Frank Zappa's musical language
Frank Zappa's musical language
A study of the music of Frank Zappa

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200 Motels For much of his musical creativity in 1970-71 Zappa was focused on the scores for "200 Motels", the low budget movie from 1971, about The Mothers of Invention on tour and everything that comes along with it. It's the first Zappa album featuring a large orchestra. It was shot in only five days in January and February 1971, with techniques that at that time were innovating, but by now have become a bit obsolete. The sound quality and cardboard constructions make it clear that we're dealing with a movie from 1971. This doesn't go for its content and the music. The music is timeless, as its recent performances have shown. The script for "200 Motels" might just as well be filmed today. Subjects as one's penis dimension and the size of one's breasts seem only to have grown in importance. The term groupie has become outdated, but not the phenomenon.
To the right: still from the VPRO "Zappa films 200 Motels" documentary with Theodore Bikel, The Top Score Singers and The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. Next to the examples below, I've included links to outtakes from "200 Motels" that appear elsewhere in this study. "200 Motels" premiered in L.A. on 29 October with the along coming double-album in the same month. It's too bad that the touring in 1971 ended with misfortune, so that the project got less promotion.

"200 Motels, the suites" is the shape Zappa had in mind for performing "200 Motels" on stage by an orchestra (plus singers and some electric instruments), thus without the movie scenes and without the rock band songs. It got premiered in this set-up during the Holland Festival in 2000 (see the miscellaneous items section from the left menu). In 2013 two more performances followed. One by the BBC Concert Orchestra, Southbank Sinfonia and London Voices in the UK and one by the L.A. Philharmonic and Master chorale in the US. A live recording with the L.A. performance has appeared on CD in 2015.

BBC Concert Orchestra

The BBC Concert Orchestra, Southbank Sinfonia and the London Voices, performing "200 Motels - The suites". Photographer unknown.

From the perspective of the music, the movie itself is of interest as well, next to the soundtrack and the suites CDs. Zappa starts his liner notes for the album with saying that some of the music in the film is not included on the album as well as the other way round. Bars from "Naval aviation in art?" can be heard as background music during the movie. This piece premiered on the "Studio Tan" album from 1975 and got recorded again in a different version on the "Perfect stranger" CD. See the corresponding section for the details. There's also a "Go to the club..." intro to the so-called groupies opera on the "Tengo na minchia tanta" bootleg. The official version of this song can be found only on the movie version of "200 Motels" at about 1h:12. The "True story of 200 Motels" DVD is a documentary about making "200 Motels". In it can be seen that Zappa had planned the groupie opera from "Fillmore East, June 1971" to be part of the movie. A rehearsal for a scene with "Do you like me new car" got saved in this manner. One can read the biography by Neil Slaven, chapter 10, with the author interviewing Zappa about "200 Motels". All other unused tape got erased for re-use in order to save some money (the film went a little over budget).

"200 Motels" at first met with moderately positive and mixed reviews. Many critics found the movie incomprehensible and the music chaotic. This is only correct to a certain degree and depends upon what you expect of a movie. For a number of people, some "intellectual" Zappa fans included, it is unacceptable that something they like does not have a deeper meaning or a theory behind it. In my opinion there is nothing to be "understood" about "200 Motels". It's a series of episodes about what can happen to a band on the road without an overall plot or specific purpose. At first hearing "200 Motels" can indeed sound chaotic. The music is a bewildering mixture of styles and instrumentation. It's only the relation with the movie that gives the "200 Motels" CD its unity. There's an orchestra, a large percussion section, a choir and a rockband. The orchestra can play in full, but also more chamber music like. Also here some people find that there has to be a system in the way Zappa composes, a theory that explains the method that makes music Zappa-like. My conclusion that Zappa didn't follow systems seems to be unacceptable to some just for conceptual reasons.
"Part of the problem is that Frank was clearly indefinable", co-producer Frank Filipetti says in the liner notes from "200 Motels - The suites". "Many people have a real problem with that. They find it necessary to categorize anything other than themselves. It makes it easier for us in this complicated world to compartmentalize everything outside of our own little circle."
Likewise some people seem to find that Zappa can be better understood by comparing him to other composers and their techniques of writing music. Of course there are similarities between Zappa and Stravinsky, Varèse, Bartok, Ravel etc. But there are also similarities between Zappa and David Bowie, Abba, The Beatles etc. In fact there are such similarities between Zappa and thousands other composers or songwriters, so one could easily fill a mass of pages with comparative studies. It's neither wrong nor much illuminating. Bottom line is that the only thing that can clarify why some composers are considered geniuses, is their music itself. In this case a few comparative remarks can suffice. There are simularities between Zappa's approach to constructing "200 Motels" and the concept of a "Gesamtkunstwerk" Richard Wagner propagated in the 19th century, the overall piece of art. For Wagner the ideal situation meant that an artist combined all forms of art. In case of an opera, a composer should not only compose the music, but write the libretto as well and do the stage designing himself. Zappa did the same for "200 Motels", eventually winding up doing the editing of the film himself too. But there are also differences. "200 Motels" is a series of scenes that could be shot independently of each other. Their following order can be varied. For that matter the term "suites" is quite appropriate for the 2015 double CD with the orchestral parts on it. This was the form Zappa had in mind for playing "200 Motels" in the Royal Albert hall in 1971. It got banned for using inappropriate language. As mentioned above the live recording with the L.A. Philharmonic en the L.A. Master Chorale finally reached the market in 2015. It's a very welcome addition to the Zappa catalogue. Not only does this version contain a half an hour of music that couldn't be recorded for the movie, the sound quality and accuracy are also much better compared to the budget strained situation from 1971.

Below I'm trying to describe the tracks from the "200 Motels" 1971 CD in a combined manner with the corresponding parts from "200 Motels - The suites". For the 1971 CD I'm using the track list from the two discs of this double CD. For "200 Motels - The suites" I'm mentioning the 13 movements. I'm following the track list of the 1971 CD as the starting point for its additional rock band songs. Unless otherwise indicated, the times and transcriptions are from the 1971 CD.

Disc I track 1: Overture - Suites mvt. 1: Overture

With the "Overture" and "Would you like a snack?" from "200 Motels" Zappa returned to the opening theme from "Holiday in Berlin (full blown)" from "Burnt weeny sandwich". The first six bars from the "Overture" are a character variation, a variation upon the G-E-A-G motif, that can be heard right at the beginning of "Holiday in Berlin (full blown)" as well (here in staff 2). The bass line is specific for the "Overture", whereas the "Holiday in Berlin (full blown)" version is applying some more chords and passing much faster through the notes.

Overture, opening bars (midi file).

Overture, opening (notes).

The "Overture" starts in C with the I chord on beat one, to be blended with the II chord shortly afterwards in both bars 1 and 3 (C Lydian is also possible, the F/F# that makes the difference fails). These two bars are rhythmic variations upon each other. After the opening bars from above the original melody is followed more closely, now with an instrumentation for orchestra and choir. See also below for "Would you like a snack?".

Left: bars 1-4 from the "Overture", original score in Zappa's handwriting.
Right: the chorus part in the handwriting of a copyist.

Following the chorus part, you can hear the following sections on the 1971 album:
- 0:00 Bars 1-10, opening by the orchestra, with bars 1-6 being presented above.
- 0:29 Bars 11-17, indicated as section A, featuring the orchestra and chorus.
- 0:49 Bars 18-21, indicated as section B, idem.
- 1:02 Rance Muhammitz (Theodore Bikel) announces the movie, followed by modern music for percussion and orchestra. The chorus returns once, speech-wise singing "200 Motels". So there might have been a second page of the chorus part.
- 1:39 Rance introduces Larry the Dwarf (Ringo Starr), dressed up as Frank Zappa.
- 1:59 End.

Disc I track 2: Mystery roach

"200 Motels" contains a set of regular pop songs. They are not presented as a suite of their own, but serve as resting points between the modern music for orchestra and choir. So they turn up spread out over the CD as individual songs. "Mystery roach" is placed between the previous "Overture" and the following "Dance of the rock and roll interviewers". It's straightforward rock 'n roll in 4/4.

Mystery roach, opening (midi file).

Mystery roach, opening (transcription).

The example contains the central theme:
- Bars 1-4. Instrumental opening with a I-VII alternation in E Dorian (Dorian and Mixolydian happen both, I've notated the presets of the song as in Mixolydian, but Dorian could be chosen just as well). A figure of two bars gets repeated four times. The example begins with the last two occurrences of the figure. Beats 1-3 of the first bar is the E note pulsing. Beat 4 can be interpreted as I 7th with the A as passing through note or as V 7th. In the second bar the switch from the I chord to the VII chord takes places, syncopically during beat two.
- Bars 5-6. Phrase 1 of the theme. The bass continues with the I-VII alternation, while rhythmically the switch can now occur at various points during the second bar. The guitars change their pattern to a one-bar movement, also with an I-VII alternation. The VII chord for the guitars appears on beat 3 in the shape of an A-D-A-D string.
- Bars 7-8. Phrase 2. The singers continue in E Mixolydian, thus another example of mingling two closely related scales (E Dorian and E Mixolydian). As usual, when Zappa has more than one singer doing the lyrics, they don't sing their lines identically. It's done in a complementary form, enriching the harmonies.
- Bars 9-12. Phrase 3. Everybody is now playing or singing in E Dorian. The brass (staffs 2-3) is here getting clearer in the picture, while the opening is dominated by the classic rock band combination of guitars - bass - drums.
- Bars 13-15. Phrase 4, a variation upon phrase 2, played twice. Only briefly the piece returns to E Mixolydian. It's performed in two different manners with a lot of chromatic notes happening in it. During beats 3-4 of bar 15 bass and drum accelerate a bit, immediately to return to the original tempo in bar 16. The grammar and pronunciation of the lyrics get twisted to fit in better with the music. What seems to have been "The mystery roach is approaching" gets pronounced as "Dah myst'ry roach be 'proach-ah".
- Bar 16. Phrase 5, a one-bar figure played only once. Now the rhythm changes from standard on-beat 4/4 to a syncopic figure.

