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

Main menu

THE YELLOW SHARK - EIHN: COUNTERPOINT #2

The yellow shark Zappa's late projects show an increasing counterpoint contribution. The late projects being the three synclavier albums and the successful "The yellow shark" project featuring the Ensemble Modern from 1993. Take for instance the bass line, that plays through most of "G-spot tornado" (better audible on "Jazz from hell" than on the "The yellow shark" version; see also the fragment from the Jazz from hell subpage), the second half of "While you were out II" and sections of "Xmas values" and "Times beach II". To the right the actual fiberglass yellow shark and beneath at the intro the logos of the three concert halls, where the programme was played (Yellow shark booklet). This yellow shark, a gift, stood beneath the TV in the basement of Zappa's house. When members of the ensemble visited Zappa in 1991 to discuss the programme it was decided that this yellow shark should be the emblem and title.

This section works in conjunction with the "Weasels ripped my flesh: counterpoint #1" section, filling in the picture with some examples from Zappa's late works.

1) Classical counterpoint.

An example of the classical use of counterpoint is included in the counterpoint #1 section.

2) Counterpoint including complementary harmony.

In the Orchestral favorites section, I mentioned "Strictly genteel" as a composition where Zappa is applying classical structures. In this case the variations form. A couple of sections from "Strictly genteel" are present in the L.S.O. section. The third counterpart example includes complementary harmonies.

3-4) Counterpoint through multiple layers and counterpoint with shifting harmonies.

9/8 Objects - T'Mershi Duween - What will Rumi do?

See also the counterpoint #1 section. Next are other examples of counterpoint with shifting harmonies, where the melodic lines are playing in a different meters. The first is an exercise for playing 4/4 and 9/8 simultaneously. The drumset plays a steady 4/4 beat, over which the marimba and celli play a 9/8 figure in the same tempo. After a while the flute and clarinet join in with arpeggio figures in 4/4. Brass instruments are playing in triplet time, while Shankar is improvising on violin. Its recording got released in 1999 on the Zappa Family Trust release "Everything is healing nicely", often abbreviated to "EIHN" (see also the Ensemble Modern section of the left menu). "EIHN" knows rehearsal and try-out recordings, next to a lot of improvisations. It wasn't meant for release by Zappa himself, but some of its episodes can be interesting nevertheless. The excerpt below is from the most dense section from "9/8 Objects", when all parts are playing together. The scale is C Phrygian. The chord formed by the 9/8 figure is a fifth plus a diminished fifth on C or Cm7-9 without the 3rd and 7th.
The notation here is done so that it shows the 9/8 over 4/4 effect, otherwise I would have notated 4/4 for all parts and let the 9/8 figure shift through it (like in "Echidna's arf (of you)"). I've chosen to let the 9/8 meter start at the first drum beat of the example, but one might just as well opt for letting the figure start at another point (like the notes that are played first at the beginning).
The first staff is the 9/8 object, the second is Shankar on violin (at first only a vague indication between brackets, because I can't hear this part properly with everyone else playing). The third staff contains arpeggio figures, played by a flute, oboe and a clarinet. The fourth staff is played by the brass. The fifth line is the bass drum beat of the drumset part.

9/8 Objects, section (midi file).
What will Rumi do?, end (midi file).
T'Mershi Duween (1991), section (midi file, tempo change not included).

9/8 Objects, section (transcription).
What will Rumi do?, end (transcription).
T'Mershi Duween (1991), section (notes/transcription).

Rumi Ogawa "What will Rumi do?" is another example of such a 9/8 object over 4/4. Here the 9/8 figure is played by the piano. The composition was made up by Zappa during rehearsals by assigning melody lines to the various sections of the ensemble. It gets build up layer over layer. The fragment from above is from the end, when everybody is playing. It's going from the bottom staff of the transcription playing solo, with every few bars a new bar added bottom up. Rumi, being the percussionist Rumi Ogawa, joins in for the toms part (image of her to the right). At the top the ultimate three-bars closing melody is represented. The piece has premiered on the Ensemble Modern CD called "Greggery Peccary & other persuasions". "What will Rumi do?" is one of the clearest examples of Zappa creating a harmonic field. In the final bars you've got all notes from E Mixolydian mingled, except for the C#. The 9/8 bar forces this field formation upon it explicitly, because, with its unequal length, it very deliberately seeks to form any harmonic combination with the other parts.
On "EIHN" a variant upon "What will Rumi do?" is included in "T'Mershi Duween". This latter piece was part of the 1974 band repertoire, only to appear on CD 15 years later on "YCDTOSA vol. II". Its main melody lasts 23/16 in total. A performing difficulty lays in its reappearance halfway, to be played a tiny bit faster over a 6/4 accompanying figure, thus creating a 23:24 relationship. The transcription above includes some sections from the 1992 "EIHN" version, performed as follows:
A: The 23-tuplet bar in D Dorian, to be played twice.
B: A figure in 10/16, repeated various times and swelling via doubling and parallel playing. It starts just on F sharp and ends as indicated in the transcription, sort of in B minor.
C: After block B has reached its max, the ensemble moves to the "What will Rumi do?" variant, block C. This one also gets build up in layers, the closing melody from the top staff being played only once just at the end. Next most of the C figure goes to mezzo-piano and gets used as a vamp for the returning "T'Mershi Duween" melody. The vamp itself is in E Dorian, the top staff uses the G# from "What will Rumi do?" in E Mixolydian.

