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Robert Fripp, the amazing guitarist (4): KING CRIMSON and Brian Eno

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Robert Fripp, the amazing guitarist (4): KING CRIMSON and Brian Eno

The Formation of King Crimson III

King Crimson II disbanded after the “Earthbound” tour, whose last gig was in Birmingham, Alabama, on April 1, 1972. Fripp was looking for something new. In November he was to say of the Earthbound period, “Having discovered what everybody [in the band] wanted to do, I found I didn’t want to do it.” (YPG 21, quoting from Sounds, Nov. 4 1972) On the following page is a condensed chronology of activities taking us from this point to the end of the King Crimson III period.

References to the printed booklet included in The Young Persons’ Guide to King Crimson are herein indicated by the abbreviation YPG followed by column numbers. The booklet itself, however, contains neither page nor column numbers. Therefore, if you wish to find the exact location of a YPG quotation listed in these Notes, you must number the columns in YPG yourself. Begin with “1” at the first column (1968-June 1).

robert fripp king crimson sheet music

Immediately following the Earthbound tour, in May 1972, Fripp set about forming a new King Crimson. This time, you can practically hear the man muttering under his breath, it’s no more Mr. Nice Guy. In point of fact, Fripp was determined to make a break from the chaos and instability of KC II as well as from some of the musical styles of that “interim” period, to get back somehow to the intangible spirit of King Crimson that was continuing to haunt him like a demon. Perhaps as a symbol of the changes to be made, Fripp cut his long frizzy hair around this time and sprouted a neat little beard – changing his visual appearance from latter-day hippie to fastidiously groomed young intellectual musician.

A man like Fripp does not believe that things happen by accident, but rather looks for synchronistically significant signs, reading the screen of his perceptions as a metaphorical psychic tableau. In the late spring of 1972 a number of such signs seemed to present themselves in an auspicious constellation, and Fripp’s confidence was high.

To begin with, there was the matter of enlisting the talents of experimental percussionist and notorious mystical crazy man Jamie Muir, whose list of avant-garde credits included work with saxophonist Evan Parker, guitarist Derek Bailey, the Battered Ornaments and Boris. Muir’s name had been crossing the screen of Fripp’s awareness for several years. Fripp had felt it inevitable that some day they would work together. He told an interviewer in 1973, “When I finally phoned him up, we talked as if we’d known each other for a long time. He expected to be in King Crimson and had been waiting for my call.” (Crowe 1973, 22)

Then there was the matter of bassist/singer John Wetton, who, like Muir, had been on Fripp’s mind for some time. Wetton was, like Fripp, Greg Lake, and several other musicians in the King Crimson circle, from the Bournemouth area – Fripp and Wetton had known each other in college – and had worked his way up in local bands before joining the eclectic progressive rock group Family in 1970. Wetton left Family to briefly join Mogul Thrash, and when that band fell apart in early 1971, Wetton, looking for work, called Fripp up in late January, a week after Fripp had concluded his torturous and lengthy auditioning of bass players by choosing Boz. By October 1971, Fripp had a proposition for King Crimson II members Collins, Boz, and Wallace, as well as for Wetton: Wetton would join the band, freeing Boz to concentrate more on his vocal duties. The band members rejected the idea; they wanted Boz to continue on bass.

For his part, Wetton declined; he later said, “I didn’t think I’d get on with that band at all. Fripp was just using me then as an ally. Saying ‘Listen, I’m outnumbered; there are three people who want to play this kind of music and only me who wants to play this kind of music. Help.’ I didn’t think that was a very good pretext for joining the band so I said no.” (Rosen 1983, 22) Score one for Wetton’s strength and independence; so far so bad for Fripp’s designs on Wetton’s talents. But when KC II finally came apart, the time was ripe: what had been out of sync now fell together, and Fripp and Wetton finally seemed to need each other at the same time.

Wetton later said the idea was to rebuild the band from the ground up: “We totally re-designed the band, we updated it. I felt that the band before ours, the Islands band, was a little dated. They were trying to play pseudo kind of pop funk and it just didn’t gel. So we put it back on the rails again and headed it in a progressive direction with Larks’ Tongues in Aspic.” (Rosen 1983, 22) Wetton, who after KC III was to play with Uriah Heep and Asia, had a vigorous, muscular touch with the bass and was known for his habit of breaking strings.

Then there was the business of Yes drummer Bill Bruford, who had also been filtering in and out of Fripp’s line of vision ever since March 1970, when Yes had asked Fripp to join the band to replace guitarist Peter Banks. Fripp had declined, intent on pursuing his musical goals within the framework of King Crimson (even though King Crimson at that point in time was rather in disarray). From then to the spring of 1972, Yes went on to do what many, feel was their best work, culminating in the epic rock sonata “Close to the Edge.” Around May or June 1972, Fripp, guitar and amplifier in tow, joined Bruford for dinner at the latter’s house one evening. After the repast they played a bit of music together at Fripp’s suggestion, and before you could say “incredible drummer – obvious choice,” Bruford had accepted a post in King Crimson.

Thus was born a musical collaboration which in a sense endured for over a decade, since Bruford was back when King Crimson was born again, mark IV, in the 1980s. Perhaps more than most of the musicians who have played in King Crimson, Bruford bought into the Frippian philosophy ever hovering somewhere amid the shadowy columns of the Court – a philosophy for which Fripp, of course, refused to take direct credit (or in a sense responsibility), preferring to reserve that honor for the mythical entity of “King Crimson” itself.

When KC IV broke out in 1981, for instance, Bruford, simultaneously endorsing and distancing himself from the philosophy, would say that despite the endless personnel changes over the years, “basically this thing, King Crimson, continues, because there was a spirit about it and an attractive way of thinking about music, some ground rules, which continue. Robert will talk endlessly about icons and things, but to us plain Englishmen it just seems a very good idea for a group and we’ve re-harnessed this, we’ve kind of gone back into it.” (Dallas 1981, 27)

There were those in the music press who wondered aloud why Bruford would choose to quit Yes, a group that precisely then was sitting on top of the pinnacle of commercial and artistic success, to join King Crimson, a somewhat suspect band, not quite on the same rank from a sales viewpoint – a band which had by this time become almost a joke in terms of its perpetual instability and volatility, and whose music was perceived as uneven, risky, and of dubious commercial value.

But for his part, Bruford felt he had learned all he could musically from the Yes lineup; an artistic adventure with Fripp and company held out potentially greater personal rewards than continuing to beat time for one of progressive rock’s unquestioned supergroups. He was also eager to work with percussionist Muir, who appeared to Bruford as a direct link with “the world of free jazz and inspiration,” as he put it. (Crowe 1973, 22)

Fripp, as part of his overall effort to banish immediate musical memories and habits, to rejuvenate his imagination, decided against using a reed player, saxophone had been a big part of the whole King Crimson sound right from the beginning, one reason why the group was so strongly associated with jazz-rock. Fripp instead opted for a violin and viola player who could complement his own melodic guitar work with a new range of tone color, and who could also double on mellotron and other keyboards in certain situations.

That player was David Cross, a musician with a classical background who had floated around the music scene and had worked with a pop-rock singer named P.J. Proby and folk-rock band the Ring. Cross described his recruitment casually: “Yeah, Robert came down and we got it together and had a couple of blows.” (Corbett 1973, n.p.) Like Bruford, Cross found the prospect, and then the reality, of working with percussionist Muir exciting; in 1973, he was to say, “We all learned an incredible amount from Jamie. He really was a catalyst of this band in the beginning and he opened up new areas for Bill to look into as well as affecting the rest of us.” (Corbett 1973, n.p.)

By July 1972 King Crimson III – Fripp, Muir, Wetton, Bruford, and Cross – was complete. Rehearsals commenced on September 4. The following year, Fripp would tell Rolling Stone writer Cameron Crowe: “I’m not really interested in music; music is just a means of creating a magical state … One employs magic every day. Every thought is a magical act. You don’t sit down and work spells and all that hokey stuff. It’s simply experimentation with different states of consciousness and mind control.” (Crowe 1973, 22) This from a man who had made (and to this day still makes) a deliberate practice, even a personal crusade, of not using drugs – from a musician some have perceived as the world’s most rational rock star.

Robert Fripp viewed King Crimson as something outside himself, an entity, a being, a presence, which he could respond to, whose instrument he could become, but which was somehow intrinsically beyond him, not of his own creation, and over which, in spite of his dogged efforts to serve, he could ultimately exercise no real control. Fripp could say King Crimson was “too important to let die,” and devote the better part of his life energy to keeping it alive, but in the final analysis he acknowledged it had a life and will of its own.

Struggling mightily with this force, a force perceived to be other, outside the realm of the personal ego, making journeys into the realm of the magical, the unknown, the unconscious, Fripp repeatedly persevered and brought back fragments of the world lying below or beyond everyday awareness. King Crimson, a name coined to stand for Beelzebub, the devil, prince of demons, was a power that Fripp felt called to contend with.
Fripp was, in the latter half of the 1980s, to formulate and officially promulgate the image of a more benevolent presence to whose call he had responded: he would call it simply “music.” But in mid-1972, music’s alter ego, or shadow, or compellingly seductive twin, or bastard offspring, or fallen angel, still commanded the twenty-six-year-old Fripp’s imagination: he called it “King Crimson.”

Fripp and Eno

Throughout his tenure with King Crimson in the 1970s, Fripp found time to do session work with other musicians. He guested on Van der Graaf Generator’s H to He Who Am the Only One (1970) and Pawn Hearts (1971), as well as on Peter Hammill’s solo 1972 album Fool’s Mate. As a producer, Fripp’s credits included Centipede’s Septober Energy (1971), Matching Mole’s Little Red Record (1972), and Keith Tippett’s Blueprint (1971) and Ovary Lodge (1972). Fripp met many musicians in his travels; one planned collaboration that didn’t pan out was to have been an album with former Procol Harum guitarist Robin Trower, a project Fripp mentioned in a 1974 interview. (Dove 1974, 14)

One evening in September 1972, around the same time as KC III was commencing rehearsals, Brian Eno invited Fripp over to his home studio and showed him a system of producing music by using two tape recorders set up so that when a single sound was played, it was heard several seconds later at a lower volume level, then again several seconds later at a still lower level, and so on. The system permitted adjustments of various kinds, having to do with volume levels and length of delay; further, the live signal could be disconnected from the loop, so that the already-recorded sounds would repeat indefinitely while a live “solo” line could be played over the top. With this simple set-up, the two musicians set gleefully to work, and within forty-five minutes had produced a long (20’53”) piece they called “The Heavenly Music Corporation,” which was to become Side One of their No Pussyfooting album, released the following year.

