The Yellow Shark, An Appreciation. Merry Zappadan.
By mid-1985, an entire town in eastern Missouri called Times Beach was evacuated because it was horribly polluted with dioxin.
The reason the town was polluted with dioxin—and I mean it was everywhere, in their soil, in their water table, everywhere—was because the town had hired some redneck to spray their roads with spent engine oil to keep the dust down.
Just so happens that this redneck at some point secured a contract with some local chemical company to get rid of its toxic waste. So, of course, he thought. Why not spray the roads with it.
Unbelievable. More details are in the Wiki.
The Aspen Wind Quintet commissioned Zappa to write the five-part piece named for this unfortunate town.
Ensemble Modern Director Peter Rundel, from the Yellow Shark liner notes:
We had a very interesting experience with that piece. When we played it for the first time, it was in L.A., and we thought it was a very, very abstract piece of modern music. I think we didn’t understand what it was, or how it should be played. After all that work, it came very late into the concert program. We had already prepared other pieces, but we needed something more. The musicians opposed it but I said maybe we should try that again. Frnak said, “Why not, let’s do it,” and it became very clear how to play it. It had no dynamics, no articulation-just plain notes. Frank sang the phrase for us. Suddenly, it became very lively, and the character of the music came out. It was not an abstract kind of music anymore.
I shall be forever curious as to why these two pieces are not presented one after the other on the CD or, as it appears, in the program. The track listing as it goes from one movement to the next, is like this: “Times Beach II,” “III Revised,” “The Girl in the Magnesium Dress,” “Be-Bop Tango,” “Ruth Is Sleeping,” “None of the Above,” “Pentagon Afternoon,” “Questi Cazzi Di Piccione,” “Times Beach III.” Why split up two movements of the same piece for winds with so much activity in between?
I kind of prefer this method of listening. Play the first one here, then stop it at 7:19 and pretend that Peter Rundel’s baton never came to his waist, and play the second one. You might then get a sense of continuity in the Times Beach piece.
And, know this. The key to listening to these pieces? Bear in mind that the star of the show is the oboe. Listen for the oboe principally and you’ll do just fine. Here you go now.