5) Free counterpoint movements.

This is a test

"This is a test" was handed over to the Ensemble Modern the first day of rehearsals in 1992 because it's easy to perform and fit for sight reading. Zappa didn't intend this composition to be officially released. It's a relaxed easy going miniature though and its recording also landed on "Everything is healing nicely".

This is a test, bars 1-2 (midi file).
This is a test, bars 9-13 (midi file).

This is a test (transcription).

It's a variation piece, where the theme is presented in the first two bars. Then this melody gets varied upon till the end, leading it through all kind of diatonic scales. The bass part, played by the brass, is blowing chromatic counterpoint notes through it to season it. See below at "Exercise #4" for another example of free counterpoint movements.

Ensemble Modern The 1993 "The yellow shark" CD is a sort of a suite for an ensemble, though not written with that intention, with pieces that are highly diverse in their instrumentation, form and accessibility. The release contains some of Zappa's most difficult music, written for wind sextet and string quintet, as well as easier pieces to listen to like "Outrage at Valdez". Three concerts were held in Germany and Austria. To the right a still from the ZDF TV registration with Zappa and Peter Rundel during applause in front of the Ensemble Modern. On the program were also some rearrangements of earlier pieces. From the counterpoint point of view the final version of "Pound for a brown" (first appearance on the "Uncle Meat" album) is very interesting because of the different sorts of counterpoint in it: motifs played against a melody at the beginning, bass and descant playing against each other in the middle section and repeating melodies at the end going from one melody to two and three part counterpoint in layers.

6) Counterpoint in an atonal field.

See for instance "Times beach II & III" (below), "Gross man" (next section) and "Overture to Uncle Sam". The last composition stems from the ZFT release "Frank Zappa for president". This CD contains another example of atonal counterpoint, called "Medieval ensemble", a rather frenetic example.

1. Intro

The actual concert, as broadcasted on ZDF TV, began with a nine minutes improvisation piece, presented as the "Overture". First the members of the ensemble come on stage improvising. Next Zappa walks on stage, all in black, with taped synclavier music being played. He starts with conducting the ensemble. A mixture of directed improvisations and synclavier outtakes follow. Next Zappa introduces Peter Rundel. The intro from the CD is from another concert, where Zappa is giving the audience a secret word for the evening one more time. It's some conceptual continuity type of fun for the Zappa fans in the audience, because he had done this before during his 1971 tour. The concerts were given on the three locations indicated below, where the three concerts held in Frankfurt were recorded for the CD. Because of his declining health, Zappa couldn't attend the concerts in full.

The yellow shark

2. Dog breath variations

The opening of the "Yellow shark" version of the "Dog breath variations" gets dealt with in the Uncle Meat section of this study, next to earlier versions. The ones included in this study are:
- Uncle Meat (1969): Dog breath (in the year of the plague).
- Uncle Meat (1969): The dog breath variations.
- Just another band from L.A. (1971): Dog breath.
- The dub room special (1974): Dog breath variations.
- The yellow shark (1992): Dog breath variations.
All can be substantially different. Specific for the 1992 version is its intro, with bars in 9/8 and 11/8 alternating.

Dog/Meat

Bars 25-47 from the Oboe part of "Dog/Meat" ("Dog breath" as performed during the years 1972-4).

3. Uncle Meat

Around 1972 Zappa re-arranged "Uncle Meat (1969)" and "The dog breath variations" for his jazz ensemble as "Dog/Meat" (see the image below for a sample). This version was also used for the 1974 execution on "YCDTOSA vol. II" and this performance on "Yellow shark". "Uncle Meat" remains relatively close to the original version from 1969 (see the Uncle Meat section). The main differences are the coda and a different positioning of the accompanying figure for theme 1.