Fripp had the highest respect for Eno, in spite of the fact that the latter’s instrumental skills were minimal. Fripp said in 1979, “Eno is one of the very few musicians I’ve worked with who actually listens to what he’s doing. He’s my favorite synthesizer player because instead of using his fingers he uses his ears.” (Garbarini 1979, 32)

With its drony opening, its rhapsodic modal guitar melodizing, its hypnotically returning cycles of phrases, and its sheer duration, “The Heavenly Music Corporation” could be called a

classic mixture of raga, minimalism, and rock, were it not for the fact that Fripp wasn’t using Indian scales in any systematic way, nor had he yet had much exposure to the American minimalists. A guitarist’s and technician’s tour de force, the piece rewards close listening with its slow changes of color, emphasis, and tonality. For once, Fripp did shut out all distractions, remove all superfluous musical elements, and just play his guitar.
No Pussyfooting was a major point of departure for both musicians, and Fripp seemed to recognize it instantly as such. So much did Fripp like “The Heavenly Music Corporation” that when King Crimson went on the road in the fall of 1972, he would play the tape before the band came onstage and after they left. Fripp and Eno would continue to collaborate throughout the 1970s: 1975 saw the release of their joint ambient album Evening Star, Fripp’s first major release following the demise of King Crimson III, and Fripp guested on Eno’s solo albums Here Come the Warm Jets (1973), Another Green World (1975), Before and After Science (1977), and Music for Films (1978). A number of brilliantly inspired Fripp guitar solos are stashed away in these albums, notably on the songs “Baby’s On Fire” (Here Come the Warm Jets) and “St Elmo’s Fire” (Another Green World).

The “Larks’ Tongues” Period

With scarcely a month of rehearsals behind them, King Crimson III played four gigs in October at Frankfurt’s Zoom Club, followed by one at the Redcar Jazz Club. Between November 10 and December 15 they toured Britain, playing twenty-seven gigs. There was a renewed emphasis on improvisation in live performance in King Crimson’s music of this period – but not the kind of improvisation common in jazz and rock, where one soloist at a time takes center stage and riffs and rhapsodizes, running through his chops while the rest of the band lays back and comps along with set rhythm and chord changes.

In its best moments, King Crimson improvisation during this period was a group affair, a kind of music-making process in which every member of the band was capable of making creative contributions at every moment. Mindless individual soloing was frowned upon; rather, everyone had to be listening to everyone else at every moment, to be able to react intelligently and creatively to the group sound. This was a period when Fripp stressed the “magic” metaphor time and again; for to him, when group improvisation of this sort really clicked, it was nothing short of bona fide white magic.

Violinist/keyboardist David Cross described the process this way:

“We’re so different from each other that one night someone in the band will play something that the rest of us have never heard before and you just have to listen for a second. Then you react to his statement, usually in a different way than they would expect. It’s the improvisation that makes the group amazing for me. You know, taking chances. There is no format really in which we fall into. We discover things while improvising and if they’re really basically good ideas we try and work them in as new numbers, all the while keeping the improvisation thing alive and continually expanding.” (Corbett 1973) Bruford stressed the group participation in improvisation, using the image of “a kind of fantastic musical sparring match.” (YPG 22, Sounds, Nov. 18 1972)

Other than in the memories of those who went to King Crimson concerts in the Larks’ Tongues period, in the published reviews, and in bootleg tapes of the music, there is no record of what was by most accounts a musical phenomenon that had to be experienced to be believed. Bill Bruford, for one, was surprised by the positive reaction to the group’s playing: “After all, we walk on stage and play an hour and a quarter of music which isn’t on record, and they haven’t heard before, often with no tonal or rhythmic centre.” (YPG 23, MM, Dec. 2 1972)

Following the first KC III British tour (which concluded on December 15), in January and February of 1973 King Crimson went into Command Studios in London to make the album that would become known as Larks’ Tongues in Aspic. It was Muir who came up with the title. When the group was playing back a tape of an instrumental piece they had just made, Muir was asked what it reminded him of; he said without hesitation, “Why, larks’ tongues in aspic, what else?” (Crowe 1973, 22) (Aspic is defined as a jelly used to garnish or make a mold of meat or vegetables, or a lavender yielding a volatile oil. Take your pick.) The degree to which the music of Larks’ Tongues reflects King Crimson’s live playing of the period is open to debate, yet it seems that the two collectively-composed instrumental pieces, “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part One,” and “The Talking Drum,” contain, even in their studio versions, significant elements of group improvisation.

The other instrumental, “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part Two,” is listed as a Fripp composition, and the remaining three pieces are more or less carefully worked-out songs with lyrics by Richard Palmer-James. However well Larks’ Tongues represents or does not represent the live Crimson sound, though, at least the album was made in what Fripp considered to be the proper organic sequence: first you go out and make live music and get the audience’s feedback, then you go into a studio to record the music you have created in a live situation – rather than first composing and recording an album in sterile conditions and then going on the road to “promote” it.

Furthermore, with Larks’ Tongues King Crimson was decisively back in a situation of collective authorship; the music of the previous two studio albums, Islands and Lizard, had been entirely by Fripp (even the composition of Poseidon had been mostly Fripp’s affair). Cross put it this way: “We all did contribute equally to the ‘Larks’ Tongues in Aspic’ album, although Robert was definitely the unifying force behind it.” (Corbett 1973, n.p.) The album’s cover sported a symbolic tantric design of the moon and sun embedded in each other – a union of masculine and feminine principles.


• David Cross: violin, viola, mellotron
• Robert Fripp: guitar, mellotron and devices
• John Wetton: bass and vocals
• Bill Bruford: drums
• Jamie Muir: percussion and allsorts
Side One

LARKS’ TONGUES IN ASPIC, PART ONE (by Cross, Fripp, Wetton, Bruford, and Muir). Opens with Muir rapidly stroking a thumb piano. Bells/cymbals and a high flute enter. Crescendo of cymbal trill, descrescendo of thumb piano. Repeated notes on violin; fuzz guitar careens through diminished harmonic areas; Bruford warms up on drums, then whole band slams in. Shall I go on? In essence, what follows is an impressive and somewhat scarifying display of group togetherness, in a number of sections set off by contrasting instrumentation, textures, harmonic premises, dynamics, and mood. Conflict and contrast continue to be dominant issues in King Crimson music, in this piece there is everything from solo fiddle to crashing fusion band and quasi-oriental unison lines. (I don’t believe it – I just played the whole thing at 45 RPM while writing this – daughter Lilia was playing speeded-up Switched-on Bach this morning, as is her wont. So it wasn’t just that cup of dark French roast – I thought “Larks’ Tongues, Part I” was longer than that. Actually sounded pretty good, though – the structure was more evident than I’ve ever heard it before.)

BOOK OF SATURDAY (by Fripp, Wetton, and Palmer-James). An evocative, melancholy minor ballad. Not like earlier Crimson ballads however: more energy, movement, pluck, and a few little twisty harmonic and rhythmic complications to take it out of the 4 + 4 + 4 + 4 phraseology that dragged down some earlier songs.

EXILES (by Cross, Fripp, and Palmer-James). Strange burblings and percussives lead into another moody song, sung verses alternating with freer pulseless sections. The sung bridge contains some remarkable (for rock) modulations – Wetton taking a tip or two from the Brahms/Procol Harum harmonic cookbook. One thing one notices is how Bruford is able, and here willing, to keep himself out of the way more than previous KC drummers – more the Ringo Starr school of percussion, which in a song like “Exiles” is entirely appropriate.

Side Two
EASY MONEY (by Fripp, Wetton, and Palmer-James). Funny thing, having the accompaniment in 4 and the vocal in 7. Makes you feel like there’s a fifth wheel on the cart somewhere. But clearly, metrical complications do not in themselves music make. In spite of valiant “funny sounds” efforts by Muir, the long instrumental portions never really take off.

THE TALKING DRUM (by Cross, Fripp, Wetton, Bruford, and Muir). Sound effects move to tritone bass ostinato over softly percolating percussion and drums, Cross and Fripp come in with modal soloing (and a funny mode indeed it be) tonic of A, scale A-Bb-C-C#-D#-E-F-G#, with other notes from time to time), gradual crescendo, suddenly broken off molto appassionato by horrific squeals, which launch directly into …

LARKS’ TONGUES IN ASPIC, PART TWO (by Fripp). On the one hand, an intellectual metrical exercise (O.K. fellows, can you count this?) and an arcane study in whole-tone, tritone, and other exotic chord root relationships, and on the other hand a stingingly original and strangely rousing piece of instrumental rock and roll. Yeah, you can say that the rhythmic organization is “studied,” “labored,” “unnatural,” and so forth. But for Fripp music like this offers the opportunity for players and audiences to concentrate, to concentrate in that peculiar way only difficult music can make us. Try playing it at 45 (turning up the bass to compensate for lost low frequencies) – I just did (intentionally this time), and it sounds much more “musical.”

Dynamic contrast is of the essence in the music of Larks’ Tongues. There is a psychological difference between loud and soft, after all, and in an age when compressors and limiters have squashed the dynamic range of recorded popular music down to the point where a delicately plucked acoustic guitar note or sensitively crooned vocal phrase comes out of your speakers at the same actual volume level as the whole damned synthesized band when it’s blowing away at top intensity, listening to Larks’ Tongues’ startling contrasts of dynamics is a tonic for the ears. It’s more real, it’s more true. Y’know what I mean?

