Olli's Comments on Individual Pieces

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23th of May, 1999. Olli on tour with Ultra Bra, arranging The Idiot Bastard Son for Ensemble Ambrosius. photo Ilmari Pohjola

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Sofa

I transcribed the piece already in 1993 and arranged it for string quartet, which - luckily - has never been performed. I returned to that piece in spring 1999 and prepared a new version for Ensemble Ambrosius. In the interview of www.planetzappa.com I described the difficulties of the piece as follows:

"The problem was its simplicity. It has long, sustained chords all along the piece and we didn't know how to avoid the feeling of music getting boring and dead. With the resources of an amplified group there is always the beat from drums or percussion going on, so you get the feeling that there are things "happening", even if the musical situation in itself was quite stable. We didn't have a drum set or percussions, so in the places where "nothing was happening", nothing really was happening. The salvation came in the form of a Baroque mandoline. As we had recorded the piece and I really wasn't pleased with what I heard, I asked our lute player Tuukka to just play along with the tape. We secretly recorded his jamming and it turned out that it was exactly what the piece needed. When listening to the piece now, one (hopefully) gets the feeling of "freedom" and "lightness" and that's basically because of Tuukka's naturally musical, affective mandoline playing"

The Black Page

The transcription was made in winter 1998. Ere sorted out the fast bits and tricky rhythms with his "half-speed cassette player facilities" and I figured out the rest. In The Black Page the harpsichord's capability of functioning as a pitched percussion instrument was realized to the full extent for the first time. Basically, the harpsichord plays rapidly just the same note in different octaves, creating a fast rhythmical, repetitive pattern, which follows the bass line. This gives the constant rhythmical flow to the piece and also strengthens the bass line. Handy, isn't it? Harpsichord gets the same treatment in Ere's arrangement of The Night School, with same effect.

The other invention in The Black Page was the introduction of the melodica for the first time. The timbre of melodica blends nicely to baroque oboe and it is also possible to play chords with it. For common people, "the melodica" refers to a toy, which you play like you'd be playing the recorder, with the exception that melodica has keyboard keys instead of holes. You blow to the other end of an instrument and your right hand is supposed to operate the white keys and the left hand the black keys. That kind of artificial division is utterly stupid and makes the instrument very difficult to handle in any other key than C major. The leading melodica maker appears to be German "Höhner", and in their "more advanced" models they have a long mouth tube which is connected to the body of the instrument. Consequently, you can hold the instrument on your knees, blow to the tube and operate the keyboard with just one hand. We use that kind of instrument in five pieces in The Zappa Album. The name of the model we use is "Höhner Melodica Piano 32". It is probably the most stupid looking
instrument ever invented but it has a nice timbre, you can play chords with it and it makes a hell of a noise!

Uncle Meat

This piece is the first Zappa composition we ever played together. Ere had brought "The Frank Zappa Songbook" with him at the summer course of early music in Karjaa, Southern Finland in 1995. Me, Ere and Jonte performed the piece at the final concert of that course with two harpsichords and a baroque cello. This led to the birth of Ensemble Ambrosius, so it's a kind of nostalgic piece for us. Uncle Meat didn't require practically any transcription, as the essential musical information could be picked up from the "Songbook". Thus, I never bothered to prepare a full score of it. The band members pretty much maid their own parts themselves and during the past five years is had gone through several metamorphosis. Our most recent, extended version of Uncle Meat starts with Jani Sunnarborg's baroque bassoon solo and introduces the regal, the reed organ of the Renaissance and the Baroque periods. Zappa has said that the bassoon is one of his favourite instruments for its certain "Medieval aroma". Knowing Zappa's timbral taste, he would probably have prefered the baroque bassoon to the modern one. Live recording of that version is downloadable for free from our Downloads page.

Zoot Allures

Zoot Allures is one of my favourite pieces in The Zappa Album. In Zoot Allures we managed to make most out of the affectivity of baroque instruments, bringing some emotional approach to that very beautiful piece of music. The soft, yet rich and deep bass sound is a mixture of baroque cello's pizzicato attack and chamber organ's sustained notes. You could say that the organ forms a skeleton of the bass sound and the baroque cello and the archlute bring the flesh to it. Zoot Allures is one of those pieces that leave a great deal of liberties for players. The earlier mentioned melodica also introduces its soft, chordal qualities in Zoot Allures.

Big Swifty

Our version is based on the arrangement of The Helsinki Concert (YCDTOSA 2). The piece introduces a trivial, yet interesting stylistic parallelism between baroque music and jazz tradition. In French baroque, the eight note groups were played unequally, similar to the way a jazz musician plays in "swing". In both traditions, the music is notated so that on the paper it appears to consist of normal eight notes, but you play them as if they were triplets, the first note being twice as long as the latter one. In French baroque this style was called inegale. It was so characteristic for the French style that playing the eight notes actually as written was an exception that needed to be pointed out. In this case a composer would write a word egale to explain this exceptional prodecure. There is a similar convention in jazz notation, where the eight notes are played "inegale" when having the performing mark "swing" and "egale" in the case of "even time". This is an understandable convention in both styles, as it is much faster to just write beamed eight notes than write individual triplets with numbers/ratios and ties/brackets. The "inaccuracy" in notation is no problem as long as the musical tradition is vital - the players know right away how a composer would like his/her music to be played. So, as I was writing a score of Big Swifty, I just wrote groups of beamed eight notes with text above saying "inegale" and the musicians automatically played it nicely in "swing".

