Like a flying saucer from outer time, Dance Me This is landing on Planet Hearth, freezing present day Zappa audience mouths wide open.
You ought to be from Tralfamadore not to be influenced by such a temporal incoherence. A crack in the space-time continuum that brings you directly into those very last days of Frank Zappa, presumably right after the completion of his musical testament: Civilization Phaze III.
Personally, I needed to produce a minimum distance in time after the first frozen listening to start reasoning about it. And what is coming forth into view and hearing is a low power consumption saucer, particularly suitable for such a long time trip.
The general feeling here is that of a musical object that lives at a lower level of energy if compared with Civilization. It certainly could be the mental projection of a hard-core fanatic self, but Civilization Phaze III by contrast appears like the piece of work that absorbed most of the power available.
Of course, and as always, Zappa could not stop working after Phaze III, but the eons were really closing, it must had been time and space to prepare a long distance ship. And what a moniker!
Quite a long boot for the saucer in question. A first opening section to let the listener in (Dance Me This, Pachuco Gavotte) and begin the voyage at a speed a little bit higher than the cruise pace of what follows. Then a second intro (Wolf Harbor Movement I) for the long central journey: the Wolf Harbor suite, a sort of satellite in orbit around planet CPIII. Then a three pieces section where pace increases according to truly non-linear patterns (Goat Polo, Rykoniki, Piano). The necessary preparation for the Tralfamadorian finale: Calculus.
The title track for a smooth and open starter, a sort of Tuvan-prog, featuring throat-singing and, incredibly enough, a short electric guitar phrase by FZ. Inexplicably my first mental association was towards Pyhniox (from Joe’s Comouflage), but hard-core connections aside, for sure this is a short demo of what a Synclavier Zappa-chamber-prog project could have been. Quite a shocking and wishful thinking!
Pachuco Gavotte is a transition piece, a move towards the core section of the album, still some chamber-prog elements but some new percussive sounds enter upon a complex and varied rhythmic frame. Probably a minor feat if compared to the rest of the program, but it perfectly brings the listener to the Harbor.
In Movement I of this five parts suite everything slows down for a new intro without clear melodic and rhythmic references. It could be another outrage soundtrack, as Valdez was. At the end of Movement I some clearer rythmic figures emerge to build a path to Movement II, a percussive episode that sounds like a tribute to Varèse’s Ionisation.
With Movement III we are back into the imaginary outrage soundtrack, some waterly sounds at the beginning, then bells and other metallic sounds (Beat the Reaper remnants?) set up a tortured environment, from waterboarding to the Penal Colony device.
This apocryphal video to The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny could be interesting as reference material (mind the torture device at 4:50!).
Wolf Harbor Movement IV merges some percussive clusters with soundscapes related to I and III.
In Movement V such a merged environment is reworked for a dramatic finale, probably the nearest section to Civilization Phaze III, that goes abruptly into Goat Polo.
The listener is now prepared for the last part of the cruise and is able to manage such a shocking segue into a piece (Goat Polo) with some melodic references driven by a throat singing lead, upon a polyrhythmic background. Very likely my favorite piece of the album nowadays, sort of Amnerika, the hard way (yet another monomaniac mental association!).
Rykoniki as the next number, the nearest piece to Jazz from Hell. Both in terms of some of the sounds and as for rhythmic concept.
Piano follows, and you can’t help going to those Ensemble Modern days. The piece is divided into two sections: a piano solo with a right hand from hell, then right hand calms a little bit down and organ and percussion enter for a dramatic finale that melts once again abruptly into the circular ending of the saucer.
For Calculus we need a little help from IINK, home of an interesting page including all (the little) we know about Dance Me This.
Particularly interesting is a quote by Brandon Amison:
The Tuvans sang in “Free Time” (no click track for reference). Todd Yvega wanted to show FZ how it is possible to have the Synclavier match a constantly changing external tempo. Todd wrote a neat musical sequence in Script (a music/computer language in the Synclavier).
Tempos were approximated at every realistic interval. Todd then used Cubic Splines (something used in Calculus) to “fill in the spaces” (speeding up and slowing down in a non-linear manner). The Synclavier now accurately followed the Tuvans.
Here it is: Synclavier driven xenochrony applied to thraot singing. The outcome is pure Zappa, as for rhythmic changes and melodies.
Brett Clement wrote in a “Study of the Instrumental Music of Frank Zappa” analysing the guitar solos (go to “In control of garlic, moment to moment” on this blog for a longer quote):
With few exceptions, these phrases could be reordered without changing the overall effect of the music
In Calculus the listener perceives a similar effect that gives an overall circular motion feeling to the music, such that time and space do not matter anymore.
“So it goes”, a Tralfamadorian would say.
The Cover Art
Gail Zappa, quoted by Malcolm Dome, Prog #57, July, 2015 (courtesy of IINK Dance Me This notes page)
The cover is new. What happened is that I became friends with a woman called Kathy Eldon, whose son Dan Eldon was a photojournalist. He was 22 when he was stoned to death in Somalia by the people he was trying to help. He left behind an incredible journal, with his drawings. I saw this photo in the last several years of a drawing he did of these elephants. They seemed to be dancing in the face of their own extinction. It was a remarkable statement, and I instantly thought that this was the perfect cover for Dance Me This.
Click here for some images from the booklet.
Order Dance Me This at barfkoswill.