The “Starless” Period

King Crimson played two gigs at London’s Marquee on February 10 and 11, 1973 – dates booked, according to Bruford, for “pure enjoyment and relaxation” to take some pressure off the band during the period of the intense Larks’ Tongues recording sessions. (Crowe 1973, 22) At the first gig, Muir dropped a gong on his foot, causing an injury of sufficient seriousness to prevent him from playing the following night. Bruford, who viewed Muir’s presence as fundamental to King Crimson, assumed that they would have to cancel the gig, but the other members convinced him that they should carry on as a quartet. (Although Muir occasionally sat down behind a trap set to augment Bruford’s drumming, his primary role seems to have been to provide dynamism with his animated stage presence and to gloss the music with an assortment of unusual sounds from a wide variety of percussion instruments, chimes, bells, mbiras, a musical saw, shakers, rattles, and miscellaneous drums.)

King Crimson, minus Muir, went ahead and did the Marquee date, and shortly thereafter Muir left the group permanently, to pursue other – shall we say perhaps related – interests: he became a monk in a monastery in Scotland.

When the recording of Larks’ Tongues was finished, King Crimson – Fripp, Bruford, Wetton, and Cross – embarked on an extensive series of tours: Britain (nine gigs, March 16 – 25); Europe (nine gigs, March 30 – April 9); America (forty-four gigs, April 18 – July 2). Back in London, Fripp took time out from King Crimson to record “Swastika Girls” (Side Two of No Pussyfooting) with Eno at Command Studios on August 4 and 5. King Crimson rehearsals in August laid the foundations of four new pieces, “Lament,” “The Night Watch,” “The Great Deceiver,” and “Fracture,” all of which were to appear on the 1974 album Starless and Bible Black.
Soon Crimson was back on the road again, with tours of America (nineteen gigs, September 19 – October 15), Britain (six gigs, October 23 – 29), and Europe (eighteen gigs, November 2 – 29). The live band continued to astound audiences and critics with their virtuosity, the scope and power of their music, and their unique outlook.

Fripp, King Crimson’s acknowledged leader, puzzled many and delightedothers with his inscrutable attitude and onstage banter. He reportedly told a Milwaukee audience on September 28, “We’re not to be enjoyed – we’re an intellectual band.” (Commenting on this remark and the sarcastic reaction it elicited from a Milwaukee critic, Fripp wrote in the Young Persons’ Guide to King Crimson, “We were surprised that so many people took everything we did so seriously.”) (YPG 27-28, Milwaukee Sentinel, Sept. 29 1973) The funny thing about Fripp, though, was that he could be so funny when he was on and when the audience was tuned into his peculiarly pontifical sense of humor. At the April 28 concert at New York’s Academy of Music, for instance, a Variety writer reported that Fripp delivered “a short comic rap plugging their new album” (Larks’ Tongues) that was “uproarious.” (Kirb 1973A, 245) When King Crimson returned to the Academy of Music on September 22, things weren’t so jolly: a breakdown in their complicated sound system caused a delay of more than two hours as a new system was hastily procured and set up. (Kirb 1973B, 272)

The exhaustion of touring, the technical problems, the surreal conditions of road life, the ever-questionable band-audience relationship, and the problematic nature of making music under such circumstances were beginning to take their toll on Fripp.

It was a pair of gigs at Italian sports arenas on November 12 and 13 that he was later to call the “turning point” for him in terms of his ability to “put up with the nonsense” that goes along with putting on a rock show. In one of his 1981 articles for Musician, Player, and Listener Fripp described the Felliniesque insanity that surrounded those two days in Turin and Rome: Maoists protesting for free admittance to the first show and crashing through a glass wall; Cross and Bruford getting drunk at an expensive dinner, throwing open wine bottles through the air and insulting the promoter’s homosexual partner; concert ticket collectors stuffing their own pockets with cash receipts; backstage machine-gun-toting security police; a stoned hippie who in full view of the audience was beat bloody by the promoter’s gun-carrying right-hand man for wandering onstage; and a desperate attempt at an encore almost scotched because members of the audience had pulled out the power cables. Fripp’s account of the whole fiasco is a miniature classic of rock tragicomedy, but the moral here is that the Italian gigs were the real beginning of the end for King Crimson.

As Fripp concludes his story, “A few months later King Crimson ‘ceased to exist’ and I began to talk a lot about small, mobile and intelligent units.” (Fripp 1981B, 48)

The frantic tours of 1973 concluded, King Crimson retired to London’s AIR Studios in January 1974 to produce their next album, Starless and Bible Black. (The title is a phrase borrowed from Dylan Thomas. By way of injecting some levity into a band situation that tended toward gravity, Bruford was fond of renaming Crimson albums; this one he called “Braless and Slightly Slack.”) (DeCurtis 1984, 22) Although edited and mixed in the studio, all but the first two pieces on Starless were recorded live at King Crimson gigs in the fall of 1973. The essentially live nature of Starless received little if any attention in the press, who treated it as a studio album; the recording quality is superb, and all audience noise save a stray distant shout here and there has been skillfully deleted. Perhaps no one knew this was a live album until Fripp spilled the beans in the fine print of the Young Persons’ Guide.

robert fripp starless sheet music

Starless was the first King Crimson album other than the live Earthbound not to provide the lyrics on the cover or inner sleeve – perhaps intentionally to de-emphasize the verbal content?


• David Cross: violin, viola, keyboards
• Robert Fripp: guitar, mellotron, devices
• John Wetton: bass and voice
• William Bruford: percussives

THE GREAT DECEIVER (by Wetton, Fripp, and Palmer-James). Studio recording. Slams off with a bluesy riff at hyperspeed. Sectional song contrasting instrumentals and vocals. Oblique references to the Devil. “The Great Deceiver” contains the only lyrics ever penned by Fripp for a King Crimson song: “Cigarettes, ice cream, figurines of the Virgin Mary” – a comment, he explained in 1980, on the woeful commercialization of Vatican City, which he’d visited on a Crimson tour in 1973. (Watts 1980, 22)

Reminding now a passage from the autobiography of spiritual teacher J.G. Bennett, who was to become a major influence on Fripp in 1974: “I can see how necessary it is to establish a new understanding of the Incarnation. The Church is equally astray in its conservative and in its modernist wings, nor is the center any better. The Catholic Church is the custodian of a mystery that it does not understand; but the sacraments and their operation are no less real for that.” (Bennett, Witness, p. 354)

LAMENT (by Fripp, Wetton, and Palmer-James). Studio recording. Slow Beatlish ballad that breaks out into rather more manic territory as the song progresses … a la Lennon in the White Album period. The Beatles never had a coda that jammed out for a few bars in seven, however.

WE’LL LET YOU KNOW (by Cross, Fripp, Wetton, and Bruford). Live recording. Instrumental. Gradually coalesces, as so many King Crimson pieces do, out of sensitively random, intentionally chaotic points of noise, into motives, rhythms, melodies: into music … of a sort.

THE NIGHT WATCH (by Fripp, Wetton, and Palmer-James). Introduction/beginning, live recording. Deftly spliced to the studio-recorded body of the song. Classic King Crimson minor ballad. Effectively understated ending.

TRIO (by Cross, Fripp, Wetton, and Bruford). Live recording. Peaceful, contemplative, tonal, somewhat out of character for a King Crimson III improvisation. Although Bruford does not play on “Trio,” he is listed as one of the co-composers. Fripp later wrote in admiration of his drummer’s restraint in this instance, explaining that Bruford was awarded joint authorship on the basis of his having “contributed silence.” (Fripp 1981B) The same role – the conscious embodiment of the presence of silence – would later occasionally be assigned to a particular member of the League of Crafty Guitarists in their live performances.

THE MINCER (by Cross, Fripp, Wetton, Bruford, and Palmer-James). Live recording, with a few overdubs. Another example of what Crimson III was liable to sound like in the throes of improvisation. The song ends unaccountably in the middle – it sounds like the tape ran out.

Side Two
STARLESS AND BIBLE BLACK (by Cross, Fripp, Wetton, and Bruford). Live recording. More gradual coalescence out of chaos. The piece recalls the first chapter of the Book of Genesis, “And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.” A lot of the high melodic stuff you hear is not Fripp but David Cross cranking up the distortion on his electric violin. Fripp ruminates meanwhile on his mellotron. Tonal center?

Pieces like this can sound totally improvised until, miraculously, everyone slams into a downbeat at precisely the same moment. You never know with King Crimson. As Bruford said, “What we’re really trying to do is to abolish the distinction between formal writing and improvising. Some of our most formal passages sound improvised and vice versa.” (Rosen 1983, 23)

FRACTURE (by Fripp). Live recording. Fripp lays down a typically edgy angular ostinato. There’s a lot of whole-tone-scale action going on in here. One of the most extensively worked-out pieces of the KC III period, “Fracture” places severe demands on technique. “One of the reasons I wrote ‘Fracture’ in the manner which I wrote it,” said Fripp, “was to put myself (and the band) in a certain situation where I had to practice every day because it’s so difficult.” (Rosen 1983, 23)

The “Red” Period and the Dissolution of King Crimson III

Inspiration continued to pay calls from time to time, but improvisation in the latter stages of King Crimson III grew increasingly frustrating. In February 1974, for instance, David Cross was reportedly having reservations: “It sometimes worries me, what we do – we stretch so far and our music is often a frightening expression of certain aspects of the world and people. It is important to have songs as well, written material, to counter-balance that so that they’re not actually driven insane … We’ve only had one moment of true peace in improvisation with this band, which was a thing we did with just violin, bass and guitar at a concert in Amsterdam. Most of the time our improvisation comes out of horror and panic.” (YPG 29, Sounds, Feb. 9 1974) (The “moment of peace” Cross refers to is probably “Trio” as heard on Starless; he got mixed up as to the instrumentation, which is actually violin, flute-mellotron, and guitar.)

In an interview published in May, Fripp went public with his own reservations. The group was still trying out improvisational formats in live situations, Fripp explained: “What we do live is maybe just say, ‘Bill, you just start playing, and we’ll follow you.’ But since this band isn’t very sensitive or interested in listening to everyone playing, the improvisation in the band at the moment is extremely limited and more concerned with individuals showing off than in developing any kind of community improvisation … I find it most frustrating that I can’t make the other players in the band take as much interest in my playing as I do in theirs.” (Rosen 1974, 35) With what was, from his perspective, one of King Crimson’s primary raisons d’être having stalled, it is not surprising that Fripp was beginning to lose interest in keeping the band alive. But there were other reasons too, as we shall shortly see.