Alien Orifice

This one was hard to work out. The tricky bits start at the end of the second solo. The interesting "bonus" was the fact that in this passage there are differences in melody lines between the two versions in records "Zappa meets M.O.P." and "Make a Jazz Noise Here". My transcription follows the latter. I'm neither particularly pleased with my arrangement of this transcription, nor with our interpretation of the tune, but Jonte's organ solo came out pretty nicely. It has a bizarre atmosphere in it and I remember having a few laughs with Hessu (our recording engineer) and the boys as Jonte had shared with us his contribution to corny jazz organ tradition.

The Idiot Bastard Son

This was the latest arrangement I made for The Zappa Album. It was transcripted and arranged in May, 1999. Professionally speaking, I consider it to be the best of my arrangements on the cd. It has a large palette of different tone colours, involving three violins, two oboes (introducing the oboe da caccia, the second largest instrument of the oboe family). Since 1999 we have used oboe da caccias frequently, as our bassoon player Jani likes to play it "as a hobby". The oboe da caccia is probably the most affective of all instruments of the Baroque period. In our version of The Idiot Bastard Son it doubles the melody all the way through the song. The true beauty of the oboe da caccia sound is best witnessed in "Hymn" (from our record "Metrix", 2002. See Downloads). Originally, The Idiot Bastard Son was arranged to be an instrumental tune. However, Topi Lehtipuu, a great tenor and a friend of mine with whom I had worked with in Bach's St. John's Passion in spring 1998, happenend to be in Helsinki at the time of mixing the record, so we decided to add a vocal line to the piece. I'm glad we did it, as Topi's performance is one of the highlights of the record. In the world where instrumental music is utterly irrelevant, having even just one song with human voice in it makes the whole record a bit easier to approach.

RDNZL

This is one of my all time Zappa favourites and a classical example of Zappa's unique melodic talent. In this song we used the glockenspiel for the first time to a larger extent. I had bought the two and a half octaved toy glockenspiel earlier that year. Jasu Moisio liked the instrument so much that occasionally it was almost impossible to have him play his real instrument, the baroque oboe. As Jasu left the group, soon after the release of the album, the new oboist Anni Haapaniemi inherited not only the oboist's tasks, but also the glockenspiel. As was in the case of Jasu, also Anni seems to enjoy playing the glockenspiel enormously and she really shares Jasu's qualities in playing both her instruments fantastically. Maybe there is a mysterious part in the oboist brain, yet unknown to science, which makes an oboist a glockenspiel aficionado? There is a notable passage just before the baroque mandoline solo, where the dulcimer, lute-registered harpsichord and the baroque mandoline play tremolos together against the sustained chords of the organ and cello pizzicato. That moment sounds like gamelan music and it is my very favourite moment in The Zappa Album.

The Orange County Lumber Truck

Characteristic to Zappa, he had several, completely different versions on that short tune. My favourite one is the Roxy version, the melody being affectively sung by Napoleon Murphy Brock. It is interesting how Zappa is able to do an augmentation of the whole melody, replacing the fast notes of the melody with very long note values, still keeping the music constantly interesting. Augmention and diminution (playing the melody in faster note values) were essential counter pointal techniques in renaissance and baroque music and the technique was carried to utter extreme in Bach's Die Kunst Der Fuge (a special information for our English speaking friends: A word "Bach" is pronounced as "bbah", the emphasis being on "b". Don't say "Baaaag". The "ch" in "Bach" is the same phoneme that is in the beginning of a word "hippie". So, think of our flower-loving friends when you say "Bach" aloud. Thank you.) I transcribed The Orange County Lumber Truck from Roxy album, using the last 55 seconds of that version. It was appropriately titled as "Son of Orange County", following Zappa's own title of the Roxy version. The song got re-titled as "The Orange County Lumber Truck" for the release of The Zappa Album because of the strict request by Gail Zappa. Why, we don't know. I still feel the piece should have been named according the Roxy version.

Inca Roads

The classic Zappa mammoth. It has been interesting to study the evolution of that song in the hands of Zappa's own bands. The original two-minute version in "The Lost Episodes" already contains all the musical material that later on was extended to a ten minute composition, using all the basic compositional techniques of extending musical material. Our version introduces an instrument rarity, the violoncello piccolo, a five-stringed cello with one extra high string. The instrument was an invention of J.S. Bach, who wrote his sixth cello suite for it. Bach also used the instrument in two of his cantatas. The first solo in our version of Inca Roads consists of 2-3 violoncello piccolos playing at the same time. My decision of dubbing a solo with additional violoncello piccolos almost led to the breaking up of the ensemble in the middle of the recording session. I have seldom witnessed anybody hating a passage of music as passionately as Jonte, Ere, Jasu and Tuukka hated my solo. The day after the recording of the piccoli solo, Ultra Bra - the rock group in which I was singing at that time - was having a concert in Turku and I had to leave the Ambrosius studio sessions earlier to make the gig. As I returned back to the studio in the next day, there were two surprises waiting for me. For one thing, Ere and Jonte had learned to play Igor's Boogie - a tune that I had no idea Ere had made an arrangement of. It was a pleasant surprise. However, they had also come up with "an alternative solo" for Inca Roads: Jonte hammering the dulcimer at the top of a monotonous accompanying by Ere and Tuukka. As my friends seemed to have been deeply devoted to hate every aspect of my personality and musicality during the course of our difficult recording sessions, I would probably have agreed to do anything they wanted in order to keep the group together and have the record completed. Unluckily for the fellows, they didn't use a click track in their "alternative solo", so they ended up drifting gradually to a completely different tempo. The studio time for recording sessions was used and to redo the Inca Roads solo would have demanded an extra day. I offered to replace the piccoli solos with anything they'd come up with, as long as they were ready to pay for that extra day themselves. Consequently, my solo remained in the piece.

 

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