Disc I track 3: Dance of the rock & roll interviewers - Suites mvt. 7: What's the name of your group

Here the effect of the limited recording time becomes clear. The music from "What's the name of your group" is doable and its corresponding scene would have fitted well in the movie. It lasts 11 minutes in total, but only one minute could be recorded as the "Dance of the rock & roll interviewers". The main theme from its opening block is derived from the "Epilogue", a piece that was played live earlier in 1968. Bars 5-10 from my Epilogue example from the uncle Meat section re-appear a couple of times and get varied upon. The example below is from the second block, where the choir and the solo soprano stand central.

What's the name of your group, section (midi file).

What's the name of your group, section (transcription).

This second block features a series of different settings for the text "How do they like your music over there", of which I'm presenting the second half. It's written for the entire choir with limited accompaniment by the orchestra section (contrabasses, bassoons and occasionally the horns). The example goes as:
- Bar 1: The writing style in this example is mixed, to a degree homophonic and to a degree polyphonic. One can see that the four parts from the choir and the accompaniment follow their own lines. But their rhythm is identical, so combined they also sound as a series of chords. During bar 1 the series of intervals between the alts and sopranos is 7-4-7-4-7-4-7 (as the number of minor second steps), so an alternation between a 5th and a major third. The sopranos sing a downward line, the altos a line that alternates going up and going down. The final eight note is a repetition of the fifth note from both rows. The key tends towards D Dorian, with some altered notes.
- Bar 2: The interval series now is 7-4-4-7-7, thus continuing with 5ths and major thirds in a different pattern. The contrabass, bassoons and horns are continuing a pattern that was also used during the bars preceding this example. In this particular bar the scale becomes D minor/Aeolian with a Bb. In every bar a change to a different meter is happening, but the principal time units remain fourth and eight notes.
- Bar 3: The tenors and basses are taking over, singing unisono.
- Bar 4: A D pedal for the whole bar, with the scale returning to clear D Dorian with no altered notes. The alts and sopranos return with the interval series 7-4-4-5-8, so other intervals enter the picture.
- Bar 5: The female singers continue with the interval series 4-8-4-8-7-3. The contrabasses and bassoons are playing some counterpoint notes, as in bar 3.
- Bar 6: This is mainly the male singers and the accompaniment playing unisono, but there are also various supplementary harmony notes. At this point the contrabasses and bassoons start to divert themselves from each other.
- Bars 7-8: These two bars are purely homophonic. A chord with the notes D-A-B-E-G# in it is being built up in layers in two slightly different manners, spread out over more than three octaves. It's a relatively consonant chord till the final G# by the soprano turns up, in dissonance with A by the tenors. During bars 5-8 the idea of a D Dorian scale gets abandoned, but the D turns up as pedal note again for the final chord. One might call the implied scale at this point D Lydian, as far as one interprets these bars as diatonic.

Dance of the rock & roll interviewers, 0:28-0:33 (transcription).

During the final block of "What's the name of your group" the orchestra is playing in full. You can hear motifs from the previous block returning. It's also this block where the orchestral track "Dance of the rock & roll interviewers" stems from. The example above is a fragment of 5 seconds taken from it. The mix on the album isn't bright enough to get into details. It's an approximation only and not fit for a midi file. Obviously it's atonal and these bars get varied upon on the album. The piece ends with the soprano, the rock & roll interviewer, fading out.

Suites mvt. 8: Can I help you with this dummy?

During the suites, "What's the name of your group" gets segued by "Can I help you with this dummy?". The score is reproduced in total in The Frank Zappa songbook, vol. I. As Zappa comments in the Songbook, this piece didn't make it to the movie because of performing difficulties. The L.A. Philharmonic is playing a revised version. Both the notes and the orchestration are different in a multitude of aspects. While the score for the 1971 recordings were adapted on the spot to ease the performability, in this case the conclusion can only by that there are two versions of the score of this movement itself. Below I'm describing bars 11-17.

Can I help you with this dummy?, bars 11-17, suites version (midi file).
Can I help you with this dummy?, bars 11-17, Songbook version (midi file).

Can I help you with this dummy?, bars 11-17, suites version (transcription).
Can I help you with this dummy?, bars 11-17, Songbook version (score).

Walt Disney Hall - Bar 11: The Songbook version is deliberately irregular and dissonant. Guitars II and III are playing the same chord type, but with a minor second between them. The suites version is also irregular, but more moderately. Other than the atonal Songbook version, beats 1-2 can be seen as diatonic, forming the Bb Lydian collection.
- Bar 12: During this bar both versions are diatonic and the chords contain largely the same notes. The suites version builds a chord up in layers towards a 13th chord on G, the scale being G major. Apart from a number of other details, the differences lie in the instrumentation and positioning of the chords. For the suites the horns have been substituted by the string section. The Songbook also knows a contrabassoon, playing a low C. The scale then becomes C Lydian.
- Bar 13: In the Songbook the last chord from bar 12 gets repeated on the first tick of bar 13, while the chord changes to another larger chord during the suites. On the fourth tick a sustained chord enters the picture, again a larger chord comprehending the notes E-A-B-D. It's played by the guitars and horns in the Songbook and by wind instruments solely during the suites.
- Bar 14: The chord from bar 13 is sustained in both versions. The differences between the two versions otherwise only concern the instrumentation. The flutes in the Songbook have been replaced by the strings during the suites.
- Bar 15: Here for the first time the soprano part starts to deviate as well. Some of the notes from the ninetuplet are different. In the Songbook Zappa is very precise about the accents: the fourth note of the ninetuplet is accentuated and the other notes should be played as even. The suites version doesn't have this. There are only light accents on the higher notes. In the Songbook score you'll find the piccolo, bass flute and guitar I playing parallel with the soprano during the ninetuplet. The intervals are kept the constant for the duration of the ninetuplet. The piccolo plays the same part as the soprano, the bass flute is playing a minor tenth lower and the guitar is playing a tritone lower than the soprano. The chord can be seen as a diminished minor fifth, with the third played an octave lower. The whole is atonal. During the suites only a flute plays along with the soprano. The guitars aren't playing the sustained chord for this bar. Instead they are used to pick some notes in an irregular manner.
- Bars 16-17: The music becomes diatonic, using the E Mixolydian scale. The wind instruments are playing the progression I-V 7th-I during The Suites. During the tail of bar 16 the A alters to A sharp, implying a switch to E Lydian. In the Songbook score guitars I/II and the solo violin and cello are playing fast strings of notes, largely absent during the suites.

Above to the right: performance of 200 Motels at the L.A.’s Walt Disney Hall. Photo by Craig T. Mathew/Mathew Imaging.

Disc I tracks 4-8: Tuna sandwich sequence - Suites mvt. 4: This town is a sealed tuna sandwich

Centerville On the 1971 album you'll find the Tuna sandwich material subdivided into five tracks:
- "This town is a sealed tuna sandwich (prologue)". I'm dealing with this prologue in the Orchestral favorites section, where you can see some differences between the score and the 1971 album version.
- "Tuna fish promenade". See below for a few samples.
- "Dance of the just plain folks". The Tuna sandwich music received its first public performance in 1970 with Zubin Mehta conducting the L.A. Philharmonic. In the Quaudiophiliac section I'm showing the opening pages of the score, where this section is called "The tuna sandwich ballet".
- "This town is a sealed tuna sandwich (reprise)".

This town is a sealed tuna sandwich (reprise), bars 1-7 (midi file).

This town is a sealed tuna sandwich (reprise), bars 1-7 (transcription).

The sung notes of the reprise are the same as of the prologue, but the rhythm, orchestration and harmonization are a variation upon it. You can compare this transcription with the prologue example from the Orchestral favorites secton, both the score and the actual album version. The reprise has 3/4-3/4-5/8 as its meters for the first three bars, while the prologue is using 2/4 all through. Quite obviously the harmonization is much different. These bars 1-7 can be heard during 0:00 through 0:27 on the album.
- "The sealed tuna bolero". This bolero isn't a bolero by the book, but bolero-like. It has a fourth beat added to it (a bolero is in 3/4), but it does have the characteristic faster notes on tick two of beat one. In this case a triplet instead of two 16th notes. The 16th notes are used elsewhere too, so the triplet notes are the fastest ones (except for the ad lib. harmony fill-in and bar 4). So it's a bolero with some liberty. Zappa would perform the well-known "Bolero" by Ravel with his band in 1988. Bars 1-4 are in D Mixolydian. During bars 5-8 the singers are present. Now the orchestra and singers are following a chord progression, being D-Eb-E, thus a major triad moving upwards in a chromatic manner. Bar 8 continues with A. So a variation upon the "Tuna fish promenade" example from below.

The sealed tuna bolero, 0:00-0:24 (midi file).

The sealed tuna bolero, 0:00-0:24 (transcription).

