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Frank Zappa's Influence On Linux and FOSS Development 195

Posted by timothy
from the oh-yeah-try-to-disprove-it dept.
Roblimo writes "Zappa's 'Dinah-Moe Hummm' is totally about Linux, at least in spirit, while the song 'Montana,' with its talk of zirconium-encrusted tweezers and dental floss, 'is obviously about Mac users.' Not only that: In the early '70s Zappa wrote a song called 'Penguin in Bondage,' an obvious foretelling of the anti-Linux lawsuits and threats from SCO, Microsoft, and other evildoers. Zappa was also a heavy user of the Synclavier, an electronic music machine that was a precursor to today's 'studio on a computer' recording and sound editing software. According to an article on DevX, today Zappa would no doubt be using Linux and Ardour for most of his recording and composition."
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Frank Zappa's Influence On Linux and FOSS Development

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  • Well Hold on There (Score:5, Insightful)

    by eldavojohn (898314) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:13PM (#32450014) Journal

    According to an article on DevX, today Zappa would no doubt be using Linux and Ardour for most of his recording and composition.

    I do not agree with this statement. There is a lot of doubt in my mind. As I listen to Zappa albums, I constantly find new things mixed into them. Often I tell a friend about a great Zappa song but they haven't the patience to listen through five minutes of weirdness just to get to a great guitar lick intricately backed. Anyhow, I would wager that Zappa's thirst for this kind of mixing would lead him to the industry standard: Pro Tools [wikipedia.org]. I highly doubt a professional musician would stray from that but if Zappa dumped some cash into Ardour development and increased its support then maybe. But right now, audio recording on Linux isn't the greatest. Pro Tools is often augmented with dedicated hardware ... I am unaware of how you would do this with Ardour. I also have had one hell of a time trying to get a dual core processor with plenty of ram to record in Linux and also play back what you're recording on top of several tracks without delay.

    In my hobby projects, I have given up on audio recordings in Linux although I must say I was impressed with Ubuntu Studio [ubuntustudio.org] when I was trying to layer guitar tracks a few years ago. It just seemed that the audio bus could not keep up when recording through my M-Audio USB input box ... like a lot of things in Linux it could have been a configuration error but I spent a lot of time on that. Unfortunately, all musicians are not computer savvy and they certainly do not like messing around with getting software working in the studio.

  • by NecroPuppy (222648) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:20PM (#32450134) Homepage

    I always thought that one was about BeOS.

  • I don't think so. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Pojut (1027544) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:25PM (#32450184) Homepage

    Frank Zappa was one of the greatest musical geniuses that our species has ever produced. To even remotely insinuate that we could assume his intentions or possible course of action is douchebaggery of the highest order.

    Show some fucking respect.

  • Nope. Not at all. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MarkvW (1037596) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:27PM (#32450216)

    Frank would be using the best stuff in whatever format. He wouldn't be constrained by Linux, or Windows, or Mac, or whatever.

    Appropriating Frank's memory to endorse anything is just wrong, man.

  • by Pojut (1027544) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:37PM (#32450314) Homepage

    I can explain why Zappa appeals to me, but first a slight bit of backstory:

    For fun, I produce spacey, ambient tunes [www.last.fm]. Music like this involves layering textures together. What may sound like only one or two different noises is actually dozens of different synths and samples layered and mixed.

    Zappa was a master of layers. The way he could combine seemingly infinite noises into one, cohesive texture was a monumental achievement. Beyond that, if you really listened hard to his music, that cohesive texture could be broken down to the point where you could hear the individual components that served as a foundation for the whole sound. Being able to create rich textures that are simultaneously seamless yet individualized is, from a musician's standpoint, a mindfuck of an accomplishment.

    Zappa's appeal isn't in his sound so much as it is in his technique and sheer ability...at least for me. I find his work to be quite inspirational.

  • by Beelzebud (1361137) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:39PM (#32450366)
    And ironically Zappa would be disgusted with the attempted censorship.
  • by Delusion_ (56114) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:44PM (#32450434) Homepage

    The religious texts say a thing, such as when Jesus told his followers "Remember that all these things will happen before the people now living have all died". And they didn't.

    This leaves the religious with three choices, none of them good: either:

    1: Jesus was wrong
    2: Jesus was a liar
    or 3: the Bible doesn't mean what it says, and must be re-interpreted in order for it to remain relevant to us, who are not the audience it was written for.

    Needless to say, most of the faithful pick the third option. The Revelation of John is even worse; in modern times most of the faithful read it as if it were written for a modern audience rather than a then-contemporary audience, so we turn a warning about the political power of Rome into a warning about bizarre apocalypse destined to happen in the future (ours).

    This post reeks of this sort of post-hoc reasoning. Let's not do Zappa a disservice by deliberately reading him as if he were talking to us about something he clearly wasn't.

