Undifferentiated Tissue

Posted: September 3, 2014 in conceptual continuity, tribute, visual arts, zappa, zappology
un D.T., art by Ale Sordi, muddyfatty

un D.T., art by Ale Sordi, muddyfatty


Since the end of the ‘80s, Luca Venitucci has been acting like musician, singer, improviser and composer/arranger. Co-founder member (1995) of Ossatura, he was part of Zeitkratzer Ensemble for several years. He has participated in projects carried out by composers, musicians, sonic artists like John Zorn, Alvin Curran, Christian Marclay, Margareth Kammerer, Mike Cooper, Butch Morris, Francisco Lopez, John Duncan, Manuel Gottsching, Keith Rowe, Merzbow/Masami Akita, Phill Niblock, Radu Malfatti, Terre Thaemelitz, Zbignew Karkosky. Also, he has collaborated with musicians like Peter Kowald, Otomo Yoshihide, Sachiko M, Thomas Lehn, Michael Renkel, Axel Dorner, Jerome Noetinger, Cristoph K Roll. He has carried out multidisciplinary projects with writers (Jonathan Coe, Lidia Riviello), actors and directors (Federica Santoro), and dancers (Alessandra Cristiani, Samantha Marenzi, Maddalena Gana).

See also the his “Artist Biography” by Eugene Chadbourne available at allmusic.com.

In 2001 Luca produced a remarkably peculiar tribute to Frank Zappa, based upon a reading of a William Burroughs text given by Frank Zappa in 1979, included in The Nova Convention (2LPs, Giorno Poetry Systems (GPS 014-015), 1979, available on line through the UbuWeb site).

The name of the piece is Un D.T. and, after more than ten years of obscurity, is available through the following link.



Luca Venitucci told the story behind his piece in an article published by Debra Kadabra, the Italian Frank Zappa fanzine (“Note a Un D.T.”, DK issue n.25, December 2001). What follows is my translation into English.


A note to un D.T.
By Luca Venitucci

When I was proposed to write a piece to pay a tribute to Frank Zappa, I hesitated. The American composer represents a case on his own to me, his music is so full of intuitions, his project had such a development, that he determined an innovative influence toward all the music of the XX century. For these reasons I have initially considered such a tribute a desperate endeavour.

Soon after, two ideas brought me on the right path. First of all I knew Zappa has paid attention to the human speech phrasing, especially in terms of rhythm, bringing some of such elements in his improvisation style as a guitarist (for instance, that is why his guitar phrasing, often rhythmically irregular compared with the main beat, displays always a remarkable cohesion as a whole picture). As a consequence, I thought to take into account a speech by Zappa as a starting point for a composition. Thanks to a suggestion by Francesco Gentile I came across a recording of a William Burroughs tribute which includes a Frank Zappa reading of The Talking Asshole, an excerpt from Naked Lunch (from The Nova Convention, 1979). The dark and aloof writing of Burroughs fantastically adheres with mutant and alien sonic landscapes which often belong to a certain electroacoustic aesthetics I know I am really familiar with. Also considering such a specific input, strictly connected to the general one, I decided to conceive and produce the piece as a solo hard disk electroacoustic composition. I think that the main elements of the vision of Zappa as composer are tightly focused on instrumental and orchestral writing, both in a contemporary classic and in a rock sense. His electronic works are no exception, being inspired by the same compositional strategy. Hence my second idea: to use such elements of the Zappa vision for an electroacoustic composition, which is a context that lately has shown both great potential and open issues, from disco music to cutting-edge research.

And here started the merely compositional question. Our man designed his conception passing through all main XX century musical genres, no matter if considered low or high art, deconstructing them and taking from each one of them what he needed to build a new and highly stratified stylistic perspective, distinguished by overwhelming formal tensions and by a burning sarcasm, sustained by a project logic always and absolutely lucid and coherent. How to transfer such a conception to the computer editing operations I was going to start? Could his innovative spirit in dealing with the instruments timbre and with orchestras, derived by Edgard Varese, translate into a special computer treatment of the timbre of the sonic material? The road to go through was the route of Varese towards his pioneering electronic phase of Poéme èlectronique and Déserts, riding as Zappa would have done. Also, the very well-known stylistic incursions between various “low” popular American genres (blues, funky, doo-wop), idioms enthusiastically beloved by Zappa since his adolescence, could have successfully done between all kind of electronic dance music genres and subgenres (drum’n’bass, house, trip-hop, etc.), of Afro American origin as those considered by Zappa. Having kept a link with a modal compositional approach (thus far form the serial and atonal abstract logic), the fragmentation of the compositional thread and the fierce use of collage techniques during the editing process, are further typical Zappa elements I tried to take and rework, my way.