Zappa started working on this material around 1968. Various elements can be recognized in tracks from the "Ahead from their time" CD. See the corresponding section with "The rejected Mexican pope leaves the stage" as an example. As mentioned above part of the "Epilogue" from this CD returns in "What's the name of your group?" from the suites.

This sequence got reworked upon twice for a smaller and a large orchestra, on both occasions without lyrics. Zappa changed the title for this separate piece from "This town is a sealed tuna sandwich" to "Bogus pomp":
- "Bogus pomp" (1975). Three smaller examples from "Bogus pomp" are presented in the Orchestral favorites section of this study.
- "Bogus pomp" (1983). This is the last appearance of the Tuna sandwich music, this time combined with the "Overture" and "Centerville" movements from "200 Motels". It's played as one piece, without lyrics. It also has a new coda. I'm describing it briefly in the L.S.O section of this study, with a couple of re-orchestrated bars as an example.

Below at track 13 you can see how "Centerville" precedes "This town is a sealed tuna sandwich" in the conductor's score. Zappa set them apart on the album, but their intended sequence is back on The suites. It's also logical. Centerville is the town that's compared to a tuna sandwich. The two sample pages from the chorus part, included below, cover the following period of bars, though most are empty for the chorus having no part in it:
- Bars 114-181. "Centerville", end of section I through section K.
- Bars 182-192. "This town is a sealed tuna sandwich", 11 bars in 2/4 (see the Orchestral favorites section). Beginning of section L.
- Bars 193-221. "Tuna fish promenade" in 4/4, including the indicated lines with "The cost of the tickets back to L.A."
- Bars 222 etc. "Tuna fish promenade", continued in 2/4. Section M, beginning with lyrics for the choir: "All the people in the sandwich town".

Tuna fish promenade, bars 1-6 (midi file).

Tuna fish promenade, bars 1-6 (transcription).

This example shows the first six bars from the "Tuna fish promenade", corresponding with bars 193-198 from the conductor's score. It can be heard between 0:00 and 0:16 on the album. Nominally it's in D with bars 1-2 starting using this key. Next a slow progression follows, build around a chord per bar. This progression is a chromatic sequence of triads: D, Eb, E, next closing with A. Thus pretty much a variation upon the previous example.

Above to the right and below to the left: samples from the scores in Zappa's handwriting.

Disc I track 9: Lonesome cowboy Burt

A parody-like country and western song, featuring Jimmy Carl Black as the ill-mannered redneck Burt (screenshot below). He would return to do a cowboy song once more on "You are what you is" from 1981 (see the corresponding section). He released a live version from 1987 on "The best band you never heard in your life", with various differences with the original and the lyrics adapted for commenting upon Jimmy Swaggart's recent arrest.

Lonesome cowboy Burt, 0:00-0:12 (midi file).

Lonesome cowboy Burt, 0:00-0:12 (transcription).

Jimmy Carl Black The song begins quite simple with playing around a I-V-I-V-VII-IV-VII-IV progression in C Mixolydian. It's not only the tight 4/4 rhythm with off beat drumming, as well as the bass pattern, that cause the pastiche effect. It's also the lyrics that are pushing you towards a parody interpretation. Less conventional is the structure of the song, that's a bit collage-like. The opening theme takes up the first 50 seconds of the song, but doesn't return anymore. Other themes are taking over, that do get varied upon.
- 0:00-0:53 Theme one, largely as above.
- 0:53-1:28 Theme two ("I'm lonesome cowboy Burt, speaking at you").
- 1:29-1:51 Theme three ("He's lonesome cowboy Burt").
- 1:52-2:58 Theme four ("Burtram, Burtram red-neck").
- 2:58-3:18 Theme two returns.
- 3:18-3:47 Theme three returns in the shape of a slower variation, serving as the coda.
- 3:48-3:57 Spoken end ("Opul, you hot little bitch").

Disc I track 10: Touring can make you crazy - Suites mvt. 6: Touring can make you crazy

Touring can make you crazy Modern orchestra music, played integrally on the 1971 album as it is played during the suites. It's written for the string section, with a couple of notes for the clavichord added to it.
During the early seventies, when Zappa wrote for orchestras, the Wazoo band and the Roxy band, he had ensembles at his disposal where most people could read sheet music. It was also a period where everything had to be hand-written and duplicated by copyists. The official 200 Motels scores are only for rent, but quite a number of examples are available through other sources. The Frank Zappa songbook contains three original manuscripts and in the CD booklet four sample pages of the full orchestra score are reproduced. You need a magnifying glass for these last examples. Apparently not everybody was asked to return their scores in those days. Frequently handwritten scores by Zappa himself are being auctioned.

Touring can make you crazy, 0:39-0:51 (midi file).

Touring can make you crazy, 0:39-0:51 (transcription).

"Touring can make you crazy" is for the string sections only. As you can see in the image above to the right, it begins with sustained notes in 3/4. The example above is taken from the section where the cellos/contrabasses are making a descending movement with pulsing eighth notes in 3/4. Because of that, the rhythm of these bars is relatively easy to transcribe. The harmonies are an entirely different matter. These are made up of larger dissonant atonal chords. It's difficult to hear the exact notes involved from CD, because of which I can't do more with it from the analytical point of view. And even if you had the score: various examples show that it's more a rule than exceptional that there are version differences. The example is transcribed from the "200 Motels, the Suites" version (2015).

Touring can make you crazy, bars 1-8 (midi file).

Touring can make you crazy, bars 1-8 (score).

This second example contains the opening page of this composition, that I came across in 2023. On the orginal album this page corresponds with 0:00 through 0:42. The score starts as "slow" for bars 1-4 and "a little faster" for bars 5-8, with bars 1-2 and 4 to be sustained for a while. This results in bars 1-4 lasting 28 seconds, while bars 5-8 last 14 seconds. The midi file follows these tempos to a degree, but none of the dynamic details are included, nor the vibrato. The bass line of the score are the contrabasses, to be played an octave lower as notated. The rhythm is simple and constant for the first four bars. Bars 5-8 are doing the opposite, though the violins are playing a sustained note only. Bars 5-6 are using triplet notes as time unit, letting the other string sections alternate chords. In bar 7 the sections are coming up a 16th note behind each other, while no section is playing on beat at the start of bar 8. Harmonically you can see that Zappa is applying large atonal clustered chords with as densities (minor seconds distances):
- Bars 1-2, single A.
- Bar 3, beats 1-2, A-Gb-F-Ab-B-C-D-D#-E-G: 9+11+3+3+1+1+1+1+3.
- Bar 3, final chord, G-D#-F#-A-Bb-C-Db-D-E-F#: (12+8)+3+3+1+2+1+1+2+2.
- Bar 4, C-A-G-Bb-B-C-Db-E-F-F#-G#: (12+9)+10+3+1+1+1+3+1+1+2.
- Bar 5, beats 1-2, D-F-Eb-E-G-B-C#-D-E-F-Gb: 3+10+1+3+4+2+1+2+1+1.
- Bar 5, beat 3, G#-A-C-D-F-Eb-E-G-B-C#: 1+3+2+3+10+1+3+4+2.
- Bar 6, beat 1, G#-A-C-D-F-Eb-E-G-B-C#-D-E-F-Gb: 1+3+2+3+10+1+3+4+2+1+2+1+1.
- Bar 6, beats 2-3, G#-A-C-Bb-F-G-A-B-C#-D#: 1+3+2+10+7+2+2+2+2+2.
- Bar 7, beats 1-2, G#-A-C-G: 1+3+(12+7).
- Bar 7, beat 3, and bar 8, G#-A-C-Bb-F-G-A-B-C#-D-D#-E-F-Gb: 1+3+10+7+2+2+2+2+1+1+1+1.
Through interviews it is known that at the end of the seventies Zappa had set up a table of preferred chords, that he himself called the chord bible. None of it has been made public and information about it is sparse. See the L.S.O. at "Mo 'n Herb's vacation" for some more information.

Disc I track 11: Would you like a snack? (1971) - Suites mvt. 2: Went on the road

To the standard orchestra set-up for playing the suites, a small electric combo is added. They stand central during this movement and the vamping part of "Penis dimension". Like the "Overture", "Would you like a snack?" refers to the opening theme from "Holiday in Berlin (full blown)" for its thematic material.

Would you like a snack?, 0:39 till 1:09 (midi file).

Would you like a snack?, 0:39 till 1:09 (transcription).

It's a variation upon this theme, played in two different instrumentations. The first one is all instrumental, the second one is with lyrics. It's this last one that's transcribed above. Notable are the various modulations and the way they are handled. During bars 1-4 the music is in C with the I 5th chord (or C Lydian, the F/F# isn't used). Then in bar 5 it turns to Eb Lydian I 7th. The chords belong to different keys and only have a G in common, only vaguely audible in the second chord. In a traditional harmony class they'd say you need some more linking chords. Here you get the interesting effect of a harmonic surprise. Bars 13-15 are in C# minor (C# pedal), bars 16-17 in Ab Lydian (Ab chord) and with bar 18 the transcription ends in D Lydian (D chord). Remarkable are also the large interval jumps the singers are making, for instance a 10th from bar 5 to 6 ("What a drag ...").
It occasionally happens that samples from the original score turn up after I've transcribed them. The following two notational differences originate from this:
- The sample above at track 10 shows that Zappa used an eighth note for what I'm notating as a quarter note. So two of my 4/4 bars correspond with one 4/4 bar in the original score.
- Bars 13-19 correspond with section B from the chorus part from the "Overture" (see above at track 1). Zappa notated 3/4 and 2/4 for my bars 16 and 17, thus making a different division.
The title "Would you like a snack?" also got used for a collaboration between Zappa and Grace Slick from Jefferson Airplane from 1968, with which it has no relationship. See the Ahead of their time section from this study for an example from the 1968 rendition.

