AMM All-Stars (UK)

Why are AMM All-Stars playing Lumpy Gravy at Zappanale #30?

Ben Watson: Because it's a fantastic album. Yet no-one plays it! Frank used to call it his "favourite", but no-one took any notice. AMM All-Stars are automatically attracted to fantastic stuff everyone else ignores, it's a speciality of ours. People don't play Lumpy Gravy because it doesn't have any "hit songs", it has Motorhead Sherwood talking about building his car, mouthnoises, atonal post-Darmstadt compositions with drums by Shelly Manne (really!), surf rock riffs, tunes which sound like sea shanties played on a demented carousel organ, girls talking about dark clothes, even some Mothers of Invention ... but all these things are made equivalent because no matter where they came from or how they were made, they all became recorded sound. Like all Zappa's albums, it's actually a sonic junk sculpture, but it just so happens "rock songs" are not part of Lumpy Gravy's junk, so cover bands ignore it. Listen to me, what I am saying is The Truth!

Are you sure?

Gail Zappa said it, which means it must be true: "But the three particular pieces that Frank considered his absolute masterwork were Lumpy Gravy, We’re Only in it for the Money, and Civilization Phaze III, the last album that he actually finished." (Interview in Vanity Fair, October 2008).

Oh, I see. So why do most Zappa cover bands insist on playing "Zomby Woof" and "Joe's Garage" all the time instead?

Ben Watson: Because they don't understand that this kind of junk only works because of its placement in the overall Output/Macrostructure!

Ben, you're known at Zappanale for the Ben Watson Quiz, when you torment us with impossible-to-answer questions and hold vocal drum contests. You are well-known as a music critic and author of Frank Zappa The Negative Diakectics of Poodle Play. How come you are now leading a band and playing keyboards? What happened?

Ben Watson: Well, Graham Davis happened. You know Graham. He brought Gabba Zappa Hey! to Zappanale #29 at great cost to his psyche (and bank account). His name is a bit ordinary for a rock star, tell the truth, at least to English ears. We think he should be renamed "Ersatz Mint Douche Corduroy Ponz", but maybe that sounds ordinary in German, hard to tell. Anyway, Graham felt he was being typecast with Gabba Zappa Hey!'s punky versions of Zappa songs, and wanted another way to show his talents as a singer, musician and arranger. Graham plays synth in AMM All-Stars, and ...

How did that come about?

Ben Watson: Well, I saw Gabba Zappa Hey! at Zappadan Zappajam, the Zappa festival organised by Mike Fox of Acton Zappa (the West London funky freaks who specialise in the 70s soul side of Frank) in December 2016, and I was blown away, of course. I asked Gabba Zappa Hey! to open for us at Cafe Oto here in London, and Graham liked our attitude and our music. However, we already have top electric guitarist Dave Black in the band, so Graham offered to play synth, a skill he's picked up because of his deep devotion to - no offence - Kraut Rock. AMM All-Stars play every Wednesday (2:00-3:00pm UK time) on my radio show Late Lunch with Out To Lunch on Resonance 104.4FM <>, so Graham has now played with us over fifty times ... the sarcasm, wit and poignancy of his synth stylings are now essential to our sound.

Which is?

Ben Watson: Our sound starts from where Zappa got to at the end, actually (Gail's claims about Civilization Phaze III notwithstanding, we think Dance Me This is the most advanced music he ever made). That's why "Wolf Harbor" from Dance Me This is part of our set, in a "Pollution Suite" Graham has arranged (along with "Nine Types of Industrial Pollution" from Uncle Meat and "Food Gathering in North America" from The Yellow Shark). Of course, some people think Zappa should just be repertoire like other dead composers, but we take Zappa as a green light for innovative music, a new way of playing rock ... (and we like what the green light does to Jair-Rohm Parker Wells when he plays in the band).

How do we find out about AMM All-Stars Music?

Ben Watson: Come to Zappanale #30 and hear us play Lumpy Gravy!

July is quite a long time to wait ...

Ben Watson: You can hear us every Wednesday on Resonance 104.4FM <> 2:00-3:00pm UK time. Also, if you check out The Internet Archive <> and search on "AMM All-Stars" you'll find 285 hours of our music to listen to and play at parties, that might occupy your time. As a taste of what Graham can achieve as musical director of AMM All-Stars - I know everyone has a copy of the Gabba Zappa Hey! CD he was giving away to all and sundry at Zappanale #29 - you could listen to our version of "The Pleated Gazelle" <>. Now, Graham doesn't read much, and certainly doesn't read your compatriot Theodor Adorno, but it makes me chuckle that in singing "A Nun Suit Painted on Some Old Boxes" he has effectively sung Adorno's music, because this tune from 200 Motels is an adroit parody of the music Adorno wrote for his musical based on the Mark Twain story used in Raiders of the Lost Ark ...

