 KB.

BulletHOTPOOP.WAV -- The way I understand it, the original vinyl release of We're Only In It For The Money and the 1993 Rykodisc rerelease which uses the original master tapes were censored without FZ's permission. The 1987 Ryko release contains the censored material. The censored verse of Mother People is found recorded backwards in Hot Poop. The thing is that this too is censored: "Shut your f'mouth about the length of my hair." There is definitely a beat and most of a word missing. (Listen to the bass line.) Here is this segment of Hot Poop from the 1987 release. The sample is 6 seconds and 133.2 KB.

BulletINCAROAD.WAV -- In the mid-1970s, FZ on the whole stopped recording studio guitar solos in favor of editing in segments from live concerts. On the right channel is the opening few bars from the guitar solo in the song, Inca Roads from the album One Size Fits All. On the left channel is the same exact recording, but from the album You Can't Do That On Stage Any More Vol.2, which is from a 1974 concert in Helsinki, and from which the solo and backing tracks were lifted into OSFA. There are minute differences detectable between these two samples. On the OSFA (right channel) version, the second note is held longer than the one on the YCDTOSA. I had to compensate by playing the left channel sample slightly after the right channel one to keep them in sync. Mike Keneally makes the reasonable assumption that the splice between the studio version and Helsinki concert starts with third note of the solo, thus explaining the rhythmic difference between the first two notes in each version. There also is more audible noise, probably being produced by a flanger, on the OSFA version. The guitar is produced with more distortion on the YCDTOSA version. This sample is 15.8 seconds and 695.8 KB.

BulletOUTGREAS.WAV -- The cut-and-paste technique seen in INCAROAD.WAV was expanded and defined over the years, resulting in what Zappa called "Xenocrony" and his engineer called the "Ampex Guitar." All of the solos on the 1979 album, Joe's Garage, were created by carefully cutting apart guitar tracks (not the entire band's performance as in the previous example) recorded in concert and pasting them over the studio tracks laid down for this album. The solo from the song, Keep It Greasy on Joe's Garage Act II is also found in it's original context on Outside Now from the album, Guitar, a collection of live guitar solos performed in the 70s and 80s. The Joe's Garage version is on the left channel and the Guitar version is on the right. Incidentally, the song, Outside Now also appears on Joe's Garage, and its guitar solo is from an entirely different concert. The sample is 13.8 seconds and 610.8 KB.

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Thanks to Bill Lantz for the pumpkin image. And thanks to the contributors on alt.fan.frank.zappa from whom I learned about some of these puzzle pieces. I'm sorry I don't remember who the individuals were. If anyone has any corrections, suggestions for additions to this page, or any other comments, please contact me at .

If you are here, you may also be interested in my Mike Keneally and Project Object pages.

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 The Official Frank Zappa Website

  St. Alphonzo's Pancake Homepage (Home of the FAQ)

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1995-2005, Jeremy Fox