Disc I track 12: Redneck eats - Suites mvt. 5: The restaurant scene

The opening features spoken text combined with harmony notes. It involves the chorus as well, so to let everybody stay equal, at least the rhythm of the words had to be written out. Staff eight of the left image is the "cowboy" part by Jimmy Carl Black, saying "hey, who are these two, are they boys or girls ...". In bars 3-4 the chorus joins in with "or a turkey, ha-ha-ha ..." (staves 10-11). All spoken words are notated with crotches, so no exact pitches are prescribed. The accompanying harmony notes by the instruments do have pitches.

The restaurant scene

Left: the opening page from "The restaurant scene" in Zappa's handwriting.
Right: the chorus part taken from it, in the handwriting of a copyist.

The first four bars of both images coincide. The A block from the right image is the percussion section from this piece. The chord by the choir sets off the B block, to be heard at 0:38 on the "200 Motels" CD from 1971. This block begins with a series of pizzicato notes for the string sections, followed by a section with the piano standing central. At the end the cowboy returns, with "ha-ha-ha ..." for the chorus in an exact rhythm some more. For "Redneck eats" part of the "Like it or not" score got re-used, the part that is also available as the "Piano/drum duet" on "YCDTOSA vol. V". A small outtake of 10 seconds is available in this study.

Disc I track 13: Centerville - Suites mvt. 3: Centerville

Centerville Centerville was the name of an imaginary small town, constructed in one of the Pinewood studios, where "200 Motels" was filmed (image to the right). The music appears without many differences on the 1971 album, the suites and as a movement from the 1983 version of "Bogus pomp". During the latter piece "Centerville", however, is performed without lyrics. The next example is the opening and the chorus part, that Zappa apparently had in mind when originally composing this title.

Centerville, 0:00 till 0:42 (midi file).

Centerville, 0:00 till 0:42 and chorus part (transcription/score).

This chorus part was meant for harmonizing 0:00 through 1:01 of this composition, but got skipped between 0:00-0:35. The correspondence can still be recognized, as well as the sung bass part from bars 120-121 and bars 124-129. This part is played by bass instruments on the album. Maybe faintly in the background the chorus is singing between 0:36 and 1:01.
- 0:00 Bars 114-117. Intro with a chromatic bass line and wind machine. I've indicated the chorus as ppp and I've included their part in the midi file too. On CD I can't hear them, but one of their chords is instrumentally audible in bar 116.
- 0:18 Bars 118-125. Bass line continues with sung lyrics ("Centerville, a real nice place ..."). The bass line from bars 118-121 returns in bars 122-125, an octave lower. Otherwise it's a rather free movement. Overall a downwards movement dominates, alternated with smaller sections where notes can go up and down.
- 0:36 Bars 126-133. Block "I" from the total score with chords ("Churches ...").
- 1:01 Bars 134-147. Instrumental themes. Here the meter changes from 3/4 to 2/4.
- 1:44 Bars 148-163. Flutes and soprano section, turning back to 3/4. Bars 161-163 for boy sopranos are sung by female sopranos. These are the only chorus bars that are clearly recognizable.
- 2:01 Bars 164 till the end of "Centerville". The score indicates 18 bars, but there aren't that many included in the album track. This instrumental outro of "Centerville" also serves as the intro for the "Tuna sandwich" suite. Between 2:07 and 2:15 you can recognize the central motif of what later became "Bogus pomp". See the Orchestral favorites section from this study for variations upon this motif. Here can hear and see in the score that "Centerville" was originally planned to precede the "Tuna sandwich" suite. In the 1983 version of "Bogus pomp" Zappa did include "Centerville" again in this manner.
- 2:31 End.

Disc I tracks 14-19: She painted up her face sequence - Suites mvt. 11: Shove it right in

Most of the music from "Shove it right in" appears on the 1971 album as well, where it gets alternated with the theme from "She painted up her face", a pop song. For this reason I'm calling the album set-up an example of a rondo in the Orchestral favorites section. The "She painted up her face" theme returns in "Half a dozen provocative squats" and "Shove it right in". The lyrics are different, but the notes from the theme are played only slightly different as it comes to details. "Mysterioso" is an interlude with normal and glissando chords for the string section, about all at a piano or pianissimo volume. It's not possible for me to transcribe "Mysterioso" from the CD with a sufficient amount of certainty. There are no downbeats and I can't see the conductor. I've included a sketch of what's going on between 0:16 and 0:22. The tracks, as they are titled on the album:
- "She painted up her face".
- "Janet's big dance number".
- "Half a dozen provocative squats".
- "Mysterioso".
- "Shove it right in".
- "Lucy's seduction of a bored violinist & postlude".

Shove it right in

Sopranos II part of the Prelude from "Shove it right in", corresponding with "Janet's big dance number" on the 1971 album. During the movie you can see the piano player reading and playing his part (1h:02:35-55).

Janet's big dance number, section (midi file).

Janet's big dance number - Mysterioso, sections (transcription/sketch).

The example above is being played between 0:20 and 0:44 on "The suites". It returns in the shape of a variation between 2:29 and 2:43, continuing differently, and yet again between 6:09 and 6:22. On "Janet's big dance number" it's played between 0:26 and 0:55. Again there are differences between the 1971 and 2015 CDs. In this case I think it's the mixing. The piano and strings are far more prominently present on the 1971 album. The arpeggio chord from the first bar is either mixed to inaudible or really absent on the 2015 CD. I've transcribed it by listening to both versions, using the material from above (in 2023 I came across samples from the original score, see below). It's a slow movement in 3/4, using an atonal chord progression for singers and orchestra. Pretty irregular, though transpositions of movements can be recognized, as indicated in the score:
Figure B is equal to figure A, being transposed up a major second.
Figure C is equal to figure D, being transposed up a minor third.

"She painted up her face" is one of the themes Flo and Eddie are singing on "200 Motels". It's the opposite of the fast strings Zappa can be using in songs like "Call any vegetable", going slowly with notes lasting over bars. Personally I like the way they're singing here best, namely with bright voices, not the raw screaming notes they often apply elsewhere. Bars 1-3 are in B Dorian. Over the Bm chord a downwards string is played, touching all notes but the A. From bar 4 onwards this piece is in E Mixolydian. The harmonic basis of the main theme is a slow I-VII alternation.

She painted up her face, main theme (midi file).
Half a dozen provocative squats, section (midi file).
Shove it right in, section (midi file).

She painted up her face, main theme (transcription).
Half a dozen provocative squats, section (transcription).
Shove it right in, section (transcription).

As said, this theme returns during the first half of "Half a dozen provocative squats". The second half contains two themes, specific for this track. The example above comprehends the opening of the first theme, played halfway. It shows an interaction between the lyrics and the music. The words are chosen musically to form an even series of eighth notes. The meters, on the other hand, are dictated by the length of the sentences. So you've got 12/8, 6/8 and 9/8. Harmonically this theme is for Zappa standards rather simple. Bars 1-4 are a sequence of triads in G. Bars 5-8 are in F Lydian with sung chords over an F pedal by the bass. While everything has been pretty even so far, the bass is using another subdivision of the 9/8 meter in bar 7 to vary things. Also "Shove it right in", the album track, begins with the theme from "She painted up her face". The section above is from the end, to be heard between 1:45 and 1:56. This part in 9/8. The keys can be indentified as C Lydian for bars 1-4 and A Dorian for bars 5-6. During the last two bars two flutes can be heard playing up and down as harmonic fill in. Their individual notes are very likely improvised and hard to discern from the CD. They are only approached in the transciption for letting the midi file sound similar as on record.

Both the "She painted up her face" sequence and the orchestral "Shove it right in" are collages. This also goes for the included "Lucy's seduction of a bored violinist & postlude" by itself. It's not directly related to the other sections and during the movie it's used as the accompanying music during the credits at the end.

Lucy's seduction of a bored violinist & postlude, 0:19 till 0:36 (midi file).

Lucy's seduction of a bored violinist & postlude, 0:19 till 0:36 (transcription).

Lucy's seduction of a bored violinist & postlude The example above contains the opening bars of one of the sections "Lucy's seduction of a bored violinist & postlude" is made up of. In the liner notes of the "Dance me this" booklet, Todd Yvega explains the idea behind what Zappa called "burglar music": "To explain burglar music requires a little digression - but even this story ties into Frank's appreciation for the sciences (mathematics in this case). We were discussing a musical technique called phasing in which several parts play simultaneously with each looping but with each having a different loop length. Although the individual loops may be relatively short, the piece as a whole doesn't repeat until all the individual looped parts realign in exactly their original orientation. By choosing loop lengths that are relatively prime to each other one can achieve a very long period between exact repetitions (hours, even a day or more)." The example above might be called an easier example of such burglar music. Bars 1-4 show a bass pattern using two alternating meters, 7/8 and 6/8. This pattern last 13/8 in total and keeps being repeated during this block, though with small variations. On top of this a second descant melody starts in bar 5 (staff 1). This melody lasts 24/8 in total, before it gets repeated at the dashed line in bar 8 of my example. Both melodies keep being repeated, so you've got these two melodies in a loop, starting at bar 5. It can be calculated when they return in exactly this position: after 13 times playing the descant theme or 24 times the bass figure. Mathematically the equation is 13*(24/8)=336/8=24*(13/8). The descant theme lasts about 7 seconds, being played six times between 0:27 and 1:08, not enough times to get a complete "burglar music" cyclus.
The descant theme is played over evenly sustained harmony notes, letting the orchestra sound like bagpipe players. Staves 2-4 of bars 6-10 are filling in the harmony with other floating notes and arpeggios. The music is diatonic, but not following a standard scale. It starts as C Dorian with an E flat, but its tail is from C major. The Eb only shows up at the beginning of this block in bars 3 and 5, so for the remainder it sounds as major. Above to the right string players from the orchestra during this section, one of several sections from the movie with colour effects.