    While I'm sure (I hope) it was meant as a jest, does this sort of evangelical logic really promote Linux in a way that is useful? This reads like fanboy logic written for the converted. More damning, however, is that while it is supposedly humorous, it's not actually funny.

  • by gyrogeerloose (849181) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:49PM (#32450510) Journal

    .. of Slashdot's humor stories. I'm dying from laughter, in all seriousness.

    You may be posting that sarcastically but I voted this story up as "Funny" in Firehose.

    It's completely absurd, of course. "Montana" had nothing at all to do with computers, it was about growing pot. In any case, Zappa would have used whatever tool would have made his job easier for him. My guess would be Pro Tools on a Mac, like most other musicians these days, but that's worth about as much as anyone else's guess--exactly nothing.

  • by Saeed al-Sahaf (665390) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @03:52PM (#32450544) Homepage

    Frank Zappa was one of the greatest musical geniuses that our species has ever produced. To even remotely insinuate that we could assume his intentions or possible course of action is douchebaggery of the highest order.

    Good grief! You Zappa fanboys are worse than hardcore RMS flacks!

  • by MightyMartian (840721) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @04:01PM (#32450660) Journal

    Weasels Ripped My Flesh!

    I don't give a crap what audio editing software Zappa would have used, all I can say is that he was awesome, irreverent, brilliant and had the coolest song titles ever.

    I actually found Porn Wars on Youtube, reminded of it now that Al and Tipper Gore are kaput.

  • by Delusion_ (56114) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @04:05PM (#32450692) Homepage

    That trying to shoe-horn new meaning into a work where it didn't exist is intellectually dishonest, whether it's the Bible or a Frank Zappa song.

    Recontextualization is one thing, but this sort of no-holds-barred literary deconstruction is simply nonsense.

    And an ad hominem attack based on my username against a post where "what I'm on about" is pretty clear? Really? In 2010?

  • by bjb (3050) * on Thursday June 03, 2010 @04:20PM (#32450864) Homepage Journal
    OK, so someone was listening to Frank's music and thinking about how to make a Slashdot story about it. Some story moderator thought it was cool to accept. I can appreciate that someone thought about these things and tied them together into a Zappa reference. Hey, I can get into that and I'm as excited to see it on here as CmdrTaco was when he first posted a story related to The Who 10 years or so ago (no, I'm not going to look it up and hyperlink it! grin). But what does annoy me is the claim that he had anything more to do with Linux than Beethoven, Taco Bell, Ford Pintos or rubber dog biscuits.

    C'mon. Zappa's struggles over the years had nothing to do with computers or freedom of the tools he had. It was all about business, musician unions and satirical observations of "the world".

    Sure, I could come up with something like, "hey! Opus the penguin from Bloom County was all about the position in society of the Linux user, and obviously because of the penguin reference!". Why not. But if anything, Frank had over 60 studio albums of material released and I'm sure one could make a lot more connections if they thought about it.

    The author of the story says that Apple was influenced by LSD. While Jobs has been on record with the statement that it was one of the most important things he did in his life, I'm not ready to chalk up more than a few small points of that company's history to it. People claim to have grand visions and revelations under the influence, so maybe Jobs was just good at recording or remembering his revelations rather than just grabbing a bag of doritos and sitting on the couch listening to Pink Floyd. There were a lot of other things that contributed to Apple's success that had nothing to do with drugs or brainstorms thereof (see: Xerox, Homebrew Computer Club, IBM, Palm, etc).

    So how is Linux influenced by Zappa? Linux was influenced by the entire history of UNIX and other commercial operating systems, not some avant garde musician. As well, why would he be using Linux? As others have mentioned, I'm sure he would be using whatever the best tool is. He made heavy use of the Synclavier back in the day because it was THE tool for electronic music and was capable of playing the complex compositions he defined and had someone program in for him (see: G-Spot Tornado and just about everything on Civilization Phaze III). I appreciate the progress that we've made in regards to music production on Linux, but from everything I've ever read about Frank, he's not going to use Linux for music production because of the philosophy. Yes, he was a tinkerer, but there isn't anything about Linux that you couldn't do with another platform when it comes to music.

    Frank dedicated his time to his music and his family. I honestly don't think he'd have time for the difficulties involved with using Linux when he could just buy a Mac for Pro Tools or Digital Performer. Besides, I think I saw Mac Book Pro or two at a Dweezil Zappa show recently ;-)

  • by Dex1331 (1810146) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @05:00PM (#32451410)
    This could be confirmed if we could find out what Dweezil Zappa uses. He has very much followed in the footsteps of his father. He may not be the pioneer that his father was but he tours and play's his fathers music quite often. Zappa was a one of kind in his industry, like Hunter S. Thompson a true rebel against The Establishment(s)
  • by Bootsy Collins (549938) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @05:00PM (#32451412)

    Not all Zappa is weird. I don't even think of *most* Zappa as weird. However, most of it *is* pretty complex stuff. He occasionally wrote pieces for orchestra that had passages considered unplayable by human musicians. OTOH, that which isn't complex often tends to the opposite extreme: the ribald or scatalogical stuff is frequently very simple musically.

