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It Must Be a Camel & Zappa

From Hot Rats (1969). Brilliant album, brilliant song.

This is a massively overdubbed, multi-track production. It was later remixed, but this is the original. I confess, some of the instruments are a puzzle to me. “Octave bass” is a bass guitar sped up to double speed, but I don’t know what “organus maximus” and “snorks” are. Reader commentary is welcome! Anyway, Frank Zappa (guitar, octave bass, percussion), Ian Underwood (piano, organus maximus, flute, all clarinets, all saxes), Max Bennett (bass), John Guerin (drums), Jean-Luc Ponty (violin), Lowell George (guitar), Harvey Shantz (Snorks).

Interesting excerpt from the Wikipedia entry!

Zappa used advanced recording equipment to create an album of outstanding technical and musical quality. The album was recorded on what Zappa described as a “homemade sixteen track” recorder; the machine was custom built by engineers at TTG Studios in Hollywood in late 1968. Additional tracks made it possible for Zappa to add multiple horn and keyboard overdubs by Ian Underwood. Only a few musicians were required to create an especially rich instrumental texture which gives the sound of a large group. It was this use of advanced overdubbing that was the main motivation for Zappa, who hated playing in a studio.

Zappa was among the first to record drums on multiple tracks. This made it possible to create a stereo drum sound. Prior to this time the entire drum set was typically recorded to a single (mono) track of an 8-track recorder. On Hot Rats, however, four of the tracks were assigned to the main drum set, including individual tracks for the snare and bass drums and left and right tracks for other drums and cymbals. In this setup the engineer had unprecedented control over the sound of each drum component in the final mix. This technique was widely imitated and became the norm in the early 1970s when machines with 16 or more tracks became widely available.

Zappa pioneered the use of tape speed manipulation to produce unusual timbres and tonal colors. On “Peaches en Regalia”, “Son of Mr. Green Genes”, and “It Must Be a Camel” Zappa plays “double-speed percussion.” After recording basic tracks (drums, bass, guitar and piano, etc.) at the fast speed of the recorder, Zappa played additional drum overdubs while listening to the basic tracks at half speed. On the finished recording, played at normal speed again, the overdubs are heard at twice the usual speed and pitch. This gives the drum overdubs a surreal, comical quality, much like toy drums.

Other instruments were processed in a similar way, including keyboards, saxophones and bass. Zappa is credited with “octave bass” (a bass guitar sped up to double speed)—the resulting sound is similar to that of a guitar but according to Zappa has more “punch” and energy. Additionally, a processed electronic organ was integrated as an orchestral voice within an ensemble of woodwinds and piano. “It Must Be a Camel” features the sound of a hard plastic comb being stroked, sounding almost like a jerky, audio slow-motion bell tree or wind chime; Zappa also ‘plays’ a ratchet wrench as percussion on “Willie the Pimp”. This was all done with analog technology more than 10 years before modern digital sound processing equipment became available.

2 responses to “It Must Be a Camel & Zappa

  1. Way off topic, have you seen this? There’s something (to borrow a cat phrase) relevant to your interests.

    • wdydfae

      I loved that article. Thanks!

      Even as well known as Jaco is, the full extent of his achievement is yet to be understood or appreciated. I’m glad the Megadeth guy is doing that project!

      I’ve gone from thinking Jaco was just a hotshot show off who could play real fast to beginning to hear how he kind of weaves a tapestry of bass around and through each song.

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