In 2023 I came across "Shove it right in" being auctioned as a seperate book, to be used for shooting "200 Motels". Five sample pages were shown. Page 1 shows Janet and Pamela having a conversation in a set referred to as the girls' rooms, a scene that wasn't actually shot. The music begins as the "Shove it right in" movement from The Suites does, namely with several sustained notes (on the 1971 album it became "Janet's big dance number"). The tempo is slow. When it would have been used for the intended movie scene it apparently should have been played thus slow that Janet and Pamela were able to speak a sentence per bar.

Shove it right in, Movie score, page 4 (midi file).

Shove it right in, Movie score, page 1 (score).
Shove it right in, Movie score, page 4 (score).

The first page corresponds with 0:00-0:12 of this movement on the "200 Motels, The Suites" CD. Page 4 with 0:36-0:48. This last page 4 overlaps with the last three bars from the "Janet's big dance number" example from above, that I tried to transcribe from the CDs in 2019. On page 18 we're getting at section III, referred to as "She laughed in his face". This line is present during "Half a dozen provocative squats" on the album, but here the context is different. It begins with the orchestra playing in full without the percussion section. Like other examples this is a conductor's score, so the Eb and Bb clarinets aren't to be transposed (the guitar line, doubling the Eb clarinet part, confirms this).

Shove it right in, Movie score, page 18 (midi file).

Shove it right in, Movie score, page 18 (score).

I'm not recognizing this page 18 on the albums, so, if I'm not mistaken, it got skipped. It has its tempo indicated as 116 quarter notes per minute, so it last about 8 seconds. See below at the 50th anniversary edition section for some more examples that got skipped.

Shove it right in, Movie score, page 35 (midi file).

Shove it right in, Movie score, page 35 (score).

This last example can be heard towards the end, 6:45-6:59 on "200 Motels, The suites". A little change has been made upon the "all horns" staff: the horns are playing a G natural instead of a G sharp, like the "all trombones" line. So this dissonance was taken away in the score used for The suites, which I'm also doing in the midi file. Rhythmic "dissonance" can be seen in the second bar by playing 5 against 6 (this page has no bar numbering in its head). At the end of the third bar a little pause got added at the point of the two slashes. The fourth bar and the seguing bar contain a chord progression:

LocationSustained chord #1Sustained chord #2Chord on topMelodic notes
Bar 4, tick 1D#-E-BD#-E-G#
Bar 4, tick 2D#-E-BD-Eb-G
Bar 4, beat 2D#-E-BF-Gb-Bb
Bar 4, final tickD#-E-BEb-Fb-Ab
Bar 5Eb-Fb-AbEb-G-AbG and F

Figures like this appear a few times during this composition. I've tried to include the chord following upon the fourth bar in the midi file as bar 5. As I'm hearing it, this chord contains the notes Eb-G-Ab, on top of the sustained notes coming from the last 16th tick from the previous bar, in effect adding a G to the harmony. A little ornamentary melody is played over it, beginning with G-F-G-F.

The Philharmonie de Paris performing "Shove it right in" in 2018 at Strasbourg.

Disc II tracks 1-3: Stealing the towels, Dental hygiene dilemma and Does this kind of life look interesting to you? - Suites mvt. 10: I'm stealing the room

Both movements 10 and 11 from the suites are a couple of individual tracks from the 1971 album grouped, rather than that the album tracks are subdivisions of one piece. In this case:

A) "I'm stealing the towels".

"I'm stealing the towels" is written for an orchestra with choir. It's rather wild atonal music with varying meters. Much of it is instrumental. The mix isn't bright enough to get to a certain transcription regarding the harmonies. Because of this I can't comment upon the chords being used, but their variation and atonality can be clear.

I'm stealing the towels, 0:38-0:56 (midi file).

I'm stealing the towels, 0:38-0:56 (transcription).

The example above gives some idea of the character of this piece:
- Bar 1 is in 3/4 using subsequently a sixtuplet, a quintuplet and a normal beat with four 16th notes. In 2018 I notated this bar as in 14/16 with a ritardando effect taking place. At first I thought there was a version difference between the album and the chorus presentation. Bars 1-28 from the chorus sheet are only present to let the chorus know the outlines of what's going on before they have to enter, mostly empty bars with their meters. So in 2018, when I set up this example, I didn't have enough clues to compare the full score and the example above, transcribed from the 1971 album. In 2021, however, the ZFT released "200 Motels, 50th anniversary edition" in the shape of a book. At the end of this book you can now see bars 19-21 from the chorus part filled in in full as Zappa had written it for three pianos and two percussion instruments. My bar 1 corresponds with bar 21 and it turns out Zappa notated this differently, making it correspond neatly with the chorus version. There are 15 notes in this bar instead of 14, with the first one coming over with a bow from the previous bar. A drumbeat opens this bar while I interpreted this drumbeat as still belonging to the previous one. The ritardando effect is achieved via changing irregular groupings. With this tempo the difference is small, but Zappa notated it more precisely this way.
- Bars 2-5 contain a figure in 11/16, being played four times. Next to the atonal chord progression by the descant instruments, a counterpoint bass movement can be heard. Now these bars do correspond with bars 22-5 from the chorus sheet below.
- Bar 6 in 6/16 is made up of two little figures lasting 3/16 each.
- So far the music has been played by pianos, a wind instrument and the percussion section. In bar 7 toms and gongs turn up, while towards the end of this piece the strings and brass section enter the picture. So "I'm stealing the towels" begins chamber-music-like, but ends orchestrally. Yet again the meter changed to a bar lasting 2/4 (one might also choose for 4/8 or 8/16).
- Bars 8-9 feature the choir, singing in 4/4. They are singing "200 motels" three times, harmonized differently, while the Jeff figure joins in saying "I'm stealing the towels". The example from above contains the first harmonization. You've got an individual alt and soprano in the foreground (staff 1). The remainder of the choir is singing in the background. Straight from CD it's very difficult to exactly hear what notes they are singing, so I've put their part in staff 2 between brackets. It corresponds with bars 29-30 from the chorus part below, the way it was handed over to the choir. Because of the persistence of version differences, I'm trying to transcribe such bars from the album nevertheless.

Page 1 of the chorus part in the handwriting of a copyist.

Head of bars 1-3 with piano and percussion staves (original score in Zappa's handwriting).

I'm stealing the room, bars 33-37 (midi file).

I'm stealing the room, bars 33-37 (score).

The last three pages of the "200 Motels, 50th anniversary edition" book contain quite some examples from the original handwritten score of "I'm stealing the room". Most of these examples are only partially visable, but bars 33-36 are visable in full and bars 37-40 almost in full. The example above contains bars 33-37 in a reduced form, and without details as the dynamics. These bars can be heard first during "I'm stealing the towels" and return as bars 162-7 from "Does this kind of life look interesting to you?".

B) "Dental hygiene dilemma".

A thumbnail of the orchestra sheet with the first four bars from "Dental hygiene dilemma" can be found in the CD booklet with the 1971 version, next to three other samples. They are small images, barely legible at sight, but their resolution is good enough to follow most of it when you magnify them.

Dental hygiene dilemma (album version), opening bars (midi file).

Dental hygiene dilemma, opening bars (transcription).

The album version is not bright enough to be positive about every note in the transcription above. Still it can be observed that, again due to the limited rehearsal time, concessions to the score were made:
- Bars 1: Opening motif. This motif by itself could be interpreted as diatonic, if it weren't for the other parts visible in the score. The whole is atonal. The score starts on A and the transcription on Bb, so the track must have been sped up. The Jeff character sings along with the line for the cellos instead of using spoken language, as prescribed in the score. This is another change that must have been made on the spot.
- Bar 2: Strings of 16th notes, in the shape of quintuplets. Zappa scored this out in detail for a celeste, piano and harp. All three are playing up- and downwards, but not in the same manner. On album this got simplified. It looks like an improvised bar with only the rhythm maintained.
- Bars 3-4: Second motif, played twice. Also here the score seems to be played with some liberty.
- Dental hygiene dilemma Spoken block without a meter. To the right a screenshot of the cartoon figure Jeff with Donavan appearing on his TV during this spoken block.
- Bar 5: Variation upon the opening motif. This time the other parts from the score are better audible, making the atonal character of the composition coming out better.
The "200 Motels" scores need a better recording than the 1971 album. The three more recent performances of "200 Motels, the suites", have ultimately lead to a double CD with the L.A. Philharmonic (released in November 2015). It's recorded under better conditions, regarding accuracy but mostly regarding sound quality. In 1971 Zappa wanted the project to succeed one way or the other, so a lot of concessions were made, both to the music and the number of scenes that could be filmed. He also had to deal with extra problems that arose during the shooting of the film. The script deals with all kind of subjects about a band on the road, directly derived from Zappa's own experience. One scene is about the aspirations of bass player Jeff Simmons to start a band of his own. Zappa knew this was on his mind, but it became very real when Jeff Simmons actually did what the song is about: he left the group right before the filming would start. So Zappa had to find another bass player in a rush and for the film this Jeff Simmons scene got replaced by a cartoon episode.

