1967 12 13 WDET FM Detroit, MI
By Punknaynowned (original transcript at the inside of
Hello there. I have the Wayne State University Widget Guide for Radio, TV Quarterly, Fall 1967. And golly it's a thrilling little
book. It's one of the , it's one of your better Detroit publications. and I was gonna read some of it to ya. I'm gonna read the
best parts of it because I wouldn't want to waste your time. On the inside page, -- actually it's the inside back cover, but it
might as well be page 65 of this thrilling booklet, we have a chart which is headed up by a little caption. Many charts have
captions here in Detroit. This one says, 'Radio is the most visual medium'. Well, we know that's a lie. But that's what they have
on the chart. That's what you call your packaging myth. Now this here chart, says, at the top, 'WHPR 88.1, WSHJ 88.3, CKWW 88.7,
WAOK sounds like a country and western station 89.3, WDTR 9-oh-.9, WPHS 91.5, WOUM, nine-oh, WUOM, WOUM would sound like some sort
of part of your body wouldn't it? huh-huh-huh even here in Detroit they have those things. It's 91.7. and the chart goes on all the
way down to 107.5. Now this would indicate that these are probably places on your dial where you might tune in to get information.
And I would imagine that the bulk of this book concerns itself with what you'd call your radio entertainment on an FM level. Here
are some of the things they got to offer ya. For instance, Wednesday, November first, eh-heh, bet you can hardly wait for that,
six-thirty pm they have a dynamite show called About Science and then seven o'clock they have a show called The City.
At seven-thirty pm they have The Guest Lecture. Can you hardly wait? Well, I knew you'd be excited about that. This is the Public
Opinion Foreign Policy and the Historian Lecture featuring Harold Isaacs, Center for International Studies, MIT, 'Sources For Images
of Foreign Countries'. Discussing would be Melvin Small of the Department of History of WSU. This promises to be a very soulful
program. Three o'clock in the afternoon they have what you would call your call classic matinee which is featuring these thrilling
compositions. Albinoni [?], Concerto for Violin and String Orchestra in D. That's a hot one. They're going so far as to play a piece
of music by Aaron Copeland, his piano quartet with the newer quartet. They're playing all kinds of thrilling things for ya. It's
too bad you're too busy to listen to that kinda stuff. Ah, what else have we got here? Oh, I know what they ought to do right now.
They oughta play Who Are the Brain Police by the Mothers of Invention album, Freak Out. Because I just found a picture in this
magazine that's got a -- ewwhh, hoho, hey you guys really oughta get this booklet. There's a picture toward the back of the book,
going at the back of the book. Two people are naked. It shows a very twisted tree and both the people that are standing here with
no clothes on are pretty twisted too. The man is uncircumcised, shows his actual peepee hanging out. They'v gone quite a ways with
this illustration. I don't know why they would include it in the program guide. And the woman has a very protruding navel. Obviously
the artist who rendered this couple doesn't think too much of the human body.
Who Are The Brain Police. [song plays]3:13
That's really beautiful Frank. And that makes me want to ask you a question.
That doesn't make you want to ask me a question. Expediency makes you want to ask me a question because you know we have to be
out of here by one-thirty.
yeah, you caught me again.People have been writing many many letters to the radio station, and ahh
People don't really write letters, do they?
Sure they do. They write a lot of letters, to the radio station and they say, 'Can you please tell us, just how the Mothers of
Invention make their albums, cuz we want to know'. And the reason they ask that question is because they know you're coming to
fill the other [all their?] auditorium.
What an obvious, an obvious commercial hype. You sound like one of those guys that I met at the airport from the BFD company.
They're a bad company, but they put on good shows. So everyone's been saying 'why don't ya have Frank on and tell us how they do
the albums. We really want to know'.
Alright, I'll tell ya how we do the albums. First of all, when my schedule permits, I'll sit down and write out the songs that
go in the albums. Some day I'll, if umm, -- I know that I have a certain amount of material to turn out for a certain album.
Like in one day I'll sit down and write seven songs and the rest of 'em I'll write when they happen to occur to me. A lot of the
material that we record dates back four or five years. Things I wrote a long time ago that have already been recorded before at my
dio in Cucamonga. For instance, Any Way The Wind Blows and a song that's going to be on the third album called Take Your Clothes
Off When You Dance were both recorded a long time ago and taken and shopped around the record companies in Los Angeles.
About four years ago and nobody was very interested in the material at that time. Even though the masters were of HIGH QUALITY.
Oh [sniffs] I guess that's just another indication that we have no future in show business. Now some of the technical problems
involved in getting our throbbing teen sounds onto the grooves you have to understand the problems involved with recording itself.