Although not even Fripp was fully aware of the fact, King Crimson III after the Starless studio sessions in January 1974 was on its last legs. The band undertook three more road trips: Europe (eleven gigs, March 19-April 2); America (seventeen gigs, April 11-May 5); and a final U.S. tour (twenty-one gigs, June 4-July 1). The live album USA, released around April 1975, was recorded toward the end of this final U.S. tour: the song “Asbury Park” at the Asbury Park (New Jersey) Casino on June 28, and the rest two days later at the Palace Theatre in Providence, Rhode Island.


• David Cross: violin and keyboards
• Robert Fripp: guitar and mellotron
• John Wetton: bass and voice
• William Bruford: percussives

USA clearly shows that in terms of sound, at any rate, there was little or no difference between live and studio King Crimson of this period: as the band runs through “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part II,” “Lament,” “Exiles,” and “Easy Money,” there are few discernible musical differences between these and the previously recorded studio versions. Very slightly choppy around certain edges, less dynamic range, not quite so beautifully recorded as the studio tracks, USA nevertheless demonstrates that very late KC III was eminently capable of delivering the goods live.

The one new track, “Asbury Park,” represents King Crimson improvising straight ahead in 4/4 with Fripp and Cross getting in some vintage licks over Wetton’s razor-sharp melodic bass lines and Bruford’s crisp drumming – but one does sense a certain lack of group consciousness: for long sections it’s four individual virtuoso musicians, each blowing his own horn.

The crowd’s rowdy shouting through the soft introduction to “Exiles” gives some indication of one predicament Fripp was finding himself in, namely, how to break their expectations down sufficiently to get them to shut up and listen.

USA closes with a rendition of “Schizoid Man.” Since the album was actually released after “Red,” one has the feeling that Fripp was seeking something of a framing effect for King Crimson’s total recorded output, which had begun six years earlier with the same song. In small print at the bottom of USA’s back cover are the letters: “R.I.P.”

King Crimson life was indeed finished with the “USA” tour, but no one recognized it at the time, not even Fripp, who said of the final gig, in New York’s Central Park on July 1 1974, “For me it was the most powerful since 1969.” (YPG 30, July 1) A week later the band – minus David Cross – was back in a London studio, at work on the album that was to become Red. Red would not be released, however, until after Robert Fripp had unilaterally disbanded King Crimson and talked to the press, offering three reasons why the King had to die: “The first is that it represents a change in the world. Second, whereas I once considered being part of a band like Crimson to be the best liberal education a young man could receive, I now know that isn’t so. And third, the energies involved in the particular lifestyle of the band and in the music are no longer of value to the way I live.” (YPG 31, MM, Oct. 5 1974)

At the cosmic level – the level of the changing world situation – Fripp spoke of a radical transition from the old world to the new. The old world was characterized by “dinosaur” institutions, social organizations, corporations, rock bands – as Fripp put it, “large and unwieldy, without much intelligence.” (Ibid.) Looking to the future, Fripp foresaw “a decade of considerable panic in the 1990s – collapse on a colossal scale. The wind-down has already started … It’s no doomy thing – for the new world to flourish the old has to die. But the depression era of the Thirties will look like a Sunday outing compared to this apocalypse. I shall be blowing a bugle loudly from the sidelines.” (Dove 1974, 14)

On the level of the music industry, Fripp had developed grave reservations: a dinosaur itself, “the rock & roll business is constructed on wholly false values, impermanent and mainly pernicious, although not in an obvious way.” (Dove 1974, 14) Later, toward the end of the 1970s, Fripp would develop a systematic critique of music industry practices, write it up, and publish it in Musician, Player, and Listener magazine. For now he simply knew that he had had enough, and was looking to a future of “small, independent, mobile and intelligent units” to replace the lumbering Mesozoic automaton behemoths that passed for rock acts in 1974. (SMALL, INDEPENDENT, MOBILE, AND INTELLIGENT UNIT became the Frippism par excellence of the late 1970s and early 1980s. Its first appearance in print is apparently YPG 31, MM, Oct. 5 1974.)

On the level of the role he himself was playing in the rock and roll circus, Fripp had long felt frustration. At gigs like the ones in Italy already discussed, for instance, in which, as Fripp put it, “the performance itself went quite well,” King Crimson’s artistic method had itself become brutal: “We battered the crowd with sound for forty minutes to make enough room for ten minutes of experimenting. Then, as attention wandered, we built up another level of pounding for twenty or thirty minutes, so a pulped crowd would feel it had its money’s value and go home happy.” (Fripp 1981B, 114)

Elsewhere Fripp spoke with despair of his perception that the marijuana and LSD of the sixties had been gradually replaced by the cocaine, speed, and alcohol of the seventies, and that along with that shift went a corresponding change in audience demeanor.

This is art? This is magic? This is music? Beating the audience back, an audience either in a blind stupor or artificially stimulated, fighting the collective aggression of five thousand people, having to use your own limited energy to do it, night after night – this was accomplished, as Fripp expressed it, only “at the expense of creating something of a higher nature.” (YPG 31, MM, Oct. 5 1974)

At the personal level, there was the matter of continuing his own “education”, as he later described his predicament, he felt he had to disband King Crimson “because I could not see how it was possible to be a musician and a human being simultaneously.” (Kozak 1981, 10)

But there was a deeper, and perhaps decisive reason why King Crimson had to be put to rest – an overwhelmingly powerful personal experience which so far as I know Fripp did not venture to disclose publicly until some five years after the fact, probably because it took him that long to understand what had actually happened. When he did talk to Melody Maker writer Allan Jones about it in 1979, he said that in the interviews done immediately following the Crimson break-up, he hadn’t known how to explain it.

I had a glimpse of something… The top of my head blew off. That’s the easiest way of describing it. And for a period of three to six months it was impossible for me to function … My ego went. I lost my ego for three months. We were recording “Red” and Bill Bruford would say, “Bob, what do you think?” And I’d say, “Well-” and inside I’d be thinking, how can I know anything? Who am I to express an opinion? And I’d say, “Whatever you think, Bill. Yes, whatever you like.”… It took me three to six months before a particular kind of Fripp personality grew back to the degree that I could participate in the normal day-to-day business of hustling … (Jones 1979A, 19)

Given the pressure-cooker atmosphere into which commitment to the ever intangible yet fervently embraced idea of King Crimson had plunged him for five years – the surging and dashed hopes, the sensitive perception of false values all around, the perpetual instability of the band, the press filled with acclamation and denigration by turns, the uncertainties about his own accomplishments, aims/ends, and means of attaining them – it would perhaps not be difficult to explain away Fripp’s loss of ego in banal psychological terms. But to do so would be to miss and trivialize the fundamental point, which is that Fripp, to put it simply, had a revelation.

The proverbial straw was reading the text of a lecture by J.G. Bennett the night before the Red recording sessions were to begin; the “Second Inaugural Address” to Bennett’s International Academy for Continuous Education in Sherborne. The Text was printed in the appendix to Bennett’s book Is There Life on Earth? This was the first time Fripp had come into contact with the teaching of Bennett, who had been a disciple of the infamous George Gurdjieff and had met many of the twentieth century’s leading mystical seekers. (REPORTEDLY THE FIRST TIME Schruers 1979, 16) Bennett and Gurdjieff taught that people ordinarily go through their lives in a state of relative unconsciousness; some of the methods Bennett and Gurdjieff used to “wake up” their students will be discussed in the next chapter. Fripp’s first encounter with Bennett’s ideas was electrifying, precipitating a major change of direction in his life.

Wetton and Bruford were both to express regrets with regard to Fripp’s unilateral decision to break up the band. Bruford, who had quit the highly successful Yes to join King Crimson, and who had viewed Crimson as a unique opportunity to expand his horizons as a musician, did his best to be philosophical: while pointing out that Crimson’s enviable position in the music world was the result of years of hard work by musicians, management, and devoted road crew, and that to have all that dashed at a stroke was “mildly irritating,” Bruford said nevertheless he could cope with his irritation since it ultimately represented a “false adherence to [materialistic] things.” (YPG 32, Sounds, Oct. 12 1974) Below his stoic surface, however, Bruford was profoundly disappointed.

By his own estimation, Wetton had not made the kind of commitment to King Crimson that Bruford had, and had not had to give up so much to join the group. But in retrospect, he admitted being “pretty pissed when it broke up. I didn’t admit it at the time … Robert called up and explained why he couldn’t go on in the manner that we had been. He felt the world was going to come to an end and he wanted to prepare for it. And I said, ‘Yeah, sure, OK, but let’s get a good tour in first.’” (Rosen 1983, 23) (There had been, in fact, plans for another King Crimson tour, with founding King Crimson member Ian McDonald back in the band. Rehearsals had already begun when Fripp pulled the plug.)


• Robert Fripp: guitar and mellotron
• John Wetton: bass and voice
• William Bruford: percussives
With thanks to:
• David Cross: violin
• Mel Collins: soprano saxophone
• Ian McDonald: alto saxophone
• Robin Miller: oboe
• Marc Charig: cornet

Backtrack to July 1974. Fripp had had the top of his head blown off, and in an ego-less state carried on, with Bill Bruford and John Wetton, with the studio production of Red. A number of previous King Crimson members (David Cross, Mel Collins, Ian McDonald) and sidemen (Robin Miller, Marc Charig) made contributions to the album. Red is a peculiarly retrospective album: glancing through the song titles (“Red,” “Fallen Angel,” “One More Red Nightmare,” “Providence,” “Starless”) one is struck as if by the facets of a diamond with the King Crimson myth/metaphor smoldering at its core.

The striking black-and-white cover photograph of Wetton, Bruford, and Fripp (first ever cover photo of band members on a King Crimson record) in lighting that casts half of their faces into shadow harks back, whether intentionally or unintentionally, to the cover of Meet the Beatles, in 1964 an image indelibly stamped into the minds of a generation. (According to Fripp, the photo of the band was Mark Fenwick’s idea; Fenwick was one of the three directors of EG Management. Fripp didn’t want the musician’s faces on the jacket; it reminded him less of Meet the Beatles than an album by Grand Funk Railroad.) On Red’s back cover is a stark photograph of a gauge with the needle pointing into the red (danger, overload) zone. Red was released in early October.