C) "Does this kind of life look interesting to you?"

A thumbnail of the coda is included in the CD booklet of the 1971 version. It's also included as a bonus track in the "Greggery peccary & other persuasions" CD by the Ensemble Modern from 2003. This piece is made up of three blocks:
- 0:00 "Does this kind of life look interesting to you?": spoken text over an elaborate vamp.
- 0:42 "200 Motels": variations upon the material from "I'm stealing the towels" (see above).
- 1:13 "I'm stealing the room": this part is what Zappa refers to as the coda. Since it takes up half of this piece, it must be the coda of the Suites, mvt. 10, rather than this track alone. Because the suites version didn't exist on record yet, Zappa had no alternative for calling it the coda of "Does this kind of life look interesting to you?" in the CD booklet. The three bars from the booklet are played between 1:13 and 1:24.
- 2:59 End.

Does this kind of life look interesting to you?, bars 1-3 of the coda (midi file).

Does this kind of life look interesting to you?, bars 1-3 of the coda (magnified thumbnail).

The "200 Motels" score isn't available for the public, but these thumbnails, the Songbook examples and the circulating copies give a good idea of how Zappa composed on paper. His written scores can be pretty dense and detailed, possibly too demanding. In this case the rhythm of the parts overlaps, but their lines are mostly different. You're getting at dense atonal harmonies. See also the opening from "Mo 'n Herb's vacation" and the first "The perfect stranger" example from this study for other instances of such dense harmonies. Bar three, with its piano arpeggios, begins with a very broad dissonant cluster. The recording of this track is not bright enough for a good transcription from record, nor is this (magnified) thumbnail entirely legible. Things you can notice:
- The score is generally followed, but much of the details are skipped. The track also got sped up.
- The last eighth note of "room" in bar 1 got extended to a quarter note, before bar 2 sets in.
- The first of the four dissonant chords by the brass in bar 2 got cancelled.
- The text for the Jeff figure has no prescribed pitches, but the sopranos do have them. On the album these sopranos are hardly audible, but the Jeff figure is screaming his line loudly with some very high notes.

Disc II track 4: Daddy, daddy, daddy

An accessible pop song. In content it's related to the "Do you like me new car" song from "Fillmore East, June 1971". Its general outlines:
- 0:00 intro in F# Mixolydian.
- 0:16 theme 1, continuing in F# Mixolydian.

Daddy, daddy, daddy, 0:05-0:20 (midi file).

Daddy, daddy, daddy, 0:05-0:20 (transcription).

- 0:31 theme 2 in C# Mixolydian.
- 0:53 theme 1.
- 1:20 theme 3, the "if his dick is a monster" theme, ending with a chord sequence from "Do you like my new car?", as included in the example from the Fillmore East section of this study (bars 6-9).
- 1:36 themes 1 and 2 alternating.
- 2:28 outro as a variation upon the intro.
- 3:11 end.

Disc II track 5: Penis dimension - Suites mvt. 12: Penis dimension

"Penis dimension" is today available in a couple of appearances:
1) The handwritten orchestra score. As you can see, someone other than Zappa has written "concert score" in the above left corner, to avoid the question if for instance the Bb clarinet should be transposed or not. As a concert score it's notated as an untransposed clarinet. You can be positive about this by comparing it to the Songbook (see below). As far as I've seen, Zappa's orchestral scores are mostly notated as concert scores. I can't tell for sure if Zappa used transposed scores in other situations. The Songbook knows two versions of the opening from "Music for low-budget orchestra", one with a Bb clarinet melody as concert score, in combination with a piano part, and one with the Bb clarinet part transposed. "Get whitey" gets transposed too.
This total score contains 196 bars, of which I only got five sample pages, among them the two ending pages with a coda. Four are from an auctioned score, with page 1 presented below. One is publicly available via the CD booklet, being page 6, though only as a thumbnail image. This coda hasn't yet been performed. See the "Penis dimension" paragraph from the just another band from L.A. section of this study for the content of this coda. Possibly there's more unreleased music to it. The example below contains:
- Bar 1-2: the song starts as if in C, the meter being 3/4 with standard on beat notes. The Songbook describes it as a modest waltz and Zappa indicates moderato in the score. Upon C-G (sustained) the following chords are played: Gadd2, Amadd2 and Gadd2.
- Bar 3-4: modulation to C Dorian. Bar 4 has the Cm7add4 chord as total harmony (or Cm11, no 9th). Bar 5 is in parallel octaves with a rhythmically articulated figure using triplets.
- Bars 5-9 are a variation upon bars 1-4. Bar 5 is a literal repetition of bar 1. Bars 6 and 7 are harmonically different, using Db13 (following Db Lydian without the C) and a chromatic chord upon Gb (Gb,A,C,Eb,F). On beat 3 of bar 7 the piccolo part is a chromatic series of stacked fifths, while the trumpets/VC/CB play Dbmaj7+5. Bars 8-9 aren't shown below. They go like bar 4, largely the same regarding the rhythm, but somewhat different regarding intervals. While bars 1-6 could at least to a point be called diatonic, in bar 7 the atmosphere becomes chromatic. During the next bars 10-15 it's all atonal. See the Penis dimension paragraph from the previous section for these last bars.
2) The performance as included in "200 Motels". As it turned out later, with parts being skipped. Regarding structure, it is following the Songbook.
3) The version from "The suites" lasts the longest on CDs. Compared with the "200 Motels" edition, it has additional texts and material from "Bwana Dik" added to it. But, as said, it's without the coda.

Bars 1-7 from the orchestra score in Zappa's handwriting as auctioned at Heritage Auctions.

4) A piano reduction of the score of "Penis dimension" is included in the Frank Zappa songbook vol. I. The 196 bars from the handwritten score by far exceed the number of 77 bars from the Songbook. See the previous Just another band from L.A. section for bars 1-23 as taken over from the Songbook. That section is about sequences, where it is presented as an example of an atonal sequence. When you compare the Songbook with the original score, it comes out that it's not only reduced. A number of harmony notes are skipped to ease a performance on piano. The piccolos and trumpets parts of bar 6 got left out altogether. The Songbook is authorized, so these version differences should be taken into consideration. It complicates things for when you would be studying the harmonies of "Penis dimension".
5) The 1972 big band performance as on "Wazoo". The "Wazoo" booklet contains an image of the score collection the band used, including "Penis dimension". The Wazoo band was relatively big, but much smaller than the number of players of the orchestra Zappa had in mind when writing the above score. For the 1972 band he wrote out everything (see the next sections for examples). So there must be a second handwritten score by Zappa himself, like the Songbook version being reduced.
6) The rock-band version as to be found on "Zappa in New York Deluxe".

Above a sample page of the script, dealing with scene 88, the "wheel of fortune" event. In 1971 much of the script and score couldn't actually get filmed and recorded. "200 Motels, the suites" gave a re-birth to many earlier unreleased sections, but still not all. The mentioned "Penis dimension" coda and the earliest version of "Naval aviation in art", called "Jeff and Don" aren't fully available. See the Perfect stranger section of this study for a sample of the latter composition. It would also be very welcome if the ZFT ever decided to publish the entire script for "200 Motels", in order to get an idea of how it was contemplated when everything could have been shot.

Disc II track 6: What will this evening bring me this morning - What will this morning bring me this evening

Another pop song from the 1971 album. I'm dealing with "What will this evening bring me this morning" in the counterpoint part 1 section from this study. It's an example of Zappa applying classical counterpoint, here in the shape of a canon. It's also an example of a Zappa song with an explicit emotional recognizability. Its lyrics could only be related to when you're a famous rock artist, but otherwise it's much exhilarant. In some cases one might wonder what could have happened to Zappa songs if the lyrics would have better appealed to the general public. I'm addressing myself to this matter as well in case of "Bobby Brown" (see the Does humor belong to music section).
As said above the ZFT has released "200 Motels, 50th anniversary edition" in 2021, a box with material that could be found in the vault surrounding the "200 Motels" recordings. Among others rock band demo recordings from 1970 are included, indicating that the so-called groupie opera was intended to be the center piece of the movie. Because of the limited shooting time, Zappa concentrated on filming the scenes that included the orchestra. The rock band parts could be recorded on other occasions as well, and the groupie opera indeed became available as the "Fillmore East" album, even reaching the market earlier as "200 Motels", though recorded later.

What will this morning bring me this evening, section (midi file).

What will this morning bring me this evening, section (transcription).

"What will this morning bring me this evening" is a variant of "What will this evening bring me this morning". It stems from the demo sessions and can be heard partially during the movie, but not on the album. Both songs start in a similar way. Their second halves, however, are completely different. The example above is transcribed from track 11 of disc 2 of "200 Motels, 50th anniversary edition". It can be heard between 0:48 and 1:23. Bar 1 is a transitory bar. Next this example continues with music specific for "What will this morning bring me this evening". Bars 2-7 are in E Mixolydian and know a couple of meter changes. Notable is the odd subdivision of bars 3 and 6, that is speech-influenced. Bars 8-9 are the next theme, based upon a progression of two alternating minor chords, C#m and Am#7, not belonging to one specific scale. "What will this morning bring me this evening" ends with mentioning some specific locations where band members could meet women. Among them Paradiso in Amsterdam (photo to the right, on the CD referred to as Paradisio). Paradiso is a small but beautiful concert hall in the centre of Amsterdam. Its reputation is such that also some of the bigger acts sometimes choose to perform there, as the Rolling Stones did for their "Totally stripped" album.