There's a definite difference between what music sounds like when played live, when recorded on tape and when recorded on disc and
each medium has it's own acoustical problems. Tape and disc have different tolerances as to how much volume can be put on.
In live performance, your volume level is, ahhmm, determined basically by the wattage of your amplifier and how long it takes
before your ears start bleeding once you turn the amplifiers up. Some of what we do is very loud in live performance and it's
difficult to make it sound right when you put it on the tape. 'Cuz as soon as you start recording it the needle goes over into the
red and just lays there, sort of whimpering. And when you try and transfer that tape to disc you have more problems because they
have to chop the top off. The highs, the high frequencies and they cut all the low frequencies off and leave the middle of what's
left. And sometimes I'm very disappointed when I listen to what we play when I hear it on records. Because it doesn't sound like
what we play. But I suppose that's what ya have to put up with. Let's take for instance, a song like America Drinks and Goes Home
from our second album Absolutely Free. And I suppose that -- hmmm? No, I'm looking at the guy in the control room and he's sticking
his finger in the air and smiling and doing all kinds of bizarre numbers in there. Which would indicate that he is probably, maybe
even possibly, maybe he's considered that it might be a good time to play that tune, so that we could discuss it. But he can't do
it because I'm holding the record. Oh!
[song, America Drinks plays] 2:32
Oh! swell. Now I'll tell you what's in that tune. First of all, the chord changes are a satire on the -- ohh, typical set of chord
changes used for all songs of that type from the beginning of time up to now. uhh, I don't know whether or not if you can really
imagine a parody of a set of chord changes but that's what's in it. The chord changes amount to a series of 2-5-1's rotating around
the circle of fifths. Our parody consists of instead of going around the circle of fifths like the old folks used to do, we made
the 2-5-1's go in funny directions where they wouldn't normally go. It's a little bit more adventurous chord progression than the
normal - ahh stock ballad chord progression. The words are just about as putrid as I could make them and from there we had to decide
on a proper musical performance for this ditty. Chose the medium of the cocktail piano accompanied by strummed guitar. The way that
guitar players used to play it in bar's that I worked in as a youth. The guitar player sits on a stool wearing a tux-coat and bowtie.
He wears black patent leather shoes. He's probably Italian. His hair's slicked back. He may even go so far as to dye the greying
streaks on the side so he looks Italian and virile. He may even be working in a pizza place with a cocktail lounge on the side
-- and he strums the chords in all sorts of bizarre inversions to make it sound really 'modren'. What he's actually playing is no
better than a cowboy music chord progression. And the piano player does his best to play more notes per bar than is necessary to
make the lyric come through. The drummer plays as tastelessly as possible. All these effects were synthesized into the background
of America Drinks And Goes Home. Then we carefully put together a garble track of conversation to support all the music, if you'll
allow that. The conversation was organized around stock lines that you'll hear people saying in bars and night clubs across America.
The girls all say to each other, 'Bennie, come with me to the bathroom'. And the boys all talk about cars and ahh, older men talk
about how they're going to go hunting or they talk about their jobs. Or they talk about the last time they went to a convention.
And we had all these stock lines that the people that were in the studio synthesized into crowd noises, were supposed to say and --.
You can't hear any of it of course, on the record, because you can only get so much onto the record when it begins to compete for
your attention. And you know as well as I do, boys and girls, you as an American has an attention span of probably not more than
fifteen seconds. You've been brought up that way, it's not your fault. I'm not tryin to make fun of ya or nothin. But we have to
keep it so that there's one predominant idea out in front so you can sort of follow a thread of what's going on.Now we come to the
question of specific electronic effects. I've been requested to explain to you how some of the noises we got on the Freak Out album
were manufactured. On the second disc of Freak Out we have a long tune which is called the Return of the Son of Monster Magnet.