Side One
RED (by Fripp). A divinely lurching, infernally flowing instrumental that exploits Fripp’s by-now entrenched penchant for odd metrical schemes and whole-tone-scale root relationships and melodic turns. In the recurring main theme, the predominant interval between guitar (soprano) and bass is the tritone – also the sonority that ends the composition. In traditional tonal music theory, the tritone – so named because it spans three whole steps or tones, in this case the thematic example being the interval E to A# – is classed among the most dissonant of the thirteen fundamental intervals in music: if you turn in your college harmony assignment and have idiotically included a tritone in the final chord, you’ll get it back marked in red.

Because of its searingly harsh, problematic sound, the tritone was called the diabolus in musica (“the devil in music”) by medieval theorists, and some forbade its use entirely. The King Crimson metaphor – it goes deeper than one might think.

FALLEN ANGEL (by Fripp, Wetton, and Palmer-James). You think it’s going to be just a genteel McCartneyesque ballad; then the distorted guitar comes careening in, in a middle section utilizing the fifth mode of the harmonic minor scale; transition back to the ballad theme; harmonic minor fade-out.

ONE MORE RED NIGHTMARE (by Fripp and Wetton). That darned tritone outline again, those gnarly whole tones, those insane metrical changes, those fabulous fills by Bruford, hammering on a piece of sheet metal. It seems almost impossible that this was the same Fripp who had made the delicate Islands a few short years previously – a record that one of KC II’s members had reportedly called “an airy-fairy piece of shit”: this music has real muscle. (Malamut 1974, 69)

Side Two
PROVIDENCE (by Cross, Fripp, Wetton, and Bruford). This was recorded live at the Providence, Rhode Island Palace Theatre on June 30, 1974 – the gig at which most of USA was taped, the day before King Crimson III’s final performance in New York City. It begins with a delicate violin solo and goes into free-form improvisation, recalling the spaciness of “Moonchild” – but “Providence” has a ballsiness and level of aggression or even evil that “Moonchild,” in its benighted innocence, seemed to lack.

STARLESS (by Cross, Fripp, Wetton, Bruford, and Palmer-James). More retrospection, and not merely on account of the song’s title: at the outset, the mellotron’s minor tones and the stately drumming recall “Epitaph.” But “Starless” turns out to be more than just another gloomy minor mellotron epic, although clocking in at over twelve minutes it has the requisite duration. “Starless” is a grand synthesis, in one unified (if collectively authored) composition, of several of the styles Fripp and his various cohorts had cultivated since 1969: slow, melancholy minor-key epic/ballad; medium-tempo, abrasive riff-based linear counterpoint; extremely fast, frenetic group playing; and improvisational and compositional elements bound together in such a way that the seams are exceeding difficult to detect. “Starless” is more than all that, though: in my opinion it is simply the best composition King Crimson ever committed to record. It is also the only King Crimson piece that has ever made me weep – those tears that tend to issue out of a direct confrontation with what we feebly call “artistic greatness” but is really a portentous and rarely glimpsed secret locked away at the heart of human experience.

It is the curse of the scholar/writer/musician to be driven to rip apart that which he loves, dissecting and disemboweling, in a vain and perhaps pointless attempt to reduce the primal musical experience to words, formulas, theories, charts, diagrams, numbers, and so on – an exercise pleasing enough to the intellect and yet somehow painful for the heart. What follows, therefore, is not for the faint of heart, and if the reader does not give a hoot about formal musical analysis, she or he would probably do just as well to skip it. On the other hand, lest I paint myself into a corner of total futility, let me affirm my belief that at its best, analysis can be a valid form of translation – from the language of the heart into the language of the head. And inasmuch as head and heart are generally not so much in the habit of conversing amicably with each other as they could be, the translator’s enterprise is perhaps not entirely meaningless.

From listening to the music itself you can tell something about what the musicians are feeling, and open a door into that world of feeling within yourself; through analyzing the music seriously you can get some inkling of how the musicians think (and believe me, think they do, and think they must, in order to produce as coherent a piece as “Starless”), and in that process allow your intellect to go into sympathetic resonance with the intellects of those who are making the music.

Head and heart. Fripp would later develop a system of musical practice based on “hands, head, and heart,” where the “hands” represent the physical contact with the instrument and indeed with the physical world of sensation itself. We can address the head and the heart when we write a book like this, I’m not so sure about the hands, that is, about addressing the very physical presence of music in a live situation. I incline to suppose that the most we can do along those lines is to be aware of, or at least try to avoid completely losing touch with, our body as we are writing and reading.

“Starless” is a long (12’18”) sectional composition in a form that breaks down into essentially three parts; though “Starless” is not exactly a textbook example of classical sonata form, an analogy with sonata form’s three part structure (exposition, development, recapitulation) is tempting:

Song – Exposition
Structured Instrumental Crescendo – Development
Free Recapitulation of Song (without vocal)

As in classical sonata form, the opening section of “Starless” sets out a number of musical ideas (themes); the structured instrumental crescendo has something of the free, fantasia, associative, spinning-out, through-composed, quasi-improvisational nature of a development section; and the recapitulation contains both themes of the exposition material in a new, transformed aspect.

The opening “song” section remains in a single key (instead of containing a modulating bridge to a second key as in sonata form); and the structured instrumental section does not develop ideas from the opening song (as a sonata development ordinarily develops themes from the exposition), but rather stands on its own, with entirely new material. But these facts do not disqualify “Starless” from being considered a sonata form in the large sense; Mozart’s sonata forms were one thing, Beethoven’s another, Schoenberg’s something else again, Bartok’s a different species too. As music history went on, sonata form became something quite malleable indeed. Nor do I think it particularly relevant whether or not Fripp and his co-authors set out to compose a sonata form, nor whether some of them even knew what a sonata form was (Fripp and Cross probably did – the others may not have). Brian Eno said once in 1988 with a chuckle, “I didn’t know that piece of mine was in the Dorian mode.” But it was, and he was pleased to know about it with his head, though he had composed it entirely with his ears. The sonata analogy can perhaps enable those who are familiar with the sonata form process in music history to hear “Starless” in a more thorough, integrated fashion.

A more detailed formal outline of “Starless” is shown in Chart 7.

robert fripp starless sheet music

“Starless” as a whole can be seen as a carefully graded swell of energy: by the end of the instrumental crescendo, things have reached such a desperate peak that you think there’s nowhere else to go – but as happens so often in Beethoven codas, for instance, you are seized at that peak moment and hurtled into hyperspace. The recapitulation integrates and transforms the materials of the exposition and the crescendo, forcibly kicking them onto an entirely new level of intensity by means of dynamics, tempo, and orchestration.

The strange melancholy expressed initially in the words of the song (“Old friend charity / cruel twisted smile / and the smile signals emptiness for me / starless and bible black”) is deepened and purified in the recapitulation, when the words are left behind. The restatement of the instrumental first theme and the final minor ending carry the weight of tragedy.

In its dark intensity, in the singularity of its formal conception, in its emphasis on extreme contrasts within a single piece, in its drive to associate specific musical gestures with states, qualities, gradations, and degrees of psychic energy, and – perhaps above all – in the blinding power of its execution, “Starless” is a fulfillment of tendencies in Fripp’s music manifest from the beginning. With the final, hair-raising cadence of “Starless,” the door slams shut on King Crimson’s first period of activity, and, one could say, on the early era of progressive rock as a whole. When Fripp would emerge in the late 1970s with his solo projects, and in the early 1980s with a new, exceptionally streamlined King Crimson, the musical scene would have changed dramatically.

King Crimson – Red

Sheet Music Library

Rock & Pop Music Musical Analysis

Robert Fripp, the amazing guitarist (3): KING CRIMSON

Robert Fripp, the amazing guitarist (3): KING CRIMSON (first part)

King Crimson I: the beginning

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References to the printed booklet included in The Young Persons’ Guide to King Crimson are herein indicated by the abbreviation YPG followed by column numbers. The booklet itself, however, contains neither page nor column numbers. Therefore, if you wish to find the exact location of a YPG quotation listed in these Notes, you must number the columns in YPG yourself. Begin with “1” at the first column (1968-June 1).

Fripp was born in Wimbourne, a village ten miles outside Bournemouth. We know little about the young Bob Fripp’s life; occasional tidbits filter down through the press, such as that his favorite subjects in school were English and English literature. (Dery 1985, 51) Only very rarely has Fripp exposed anything about his childhood in interviews. One such instance was in 1980, when he talked about the double binds he found himself in as a boy, and which he later managed to work through in transactional analysis: “My parents made me crazy. My father didn’t want children and I’d say ‘Mum, Father’s irritable’ and she’d say ‘no he’s not!’ and there’s my father boxing me round the ears. So how can you process that information and experience?” (Recorder Three, 1980, n.p.)

From the age of eleven, when his parents had bought him his first guitar on December 24, 1957, Fripp had known that music was to be his life. From the age of fourteen, he had various miscellaneous performing experiences, playing guitar in hotels and restaurants and backing up singers. He soaked up influences: first American rockers like Scotty Moore, Elvis Presley, Chuck Berry; a bit later, Django Reinhardt and modern jazz.

A turning point was reached at the age of seventeen; as Fripp describes it, “I went to stay with my sister on holiday in Jersey. And I took my guitar. I had lots of opportunities to practice there, which I found quite wonderful. It was there that I established a deeper relationship with the instrument. And upon returning home to England, I announced to my mother, ‘I am going to become a professional guitar player.’ My mother didn’t try to dissuade me. She simply burst into tears. I took her reaction to heart and my decision was delayed until I was twenty.” (Milkowski 1984, 29-30)

Fripp’s steadiest gig, beginning at age eighteen, was a three-year stint at the Majestic Hotel, in the band hired to entertain the Hebrew Fraternity of Bournemouth. If it is difficult to imagine Robert Fripp meekly chiming in on twists, foxtrots, tangos, waltzes, the Jewish National Anthem, Hava Nagilah, and “Happy Birthday Sweet Sixteen,” consider that he got the job when the young Andy Summers (later guitarist for the Police) vacated the post to go to London. (Garbarini 1984, 39)

In the meantime, Fripp was being groomed by his father to take over the latter’s small real estate firm; having worked for his father for three years, Fripp felt that to educate himself further in the business he should get away from the office. He studied for a year and a half at Bournemouth College, taking A-levels in economics, economic history, and political history; the idea was to go to London and pursue a degree in estate management.

