lundi 25 mai 2009

If you've heard one Edgar, you've heard them all, eh, Frank, I mean Paul?

That’s the trouble with electronic music: it never gets any better.
—David George, Nov. 1976

And now, for something completely different, some bullshit concerning Frank Zappa, Edgar(d) Varèse and Edgar Froese.

If your immediate reaction to the first name was “Who’s Frank Zappa?”, go back to sleep. As for the Edgars, I suppose a little ignorance is forgivable.

Edgard (or Edgar) Varèse (1883-1965) was a French-born composer who spent most of his life in the US. He has been described as a pioneer of electronic music.

Frank Zappa (1940-1993) is too well-known to bear comment. Just note those dates: Zappa was about four years older than Froese.

Edgar Froese (1944-) is an East-Prussian-born musician (East Prussia is now part of Poland, but before the war, it was part of Germany; so whether Froese is German- or Polish-born is anybody’s guess), probably best-known for his work with Tangerine Dream. He has been described as a pioneer of electronic music. Well, that says something about electronic music if one “pioneer” can be born over 60 years later than another.

If I might be forgiven a personal anecdote, back in early 1977, my ex and I moved into a flat next door to a well-known Adelaide rock musician. He knew that we were aficionados of “classical” music, and, in an effort to get us interested in Frank Zappa, mentioned that one of Zappa’s early influences was Edgar Varèse. Well, actually, even I had known about Zappa longer than Varèse, but as I was studying for a music theory exam (which I never got around to taking) for which one of the set works was by the latter, I found the connexion interesting. But I digress. The point is that Varèse’s influence on the early Zappa was not unknown back then.

So it should not surprise anyone that, given a spot as a guest DJ on BBC Radio One in 1982, Frank Zappa should take the opportunity to play a work by Edgar Varèse. What is surprising is that there is a transcript of the program floating around, in which the work is attributed to Edgar Froese. (The comment in square brackets in the below quote is not mine, but presumably that of the transcriber (see below). To avoid confusion, I have resisted the urge to put “sic” in square brackets after the alleged word pronounciation.)

You’ve just heard “The Closer You Are” by The Channels and “Hyperprisms” by Edgar Froese, or ‘Varase’ [FZ pronounces Froese as 'Varess' and offers an alternative], depending on how good your pronounciation of the names of famous composers that you can’t pronounce too good. Froese was a really cool guy. The only thing that he did that was wrong was he stopped composing for 25 years because people gave him a bad time. If people wouldn’t have given him a bad time, he could have been writing for 25 more years and there would be 25 more years worth of stuff like that for the people who like that kind of stuff.

According to Google, at least part of this quote (including the reference to Froese) is even to be found on The transcript is available online in several places (it has probably been corrected in a few since I wrote to a lot of sites about the error several months ago), including, where someone called Paul Icke claims responsibility for all the icky “errors, spelling mistakes, punctuation and comments in []”.

Well, all I can say is: Just how stupid is this guy? Let us start with some obvious points. In February 1982, when this radio program went to air (according to Icke), Edgar Froese was 37 years old. And we are supposed to believe that he had stopped composing for 25 of those 37 years and had still had time for a successful career? And since when did people refer to Froese as a “composer”? No disrespect is intended to Froese, but contemporary musicians in the popular mould work under a rather different paradigm, and the word “composer” hardly seems an appropriate label. Did the Icke-man actually bother to check who had written Hyperprism? He says he transcribed Zappa’s words from a cassette recording of the broadcast; did he not also listen to the music? How could you mistake Varèse for Froese? Electronic music may not have got much better, but it has certainly changed over its history (and Hyperprism is not an electronic piece anyway, as it happens). Oh, and note the way Icke’s Zappa refers to “Froese” in the past tense, as though his life were already over. To the best of my knowledge, Froese is still with us; he certainly was in 1982.

Well, I must say that one of the things that annoy me most is seeing people attribute ignorance and stupidity (or worse) to someone else rather than to perform a few simple checks. For example, I just typed “hyperprism edgar” into Google, and the first ten hits mentioned Edgar Varèse (and I didn’t even look at the second page!). So it is not hard. I carry no brief for Zappa, but why assume he was talking through his arse when checking the facts would be the work of a moment?

Icke, you’re an ickhead! And those who uncritically followed him are, if anything, worse.

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