This was an unfortunate incident. [clears throat] I'm still a little bit angry that the company did not allow me to finish the
composition. What you hear on the album is the rhythm track - that is, just like the basic foundation for a piece of music that was
never completed. Y'know they -- I don't see how they could take it upon themselves to release an incompleted piece. But they did
and a number of people have come up to me and said how wonderful it is. But I think it's really crappy and I'll tell you how we made
it sound that way. The rhythm consists of one set of drums and [cues song]
mmm about five hundred dollars worth of rented percussion equipment. The five -- the rental of five hundred dollars was for one
night. They had the whole room full of all different kinds of drums and had about a couple hundred people in the room and I just
said, 'Bang on the drums and do what ya want.' And we recorded a great deal of this type of sound. Sort of spontaneous hokum. Then
this was listened to, sifted through, the choicest noises were picked out, edited together and superimposed on the basic rhythm
track with the drums with a little knob, two or three oscillators, with sounds played inside of a grand piano, dropping things on
the strings of the piano, plucking, smashing, grunting, bashing,I don't know -- noise. That was all assembled to be ... the first
-- the first half of the composition. The second half was built mainly on vocal sounds modified by changing the speed of the tape
and different equilization characteristics.[song ends]
Which is to say, equilization is uhhh an electronic dealie whereby you can emphasize certain frequencies of uhh a voice or an
instrument or a type of sound. It's like the bass and treble controls on your amplifier or your hi-fi set except in the studio you
have the capability of emphasizing certain frequencies. If you were, let's say to emphasize the 500 cycle component of a given sound
uhh, if you emphasize the 500 cycle on a voice, the voice tends to become fat and blurry. If however, you're boosting the voice at
4000 cycles it will become crisp. It is also conceivable that if you boosted these -- both of these components at the same time you
might have a fat, blurry, crisp voice. We do not ahh, have a great deal of money to experiment around with all the possibilities
for studio usage, right now. But one of these days when we get rich, we'll be able to go into a studio and grab a hold of every
knob we can get our hands on and turn them all and see what they will do to the sound of normal instruments and to the sound of
Frank Zappa: Within the scope of our limited teenage budget, we have managed to make unusual sounds out of your everyday household variety
human voices and uhh rock and roll instruments. It is uhh possible to mangle the sound of uhh - any -- anything in the studio.
You can take for instance, the sound of a voice and by using the device known as a filter, instead of boosting certain acoustical
components of the voice you can eliminate them. Filters chop sounds out. If you were to filter a voice at 750 cycles, which is to
say all sound below 750 is removed, you get the effect of a cardboard voice. Sort of like what Paul McCartney got on one of those
songs on uhhh the Revolver album. I forget which one -- I think, "Within You and without You". No, that's not it. I don't know what
I'm talking about. Well anyway, I never listen to the Beatles. But he did this one where he sounds like there's this little weasely
voice in the background and it's a filtered voice. And ahh a more simplified version of the technique is to be heard in uhhh
"Winchester Cathedral" where it sounds like megaphone a-go-go. Another thing you can do to enhance the sound of the human voice to
absurdity -- ahh, I've used this on our new album which will be out in about four weeks, you take a plastic coffee cup such as the
one sitting before me and you punch the bottom of it out and you stick your mouth on the end that you just punched out. Use that as
a megaphone and sing or speak very slightly and it gets the crappiest sound you can imagine and makes your voice sound like -- well,
we don't sing too hot anyway, but some of the effects we were able to achieve with a plastic coffee cup and the right sort of knob
turning in the control room -- well, we really came up with some unusual sound, let me tell you. Also, the electronic effects
present on the third album, which, in case you're interested is entitled 'We're Only In It For The Money' get very intriguing at
times. One piece on this album called 'The Chrome-Plated Megaphone of Destiny' was constructed by -- Oh, here's a coffee cup
somebody's gonna let me demo-- Oh Here's a good one, [thru the cup]-- 'Winchester Cathedral, doo-do-do, too doo' ... this isn't the
best kinda mic to use for this. You need a Sony mic. They really do a good number. Here we have some dismal RCA microphone.
It's probably not a very spiffy one at all. You know how those big companies are. [thru the cup] 'dat-dah-ta-dot Dahhh --
doo-dooh-dah-ta-dot Dahh' - just like Duane Eddy. 'Doot-dah-ta-dot-dahh'. Enough of that.
On The Chrome Plated Megaphone of Destiny, we began by creating what you'd call your basic blerch track. The blerch track was
constrcuted by setting up in the studio two Norman microphones and a pile of musical instruments, drums, chairs, music stands,
sticks, uhh, wastebaskets, anything that we could our hands on that would make a noise if you hit it or kicked it over or did
something. We put it in a pile in the middle of the room and then very carefully went out there and kicked things over. Building up
piles of stuff and knocking it over, beating on individual ahhh pieces of equipment. Shuffling our feet and just making random
sounds. While we were doing this, the engineer was controlling the speed of the tape with a device known as a VFO which is a Variable
Frequency Oscillator. This controls the voltage to the tape recorder which in turn controls the speed of the tape moving past the
heads. If you speed the tape up as it goes past the heads, the sound of the material on the tape when played back at normal speed
will appear to be lower in pitch. And conversely, if you slow the tape down while you're recording it, the stuff comes out sounding
higher. Well, what he was doing was varying the speed constantly during the time we were kicking these things over. So, you'd get
these strange effects where a pile of garbage is struck, begins to fall and as it falls it sort of goes into slow motion and as the
things begin to settle on the floor and stop rolling around the speed suddenly becomes very high pitched. We made approximately
twenty minutes of this sort of background information. [coughs] Pardon me. This particular information was then subjected to a
series of modifications.