Speech-influenced rhythms from "What will this morning bring me this evening". Other examples from this study can for instance be found in "Drowning witch", "Wild love" and "I have been in you". On paper such rhythms may look odd, but when you play it like this with the lyrics in mind, it sounds perfectly natural.

Disc II tracks 7-14: A nun suit through Courduroy ponce - Suites mvt. 9: The pleated gazelle

Next is an example of an atonal score for choir for "200 Motels", called "A nun suit painted on some old boxes". It's one of the three "200 Motels" scores that got published in the Songbook. First below is the album version, that goes differently from the original handwritten version of the Songbook (secondly below). Zappa could change his scores during rehearsals, as he himself expressed it, "anytime anyplace anyway for no reason at all". The other reason it got changed upon is in all probability the limited rehearsal time. The most notable differences are the absence of various harmony notes and the original sextuplet, that now gets spread out over two bars.

A nun suit painted on some old boxes (album version), opening (midi file).
A nun suit painted on some old boxes (Songbook version), opening (midi file).

A nun suit painted on some old boxes, opening (score/transcription).

"Nun suit" is part of a series of compositions for choir and orchestra to be found on what used to be side four of the original double album. The series is titled "The pleated gazelle" (above are two sample images of an auctioned copy). Among others it includes the 1971 album tracks:
- "A nun suit painted on some old boxes".
- "Motorhead's midnight ranch".
- "Dew on the newts we got".
- "The lad searches the night for his newts".
- "The girl wants to fix him some broth".
- "The girl's dream".
- "Little green scratchy sweaters & courduroy ponce".
This album sequence is different from the suites version and a pop song, called "Magic fingers", got added to it (see below at track 20). "The pleated gazelle" from the suites has a lot more to it. About ten of the 21 minutes aren't on the album. Among the sections unavailable on the 1971 album is the whole opening block of seven minutes.

The pleated gazelle (1971 score/the suites), bars 1-7 (midi file).
The pleated gazelle (the suites), bars 1-7 (midi file).

The pleated gazelle, bars 1-7 (score/transcription).
The pleated gazelle, bars 1-4 (transcription).

This opening block is made up of a series of atonal miniatures, with a narrator telling a story either along with it, or between the miniatures. It is one of the rare occasions where the I-figure is not Zappa impersonating somebody. It is actually is about the real himself, starting to write music after a concert. Bars 1-4 are the first miniature. It is played over an A pedal with four repeated piano chords per bar. The chords for the string section are dense and clustered. The violincelli part gets spread out over twelve individual players. The first six are playing pizzicato notes. Chords of three notes at first and a second cluster at the end in bar 4. The first six (staves 8-9) are playing a clustered block of stacked minor seconds. The violas get divided into four groups and the violins into eight. The whole becomes a torpid atonal mass of notes. It can be easily seen in the score how the components of this mass are moving up and down via mostly triplets. Above, with the "Can I help you with this dummy?" example, I've shown that the suites are a revised version of the 1971 score, at least for some of its movements. In this case the revision meant a strong reduction of the notes to be played. A few ornamental notes got added as well. The majority however got skipped and as a consequence the character of these bars changed drastically. Instead of featuring dissonant clusters we're getting at a light transparent miniature, where during bars 1-4 the spoken text stand central. Zappa notates these spoken lyrics as plain text within the bars the words get pronounced, or - when there is no accompaniment - in an empty bar or space behind a bar. I've written out the pitches and rhythm from the suites version to be able to include it in the midi file. With bars 5-7 the next atonal miniature starts. It features a series of piano chords played over sustained notes by the string section. The sample pages I encountered on internet included bars 1-4 and bars 27-40, so I can't tell if there are differences between the 1971 and the suites version for these bars. Bars 27-40 are again atonal miniatures and yet again stylistically much different from the previous example. It features a difficult soprano part with the chorus snapping their fingers as well as chords and counterpoint lines by a few instruments. Thus not as dense as bars 1-4. It gets interrupted twice by the narrator telling his story unaccompanied.

The lad searches the night for his newts "The pleated gazelle" is a collage piece, mostly made up of atonal music for chamber orchestra and choir. It has a little story to it about a girl falling in love with a newt rancher, having to cope with has affection for his vacuum cleaner. It's being explained by a narrator. The fact that Zappa could record and film far from all he had planned went to the detriment of the coherence of the movie. This specifically goes for "The pleated gazelle", a series of scenes by itself, not particulary related to the remainder of the movie. Above and to the left you can see that this composition had a score of its own, thus not incorporated into the two "200 Motels" volumes of the conductor score (see the bottom of this section). "The lad searches the night for his newts" carries section letter J, while section J from "200 Motels" is part of "Centerville" (see above). The vacuum cleaner and newts were also puppet characters played by actors during the movie, so something had to be done with it, but the plot of the story went lost. The here reproduced sample image from "The lad searches the night for his newts" is the narrator part, indicating when to pronounce his spoken line in a 4/4 environment. Otherwise the narrator isn't involved in this track.

Motorheads midnight ranch, 0:25-0:37 (midi file).
Dew on the newts we got, 0:33-0:44 (midi file).
The lad searches the night for his newts, 0:17-0:28 (midi file).

Motorheads midnight ranch, 0:25-0:37 (transcription).
Dew on the newts we got, 0:33-0:44 (transcription).
The lad searches the night for his newts, 0:17-0:28 (transcription).

The tracks on the "200 Motels" CD are outtakes in a following order different from the piece as a whole, as played on "The suites". The first example from above is a section from "Motorheads midnight ranch", where you can hear the brass section play counterpoint figures during bars 1-4. During bars 5-6 the strings join in, staves 1-2. The meters are my notational choice. It may very well be that the original score uses different meters. The second little example from above is a fragment from "Dew on the newts we got". It contains four bars for the soprano section of the choir, with some instrumental accompaniment and, if I'm hearing it correctly, one or a few notes by the tenors. It's transcribed from the "200 Motels" CD. It has different meters, following the lengths of the sentences. The last bar in 11/8, ending with sustained notes, may very well have been notated differently in the original score. The third one contains some 10 seconds from "The lad searches the night for his newts", the parts where two flutes are playing a high sustained dissonant. Not all elements can be transcribed with certainty, to a degree it remains an approximation. All three compositions are smaller outtakes from "The pleated gazelle", freely composed miniatures for depicting scenes from the movie. "Motorheads midnight ranch" and "The lad searches the night for his newts" are clearly atonal. In "Dew on the newts we got" diatonic material can be detected, though in a rather fragmented way.

The girl wants to fix him some broth, 0:50-0:58 (midi file.

The girl wants to fix him some broth, 0:50-0:58 (transcription).

Bars 1-3 from the "The girl wants to fix him some broth" fragment from above might also be called diatonic. It could be identified as E Dorian of major (the G/G# isn't involved). Next it gets chromatic, using a series chords. Over the last sustained chords additional lines are played on the piano and improvised by the soprano (in the original score probably notated as a dashed flur).

Sample from the "Pleated gazelle" score, as auctioned at It can be heard on "The suites" CD between 12:18 and 12:36. The left page is the end of "The lad searches the night for his newts" section with arpeggio chords and 16-nd note strings for the pianos in 3/4 (The suites version). The right page is the opening of the "The girl's dream" block, with the narrator saying "The girl wants to fix him some broth". The image is too small to make it legible. What you can recognize is that, next to the narrator, there are chorus parts (skipped on the CDs, both the 1971 and 2015 issues) and percussion instruments playing 11-tuplets over 3/4. On the 1971 CD this is a separate track, called "The girl wants to fix him some broth". It gets followed by the "tinsel cock" part on the next page.

The next example contains the five final bars from "The girl's dream" and the first five bars from "Little green scratchy sweaters". Both pieces are atonal. Regarding their compositional style these two sections are opposites. "The girl's dream" ends deliberately irregular. It contains spoken parts, sung parts, high whistling, a guitar chord and four bassoon parts. These bassoon parts follow their own lines. They have some regularity by themselves, but these parts as a group are melodically and rhythmically unrelated. Zappa specifically wrote it in a manner that the rhythms don't coincide, creating some sort of a deliberate cacophony. Such examples are rare (bar 97 from "The girl in the magnesium dress" is another example in this study). To play it literally in this manner would have cost rehearsal time. On album we have yet another example how the scores were changed during the recording sessions, in this case rather drastically:
- All four bassoon parts got skipped. They are replaced by improvised notes by two bassoons, a flute and one of the guitars.
- The soprano does not follow the prescribed melody literally, but is improvising as well.
- The chorus in bar 4 only follows the prescribed rhythm, not the pitches.

The girl's dream - Little green scratchy sweaters (album version), transition (midi file).
The girl's dream (Songbook version), end (midi file).

The girl's dream, end (transcription/score).
Little green scratchy sweaters & courduroy ponce, opening (score).