But at the age of twenty Fripp decided, in his own words, that he “could no longer be a dutiful son” (Drozdowski 1989, 31) and resolved to have a go at the music business. He felt that “becoming a professional musician would enable me to do all the things in my life that I wanted,” (Rosen 1974, 18) that it would provide him with the best possible education. He proceeded to form what he has referred to as an “incredibly bad semi-pro band” called Cremation. (Rosen 1983, 19) Cremation did land a few gigs, but Fripp ended up canceling most of them – the group was so awful he was afraid of jeopardizing what local musical reputation he had been able to earn.

Nineteen sixty-seven was perhaps the high-water mark of the rock explosion of the 1960s; anything could happen in music, and there was a sense that, for once, the groups that were the best in a creative sense could also be – indeed, often were – the most popular.

In provincial Bournemouth, Fripp was catching whiffs of this exhilarating spirit: “I remember driving over to the hotel one night and on the radio I heard Sgt. Pepper’s for the first time. I tuned in after they’d introduced the album. I didn’t know who it was at first, and it terrified me – ‘A Day in the Life,’ the huge build-up at the end. At about the same time I was listening to Hendrix, Clapton with John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, the Bartok string quartets, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, Dvorak’s New World Symphony … they all spoke to me in the same way. It was all music. Perhaps different dialects, but it was all the same language. At that point, it was a call which I could not resist … From that point to this very day [1984], my interest is in how to take the energy and spirit of rock music and extend it to the music drawing on my background as part of the European tonal harmonic tradition. In other words, what would Hendrix sound like playing Bartok?” (Milkowski 1984, 30)

Giles, Giles and Fripp

In Bournemouth in the spring of 1967, Fripp auditioned for a position in a band being formed by drummer Michael Giles and bassist Peter Giles. The trio rehearsed and moved to London that fall to work a gig accompanying a singer in an Italian restaurant. The gig fell through after a week, but Giles, Giles and Fripp persevered through 1968, managing to appear on a couple of television shows and to record and release two singles (“One in a Million” / “Newlyweds”) and “Thursday Morning” / “Elephant Song”) and an album, The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles and Fripp.

For those whose exposure to Fripp’s music begins with King Crimson, the music of Cheerful Insanity, now something of a collector’s item, might come as a shock. For one thing, it’s not in the least heavy – it’s a collection of frothy little absurdist ditties. The tunes on Side One are interspersed with Fripp’s spoken recital of a sort of tongue-in-cheek morality poem he called “The Saga of Rodney Toady,” a fat, ugly lad who is the butt of cruel jokes. We are all familiar with McCartney music-hall nonsense verse along the lines of “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer”; a lot of Cheerful Insanity is kind of like that – light, whimsical, gently satirical – except that the orchestration is even sillier.

Fripp’s playing is accomplished enough, but to hear the Crimson king of Marshall-stacks distortion mildly riffing along in best cocktail-lounge-jazz fashion is a bit of a revelation. Even here, Fripp couldn’t resist showing off his chops a little, however; his “Suite No. 1” features him ripping along playing a continuous melody in sixteenth notes at a quarter note of 148 beats per minute. Only two other songs – “The Cruckster,” with its jagged, dissonant guitar effects and primitive reverb, and “Erudite Eyes,” which sounds at least partially improvised – give any indication of musical paths Fripp was later to follow.

Cheerful Insanity is a very English record. The Hungarian Bartok hadn’t quite yet made the acquaintance of the American Hendrix; the album sounds like a collaboration between Monty Python and the Moody Blues in one of their less pompous moods. After Giles, Giles and Fripp, Fripp’s sense of humor may have remained intact in his day-to-day life, but it went decidedly below the surface in his music.

The Genesis of King Crimson I

According to Fripp, on November 15, 1968, King Crimson was “formed in outline between Fripp and Michael Giles in the kitchen following a fruitless session of Giles, Giles and Fripp at Decca.” (YPG, 1) Fripp summed up the demise of Giles, Giles and Fripp as follows: “The dissolution of Giles, Giles and Fripp followed some 15 months of failure and struggle.

We were unable to find even one gig. World sales of the album within the first year were under 600. My first royalty statement showed sales in Canada of 40 and Sweden of 1. Peter Giles left to become a computer operator and finally a solicitor’s clerk although played on sessions for a while, notably ‘Poseidon’ and McDonald and Giles.” (YPG, 1) (McDonald and Giles, released in 1971, was another relatively lightweight affair, though not so bubbly as The Cheerful Insanity of Giles, Giles and Fripp; it was ample proof of the divergent directions Fripp and his early collaborators were taking after King Crimson I broke up.)

Drummer Michael Giles, born near Bournemouth in 1942, was the oldest of the members of the original King Crimson lineup. He began playing drums at the age of twelve, and played in jazz and skiffle groups in the 1950s, then in rock bands in the 1960s. When Fripp and Giles decided to form a new group, Fripp’s first move was to enlist the services of another Bournemouth native, Greg Lake, a singing guitarist with the group Shame who subsequently switched to bass during his stint with the Gods.

Giles and Fripp then sought out a songwriting team, which turned out to be lyricist Peter Sinfield along with composer and multi-instrumentalist Ian McDonald, who could play various reeds and woodwinds as well as vibraphone, guitar, and keyboards. Some of McDonald’s early influences were Louis Belson, Les Paul, and Earl Bostic, plus classical composers like Stravinsky and Richard Strauss; during a five-year hitch as an Army bandsman, he had studied traditional orchestration and music theory, and by the time he joined King Crimson he had played in dance bands, rock groups, and classical orchestras.

Both McDonald and Lake were more than competent guitarists; upon joining King Crimson Lake played only bass, and McDonald performed duties on reeds, woodwinds, vibes, and keyboards, leaving Fripp as the sole guitarist. This appears to have been a gesture of deference if not quite a sign of intimidation: as one of the early King Crimson musicians reportedly put it, “When Bob Fripp is in your band, you just don’t play guitar.” Fripp, in fact, would not actively collaborate with other guitarists until he enlisted the services of Adrian Belew in the 1980s version of King Crimson.

Sinfield had been working as a computer operator when he left the job to found the group Infinity; McDonald was Infinity’s guitarist, and after the band’s demise (Sinfield later called it “the worst group in the world”), McDonald and Sinfield stayed together in order to keep writing. Sinfield became an “invisible” member of King Crimson, providing words for the songs, acting as road manager and lighting director, and evidently serving as a sort of conduit between the hip London culture and the provincial members of King Crimson, telling them where they should go to buy the right kind of clothes, and so on. Sinfield’s role was also that of musical consultant, an in-studio audience off of whom Fripp could bounce ideas. (Williams 1971, 24)

Although he never performed with Crimson on stage, he was very much part of the evolving group dynamics of the band until his departure in late 1971. It is to Sinfield that the world owes the Mephistophelean moniker “King Crimson”: Fripp relates that “Pete Sinfield was trying to invent a synonym for Beelzebub.” (Schruers 1979, 16) Beelzebub, prince of demons, the Devil – for Milton in Paradise Lost Beelzebub was the fallen angel who ranked just below Satan.

Fripp has told some amusing anecdotes about band and bar life in swinging London in 1969 – for instance, how Greg Lake, with whom he shared a small apartment for a time, regarded him as “inept” in picking up girls, and “took it on himself to give me some help in strategy and maneuvers.” (Fripp 1982A, 35-6)

On January 13 1969, the first official King Crimson rehearsal took place in the basement of the Fulham Palace Cafe in London – the space that was to become their rehearsal room for the next two and a half years. It would have been fascinating to be a fly on the wall of the basement during the first few months of 1969 – to observe and try to understand how four musicians (and one lyricist) come together and fuse into a single organism.

In point of fact, it became a custom for King Crimson to invite an audience of friends to their basement rehearsals, and reports of a powerful new sound began to leak out. Fripp has written of this period: “Following several years of failure we regarded King Crimson as a last attempt at playing something we believed in. Creative frustration was a main reason for the group’s desperate energy. We set ourselves impossibly high standards but worked to realize them and with a history of unemployment, palais and army bands, everyone was staggered by the favorable reactions from visitors … With the fervor of those months I could write for a publicity handout: ‘The fundamental aim of King Crimson is to organize anarchy, to utilize the latent power of chaos and to allow the varying influences to interact and find their own equilibrium. The music therefore naturally evolves rather than develops along predetermined lines. The widely differing repertoire has a common theme in that it represents the changing moods of the same five people.’“ (YPG, 2)

Most of the pieces the group rehearsed were newly composed, but one or two came out of the Giles, Giles and Fripp repertoire, such as “I Talk to the Wind.” The group also played through versions of the Beatles’ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” and Joni Mitchell’s “Michael from Mountains,” which Judy Collins had recorded in an arrangement by Joshua Rifkin on her Wildflowers album of 1967. The “feminine,” soft-focus yet tightly orchestrated ballad was a feature of most early King Crimson albums; one reporter relates how the group would listen to Judy Collins records to unwind after difficult, tense rehearsals.

At this stage in the evolution of the band, compositional duties tended to be spread over the whole ensemble; for many pieces, it wasn’t a matter of one songwriter coming in with a chart and everyone following his directions. Rather, the group played, fought, improvised, ran through numbers, trying to catch the good ideas as they flew by. Curious to find out more about this process, I asked Fripp about it in 1986.