Modification One consisted of playing the tape backwards and adding to it what you'd call you're tape delay reverb. We call this
the Dreamland Reverberator at the studio and what it is, is a means of feeding back the original signal onto the uhh another tape
and then back onto the original tape so it -- you multiply the number of sounds being heard. It's like an echo repeat and the number
of echo repeats can be varied and the speed at which the repeats will occur can also be varied. We had a very slow echo repeat on
our blerch track. But because we played the blerch track backwards while we were putting the echo on it a strange thing occurs.
Now, see if you can follow this. It gets a little bit involved here. You have your original material on the tape. You play it backwards
and you add a tape delay. That means as a sound is hit backwards you got these repeats trailing off it. Now when you play that
forwards what you get is a series of anticipations creeping down onto each initial pulse. Instead of the echo following the note,
the echo would precede the note or the noise as it was in this case.
We then took the echo'd tape and filtered it ... at random through a device known as a Poltek [?] filter. You have two knobs.
One knob controls the filtering of the low frequencies and the other knob controls the filtering of the high frequencies. The knob
on the bottom reads from 50 cycles on up to 2000 cycles. The knob on the top reads from I think it's 15000 cycles down to 1500 cycles.
If you turn these knobs at random you are chopping out at random certain components of the noises which are on the tape. When you
make the transfer to another tape and what comes on -- what is present on the other tape when you are done is a filtered version of
the original. Got that kids? Ok. We now have a filtered blerch tape.
Now in recording you have a factor known as distortion. Distortion is something that happens when what you're putting on the tape
is too loud for what the tape is capable of handling and what it sounds like is noise. Real garbled nonsense. We created from our
initial blerch track which was labeled for laboratory convenience 'Sock Hop', we created a sort of rhythm track for the rest of
this piece. The piece in general consists of ahh six tracks of woodwind instruments, five tracks of piano, and four tracks of laugh.
That's a human voice laughing in very strange ways. This is the voice of the engineer. We had to get him into the act becausehe was
a good laugher. This was all accompanied by the blerch track.
The way we did this -- this was done on a twelve-track machine by the way at Apostolic Studios on Tenth Street in New York --
we had the woodwind, piano, laugh material on several tracks and as we were mixing it down we're adding to it this blerch track.
And the way we do this is, you have these things called faders which are volume controls which control the sound of the different
tracks that are going to -- that are being combined onto a piece of quarter-inch tape. A little skinny piece of tape that's easy to
carry around with ya. Now these faders are supposed to be adjusted so that the volume going onto the tape does not exceed a certain
point. If you exceed that certain point, one, you will never be able to get it onto a disc and two, you probably won't ever be able
to recognize it because it will be completely distorted. Well, we ignored this rule.
The volume at which we ahh we re-recorded the blerch track was set at piercing. And there are switches right by the fader which --
it's like an on and off switch. If you turn the switch one way, the fader is engaged. And you can slide it up and down or back and
forth and that - that will adjust the volume of the material that you're re-recording. But if the switch above the fader is in the
off position, the fader is not operative. Got that? OK. After we start the tape running along we begin with the faders in the OFF
position. That means although our source tape for -- of the blerch track is rolling along, nothing is heard. See? Simultaneously we
are playing back the twelve-tracks of woodwinds, piano and voice.
Oh, OK. I got a note here that says 'We gotta go soon. Let's do a few socio-political questions, NOW'. OK buddy. Whip it on me.
OK Frank. What do you think of America's bizarre new subculture the hippies.
Tell us about 'em.
Cause for alarm or approval?
Well, one thing that I've found about the hippies is that they're really not bizarre at all. I don't think anybody really knows
what bizarre means yet. [long pause] Other than that, the hippies are fun to watch.
Do you agree with 'Do Your Thing?'
Yeah, I agree with Do Your Thing but the trouble is that the hippies don't do anything except sit around. If that's their thing.
I don't know whether that's cause for approval or what. What do you think buddy?
heheh Do Your Thing.
If the thing is picking your nose, how do you make judgements about that? Do you judge the quality of what comes out of your nose?
That's about the level of criticism that we're on.