Uncle Meat (1992), 0:00-0:33 (midi file).

Uncle Meat (1992), 0:00-0:33 (transcription).

In the transcription you can see that the woodblocks deviate from the lead melody during theme 2 (bars 17-21). I don't have the original score, so I can't tell for sure if this was prescribed in detail. "Uncle Meat" gets a lot of attention in the Clement study from 2009, that I consider a mix of correct findings and lesser conclusions. See the left menu for this study and my discussion with Brett Clement. Here I'm briefly summarizing things with some additional remarks.
- Like the 1973-74 version, the 1992 version replaces the sustained bass pedal D by a vamping figure on G. Therefore the key changes from D major/Ionian to G Lydian for theme 1. The notes involved in the vamp are G-D-E-A, while the figures from staves 2-3 of my 1969 example touch upon all notes of the Ionian scale except C#. Theme 1 can also be heard in C Mixolydian during the "Uncle Meat variations" from the "Uncle Meat" album (see my Uncle Meat section). Brett calls the later Lydian version a "correction", because that version is much more in line with his theory (preference for Lydian, general avoidance of Ionian, etc.). You can listen to the 1969 and 1992 versions yourself and check if it sounds as a correction. Secondly you might then ask why Zappa didn't "correct" theme 2 from major to Lydian too.
- Brett wrote his Lydian theory in 2009. What he couldn't know at that time is that in 1973 Zappa not only re-arranged "Uncle Meat", but also "Exercise #4". The first minute of "Exercise #4 (1973)" contains variations upon the first theme from "Uncle Meat", utilizing the Mixolydian mode. It first appeared on CD in 2014 with the ZFT release "Road tapes venue#2". It's included in my Uncle Meat section as well. "Honey, don't you want a man like me?" is another example of using different modes for the same song over time (see the YCDTOSA section from this study). In my opinion it has nothing to do with retrospective corrections, looking for the best fitting scale or whatever adjustments. It's just one of many ways of varying the set-up of his compositions.
- Brett noted that there's a strong tendency not to use the Lydian tonic in the melodies played on top of this tonic. In the G Lydian version of theme 1, the melody of theme 1 indeed doesn't contain a G. In his 2009 study he gives no musicological reason why Zappa would do that. He just noticed it and the G Lydian version would be in line with it. According to my findings there's only a weak tendency to do so, thus not strong enough an argument. There may be a relatively lesser occurrence of tonics in melodies not only in Lydian. For matter of completeness I have to mention that in his Response to me he does try to give an explanation. On pages 185-186, he begins with saying: "In Clement 2009, I merely observed the feature of Lydian tonic avoidance, but was at a loss for an explanation. In Clement 2014 (152), I introduced the idea of a "tritone restriction", as well as Lydian properties of consonance and dissonance, that helps explain this factor [etc]." See the Roxy and elsewhere section from this study at "Son of Orange county" for the details.
Classical music is quite persistent regarding the necessity to confirm the tonic with harmonic cadences, especially as it comes to how to close a piece. In Zappa's music such necessities don't exist. You've got pieces like the beginning of "Good Lobna" (see the Trance-fusion section), where the tonic doesn't get confirmed in any manner. Neither melodically by the guitar, nor harmonically by the keyboards. See also Zappa's own comment upon "Heavy duty Judy", that I'm citing in the Shut up 'n play yer guitar section.

Dog/Meat

Bars 73-105 from the Oboe part of "Dog/Meat" ("Uncle Meat" as performed during the years 1972-4).

4. Outrage at Valdez

There are two quite different pieces that Zappa composed as "Outrage at Valdez" on behalf of the Jacques Cousteau documentary with the same title. The second one is only known from a radio broadcast, where it got introduced as "The Valdez score by Frank Zappa". See the previous Documentaries section for examples from both pieces.

5. Times Beach II

The chamber music piece "Times Beach" belongs to Zappa's most inaccessible pieces. Originally this piece was composed as a five-movement quintet. Two movements got re-arranged as a sextet for the "Yellow shark". The members of the Ensemble Modern, who are playing it, first thought of it as just another modern atonal piece, but started to appreciate it in the long run. Straight from record it's difficult to transcribe music like this, specifically because there are little clues in it where to put the meter lines. For both its style and for containing good examples of free atonal counterpoint, I've included two fragments nevertheless. I couldn't get the meter/rhythm notation to a level with sufficient certainty to say anything about the meter and rhythm. Moreover they are existing scores for rent, though not available for the general public. So it's kind of useless to spend much time on transcribing music like this from CD.
The first example below from "Times Beach II" contains two bars from the second movement, that comprehend a flute and a clarinet (untransposed "C-clarinet" notation) playing counterpoint figures. Obviously staves one and two follow their own melodic lines. This fragment is too small to say anything about this movement as a whole, but on a micro-scale you can see that bar 2 is a variation upon the movement from bar 1.