Ben, you are making this up ...

Ben Watson: I wish I was. As Jeffrey Daniel Jones argues in his recent PhD at the University of Kentucky - directed by Appalachian music scholar Ronald Pen - Frank Zappa and his Concept of Civilization Phaze III, Frank left the rest of the composing pretenders eating dust. He knew what he was doing!

Finally, what's all this about sea shanties?

Ben Watson: If you are into "Wolf Harbor" and James Joyce's Finnegans Wake and Climate Change as much as we are, you realise that water is the future medium, "all that is solid soap melts into the bath water" as Karl Marx wrote in The Communist Manifesto. Surf Rock is the secret substructure of all Zappa's music (that, and "Louie Louie"). We've been singing sailors' songs for about a year. I myself couldn't quite remember how it all started, so I asked Graham ... This is what he told me: "You know how you always plays a "half-time single" during Late Lunch as a break from an hour long improvisation by AMM All-Stars? One day you played Ewan McColl and A.L. Lloyd singing "The Handsome Cabin Boy" (which, as I'm sure you know, was a tune played by the Mothers). I really enjoyed the Sea Shanty sound, and soon found myself playing other tunes in that style. One of those songs was "The Lumpy Gravy Theme", and soon the idea of doing the whole of the Lumpy Gravy album in that style was born. I quickly put together a demo on my little home recording device of Sea Shanty style tunes, and dialogue, using as music AMM All-Stars recordings from the Late Lunch radio show. And, unlikely as it seems, that's why I'm in your shower riding this badger." I hope you will forgive Graham this quaint use of the Scunthorpe vernacular, it means "that's why I'm staying up late arranging Lumpy Gravy tunes as sea shanties for you" ...

We've heard a lot about Graham, what about the other members of your rockin' teenage combo?

Ben Watson: I needed to concentrate on Graham as he is musical director for the Lumpy Gravy project. Obviously, I have recruited some of the finest musicians in London for AMM All-Stars. In the photo, taken in a piss-stained garage used by all kinds of dodgy ragbag militias, left-to-right are: Peter Baxter, drummer and library rhyme-timer, responsible for turning my radio show into a band (it's all his fault); Dave Black, electric guitarist from the worlds of Northumbrian doom folk, theatre and conspiracy; Robert Goldsmith, baritone saxophonist and plastic medievalist; Ben Watson aka Out To Lunch, band leader, spokesman, keyboardist, vocalist, fabricator; Paul Shearsmith, improv legend, trumpeter; Graham Davis, musical director, vocalist, keyboardist. Other two photos? Dave and our brilliant violinist Helen Tate (you know her, she played with Spanner Jazz Punks at Zappanale #25) in a garden gig in West Ealing; Iris Watson, our djembe hand drummer, dressed up as the English Johannes Gutenberg for World Book Day.

Thanks, Ben.

Ben Watson: Thank you. In an administered and airless world, Music is the pest!


Ali N. Askin (DE)

Born in Munich in 1962, the son of Turkish immigrants, Askin studied there from 1982-86 at the Academy of Music (composition, with Dieter Acker and Wilhelm Killmayer) and also attended the Academy of Film and Television in 1987.

Parallel to his studies, he began early on to work with a number of different kinds of bands and projects as pianist, keyboarder and composer; he also worked as a radio moderator, copyist, editor, music teacher and night porter.
In the late 80s and early 90s, Askin worked intensively with several theaters as a composer, musician and musical director (Residenztheater, Münchner Kammerspiele, Zürcher Schauspiel, Schauspiel Düsseldorf, etc.).

From 1991-93, Askin was Frank Zappa's assistant for the project "The Yellow Shark" (with the Ensemble Modern). He continued to work with the Zappa Family Trust in Los Angeles. For example, he arranged and transcribed Zappa's compositions and recordings to create an evening-length concert program "The Adventures of Greggery Peccary and Other Persuasions" (for the Ensemble Modern with Peter Eötvös, Omar Ebrahim and David Moss), which has been performed to acclaim in many European cities. For the Holland Festival in 2000, he reconstructed the original scores of the orchestral pieces in Zappa's legendary film "200 Motels", which had never before been performed 'live' in this form.

