Today we have the Asphalt Orchestra doing “Zombie Woof” by Frank Zappa (1940-1993): new music meets marching band and weirdo rock n roll. As with Anthony Braxton, the second of yesterday’s composers, Frank Zappa can’t be easily contained within the boundaries of conventional musical genres. He made a living as a rock musician, recording on rock labels and playing in rock venues. But he was heavily influenced by contemporary classical composers, received commissions from renowned “classical” conductor Pierre Boulez, and developed a critically acclaimed multimedia piece in Berkeley. Avant-garde classical or rock n roll — who can tell? Zappa blurs the boundaries.
Zappa was often frustrated by the inability of human musicians to perform his music up to his standards. Even his early rock recordings contain lots of post-production manipulation (overdubbing, etc.). Like the somewhat older composer Conlon Nancarrow, Zappa spent the latter part of his career composing for a machine; Zappa used a programmable synthesizer, while Nancarrow punched out player piano scrolls by hand.
Despite his frustrations with human musicians, I suspect Zappa would have been pleased at this performance/ arrangement by the Asphalt Orchestra: the Orchestra manages to sort through the multi-level overdubbing of the original rock recording and create an arrangement for marching band; then they give the arrangement a tight performance that’s coupled with sassy choreography.
And can you imagine having a marching band like this walk into a Sunday services? Or how about stealth marching band performances in public places in the style of What Cheer Brigade?