Perhaps the most significant trait that distinguishes Zappa music from 90% of contemporary musical experimentation is his pervasive ability in intimately tying, and with great candor, a highly unclassifiable sonic venture, apparently illogic, to a narrative thread that, on the opposite, always arises clear and well defined, I would say in a classical way. Zappa always tells a story throughout his compositions, and that was what I could try too, putting into music the grotesque and horrific parable of The Talking Asshole by Burroughs, the story of a poor devil who, having taught his own asshole how to talk as for an harmless game, will eventually succumb at the immense emancipative impulses of his anal duct that, not any more inclined to be subdued to orders of the brain, will manage to defeat it and take control over the entire body of the underdog.

The voice of Zappa has been initially divided in single phrases, afterwards it has been transformed into MIDI impulses (that take the pitch, adjusting it to the well-tempered system, and the rhythmic details). Listening to the piece, everybody can perceive how the speech of Zappa is musically rich per se, hence the relationship between his guitar phrasing and the speech is no surprise! The harmonic baseline has been crafted upon the speech, then all the other compositional details have developed both taking into account the text (sometime starting from a single word or phrase, obtaining an astounding insert or a whirling change, as really often happens in Zappa writing) and following a path of free associations between the main traits of the Zappa speech, and a specific formal elaboration (namely gaining from the speech some musical phrasing near to blues or jazz throughout the same discretionary procedure that can be used to associate the shape of a cloud to a rabbit or England). Similar voice elaboration procedures have been already used, in works by Renè Lussier and Hermeto Pascoal for instance (not by chance, composers who share various elements with the compositional method of our man). In both cases the voice has been used according to a logic leaning toward linearity, in such a way as to strongly adapt the compositional structure to the voice profile, highlighting it. Instead, I have preferred playing with stratification and complexity, inserting the voice in a composite set of events, compared with whom it emerges as a reaction, a contrast or a difference, even though it provides all the basic material for the compositional work. Composing through a computer is related to specific procedures, that is why I had to renounce to a certain complexity derived from contemporary music writing praxis, that has sometimes influenced Zappa, such as the use rhythmic subdivisions connected with well-defined mathematical structures. Instead, I tried to obtain sonically complex material, also throughout the blast of apparently chaotic elements (meticulously pondered and studied, actually) following intuitive procedures. From this point of view, to elaborate sonic material through an audio editing program is nearer to freely engrave a marble block, or to draw a picture on a paper, roughly developing all proportions, than to write music using an abstract code, precise and highly formalized, such as the traditional notation system. In this regard, the piece extensively develops the idea of stratified overlapping, called “xenochrony” by Zappa, namely the editing of material from various sources, especially if independent and not equivalent from a rhythmic point of view, to combine a coherent set.

After a truly short introduction, conceived as a “commercial” that brings to foresee what is going to happen, the piece settles in a vaguely trip-hop pattern, upon which the story told by Zappa twists and turns (similarly to Zappa pages like Punky’s Whips). Next to the first part of the piece an instrumental interlude follows. Upon a seven-four time base, that aims to be a synthetic version of those typical pseudo-stravinskyan ostinatos used by the Mothers, a pseudo-guitar solo winds (I wonder why in today sequences based music, of drum’n’bass origin and alike sorts, they do not ever use patterns based upon multi-part times, or anyhow different from four-four time, since they unceasingly state that this genre is emancipating from the strict functionality of moving somebody’s cheeks on a dance floor …), which actually is a “xenochronic” editing of spoken phrases taken from the Zappa speech. Those phrases has been pitch-transposed (leaving the time intervals structure intact) to adapt to the ostinato tone, and transformed in MIDI impulses that control the pitch and the rhythmic scan of a synthesizer, while dynamics and contours are obtained from the original recording of the Zappa speech, passed through the synthesizer input, in synchronous with the MIDI impulses. The shape and the atmospheres of the piece experience growing disassociation and complexity while the mutation of the talking asshole progresses, until the final outbreak and agony. It is important to note how “grain” and inflections proper to the Zappa speech have had a fundamental influence to set the descriptive climate of the piece. I think that few would have succeeded the way Zappa did in delivering such a text, wrapped in a sort of aura of disgust and insane disease, with the same outstanding balance made of debunking irony and meaningful tension, that I tried to adequately transpose at music and sonic level.