Since 1993, a collaboration has developed with Heiner Goebbels. It includes works such as the orchestral project "Surrogate Cities", for which Askin provided transcriptions and orchestrations, and the music theater work "Die Wiederholung", for which he was the assistant and did the programming and transcriptions. He has appeared as a guest artist (keyboards) in performances of both works with various orchestras (Bochum Symphony, BBC Scottish Orchestra, etc.) and theaters (TAT Frankfurt, Hebbel Theater Berlin, ATEM Nanterre/Paris, Theaterfestival Zürich, etc.).

Radio is another medium that Askin has been involved with since the mid-90s. Along with Markus Vanhoefer, he wrote, produced and realized two audio pieces for Bavarian Radio ("Johanna" and "Flaubert Oriental"). In 1999, he performed his radio play "Twilight L.A.," based on the drama by Anna Deavere Smith, at intermedium 1; it was produced by German radio stations BR, WDR, SWR and DeutschlandRadio.

In addition to his music for the theater, Askin's works have been realized at many performances and concerts, and he has provided music for multimedia events. His compositions include "Trommeln in Licht" (1995, for the laboratory of the Bavarian Staatsoper in Marstall) and "Blau ist die Farbe" (1997, Wuppertal). Both combine electronics, live music, theatrical elements and lighting. For Expo 2000, he composed music for the successful nightly multimedia spectacle "Flambée — Human Facets." In 2002-03, Askin is appearing in cities throughout France in Jean-Luc Therminarias' music theater event Spaghetti's Club; he contributes music and performs live.

Since the mid-90s, television and film work has become an important field of activity for Askin. He has composed scores for different productions (features, documentaries and TV-movies) and stations (ZDF, WDR, NDR, ARTE, SAT1, PRO7). His soundtrack for the movie "Sieben Monde" (for Buenavista International) was released on Colosseum Records in 1998. He composed and produced the music and sound design for the documentary "Ratten" (ARTE/WDR), which was awarded the Grimme Prize in 1999.

Askin's early and active immersion in styles such as rock, jazz, funk, etc. (and in the related electronic and electro-acoustic instruments) led to intensive involvement with modern club music and electronic music in all its various manifestations.
The work with modern techniques of sound generation and manipulation (sampling, audio software) finds expression in Askin's productions, such as remixes of well-known music ("Morricone RMX") and less familiar material ("Star Maiden"), as well as his releases of experimental electronic music which he also performs live.

Askin lived in Munich until 1992; in Wuppertal from 1993-2000 (with stays in Los Angeles in 1999 and 2000). Since 2001 he has lived in Berlin.


Ali N. Askin - keys
Falk Breitkreuz - bass clarinet, soprano sax
Michael Weilacher - percussion
Tilo Weber - drums
Thomas Stieger – e-bass
Christoph Titz - trumpet


Ensemble Musikfabrik (DE)

“Musikfabrik plays Zappa”

Ever since its formation, Ensemble Musikfabrik has had the reputation of being one of the leading ensembles for contemporary music. Following the literal meaning of its name, Ensemble Musikfabrik is particularly dedicated to artistic innovation. New, unknown, and often personally commissioned works in unusual media are typical of their productions. The results of their extensive work, usually taking place in close collaboration with the composers, are presented by the Cologne-based international soloist ensemble in about 80 concerts a year in both Germany and abroad, at Festivals, in their own series “Musikfabrik in WDR” and in regular radio recordings and CD productions.

The musicians themselves take the responsibility for making all-important decisions. Exploring forms of modern communication, and new possibilities for expression in musical and theatrical areas, are a focal point. Interdisciplinary projects that can include live electronics, dance, theatre, film, literature and creative artists, along with chamber music, and the confrontation with works using open form and improvisation, extend the traditional conducted ensemble concerts. Lecture concerts and the experimentation with alternative concert forms involving audience participation are also part of this. Thanks to its extraordinary profile, and its superb artistic quality, the Ensemble Musikfabrik is sought after world wide and is a trusted partner of renowned composers and conductors. Since 2013 the ensemble owns a complete replicated set of the Harry Partch instruments. Furthermore, the double bell brass instruments are another outstanding trait of the ensemble's eagerness to experiment.