    So what's the appeal? Each fan would give you a different answer, and the answer would probably vary from track to track. I'll just pick two songs from his enormous repertoire and explain what their appeal is to me:

    "Watermelon in Easter Hay," from the pseudo-rock-opera Joe's Garage. This nine-minute instrumental is a vehicle for Zappa's guitar soloing. It appears on some other live albums of his, but I think this studio version [youtube.com] is the best, because it projects the somewhat sad feel of the piece the best. Prior to when I first heard this song, I always thought of guitar soloing as a means for lead guitarists with big egos to show off their technique; to the extent that electric lead guitar solos expressed emotion, those emotions tended to be upbeat, energetic ones, like anger or joy. Not here: the soloing in "Watermelon in Easter Hay" is instead evocative of a late afternoon, staring out the window into the rain while thinking of something sad. It is gorgeous melancholy, from the melody he works and plays with and twists, to the tone of the guitar itself. I loved this song for years purely on that level; but something about its structure always seemed odd to me until I realized that it's played in a non-standard time signature. The song is in 9/4 time, which subconsciously to us produces some discomfort or edginess, which adds to the emotional effect.

    "The Black Page (drum solo, part 1, and part 2)" from Zappa in New York. This song, in the three forms in which it appears on this album, is a fabulous opportunity for learning about music, or at least about Zappa's concept of music. The song was originally a drum/percussion solo; a second version, immediately following the first on this album, adds other instruments. When I first heard this, I knew less than nothing about music, and the percussion song just seemed like a bunch of pointless banging with no real rhyme or reason; and the version with additional instrumentation ("The Black Page Part One, the Hard Version") seemed kinda boring and pointless as well. Somewhat later in this live album, however, he revisits it again, this time with the full band and arranged to a upbeat vamp ("The Black Page Part Two, the Easy Teenage New York Version"). In this form, I found the song easy to follow, and reasonably entertaining. And then time passed, and I learned how to play the guitar, and listened to a lot of jazz and orechestral music in the interim. And then one day I was listening to this album, and I made the connection between the "Easy" version and the "Hard" version -- I realized what he was trying to do. And that made me go back and listen to it a few more times, and then go back some more and listen to the Black Page drum solo -- the song stripped down to nothing but percussion, and I could hear all kinds of things going on that I couldn't before. It's hard to explain, but there were levels of complexity there that weren't apparent to me at first, but came later. And I love a lot of his music for revealing its secrets over time like that.

    One of the problems in picking up Zappa discs is the range of music amongst them: orchestral music, jazz, free jazz, blues, straight-up rock, experimental music, etc. You could listen to ten FZ albums and not like anything on any of them, and that still wouldn't mean there isn't FZ stuff out there you'd like. There's often some commonality between recordings in a certain period of time (the first three Mothers albums, or the 73-75 band recordings); but even that's not consistently the case (his 80s recordings jumped all over the stylistic map going from release t

  • by Critical Facilities (850111) on Thursday June 03, 2010 @07:51PM (#32453210) Homepage
    I agree that Frank was one of the first people to really embrace the Synclavier. As a pretty big Zappa fan myself, it certainly isn't lost on me his penchant for embracing technology. For crying out loud, the entire "Perfect Stranger" and "Jazz From Hell" albums wouldn't have existed if it weren't for his efforts on digital instruments (although, as an aside, there is a really good version of G-Spot Tornado played by a live orchestra on The Yellow Shark [amazon.com]).

    In his book, he extolled the virtues of the Synclavier, and certainly recognized the technology's ability as it evolved. With that said, it seems that for recording, he preferred analog (as did a lot of artists at the time). Keep in mind, Frank died in 1994, and the first "real" version of Pro Tools didn't hit the market until 1991 (and it was a 4 track version......I ASSURE you, Frank wasn't going to be limited to 4 tracks).

    I'd need to see some citation regarding Gail or Dweez sending cease and desist letters to bands covering Frank's stuff...sounds like baloney to me. However, I do agree with his (and subsequently their) right to protect what is done with his music and his name.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 04, 2010 @12:54AM (#32454928)

    Linux may make it to a home studio level someday - it has a long way to go now, but it will never in a million years make it to a professional studio.

    I seem to remember the same thing being said about GNU/Linux in the enterprise data center.

... when fits of creativity run strong, more than one programmer or writer has been known to abandon the desktop for the more spacious floor. -- Fred Brooks

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