Times Beach II, fragment (midi file).

Times Beach II, fragment (transcription).

Another example from "Times Beach" is included below at track 13, the third movement from this sextet. As a quintet four of its five movements got premiered in 1985 (see the left menu at On the shelves), but not released on CD. So over half of "Times Beach" exists as sheet music only in the archives of the ZFT, not even available for rent.



Sample from the oboe part of the "Times Beach II" score (ZDF broadcast, with the camera briefly focusing on the score in front of the oboe player).

6. III Revised

"III Revised" is a movement from the string quartet "None of the above". See below at track 10 for this composition. Peter Rundel says: "I like this very much. I think it's wild. The thing is, it's one of the few pieces where you don't have the feel of rhythm and timing anymore. Which happens quite seldom in Frank's music. I think "III Revised" is quite radical in that way". It should be noted that the last two synclavier CDs weren't released at that point (see the next two sections), where this effect is sometimes reached as well.

III Revised, bars 1-4 (transcription).

Indeed "III Revised" is beautiful music, but difficult to come to terms with. It begins gently with a few sustained notes coming up (bars 1-4 from above), after which the piece is becoming wilder and wilder. For Zappa standards the pauses in bar 2 are notable. Complete silence is something rare in his music. He preferred an ongoing stream, often even refusing to pause between songs. There are a couple of pieces by Zappa, where transcribing with any certainty about the meters is becoming difficult or even impossible. In this case a Youtube film of Ulrich Pöhl conducting the Ensemble Insomnio came in handy to do a tiny little bit with this composition (image below). Again, as with "The perfect stranger", it's not identical to what the Ensemble Modern is playing on CD. In this case it may very well be the revision from quartet to quintet causing this.

The yellow shark

7. The girl in the magnesium dress

Two smaller examples from the score of "The girl in the magnesium dress" are presented in the Perfect stranger section of this study. It's a synclavier piece, that got reworked upon for a score version. Zappa doubted if it would be fit for human performance. The ensemble persisted in performing it. The piano part, not the full score, got published in the Guitar Player special issue Zappa! of 1992, of which I've also included a sample in the Perfect stranger section.

8. Be-bop tango

The opening of the specific "Yellow shark" version of the "Be-bop tango" is coming by in the Roxy and elsewhere section, where I've included a subsection about Zappa's tangos.



Bars 14-15 from the "Be-bop tango", Ensemble Modern version (reduced). The William Price study contains most bars in a reduced form. See the Roxy section for more. The "Be-bop tango" is an early example, where Zappa is applying irregular rhythmic groupings in a systematic manner.

Versions from the following CDs are present in this study:
- Piquantique (1973, from the Beat the boots series, at that time part of "Farther O'blivion").
- Roxy and elsewhere (1974).
- Zappa in New York Deluxe (1976, as part of a "Purple lagoon" performance).
- The Yellow shark (1992).
The differences between these "Be-bop tango" versions are significant. Peter Rundel comments: "What's new about it, aside from the instrumentation, is a section in the middle where the players sound like jazz musicians doing that jazz talking. Frank told us to imagine we were suddenly sitting in a restaurant, and had to play the (corny cocktail lounge) restaurant piano, with people talking and laughing. It's very funny."

9. Ruth is sleeping

"Ruth is sleeping" is the first composition Zappa started with on the synclavier in 1982-3. Rather than beginning with something easy, he immediately went ahead exploring what a machine could do what would be difficult for humans. At the time it could operate with sampled sounds, he chose it to become a piano movement and started reworking upon the score. Technically the score below can be played on a single piano, but then it would become a circus act. It would mean that you would have to keep two to four balls in the air with each hand. The balls in this case are the four to eight melodic lines, that for performing purposes are divided over two piano parts of two staves. Each staff is doing sometimes one, sometimes two melodic movements. The meter in these opening bars is 3/4 with the melodic lines moving through it irregularly. There are just as much notes on beat, off beat, before beat and after beat. The meter then only serves as a time unit, there is no downbeat. The formation in the first example is such that there about two sequences of two 16th notes per bar, whereas the other sequences are slower. It's going from piano to forte, at the end a bit faster. Here it's completely free atonal music, passing through all registers of a piano.