The ensemble’s guest list is as prominent as it is long: It includes Mark Andre, Louis Andriessen, Stefan Asbury, Sir Harrison Birtwistle, Unsuk Chin, Péter Eötvös, Brian Ferneyhough, Heiner Goebbels, Toshio Hosokawa, Michael Jarrell, Mauricio Kagel, Helmut Lachenmann, David Lang, Liza Lim, Benedict Mason, Mouse on Mars, Carlus Padrissa (La Fura dels Baus), Emilio Pomàrico, Enno Poppe, Wolfgang Rihm, Peter Rundel, Rebecca Saunders, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Ilan Volkov and Sasha Waltz.

Ensemble Musikfabrik is supported by the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The Kunststiftung NRW supports the series “Musikfabrik in WDR”.

Ali N. Askin, who will perform at Z#30 too, has arranged Zappa music for the Ensemble Musikfabrik. At an interview Ali answered to the question „How does the cooperation at the rehearsals with Ensemble Musikfabrik turn out? Are you so to speak the one to pass on the Zappa groove?“ :
„Well I don't have to hand on the groove that much, because the whole „band“ is grooving wonderfully by itself. They have a terrific rhythm secection with all the typical rock instruments, drum set, e-bass, e-guitar, keyboards. That's a very good basis, I don't have a lot to tell. The co-work is beginning on a very high level. The only thing what I am adding here and there are maybe such small gestural things or dynamic. And because we don't have a conductor it is a very pleasant teamwork because it is emerging from the group itself. So I don't have plenty to do.“

... so get into the groove!


Percussion Under Construction

Dear Sir: Perhaps you might remember me from my stupid phone call last January, if not, my name again is Frank Zappa Jr. I am 16 years old ….

Frank Zappa wrote these lines to avant-garde composer Edgar Varèse in 1957. His piece "Ionisation" for percussion ensemble fascinated Zappa very much and in his own words inspired him to start a career in music. Varèse‘s percussion music was to accompany him throughout his life.

For 15 years now, the eight percussionists of »Percussion under Construction« have ripped off their audience with hot rhythms.

The percussion ensemble, which was founded by members of the drum section of the Saarland State Orchestra, has been playing several two-hour shows every year since 2009 on the main stage of the Saarland State Theater. In 2015 Percussion Under Construction framed a.o. the presentation of the German Theater Prize "Faust", in 2018 they guested at the Festival Euroclassic for the first time.

"Recycled", the title of their current theater project, which is causing sensations since 2017, says it all: you can get a really fat drum groove out of plastic pipes, buckets, brooms, boxes, bottles or even the old bike.

The fusion of classical and modern percussion literature and original compositions, as well as the well organised stage show, has long since become the trademark of the troupe with its artistic directors Matthias Weißenauer and Martin Hennecke.

Extraordinary ideas of implementation - such as the invention of specialized home-made instruments (f.e. drainpipe marimba), as well as the inclusion of video and sound effects - turn the performances into exciting and surprising experiences.

For Zappanale 2019, the Ensemble has chosen the theme "Zappa, Varèse and Loud Americans" for the MainStage performance. In addition to "Ionisation" and Zappa arrangements for various percussion instruments - such as marimba, vibraphone, timpani, drums, oil barrels, buckets – we will hear some of their own compositions, including a premiere by Martin Hennecke, which deals with Zappa and Varèse. Rhythms and quotes from "Ionisation" are recomposed in the style of a Zappa composition.

At MysteryStage, Percussion Under Construction will present a variation on their quartet program.

The ine-up for Zappanale consists of: Manuel Geier, Ia Giguashvili, Kasper Gubala, Martin Hennecke, Jannis Lichtenfels, Thorsten Muschiol, Johannes Walter, Matthias Weißenauer.

„Keys, plastic buckets and pipes as musical instruments: Sounds not so obvious. But Percussion Under Construction, the percussionists of the Saarland State Orchestra make music on it -  impressively versatile, sometimes bizarre and radically modern (...) A wondrous cosmos of sounds, populated by equally wondrous instruments.“

Saarland Radio

„Yesterday I saw myself facing a thug gang in Saarbrücken: 8 men, armed with truncheons, pipes and hammers! It was not possible to escape them because I was encircled in the middle of a large crowd. For two hours their punches beat down on me. But I did not even think about escaping! "Recycled"- the concert by the drummers of the Saarland State Orchestra (conducted by Matthias Weißenauer and Martin Hennecke) could have taken even longer for me. I can not remember that a concert has ever inspired me that much. It was a concert of a very different kind - indescribable, sensational, breathtaking.“

Erwin Altmeier


Zappanale #31

15. - 17.07.2022
The Torture stops in 432 days!