ABSTRACT: Temporality, Intentionality, and Authenticity in Frank Zappa’s Xenochronous Works

Several days ago I received word from the IASPM-US (the International Association for the Study of Popular Music) 2010 program committee that I had another paper accepted. This conference, entitled “Births, Stages, Declines, Revivals,” will take place in New Orleans at Loyola University April 8-11, 2010. Jump for the abstract.

Temporality, Intentionality, and Authenticity in Frank Zappa’s Xenochronous Works

Despite the value of live musical interaction in rock aesthetics, many recordings present the listener with a virtual performance—a composite of temporally-disjunct elements edited together in the studio. Aesthetic discourse accommodates this contradiction by conceiving of the entire recording process as a simultaneity. Asynchronous recordings may be combined with no threat to perceived authenticity when participants work together with a shared artistic vision. In the late 1970s, Frank Zappa developed a technique for superimposing unrelated tracks from earlier projects, thereby reconfiguring temporality and creative intentionality altogether. He referred to this process as xenochrony, from the Greek xénos (strange; foreign) and chrónos (time). A hybrid of musique concrète and rock ideologies, xenochrony problematizes the dependence of rock authenticity on live performance. In this paper, I argue that Zappa both challenges and expands on this understanding of studio manipulation by treating his entire body of work as a simultaneity.

Zappa saw time as “spherical constant” in which “everything is happening all the time.” He referred to his entire output as a single, non-chronological “project/object.” Individual compositions and recordings—the constituent elements of the “project/object” are treated not only as works in and of themselves, but as potential raw material. In rejecting chronological time, xenochrony resists the idea of the finished work. In doing so, it anticipates the widespread use of sampling in contemporary music. Sampling expands the resource pool to the entirety of recorded music by further dismantling the temporal boundaries of musical production.

(Note: In a comment on my last post, reader mwilli wondered why I haven’t posted the papers themselves. I plan on publishing the papers after reading them at their respective conferences. That way, I can be free to make changes right up until the end without risk of misrepresenting myself. I’d be happy to answer any questions in the meantime!)

ABSTRACT: Temporality, Intentionality, and Authenticity in Frank Zappa’s Xenochronous Works