Ruth is sleeping, opening bars (midi file).

Ruth is sleeping, opening bars (score).

The piece changes in character however frequently. There are for instance sections that sound like a modern jazz improvisation and sections with larger sequences, where melodic motifs are getting varied upon. This is happening for instance during bars 57-65, to be continued in bars 69-72 (1:11-1:27 on the CD). The piece ends with another example of sequences, bars 269-282 (5:15-5:31 on the CD). An example of a recurring motif at different spots are the cells with repeated 16th notes in bars 18, 34-35 and 38. This becomes notable, because repeating notes aren't happening elsewhere in this composition in this manner. The next example are bars 237-245 (4:33-4:44 on the CD). This section might be called an exercise for playing seconds (etude in French). It's made up of two bass lines plus two sustained notes by the descant at first. These two lines are alternating. While one is taking over playing the melody, the other is sustaining its last note. You can see little melodic cells that get varied upon. The mostly used interval is the minor second. Second comes the major second, as in the recurring F-Gb-Ab-F-G natural figure in bars 241-2. Only occasionally other intervals turn up. Bars 237-239 are played in the lower registers of the piano, bars 240-244 in the lowest registers, going down to C1 in bar 243.

Ruth is sleeping, bars 237-245 (midi file).

Ruth is sleeping, bars 237-245 (score).

To the example I've added the intervals between subsequent notes as the number of minor second steps, as well as I've indicated cells with letters:
- a: little Eb-E step. The Eb always lasts a 16th note, while the length of the longer E note varies and the E can get repeated.
- b: a F-Gb figure at first, with varying tails getting added to it during its returns.
- c: plain chromatic movement, downwards or upwards.
- d: figure around E-Eb-E.
- e: two times a cell with a downwards minor second and minor third, beginning on E and B respectively.
- f and g: two more little figures, not directly related to the previous, as a transition to bar 245. With bar 245 the climate changes again to the free atonal music as in the opening bars.

Ruth is sleeping, bars 44-53 (midi file).

Ruth is sleeping, bars 44-53 (score).

During bars 44-45 the piece changes in a second from free atonal music to a brief moment of diatonic music. The harmony of bar 45 sounds surprising. It's the Em7 chord from E Dorian with the descant using this scale as well during bar 45 and the first beat of bar 46. In this example it's mostly the descant from staff 1, that continues playing a lead melody. Here it's done in a quasi-improvised jazz type manner. From the second beat of bar 46 the music is atonal again. While the previous two examples are notated in 3/4, here Zappa is using 9/8 (one time only), as well as 2/4 (as for several blocks). Bars 44-53 correspond with 1:00-1:09 on the CD.

Ruth is sleeping

Sample bars from the printed score. The meter is 2/4.

10. None of the above

None of the above"None of the above" was originally composed as a four-part string quartet for the Kronos Quartet, who premiered this piece in 1985. As in the case of "Times Beach", "None of the above" is available for only two of its movements. Image to the right: Zappa in front of a page from "None of the above" (Yellow shark booklet). Both pieces are still waiting for a complete recording (see also the On the shelves section of the left menu). The corresponding tracks are:
- String quartet mvt. I => "None of the above" for string quintet.
- String quartet mvt. II: exists as sheet music only.
- String quartet mvt. III => "III Revised" for string quintet.
- String quartet mvt. IV: exists as sheet music only.
Related are:
- "Questi cazzi di piccione": another string quintet piece from "The yellow shark", regarding style related to "III Revised".
- "None of the above (revised & previsited)": rehearsal sections from "EIHN", starting with the opening of "III Revised". Next this track continues with string quintet music with additional chamber orchestra embellishments. It sounds like it is recorded in a rather fragmented way with many pauses. The CD liner notes suggest that next to the expansion for string quintet, some sections were also rewritten for string quintet plus chamber orchestra. On Youtube bootleg recordings of the 1985 performance of movements II and IV by the Kronos Quartet can be found.

In 1992 The Ensemble Modern had five string players, the reason why Zappa adapted "None of the above" for a string quintet. It's for two violins, and one viola, violincello and contrabass. The scores of "Times Beach" and "None of the above" are only for rent for ensembles, nor have I found examples elsewhere. It's difficult music to transcribe, because the meters are mostly only functioning as time units. There's a lot of counterpoint happening in "III Revised" and "Questi cazzi di piccione", as well as hocketing. Compared to these two movements and "Times Beach", "None of the above" is much more accessible, even though also this section is all atonal. This is accomplished by the formation of sequences and the more homophonic writing style.

