WTF?! Wednesdays: Frank Zappa, “Improvised Concerto for Two Bicycles, Prerecorded Tape, and Instrumental Ensemble” (1963)

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A very young Mr. Zappa, in full-on Edgard Varèse mode, goes on the Steve Allen show to demonstrate the use of the bicycle as a musical instrument. Hilarity follows. What you see below is one of my all-time favorite Frank Zappa clips. Frank the young composer was calm, earnest and mostly serious as he tried (and mostly succeeded) to show how a non-traditional “instrument” might still have musical qualities. Steve Allen, because it was his job, cracked wise even as he was bowing the spokes of an overturned bicycle and blowing into the handlebars of another.

It should be noted though that as the segment ended, Allen did realize that Frank was serious about this stuff — bringing up choreographer Alwin Nikolais, whose unorthodox methods reminded him of Zappa.

This episode always reminds me of what Frank said about the perception of art:

The most important thing in art is The Frame. For painting: literally; for other arts: figuratively — because, without this humble appliance, you can’t know where The Art stops and The Real World begins. You have to put a ‘box’ around it because otherwise, what is that shit on the wall?

The lack of an easily identifiable frame is what can make the consumer of art more than a little uncomfortable. When faced with a piece of art whose “frame” isn’t obvious, it can be difficult to figure out what is “going on.” This is why a seemingly chaotic passage of music is often rejected as “not music.” I can’t blame a person for not liking something, but that doesn’t stop me from thinking the sad thought that they’ve needlessly narrowed their world of possibilities.

It’s worth the wait to get past the 16-minute mark, because that’s when Allen’s band joins in on the fun. I wonder what they thought of that experience.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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