The Talking Asshole
(from Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs)
as performed by Frank Zappa at The Nova Convention, NYC
December 2, 1978

Emcee: Just sending up for the great uh, Frank Zappa.

FZ: Hiya. How you doin’ tonight? Alright, um, as you know, I’m not the kind of a person that reads books, I’ve said this before many times, I’m not fond of reading. But, I do, I have in the past made exceptions, and uh, one of these exceptions was this part of the, the book that, I’m sure you know, called Naked Lunch, and I’ve received permission to read the part about the talking asshole. So . . .

Before I do, uh, I’ve discussed with Mr. Burroughs before we came out here some of the details that led to the construction of this section of the book. I asked him where he got the idea for this part, and he said that it was derived from the ventriloquist scene in The Dead Of Night, if you know that film. And I had a little bit of trouble following that, for a moment there, until he made it all very clear to me by saying that uh, it was like uh, when you have a ventriloquist dummy and suddenly the dummy starts talking for you. And so, with that introduction, I start on page 132, and it goes like this (ahem.):

Did I ever tell you about the man who taught his asshole to talk? His whole abdomen would move up and down, you dig, farting out the words. It was unlike anything I ever heard. This “ass-talk” had a sort of gut frequency. It hit you right down there like you gotta go. You know when the old colon gives you the elbow and it feels sorta cold inside, and you know all you hafta do is “turn loose”? Well, this talking hit you right down there. A bubbly, thick, stagnant sound. A sound you could smell. This man worked for a carnival, you dig, and tos tart with, it was like a novelty ventriloquist act. Real funny, too, at first. He had a number he called “The Better Oh”, that was a scream, I tell you. I forget most of it, but it was clever, like, “Oh, I say, are you still down there, old thing? ‘Nah, I had to go relieve myself!'”

After a while, the ass started talking on its own. He would go in without anything prepared and his ass would ad-lib, and toss the gags back at him every time. Then it developed sort of teeth-like little raspy incurving hooks, and started eating. He thought this was cute at first, and built an act around it. But the asshole would eat its way through his pants, and start talking on the street, shouting out it wanted equal rights. It would get drunk, too, and have crying jags, nobody loved it, an’— and wanted.. and it wanted to be kissed, same as any other mouth. Finally, it talked all the time, day and night. You could hear him for blocks, screaming at it to shut up, and beating it with his fist, and sticking candles up it. But nothing did any good, and the asshole said to him, “It’s you who will shut up in the end, not me. Because, we don’t need you around here any more. I can talk, and eat, AND shit”.

After that he began waking up in the morning with a transparent jelly like a tadpole’s tail all over his mouth. This jelly was what the scientists call “un D.T.”, undifferentiated tissue, (herr) which can grow into any kind of flesh on the human body. He would tear it off his mouth and the pieces would stick to his hands like burning gasoline jelly, and grow there. Grow anywhere . . . on him . . . grow anywhere on him a glob of it fell.

So finally his mouth sealed over, and the whole head would have amputated spontaneous.. did you know there is a condition occurs in parts of Africa, and only among negros, where the little toe amputates spontaneously?

Except for the eyes, you dig? That’s the one thing the asshole couldn’t do, was see. It needed the eyes. But nerve connections were blocked and infiltrated and atrophed, so the brain couldn’t give orders any more. it was trapped in the skull, sealed off. For awhile, you could see the silent helpless suffering of the brain behind the eyes, then finally the brain must have died, because the eyes went out, and there was no more feeling in them than a crab’s eye on the end of a stalk.

William Burroughs and Frank Zappa

William Burroughs and Frank Zappa


Rome, Blutopia record shop (blutopia.it), Luca Venitucci (accordion), “o vivere o ridere” a tribute to Enzo Jannacci, June 2013 (photo: spaziofermo)

Rome, Blutopia record shop (blutopia.it), Luca Venitucci (accordion), “o vivere o ridere” a tribute to Enzo Jannacci, June 2013 (photo: spaziofermo)




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