None of the above, section (midi file).

None of the above, section (transcription).

The example above is from the middle part of this piece, where the cello is taking the lead. It's not possible for me to be sure who's playing which note, so I've notated this with three staves corresponding with ranges. One staff for the higher descant notes, one for the alt range and one bass staff. The cello is playing a sequence of mostly downwards moving strings of four notes per bar. The others are complementing the cello part with mostly harmony notes and occasionally some light counterpoint movement. About the whole example, bars 1-11, is played accelerating little by little. If I'm not mistaken, it ends with a sustained chord, preceded by a bar in 9/8. It's a broad chord, containing Gb-C-Ab-E-Eb, spread out over four octaves.



The Kronos quartet rehearsing "None of the above" (still from the Zappa documentary from 2020 by Alex Winter).

11. Pentagon afternoon - Times Beach IV

Ensemble Modern Zappa himself calls "Pentagon afternoon" a tone poem in the CD booklet. The term came in use in the 19th century for works that are trying to depict a story musically, with the titles indicating the subjects. I this case Zappa explains the little story in the CD booklet. The ray guns, he's talking about, can actually be heard on stage during this piece. Peter Rundel says this track is only part of a bigger piece, where they did a lot of work on. Some subdued annoyment about Zappa's decision to eliminate most of it can be detected.

Pentagon afternoon, fragment (midi file).

Pentagon afternoon, fragment (transcription).

The fragment from "Pentagon afternoon" from above is played between 1:46 and 1:58, a passage where the meter can be recognized more easily. It involves the whole ensemble, so some notes might be missing in the transcription. Bars 1-4 are the only episode from this piece with a returning motif, the remainder is through-composed. The example is too small to say anything substantial about the piece as a whole, but you can see that it's of the free atonal kind.

Times Beach IV, bars 1-8 (midi file).



On Youtube I could find mvt. IV from "Times Beach", posted by Derek Pavlic. Some elements from its opening go similar to the section from "Pentagon afternoon" from above. Here you can see the original quintet instrumentation:
- Flute.
- Oboe.
- Clarinet in Bb.
- Horn in F.
- Bassoon.
Most scores by Zappa are concert scores with all parts being untransposed. The Songbook knows one example, the excerpt from Music for low budget orchestra, with a part for Bb clarinet that is transposed. Another example is the Bb clarinet part in his own handwriting, that is included below my "The new brown clouds" example from the Wazoo section. A comparison with the bootleg recording of the 1985 performance by the Aspen Wind Quintet indicates that the page from above is a concert score. So the clarinet and horn parts shouldn't be transposed. On the other hand "Get whitey" does have a Bb clarinet part, that should be transposed. The image above has "Copyright © 1985 Frank Zappa Munchkin Music ASCAP" as a footer, so it looks as the original score itself.
The bootleg recording of the complete 1985 Aspen Wind Quintet performance contains:
- 0:00-3:30 Mvt. I.
- 3:30-9:19 Mvt. II.
- 9:19-13:30 Mvt. III.
- 13:30-21:26 Mvt. IV.
- 21:26-21:38 applause.
The sound quality of the instruments is good (no distortion), though there is much hiss. Movements I and IV are just as good as movements II-III, which makes this situation frustrating. Of movement V no scores or recordings are publicly available whatsoever.

12. Questi cazzi di piccione

"Questi cazzi di piccione" belongs to the abstract atonal works. When rehearsing it the string players conducted themselves, using taps to keep the time. Zappa proposed they should do this on stage too. During the concert you can see that on stage Peter Rundel did conduct, so to a point you could derive the meter by looking at him when he's on camera conducting. Most scores from "The yellow shark" are available for rent at Schott music (image to the left). Hopefully they will get more easily available one day. Transcribing things as "Times beach" or "Mo 'n Herb's vacation" from CD isn't rewarding.
The title is in Italian. Zappa comments: "That means "Those fucking pigeons". If you have ever been to Venice, well, instead of trees, they have pigeons, and pigeon byproducts. Which is probably one of the reasons the city is sinking. The title was an afterthought. There are all these knocking sounds in that piece, and the knocking sounds were an invention of the string players."

13. Times Beach III

The next example stems from the third movement of "Times Beach". It's one of the fast passages in this mostly adagio movement. As mentioned above, I can only approach it straight from CD. So I can't get into details, but it might be clear nevertheless that it's a good example of free atonal counterpoint. See "Igor's boogie", "Greggery Peccary" and "Envelopes" for other such examples in this study. Peter Rundel can occasionally be seen conducting during Times Beach, during mvt. III in a slow tempo (ZDF broadcast). Because of that the fragment below is very likely notated differently in the original score. Probably it's a figure within another meter.

