Guest blog post: Mike Bitts writes about Frank Zappa's Sinister Footwear II

(Mike approached me in October 2015 about arranging Sinister Footwear II for NakedEye. I had had a couple of drinks and said “Sure!”, not really knowing what I was getting into. I’m glad I did. Adding Zappa's Shoe Piece to our rep has been a lot of fun.)

Sinister Footwear is fairly typical of Frank Zappa's forays into contemporary orchestral music: both musically complex and cartoon-like at the same time. And it has a silly name. As was often the case with Zappa's music, Sinister Footwear started life as a collection of little musical fragments of enormous complexity that FZ would insert in the middle of otherwise “stupid songs” with his touring rock bands. Eventually these fragments were incorporated into a three movement ballet which premiered in 1984 by the Berkeley Symphony. 

I had thought for a long time that SF II would be a perfect vehicle for NakedEye Ensemble, especially regarding the possible woodwind and piano combinations doubling some of the more ridiculous rhythmic lines. Zappa liked to compose for LARGE ensembles, but these works never seemed able to fully animate an entire orchestra. I could hear NakedEye’s eight-piece instrumentation ‘animating’ the piece very nicely.

Frank Zappa with Pierre Boulez

Frank Zappa with Pierre Boulez

One of Zappa’s (many) complaints about musicians was that he wanted his orchestral music performed with a ‘rock attitude’, which he referred to as “putting the eyebrows on it”. Listening to Berkley Symphony’s rendition of SF reveals a rather dull (and sloppy) performance. "Putting the eyebrows on it" is no problem for NakedEye; they know how to take Zappa’s knotty rhythmic phrases and propel them forward, creating the drive and excitement associated with a kickass rock band rather than mere metronomic renderings. They have a wealth of experience interpreting the works of contemporary composers who grew up immersed in the timbres and rhythms of rock as well as modern classical music.

I’m hopeful that performances of Zappa’s music by contemporary groups like NakedEye Ensemble will help reach new music audiences who would otherwise likely regard Zappa as the guy who wrote Don’t Eat the Yellow Snow. NakedEye’s performance is sure to aid in rescuing Zappa’s music from the dustbin of obscurity. 

Come hear NakedEye's version of Sinister Footwear II live Saturday, May 7, 7:30PM @ Warehouse D (The Candy Factory)

Posted on February 16, 2016 .