What was the genesis of “21st Century Schizoid Man,” for instance? Fripp’s memory was crystal-clear, and he answered very methodically, “Well, the first few notes – Daaa-da-da-daa-daa-daaaa – were by Greg Lake, the rest of the introduction was Ian McDonald’s idea, I came up with the riff at the beginning of the instrumental section, and Michael Giles suggested we all play in unison in the very fast section toward the end of the instrumental.” I thought it would be fascinating to know how a number of different King Crimson songs were stitched together like this, but Fripp declined further explication; he didn’t think it very interesting or particularly valuable. Perhaps he deemed King Crimson’s group identity – its “way of doing things” – more important and relevant than the specific contributions of individual members.

On other occasions, with other writers, Fripp has been a bit more forthcoming with regard to King Crimson’s compositional process. He admired and wanted King Crimson to emulate the Beatles’ proclivity for packing many strands of meaning into a song, so that a record could stand up to repeated listenings: “The Beatles achieve probably better than anyone the ability to make you tap your foot first time round, dig the words sixth time round, and get into the guitar slowly panning the twentieth time.” Fripp wished Crimson could “achieve entertainment on as many levels as that.”

Most of King Crimson’s recorded music appears to be tightly structured, but in fact the forms have a certain amount of flexibility built in. While the architecturally important lead lines that connect the music together are fixed, other elements are variable in live performance, such as the drum patterns, the choice of octave for the melodic parts, and even the harmonies. A great deal depended on the inspiration of the moment: “If you’re feeling particularly happy you can even forget the lead line.” (Williams 1971, 24) In fact, the King Crimson approach appears to be identical in this respect to the Guitar Craft approach mentioned earlier: any note is possible, provided it’s the right one.

Time and again, Fripp has called 1969 a “magic” year in his musical development and in the life of the nebulous collective entity known as King Crimson. The experience was intensely powerful, yet heartbreakingly evanescent. When it was over, that is, when King Crimson I effectively broke up at the end of the year, Fripp was faced with trying to understand what had happened. In 1984 he said, “It was a question of: magic has just flown by, how does one find conditions in which magic flies by? I’d experienced it – I knew it was real. So where had it gone, how could one entice it back? That’s been the process from then till now.” (DeCurtis 1984, 22) Sinfield said it was as though the band had “a Good Fairy. We can’t do anything wrong.” (Fripp quoting Sinfield in Milkowski 1985, 61) Again, Fripp put it this way: “Amazing things would happen – I mean, telepathy, qualities of energy, things that I had never experienced before with music. My own sense of it was that music reached over and played this group of four uptight young men who didn’t really know what they were doing.” (Milkowski 1985, 61)

In the Court of the Crimson King

The residue of this year of magic – the cultural artifact left behind, the spirit of those days frozen into stone (make that vinyl) the enduring physical product resulting from the process – is a long-playing record, released on October 10, 1969, In the Court of the Crimson King: An Observation by King Crimson. A great paradox, a sense of doubt, uncertainty’s edge, surrounds this album and virtually all of Robert Fripp’s recorded music. He will tell you that “If you record or film an event, you spoil it. A live event has a life of its own, it has a quality that you can never capture on record or video. It’s like this: If you’re making love with your girlfriend, the video of the event might bring back nice memories. But the event was something infinitely more.” (Milano 1985, 34) (John Lennon said somewhere, “Talking about music is like talking about fucking. I mean, who wants to talk about it? I suppose some people do want to talk about it …”) Fripp will even go so far as to say that “some of the most amazing gigs I’ve known weren’t ‘musically’ very good. Just listening to tapes afterward … I mean, there’s a real turkey happening. It wasn’t down to notes, it was down to an energy in the room, between the band and the people and the music.” (Fripp 1982B, 58)

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What does one make of this? On the one hand, as a musician I too have felt that ineffable energy of really cooking – the music, the musicians, the audience, all in it together, all one – and listening to the tape later, indeed, have had cause to wonder puzzled what the big deal was really all about: it was there, somewhere, but evidently, manifestly, it wasn’t really in the notes themselves. On the other hand, on the negative side if you will, Fripp’s attitude could be seen as a cop-out of sorts: if the residue, the product left behind by the process, is not up to snuff, it’s all too easy to say “My best work has never been recorded and released,” as Fripp frequently does. It’s a clash of philosophies of music we’re dealing with here. Fripp says the music is not in the notes, but rather “music is a quality organized in sound.” (GC Monograph?)

That quality may be there even if the actual (played, sounding) music isn’t anything special from a compositional point of view. Indeed, that quality may be present in a single note, or in silence itself. In the Western tradition of musical composition, these ideas don’t quite make it: at the core of the Western tradition is an accumulation of acknowledged masterpieces, musical scores – testaments, epistles, prophecies – in which it is deemed the hidden knowledge of music resides, to be sought and found and brought to life by the initiate with the right stuff to feel and understand what is really going on there.

Philosophy aside, here we have this piece of plastic, In the Court of the Crimson King, which, in some sense or other, contains the music of the group’s magical year, 1969. The response in the rock press could have been predicted: some writers enthusiastically proclaimed it the music of the future (that is, of the 1970s); macho types endorsed the metal screech of “Schizoid Man” while dismissing “I Talk to theWind” as weak and derivative; comparisons were drawn with the Beatles, Pink Floyd, the Moody Blues, and Procol Harum. Some found the album pretentious, others awe-inspiring.

It is a delight to read the incorrigible Lester Bangs grappling with Crimson’s “myth, mystification, and mellotrons,” subsuming the band’s titanic efforts under his own peculiarly American way of seeing things: “King Crimson would like you to think that they’re strange, but they’re not. What they are is a semi-eclectic British band with a penchant for fantasy and self-indulgence whose banally imagistic lyrics are only matched by the programmatic imagery of their music.” (Bangs 1972, 58)


(by Fripp, McDonald, Lake, Giles, and Sinfield). Ominous night sounds. An in-your-face metal phrase. Lake screaming the lyrics, voice electronically fuzzed. “Cat’s foot iron claw / Neuro-surgeons scream for more / At paranoia’s poison door / Twenty-first century schizoid man.” Long blisteringly fast instrumental solo section, then unisons at unreal tempo. Grinding downshift to metal lick, final verse, free noise, and out. What can be said about “Schizoid Man” after all these years? It instantly became Crimson’s signature, their anthem, their opener, their war-horse, their sine qua non – a mixed blessing, like Dylan’s “Blowin’ in the Wind,” since for years afterward, it was all many people came to hear Crimson for.

It set up expectations, it put the band in a box: “Why can’t you do more stuff like ‘Schizoid Man’?” Perhaps the song succeeded in giving Fripp’s public iconic persona a certain authority – it established his masculinity, it made a man out of him. Thereafter he knew you knew he could stand in and thrash with the heavies; having proved that, he could go on and tackle other worlds.

Consider the meter. Count out the number of beats in the opening metal phrase: sixteen. But good luck feeling the music in terms of four bars of 4/4: the accents are all off. To write it out, the best way might be with measures of three, two, three, three, three, and two beats. This way at least the two sub-phrases begin on downbeats:

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Fine and good. But now go ahead and try counting the whole thing as four measures of 4/4: if you succeed, and simultaneously feel the accents of the music itself (which are not for the most part coinciding with your counting) you are ipso facto in the realm of Frippian polymeter, revealed here in the very first King Crimson song.

Composition in broad gestures (bold, angular melodic profiles, striking textural contrasts, clear-cut formal schemes, sharply differentiated contrapuntal planes); overpowering intensity of conception and execution; meter and tempo changes, metrical modulation within a single piece; the fuzzy, sustained-note-type guitar lead, along with a tendency to use either very many or very few notes; concrete sound sources (the night sounds at the beginning); a passion for frenetic group sound/noise layers (at the end) … it is remarkable how many stylistic traits we would later come to recognize as characteristically Frippian are packed into this germinal piece.

So … is this what Hendrix would sound like playing Bartok?

“Schizoid Man” floors you (the metal riff), terrifies you (the sung verses), tries as hard as it can to dazzle and impress you (the fast instrumental section), does it all again, and then blows itself to smithereens … and leads without a break into “I Talk to the Wind” …

King Crimson I Live

King Crimson played seventy-eight official gigs in 1969, beginning with a show at London’s Speakeasy on April 9. The group played fifty-eight additional British gigs from April to October; Crimson’s first American tour took place in November and December. During this tour they shared the bill with many of the leading groups of the day: Al Kooper, Iron Butterfly, Poco, the Band, Jefferson Airplane, Joe Cocker, Fleetwood Mac, the Voices of East Harlem, the Chambers Brothers, the Rolling Stones, Johnny Winter, Country Joe and the Fish, Janis Joplin, Sly and the Family Stone, Spirit, Grand Funk Railroad, Pacific Gas and Electric, the Nice, and others. By many accounts, King Crimson out-heavied them all.

Robert Fripp would always contend that King Crimson, in all of its incarnations, was a live band first and a recording-studio band only secondarily. He has never expressed unqualified endorsement of any King Crimson record, insisting, like Bob Dylan, that the whole point for him has been making contact with a real audience in real time. Early on, in 1971, Fripp stressed the importance of crowd feedback, of “a feeling of involvement with the audience.” (Williams 1971, 24) Paradoxically, audience members at Crimson concerts have often felt Fripp to be distant, removed, unresponsive – locked in a world of his own, making few efforts to engage them directly. This perception was reinforced by his practice, adopted after only the first eight gigs in 1969, of sitting on a stool onstage while performing.