Times Beach III, fragment (midi file, tempo change not included).

Times Beach III, fragment (transcription).

Zappa: ""Times Beach" was commissioned by the Aspen Wind Quintet, and it was in five movements, one of which seemed to be unplayable at the time that they gave their premiere performance in Alice Tulley Hall in 1985. Nobody has played it (in full) since they tried it. The title refers to our special little toxic town-you know, Time's Beach, the dioxin-infested town that was the first major U.S. environmental disaster where they had to remove everybody out because of the dioxin." Peter Rundel, conducting the Ensemble Modern: "We had already prepared other pieces, but we needed something more. The musicians opposed it, but I said maybe we should try that again. Frank said, "Why not, let's do it", and it became very clear how to play it. It had no dynamics, no articulation-just plain notes. Frank sang the phrases for us. Suddenly it became very lively, and the character of the music came out. It was not an abstract kind of music anymore" (CD Booklet).

14. Food gathering in post-industrial America

Hilary Sturt The example below is a section from "Food gathering in post-industrial America", transcribed from the CD. It should be stressed that this is not how the score looks: Zappa never prescribed the rhythm and pitches of spoken texts. For constructing a midi file that goes similar to the CD, I need these details nevertheless. Viola player Hilary Sturt is the narrator during this piece, pronouncing the words with bright pitches, because of which I'm using normal notes instead of crotches. The bars with the ensemble saying "new perfect America" are different. The pitches are randomly chosen, forming clustered chords. I've only notated some notes on behalf of the midi file. The moments when the harp is playing the arpeggios must have been indicated in the score. To the right photos of Hilary Sturt and Ellen Wegner, the harpist of the ensemble (source: CD booklet).

Food gathering in post-industrial America, 0:27-0:59 (midi file).

Food gathering in post-industrial America, 0:27-0:59 (transcription).

Ellen Wegner The figures in the 11/8 bar must have been written out in detail in the score as well. These are musical, without improvisation. It's a rhythmically complicated figure with playing 17 over 11. In its difficulty it can be compared to the 23:24 bar from "T'Mershi Duween" (see above). The upper melody is moving downwards chromatically, played via parallel major thirds. The bottom staff plays a repeating figure against it, lasting 4/8. There are probably more notes for staves three and four, played lightly in the background. I've notated what I can hear. The 11/8 bar can be seen as the main theme from the piece. It returns between 1:19 and 1:38, as well as between 2:12 and 2:37.

15. Welcome to the United States

"Food gathering in post-industrial America" and "Welcome to the United States" have their outlines written out, while the details can be improvised. Because of the cliche type of intro from the second track, I've included two examples from it in the Broadway the hard way section. The first is the fanfare type of opening (not part of the score), the second is the opening from the score itself as reproduced in the CD booklet.

16 Pound for a brown

"Pound for a brown" is the oldest piece from "Yellow shark", dealt with in the Zappa's teens section of this study. He performed it all through his career. It has a main theme, that always has been kept basically the same, followed by a middle block and/or soloing, ending with an optional reprise of the main theme. Specific for the "Yellow shark version" is a very strong, newly arranged middle block. Examples included in this study concern:
- "Pound for a brown": the main theme.
- "The legend of the golden arches": the middle section of this composition when it carried a one-time-only different title. Some of the melodic material from the middle block of this title also returns in the 1992 version.
- "A pound for a brown on the bus": a version with electronically mutated clarinets, playing in very high registers.

17 Exercise #4 (1992)

"Exercise #4" appears three times in the official catalogue. The set-up of the "Yellow shark" version is as follows:
0:00 Theme 1. A melody in G Mixolydian, played via parallel fourths over a repeating chord (Gsus4 add m7).
0:09 Theme 1 gets repeated, transposed a minor second down.
0:00 Theme one on G again. Here my transcription starts. Rhythmically it has the lead melody played as four times 3/16, while the chord is repeated as standard 6/8.
0:18 Counterpoint block. Here it's getting irregular. The homophonic and polyphonic writing styles get mixed and the notes are sometimes forming parts of a diatonic scale, while at other moments it's more atonal. Theme 1 is in 6/8. This section has no clear downbeat pattern. I continued notating in 6/8, but it's possible that Zappa notated this differently. My transcription stops towards the end of this block.
0:29 Theme 2. A motif that gets varied upon. There's a light form of counterpoint included, because the two melodic lines can move into diverging directories.
0:40 Variations upon the earlier counterpoint block.
0:53 Outro with repeating chords.
1:06 Applause.
1:37 End.