"Little green scratchy sweaters & courduroy ponce" segues upon "The girl's dream" in a much different style. The example above shows the start of this piece in 3/4, after which it continues in 5/8. The irregularity of the "The girl's dream" is gone: both the chorus and the instrumental parts neatly complement the soprano lead melody with harmonies, while all parts are basically following the same rhythm. Strong dissonances are avoided. The score and the album version are mostly the same, though some notes aren't clearly audible. The main difference must have been made by Zappa himself on the spot, namely the rhythm of bar 4. Performing difficulties can't have been the reason. Bar 4, as prescribed, is easy to perform, and the album version is a little more complicated. The example above contains the first three phrases of the soprano part:

Bars 1-2: phrase 1. The chorus sings Cmaj7 (no 3rd) all through bar 1, followed by Ab-Eb-D (Ab 11th) in bar 2. The trumpets accompany the soprano lead melody via parallel thirds, of which the higher note is identical to the sung melody.
Bars 3-4: phrase 2, a variation upon phrase 1. Phrase 1 gets reiterated a minor second lower. The rhythm goes much different. Compared to bar 2, two extra notes are added in in bar 4, before the soprano gets at E. The chorus sings Bm#7 in bar 3 and the trumpets are playing parallel thirds again. The combination of the soprano and harmony notes in bar 4 is such, that it's largely consonant. Only one major 7th interval, D-C#, causes some sharper dissonance. For the rhythm of bar 4 Zappa decided for an acceleration: a normal eight note got replaced by an eight note in triplet time. The bar in total lasts about an eight note longer because there is some pausing at the end. See the "This town is a sealed tuna sandwich" example from the Orchestral favorites section for another example of changes, that probably were also made on the spot.
Bars 5-6: phrase 3, a character variation: only the upward going chromatic line resembles the previous two phrases. Again there are no dissonances till we get at the final chord. In this last chord we get at two minor seconds dissonances between the parts: F-F# and A-A#.

Disc II track 15: Strictly genteel (the finale) - Suites mvt. 13: Strictly genteel

This finale for "200 Motels" is the part Zappa returned to the most. Not only does it re-appear on Studio Tan and the L.S.O. CDs for orchestra only, two live versions by his rock band can be found on "YCDTOSA vol. VI" and "Make a jazz noise here". In this study I've included five examples from "Strictly genteel" in the London Symphony Orchestra section. The "200 Motels" version of "Strictly genteel" is much more extensive than the later versions:
- 0:00 Spoken intro.
- 0:30 "Strictly genteel" as played on for instance the L.S.O., here with lyrics (orchestra and choir).
The score sample from the CD booklet can be heard between 1:58 and 2:06, at this point referred to as the "Every poor soul who's adrift in the storm" part from the finale. A reduction of it is included in the Orchestral favorites section of this study.
- 6:20 "We're gonna clear out the studio ...", rock music by the band.
- 9:53 "He's making me do this ...", an atonal cacophony as outro.
- 11:10 End.

Strictly genteel

Bars 1-4 from "Strictly genteel" in Zappa's 1971 handwriting, calling it a funky waltz.

The set for the chorus with the Finale/Strictly genteel to the left (handwriting of a copyist).

Disc II tracks 16-20: Promotional radio-spots and Magic fingers

Magic fingers As a United Artists production, the "200 Motels" album wasn't part of the agreement Zappa reached with Warner Bros. in 1982. At that time the album was still available, but the latest pressings had become terrible. It took a while to get "200 Motels" re-released on CD. As a bonus for the re-release four promotional radio spots and the single edit of "Magic fingers" got added. To the right Zappa playing his guitar solo during this song. His own part during the film is limited, being some cameo appearances as musician and director. The Zappa character from the script, all parts with texts, were played by Ringo Starr, dressed up as Zappa. The overall set-up of "Magic fingers":
0:00 Main body with two alternating themes.
1:22 Guitar solo in A Dorian over an A pedal note.
2:19 Interlude.
2:30 Coda with a repeated third theme.
2:53 Surrealistic epilogue with sexual fantasies (track 8), left out on the single edit (track 20).
3:52 End.

Magic fingers, 0:13-0:34 (midi file).

Magic fingers, 0:13-0:34 (transcription).

The example above contains the two central themes:
- Bars 1-4: phrase one of theme one with a chord progression, being I 7th-III-II in A Dorian. In bar 1 the additional D extends the first chord to I 11th.
- Bars 5-8: phrase two, a diatonic sequence. Its motif is a group of four notes, turning up four times. The sequence takes the second note of a motif as the starting point for the next motif. The sequence neatly alternates major seconds and minor thirds. In this case this can be done in total within the Dorian scale, thus without touching upon other scales.
- Bars 9-13: phrase one of theme two. Everybody is singing and playing parallel with some chromatic passing notes turning up. Till bar 11 the rhythm is very even with strings of eighth notes standing central. Zappa craving for rhythmic variation gets commented upon in the Roxy and elsewhere and In New York sections of this study. One would rather think of an example with wild irregular groupings to demonstrate this, as they indeed occur in his music. Flipside of this search for variation is that it also comprehends doing what's perfectly normal or even simple, like the even ticking of eighth notes. At bar 12 you're getting at notes between beats.
- Bars 14-15: phrase two, a mini guitar solo of three bars over an A pedal note.

200 Motels, the SuitesIn pop music people focus on the currently popular artists and the attention Zappa is getting is a bit waning. Classical music is for posterity and it's good to see that from this angle Zappa keeps being performed. I think his best chances lie in this direction and in my opinion at least part of Zappa's pop albums also deserve to be interpreted as classic, not just in the context of pop music. Pieces as "Drowning witch" and "It must be a camel" are classic in every sense. I also hope the policies of the ZFT become less severe as it comes to conditions for performing Zappa.
To the left a review of "200 Motels, the Suites", showing the ongoing interest in Zappa's (classic) music. It's from the Volkskrant, January 20th 2016, written by Frits van der Waa. I'm including it here, because, as a Dutch newspaper, you're unlikely to find this one on-line, and I like the way it's written: "45 years ago, when he was 30 years of age, Frank Zappa went into a London filmstudio, together with his Mothers of Invention, a complete choir and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. 200 Motels, about a rock band on tour, would become his most ambitious project of his life. The resulting movie was disorderly. The accompanying double album a bit of everything, but with Zappa's mark all over it, him being the master of musical collages. The 200 Motels, the Suites concert version, that was constructed after his death [KS: by FZ himself], got premiered during the Holland Festival 2000. Only some obscure copies of that performance circulate on internet. Now we finally have an official registration, by the Los Angeles Philharmonic with Esa-Pekka Salonen as conductor and a wide range of vocalists. It's not easy music: Zappa let his erratic imagination run free uninhibitedly. This suite version has little to do with pop music, rather with Stravinsky and Varèse, but also these two almost disappear in this exuberant crossroad of changing directions, that's even more also full of cartoon-like monologues and dialogues. The balance of this live-recording isn't ideal. But in between this debris, you'll find diamonds glittering and other exciting material, that didn't make it to the original album. Zappa was a genius, though not always self-critical. It's a pity forever he couldn't continue this intriguing direction his work took because of his early death."


The 2021 ZFT release "200 Motels, 50th anniversary edition" has the shape of a book. In its front and back cover six CDs are included in total. The first three pages show samples from the conductor score, spread out lying over each other. Most pages are only partially visable, but the next three examples are largely completely reproduced.

200 Motels, score

Front pages of the two conductor volumes of the score.

This first example is diatonic. When you take the first sustained D as tonic, the key would be D Lydian. For this example, and the next two, I'm assuming this score is notated as concert score, thus no instrument gets transposed. One might expect these scores to be part of "200 Motels, the suites".

200 Motels score sample #1 (midi file).

200 Motels score sample #1 (score).

Strangely enough I can't locate any of these three examples, so I can't check missing elements. Example #1 might be part of the "Strictly genteel" score. In this example it looks like the cello and contrabass part isn't visable. Very likely they follow the bass trombone and tuba part. It's a good example of Zappa's fondness of larger chords, the overall harmony is D13 with the 7th (C#) missing.
The next example #2 is atonal. The rhythm of all parts goes synchronous. The meter is 3/4 and the subdivision as 16th notes of the first two bars goes as 4+(3+1)+(1+3). The next two bars contain either sustained notes or even 16th notes. It's an example of the dense writing style Zappa used in many pages of the "200 Motels" score.

200 Motels score sample #2 (midi file).

200 Motels score sample #2 (score).

The string sections are playing individual melodic lines. Other parts are mostly doubling one of these lines. The third bar contains a rhythmic figure with, in most instances, the first note of a beat going upwards and the next notes repeating. Nevertheless I don't manage to recognize the block it is coming from, so I can't tell what's in the missing upper staves.
The last example has its first six bars for the string section, not visable but quite obviously because of indications as pizzicato and arco. The keys aren't visable either, but can almost certainly be notated as in my note presentation below the example, that I'm using for the midi files. It's not likely people would notate a B as Cb or an F as E# where there's no reason to do something like that.

200 Motels score sample #3 (midi file).

200 Motels score sample #3 (score).

This last example is also atonal. In this case there is rhythmic divergence, created by applying triplets next to 16th note strings. Most parts are playing parallel, but different notes, thus being a series of dissonant chords.

Halfway the "200 Motels, 50th anniversary edition" book you can find descriptions of sets 1-2 and 5-12, as well as some smaller samples from the script. There's also a CD that relates recordings with scenes numbers, occasionnaly also notated in the score (often not by Zappa himself but crew members). When you're combining all sources you can get at an estimation of how much got recorded and filmed in 1971, I would say about 50% of the score and script. Missing are for instance the groupie opera and some 30 minutes of orchestral music and monologues.

Left: description of sets 7-9 and a corner of the front cover of the script. Right: sample from the script.

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