Well, they said the hippie movement is dead. They had the death of the hippie in San Francisco and I don't know if that's true or
not but do you think -- what do you think's gonna follow this? Do you think they're gonna go back to Davy Crockett hats or -- or
Oh, I don't know --
Nothin? Any ideas?
No. I don't care either.
Do you think the hippies have had an effect on changing the media in this country?
Absolutely. When you can see dress shops selling their product using the word 'psychedelic', you can believe that the hippies have
had a great deal of influence ... on America ... today.
Do you think that this influence has been for the better? Such as Top 40 radio changing their format.
Do you think hippies have changed the format of Top 40 radio?
No, money has but the market has changed,
I don't see that. I still see the bulk of programming on Top 40 radio as y'know the same hokum that it was when I was listening to
it a million years ago.
Do you think the Mothers of Invention will ever have a hit?
Yeah, in about four weeks. [laughter] Be serious, would you?
Well, you're releasing it aren't you?
Ok. We got a question from the control room. Believe it or not. They want to know in the control room what you think of LBJ.
I want to know ... why that would be a question that somebody would ask ya if you're a musician.
I have no idea.
Why does anybody want to know what I think about a buffoon?
I think he'd make a great fat cowboy. He should be a uhh, sort of like a -- Connect it. If we were making a low budget western
movie I would cast Lyndon Johnson as a shifty bartender.
Huh! What do you have to say about the dope scene?
I don't know anything about the dope scene because I don't use any dope. And all I know about the dope scene is most of the people
that I see involved in it turn out to be ahhh -- Now see I from time to time I get a chance to watch people in the whole evolution
from ahh starting out with the -- ahhh -- there's one famous person that I'm thinking of in particular that started out as what
you'd call your jovial alchoholic. And went on to bigger and better numbers. Went to pot and then went to LSD and now is babbling
around -- is spreading the gospel of love and truth and he's making a complete idiot out of himself. Poor fella.
And then what happened?
heheh [someone is leaving]
OK. Bye then.
Frank, Could I ask you a question? Do you know if there was a problem with the sound of or what the problems was the sound or with
the recordings or if
No, I learned about that part in my time with the Mothers. I had a recording studio,
Y'know, like I've learned -- Electronics, ahhh, as applied to what we're doing now is a growing field. Studios are becoming
equipped with more specialized equipment as the demand arises for this equipment.
I mean all these knobs and buttons are obviously expensive things and most studios won't go ahead and install specialized equipment
unless they think there's really a need for it. Now that the groups are becoming more interested in electronic music the studios
are being equipped more extensively.
Yeah it'll -- the same'll influence it some more by being available --
Sure, it's available and the one thing that seems to be prevalent in the pop music scene today -- there's a lot of curiosity among
the young people involved about sound, the nature of sound and ah, what can ya do with it and ah how, y'know? They want to know,
they want to learn, but they, they don't have access to the proper tools to find out.
For instance, Micky Dolenz has a Moogsynthesizer but he doesn't know what the fuck to do with it.
So he's experimenting? [?]
Well, he is but he ...[garbled]... doesn't have the practical skill to manipulate the instrument. Like at this studio that we've
been working at in New York, I think I've got 'em talked into installing a device that's called a Double Ring Modulator. That's it
which -- no fooling -- pumping the voice into it. And the voice is modulated , effected by a signal emitted by either an oscillator
or another instrument or another voice. Y'know, one sound source modifies the output of the first sound source. Two plugs going in
and one plug going out. The sound that comes out is a product of -, let's say that you're singing a note into the modulator that's
a thousand cycles and you're feeding a tone into the modulator from an oscillator that's 300 cycles, the output of the device is a
-- the sum of the two tones, 1300 cycles and also, uhh, 700 cycles which is also a thousand minus 300. You can have a thousand,
seven hundred and thirteen hundred. That gives you an arbitrarily formed chord. As you sing and your pitch goes up and down,
the 300 cycle thing going remains the same and these ratios change and all these chords change and the sound
the 300 cycle acts like, acts as a pedal pump
No you don't even hear that
Yeah. You can hear it. You can turn it on and make it ahh evident in the product of what's coming out but you don't really
-- you'll have the initial signal and the product signals
Oh, I see. OK.
The result with a human voice is a sound that is a cross between chimes, bells and a buzzsaw
Only as chords. Now this device is available for about 635 dollars from Moog equipment.
Is -- is anyone else using that?
Not in rock and roll -- or even in pop music. That's a good reason you don't have electronic compositions and they don't have a
sense the effect that electronic signals have.
* this sounds a lot like the woman that would be in Uncle Meat, Phyllis Altenhaus.