Sunday, March 15, 2009

Frank Zappa and Alcohol

PART ONE: Zappa Beers A brewing company called Lagunitas started a series of specialty seasonal beers named after early albums of Frank Zappa, each released on the 40th anniversary of the original album. Here's a list of the beers with bits of various reviews I found online:
  • Freak Out! Ale - "a bright copper color with a thick, soapy-foamy head and a very citric hoppy nose." (from
  • Absolutely Free (also called Kill Ugly Radio) - "Very fruity in its aroma, stinking pleasantly of apricot" (from
  • We're Only In It For the Money - "sweet and yeasty with traces of spicy fruit, cinnamon, apples, grapes" (from
  • Lumpy Gravy - "Very rich and robust flavor with hints of smoke. Nutty characteristics linger throughout and bring a nice sweetness" (from
  • Cruisin' With Rueben and the Jets - "Bitter, unsweetened coffee, roasted malt and a little bit of licorice and black pepper [taste]" (from
I never found Zappa beers in my neighborhood legal-drug emporium which is just as well because I don't much like beer. These reviews don't make the beers sound terribly appetizing. But I did want at least one empty Zappa beer bottle as a souvenir. In this quest I was helped by Israel Arrieta, who is a musically-talented beer-brewing Starbucks-managing barrista. He gave me an empty. Here's what it looks like. (Click for closer view.) Frank Zappa Beer - We're Only In It For The Money Recently however, through the really fine blog Kill Ugly Radio, I learned that there will be no more Frank Zappa Beers. Supposedly the reason is that the brewing company, Lagunitas, had "a falling out with the family". Family as in "Frank's heirs." The smart money says that the issue was money, as in "only in it for". 

  PART TWO: Orchestral Alcohol Another alcohol-related news story, about problem drinking in English orchestras, has a Zappa connection. The article in the Guardian is entitled "Drinking problems rife in the great orchestras" Here's a quote:
Bill Kerr, the orchestral organiser of the Musicians' Union, recalled some "regrettable incidents" involving alcohol and musicians. One involved one of the UK's most celebrated opera and ballet orchestras "and its heavy brass section. They should have been sacked really but they would have been very hard to replace," he said.
This reminded me of a Zappa music/alcohol encounter that I witnessed directly in 1984. Frank's music was once performed and recorded by the London Symphony. Afterwards he bitched a lot about how drinking by the orchestra meant that he had gotten performances of lower quality for his money. When this subject came up on a Usenet group I wrote about my memories. This was my very first online contribution ever. The year was 1994. Even now you can read what I wrote back then. The piece is called The True Story of the LSO 

PART THREE: An Alcohol-Free Interview The final section is about Zappa but not about alcohol. Joseph Diaz is a musician and Zappa fan in Barcelona. In the year 2000 he emailed me some questions about my work for Frank and I, having just gotten a laptop, wrote and wrote and wrote. Joseph Diaz, guitarrist Although the answers were originally intended for a fanzine Joseph recently posted my verbiage to his MySpace page, called "J21". Read Part One and then Part Two. You can also read a fascinating interview with my buddy, percussionist Ed Mann and you can listen to some of Joseph's music as well. If you can't be bothered reading the whole thing, the following is a list of Joseph's questions together with very short snippets of my answers (the purple prose) which would actually make some sense in context. J21: What is Music Engraving? DO: I called myself a “computer music engraver” to distinguish what I did from the plate engravers who were rapidly being replaced. I imagined the “real” engravers as little old gnomes sitting in caves that looked exactly like sets for Wagner operas. J21: Steve Vai is one of my favorite guitar players, what are your memories about him? DO: And so ends the story of my relationship with Steve Vai – there isn’t much real information here but I’ve fleshed it out with needless details and other digressions. I hope it held your interest. J21: All the Zappa fans think that the Synclavier is the ultimate instrument, but I think that right now with 10.000$ you can get a digital workstation that does more. What do you think about it? (note: This question was asked 9 years ago) DO: These days [in 2000] that basic 100K$ house costs more like 400.000$. Just imagine what you should be able to do NOW if you put a music system that costs as much as a house on your desk. J21: Did you work on pieces of music for Frank on the Synclavier that are still unreleased? Do you think there’s still good stuff to be released? DO: The conductor was given no discretion. The moral of this is, I guess, that Frank wanted to remain absolutely in control J21: Is still good music in the vault to be released? DO: He may have passed on way too soon, but he personally produced enough music for three lifetimes of mere mortal composers. J21: “Civilization Phaze III” is a great record, but it’s hard to understand for uneducated ears. From a point of view of somebody musically trained like you what do you think are the most interesting thing in the album? DO: I figured out, at least to my own satisfaction why the piano people are essential to the album. They are telling us not worry about understanding the music. J21: What music do you listen to lately? DO: Piazzolla, Karnak, Salsa, Hamza al Din, Don Byron, Raymond Scott, Spike Jones, Mike Keneally and Internet radio.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Vinny Introduces Anne

Before you watch this video you might want to review Volume One of the trilogy as told in The Golia LaBerge Ocker Trio. In that post you can watch another video called Vinny Introduces Me (available directly here) and read about and listen to the Golia LaBerge Ocker trio, one of those eighties groups. There are pictures and historical artifacts.

Been there? Done that? Good. Now read on.

Anne LaBerge, composer, flutist extrordinaire and resident of a non-mountainous part of Europe, is currently touring the U.S. Last Friday she visited the same "Career Design" course at CalArts that I had also visited. I attended her presentation, sitting inconspicuously in the back. Just as I had done the first time, I recorded Vinny's introduction.

Anne will be performing as part of the 8th Annual New Music Festival at Cal State Fullerton from March 18 through 21. (Read about it here as well) She does amazing things with flutes and computers.

On Saturday, as part of that Festival, as I understand, Charles Sharp (who has been featured in Mixed Meters in the post A Tradition of Experiment in Los Angeles) will be presenting a scholarly paper about the Golia LaBerge Ocker trio. I'd really like to know what he says but it's scheduled way too early in the morning for me - 9 A.M.

David Ocker & Anne LaBerge 2009
This picture of Anne and me was taken last Saturday. We were happy to have finished a meal of Mexican food at Dona Rosa's in Pasadena.

About the audio of the video. There are two problems. One is the background music - from my iPod which was accidentally playing. It seems much louder on the recording than in real life. The second is that the little microphone on my pocket point-'n-shoot picks up some voices better than others (Anne's is good except when she's quoting Mel Powell; Vinny's not so good). And certain noises - like chairs being moved or laughter - are viciously loud. So I extracted the audio, normalized the levels as best I could and then re-attached it to the picture. Alas, I couldn't get it back in perfect sync. Please pretend like you don't notice.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Tubas and the Federal Reserve

These three pictures are screen captures from a music video by a group called The Sursiks. The song is Little Paper Airplanes. See it here.

Sumo Tuba - The Sursiks
I'm not going to explain how little paper airplanes or the Federal Reserve and the money supply relate to these pictures. You can watch the video too.

Yes, these pictures have been photoshopped by someone. They're still funny.

Military uses of the tuba in field operations - The Sursiks
Strong Man with Wagner Tuba - The Sursiks
Found via WFMU Beware the Blog.

Other pictures of tubas - well, Sousaphones actually - appear in this Mixed Meters post. A picture of a Wagner tuba (like the one held between the legs of the strong man in the last picture) which has been made into a lamp is here. (Scroll down.)