Exercise #4, 0:13-0:25 (midi file).

Exercise #4, 0:13-0:25 (transcription).

"Exercise #4" premiered as the intro for the "Uncle Meat variations" from the 1968 "Uncle Meat" CD. On that album only themes 1 and 2 are played, much slower than on the "Yellow shark". "Exercise #4" is not directly related to "Uncle Meat", but stylistically they belong to the same category: modern diatonic music, not using traditional harmony patterns. Interesting is the "Road tapes, venue #2" version with a 1973 performance. This one actually starts with "Uncle Meat" variations - that is variations upon the melodic material from "Uncle Meat". The variations as present in the 1969 "Uncle Meat variations" are basically the theme replayed as a series of different instrumentations. This one features theme 1 from the exercise and has an interlude of its own. I've included part of this section from the 1973 version in the Uncle Meat section of this study.

18. Get whitey

"Get whitey" is an example of a composition where Zappa is using the synclavier for playing extremely difficult irregular rhythmic groupings. The Ensemble Modern succeeded in approaching it. Below are some sample bars from the Bb clarinet part (to be transposed). See the next Civilization phaze III section for examples of the complete score.



Bars 40-41 with 13:8 and 17:3. The meter is 9/4 all through Get whitey.



Bars 60-61 with 11:9 and 7:6.

As far as possible, the notation is done in a way to ease its readability. The 13:8 figure is notated in a way that the eighth note or a quarter note is directly visible as a time unit. But sometimes you have to peer a while at a figure to get its intention. The 17:3 figure is meant as 17 16th notes over 3 quarter notes.



Bars 28-30 with 7:5 and 43:3.

With these last bars you can see that this piece really is a synclavier piece. The septuplet from bar 28 is a normal figure, but 43:3 from bar 30? To see that it fits one has to start counting with a 64th note as time unit ((2*6)+(7*3)+10=43), indeed played over a period of three quarter notes. The odd relationship of 6, 3 and 10 gets in the way of any better readable form. A synclavier might play that perfectly, but humans can only approach something like that. When Zappa did write for humans, as in the "Black page", it features a more normal form of composing with irregular groupings. Still difficult, but doable to play it accurately.

19. G-spot tornado

"G-spot tornedo" is another synclavier composition. This one can be performed by humans without much difficulties. See the Jazz from hell section for two examples. It was performed with dancers on stage. It appears to have become a favorite. In 1992 it was used for an encore.
At the start of 2014, the Ensemble Insomnio managed to get a permission the play the larger part from the Yellow Shark program anew. Below are two photos from their concerts at the Lantaren, Rotterdam, and at the Muziekgebouw Het IJ, Amsterdam (photographer unknown). In 2019 they returned to this project, now playing the entire program. See the Jazz from hell section for a photo of them, playing "G-spot tornado" in Vredenburg, Utrecht, 2019.

Insomnio playing The yellow shark

Other tracks from EIHN

Apart from the intro, all titles from "The yellow shark" know scores. Most are for rent on the list of Munchkin Music at www.zappa.com. "EIHN" is a combination of composed music, themes made up on the spot and improvisations. Some compositions, like "T'Mershi Duween", are also on the Munchkin Music list.

- "Strat Vindaloo": this title features members from the Ensemble Modern, improvising Indian music with Zappa and Shankar. See the previous documentaries section.
- "Amnerika": See the Civilization Phaze III with a vocal version from around 1983.

The left menu of this site has a section with the tracks that have appeared on the three Ensemble Modern CDs with music by Zappa, 42 in total. Many note examples from these pieces are dealt with spread out over this study. In case of their last "Greggery Peccary and other persuasions" CD it concerns the following titles, all of them included in this study:

- Moggio: The man from Utopia section.
- What will Rumi do?: above.
- Night school: Jazz from hell section.
- Revised music for low budget orchestra: Orchestral favorites section.
- The beltway bandits: Jazz from hell section.
- A pig with wings: Civilization part III section.
- Put a motor in yourself: idem.
- Peaches en regalia: Hot rats and Tinsel town rebellion sections.
- Naval aviation in art?: The perfect stranger section.
- The adventures of Greggery Peccary: Orchestral favorites section.
- Does this kind of life look interesting to you? (hidden bonus track): 200 Motels section.

Back to the menu