..The word derives from the Greek words ξένος (xenos), strange or alien, and χρόνος (chronos), time.
Temporality, Intentionality, and Authenticity in Frank Zappa’s Xenochronous Works
by Andre Mount;
To the uninformed listener, there is no strong evidence to suggest that Zappa’s “Friendly Little Finger,” from the 1976 album Zoot Allures, is anything other than a recorded document of an ensemble performance.
The piece begins with a brief introduction featuring a repeated riff performed on guitar, marimba, and synthesizer. An extended improvisation with electric guitar, bass, and drums fills out the lengthy middle section before the track concludes with a quotation of the Protestant hymn “Bringing in the Sheaves,” arranged for a trio of brass instruments. Despite its apparent normalcy, however, “Friendly Little Finger” combines materials from four distinct sources spanning three years of Zappa’s career.
The primary recording—a guitar solo with a droning bass accompaniment—was recorded in the dressing room of the Hofstra University Playhouse as a warm-up before a performance on October 26, 1975. Several months later, Zappa added an unrelated drum track originally intended for use on a different song (“The Ocean is the Ultimate Solution”) and a second bass part recorded at half speed. These three recordings, all appearing in the middle solo section, comprise the xenochronous core of the piece. To this, Zappa superimposed two additional recordings. The introduction comes from the same session as the added bass part, and the coda was recorded several years earlier, during a session for the song “Wonderful Wino.”
As Example 1 makes clear, the result of Zappa’s editing is a moderately dense network of temporally disjunct recordings. How is it that such seemingly disparate recordings happened to come together in this way? What inspired Zappa to take such an approach to manipulating recorded sound? Of course, examples of overdubbing in American popular music can be found at least as far back as the 1940s—recall Sidney Bechet’s One Man Band recordings in which each instrument was performed separately by Bechet himself. But while such tricks had become old hat by the mid 1970s, xenochrony stands out for it also has obvious ties to the twentieth-century art-music avant-garde.
Despite his continuing reputation as a popular musician, Zappa was remarkably well read in the theoretical discourse surrounding avant-garde art music, particularly with regards to musique concrète and tape music. He expressed an ongoing interest in John Cage’s chance operations, for example, trying them out for himself by physically cutting recorded tapes and rearranging the pieces at random for the 1968 album Lumpy Gravy. Another figure who had a profound impact on Zappa’s development as a composer was Edgard Varèse, whose music he discovered at an early age and whose writings served as inspirational mantras. Given this fascination with the avant-garde, xenochrony may be best understood as a conscious attempt by Zappa to model himself on these influential figures. His own approach to music and composition would therefore require an analogous theoretical foundation.
Xenochrony is closely tied to Zappa’s conception of temporality. Zappa often described time as a simultaneity, with all events occurring at once instead of chronologically. Toward the end of his life, in an oft-quoted conversation with cartoonist Matt Groening, Zappa explained that the idea was rooted in physics:
I think of time as a spherical constant, which means that everything is happening all the time. […] They [human beings] take a linear approach to it, slice it in segments, and then hop from segment to segment to segment until they die, and to me that is a pretty inefficient way of preparing a mechanical ground base for physics. That’s one of the reasons why I think physics doesn’t work. When you have contradictory things in physics, one of the reasons they became contradictory is because the formulas are tied to a concept of time that isn’t the proper model.continued here
Bob Marshall: In your work with "xenochrony", are you satirizing editing, the way you put things together, besides the technical innovation of doing it?
Frank Zappa: "Xenochrony" means strange synchronizations. Am I satirizing editing? I don't know whether the technical process of editing is enough of a commonly understood phenomenon that you could satirize it. You can't made a joke about something that people don't know exists. So, I would say that's not part of it.
Bob Marshall: How would you relate "xenochrony" to the time/rate thing we discussed earlier?
Frank Zappa: Well, a classic "xenochrony" piece would be "Rubber Shirt", which is a song on the SHEIK YERBOUTI album. It takes a drum set part that was added to a song at one tempo. The drummer was instructed to play along with this one particular thing in a certain time signature, eleven-four, and that drum set part was extracted like a little piece of DNA from that master tape and put over here into this little cubicle. And then the bass part, which was designed to play along with another song at another speed, another rate in another time signature, four-four, that was removed from that master tape and put over here, and then the two were sandwiched together. And so the musical result is the result of two musicians, who were never in the same room at the same time, playing at two different rates in two different moods for two different purposes, when blended together, yielding a third result which is musical and synchronizes in a strange way. That's xenochrony. And I've done that on a number of tracks.
Bob Marshall: What is the idea behind that? Or is it just an interesting sound?
Frank Zappa: What is the idea behind it? Suppose you were a composer and you had the idea that you wanted to have a drum set playing expressively and intuitively, eleven-four, at a certain tempo while an electric bass player is doing exactly the same thing in another tempo in another time signature, and you want them to do this live on stage and get a good performance. You won't get it. You can't. You can ask for it, but it won't happen. There's only one way to hear that, and that's to do what I did. I put two pieces of tape together.
Gerald Fialka: Do you realize it by chance though? Or do you say "I'm going to try this"?
Frank Zappa: That's what I do every day. I'm going to try this, and the stuff that works you keep and the stuff that doesn't you throw it away. I thought that one worked. That's why it's on the record Link