When interviewers would ask him, “Why do you sit down on stage?,” Fripp would respond, “Because you can’t play guitar standing up. At least I can’t.” He felt it wasn’t his “job to stand up and look moody. My job was to play, and I couldn’t play standing up.” (Rosen 1974, 18) It was a matter of concentration: “There are some things that are far easier to play standing up, and if it’s a very physical thing that’s required, you don’t want to be anchored too much, whereas if it’s something which requires a fair amount of concentration and technique you can sit down and just concentrate on it.” (Williams 1971, 23-4) But it was also a matter of Fripp’s rejecting what he called the “show biz thing,” the specter of empty gestures in the name of entertainment that forever haunts rock performances. He said wryly, “I can see the beauty of Emerson, ligging about the organ, but I could never do it and make it work satisfactorily. It’d look false, because that’s not the kind of bloke I am.” (Williams 1971, 23)

Consider something John Lennon said in 1970: “The Beatles deliberately didn’t move like Elvis, that was our policy, because we found it stupid and bullshit. And then Mick Jagger came out and resurrected bullshit movement, you know, wiggling your arse and that. So then people began to say, ‘Well, the Beatles are passe because they don’t move.’ But we did it as a conscious thing.” (“Lennon Remembers,” 34)


According to the album credits this is not a Fripp piece; it was written by Ian McDonald and Pete Sinfield. I always had trouble with this song: it seemed to take a long time (five minutes and forty seconds) to say not much of anything. There is some beautiful linear counterpoint – that is to say, the harmonies result from the directional leading of individual melodic lines – and the gentle clash of major and minor modes is poignant enough. But in the final analysis the value of “I Talk to the Wind” has more to do with its formal function on Side A of the record than with any intrinsic musical merit: you’ve got to have something soft and seductive between “Schizoid Man” and “Epitaph.” An idyllic interlude between the rape and the prophecy. I’m just not sure it had to be this long. “I Talk to the Wind” leads without a break into “Epitaph” …

Judging from concert reviews of the 1969 British and American tours, King Crimson had a way of flattening audiences and upstaging the acts it was supposed to be supporting. (Fripp reports that the Moody Blues refused to undertake a joint tour with King Crimson: he says Graham Edge of the Moodies felt that King Crimson “were simply too strong.” [YPG, 2]) The music was loud, it was powerful, it was gut-wrenching, it was an unbelievable wall of sound. Melody Maker writer Alan Lewis reported on the concert King Crimson did with the Nice at Fairfield Hall in Croyden on October 17: Crimson played “21st Century Schizoid Man,” “Epitaph,” “Trees” (never recorded), the “incredibly heavy” “Court of the Crimson King,” and closed with “Mars” from Holst’s Planets suite, “hammering out the menacing riff over an eerie wail from Ian McDonald’s mellotron.

Together with Peter Sinfield’s brilliant lights, they created an almost overpowering atmosphere of power and evil.” (Lewis 1969, 6) In Lewis’s view, the classical/rock menagerie of the Nice was no match for Crimson’s aggressive presence. In the nascent world of progressive rock, perhaps Keith Emerson was the movement’s McCartney, Robert Fripp its Lennon – the Lennon of the primal scream.

Similarly, Chris Albertson, reviewing for Down Beat a Fillmore East (New York) concert in November where King Crimson opened for Fleetwood Mac and Joe Cocker, judged that Crimson was “clearly the superior group and all that followed was anti-climactic.” Albertson noted the quality of the group’s material, the extraordinarily high level of musicianship, the collective improvisation, and the jazz influence, concluding, “King Crimson has majestically arrived, proving that neither the Beatles nor Stones were the last word from England.” (Albertson 1970, 20-21)

Only a few months after their formation, King Crimson were being placed in fairly heady company. E. Ochs sketched his impressions of KC I live at the Fillmore East for Billboard readers: “King Crimson, royal relative and fellow heavy to Deep Purple, outweighed Joe Cocker and Reprise’s Fleetwood Mac 10 tons to two … when the new Atlantic group clashed ear-splitting volume with well-integrated jazz, yielding a symphonic explosion that made listening compulsory, if not hazardous …

King Crimson can only be described as a monumental heavy with all the majesty – and tragedy – of Hell … King Crimson drove home the point of their musical philosophy with the volume turned up so high on their amplifiers that, had they been electric blankets, they would have all broiled to death. Not to mention third-degree burns in the audience. The group’s immense, towering force field, electrified by the energy of their almost frightening intensity, either pinned down patrons or drove them out.” (Ochs 1969, 22)


(by Fripp, McDonald, Lake, Giles, and Sinfield). The Gothic rock ballad is born. Slow gloomy minor key mellotron-rich. Sinfield’s text meditates pessimistically on the failure of old truths to bring meaning into contemporary existence (“The wall on which the prophets wrote / is cracking at the seams”), on the threat posed by the proliferation of technological means unchecked by a guiding moral vision (“Knowledge is a deadly friend / when no one sets the rules”), and on the bleak prospects the future holds (in the words of the refrain, “Confusion will be my epitaph / as I crawl a cracked and broken path / If we make it we can all sit back and laugh / But I fear tomorrow I’ll be crying”).

It gets down to what you can say in a slow (positive: deliberate, stately, majestic … negative: plodding, interminable, insufferable) rock song. Fripp has always contended that rock is our most malleable contemporary musical media: that you can say anything with it. Crimson was obviously going for the Big Statement here. Maybe Sinfield bit off more than he could chew; some of his metaphors are on the labored side, in danger of collapsing under their own weight: “… the seeds of time were sown / and watered by the deeds of those / who know and who are known.” It may not be Shakespeare, but the lyrics are really no more grandiose than the music, and in 1969 there was still an innocence about efforts like this to combine classical gigantism with rock, romantic lyric poetry with repetitive rock melodic types.

Consider the long fade-out: the progression VI-v in the key of E minor repeated eighteen times to gloomy vocalizations and clanging electric guitar dissonances. The harmonic domain is thus modal – in effect, B-Phrygian. Whether or not it was Fripp who contributed this modal chord progression, he was increasingly to draw on modal vocabulary in subsequent works, as an alternative to traditional major/minor tonality.

Fripp’s guitar work: electric guitar is used at selected points of emphasis, but the primary guitar sound is acoustic strumming and arpeggiation: like virtually all of Fripp’s “rhythm” guitar work, it never falls into incessantly repeated strumming patterns, but rather is animated by a highly imaginative textural instinct.

Consider, too, the minor tonality. Minor. Minor. It has to be minor. All the songs on In the Court of the Crimson King are in minor, except “I Talk to the Wind,” which is sort of in minor, but veers major at cadence points. Minor: traditionally the mode of sadness, regret, the dark side of life, despair, anger, sorrow, angst, depression, uncertainty, pathos, bathos, bittersweetness, ending, finality, death.

For all its minorishness, “Epitaph” is completely conventional harmonically, and sounds indeed harmonically rather than linearly conceived. I don’t know if it was Fripp who came up with the chord progression. But as his development progressed, he became less attached to traditional functional harmony; his textures became increasingly contrapuntal (with complex figurations of a harmonically implicative rather than declamatory nature replacing homophonically-conceived chord progressions); and in general rhythm, melody, texture, and timbre took precedence over harmony as the most significant purveyors of musical meaning.

For Fripp, Lake, McDonald, Giles, and Sinfield, touring had its hazards. At the focal point of the tremendous energies being unleashed, the band, according to Melody Maker reporter B.P. Fallon, would “admit to being physically and mentally shattered” at the end of a performance. (Fallon 1969, 7) Giles wrote a column for the same British magazine, describing the rigors of playing America’s large venues, meetings with other musicians, and the endless waiting that accompanies road life; there is an undertone of despair in his prose, even as he describes future projects King Crimson was discussing, such as writing, performing, and possibly recording a “modern symphony” for twelve or so “leaders in modern musical attitudes.” (Giles 1969, 23)

The impression is that even on the road, the members of the group at times had access to a furious white-hot creative maelstrom. On the other hand, the primary challenge seems to have been simply to avoid boredom and stay in touch with the music. Fripp indicated there was only one way he could keep himself together: “My answer to American hotel life was to put the TV on and practice for eight hours a day.” (Williams 1971, 24)

It was perhaps inevitable that the strains would rip the group apart. By the end of December, Mike Giles and Ian McDonald had officially announced their departure from King Crimson. Giles was quoted as saying: “I felt that sitting in a van, an aeroplane and hotel rooms was a waste of time even if you are getting a great deal of money for it. Ian and I feel that we’d rather have less money and do more creative, interesting and fulfilling things with all the travelling time. The main thing is for Ian and I to write and record using musicians of similar attitude with the accent on good music – really doing what we feel we should be doing with a lot of emphasis on production.

Part of the reason for the split was that I didn’t feel I could do this within King Crimson and they need the freedom to follow through what they need to do.” (Eldridge 1970, 13) Sinfield thought the split had to do with personalities: Lake and Fripp were by nature “strong, very forceful, almost pushy,” while McDonald and Giles were “very, very receptive.” Sinfield, who felt his personality was somewhere in the middle, said that the combination of the five “could and did work to a degree but the pressure got too much for Ian and Mike.” (Eldridge 1970, 13) For his part, McDonald expressed dissatisfaction with the overall tone of the music as it had developed. The gloom-and-doom aspect, he had decided, was not him: “I want to make music that says good things instead of evil things.” (Nick Logan, “Replacements,” NME (Jan. 24 1979), quoted in YPG, 7)

On December 7th, after four dates on consecutive nights at Hollywood’s Whisky A Go Go, McDonald and Giles told Fripp of their decision to leave. Fripp’s reaction appears to have been shock: “My stomach disappeared. King Crimson was everything to me. To keep the band together I offered to leave instead but Ian said that the band was more me than them.” (YPG, 6) Fripp’s view was that King Crimson had taken on an autonomous life of its own; it was an idea, a concept, a way of doing things, a channel, a living organism; music had spoken through it. He put it simply: “King Crimson was too important to let die.” (Crowe 1973, 22)


(by McDonald and Sinfield). Twelve minutes and nine seconds. You see, the thing is, I’ve been in jams like this. The feeling is totally there among the musicians (and whoever else happens to be sitting around, whether they’ve paid for it or not, probably, and preferably, not). You are close to silence, Silence with a capital S. You are in tune with silence, the deepest sound of them all. Every sound, therefore, that you make, make with intention, sensitivity, and awareness, has a meaning, an ineffability, a significance. You are listening, Listening with a capital L. You hear what everyone else is doing; you do whatever is necessary, which is usually as little as possible. It has nothing to do with self-expression: it has to do with a group mind. And yes, it is possible to become a group mind, to feel that sense of immersion in something so immeasurably greater and lighter and more sensitive and more conscious than your own paltry, complex-ridden, neurotic, solipsistic, pathetic self.

And no, such moments cannot really be anticipated and made to happen (although one can gain a certain expertise at setting up the conditions for them to happen). And yes, when those moments do happen it is all enough, the music, the sense of the music happening as it were of its own will and to its own purposes – you are in tune with the vibration of nature itself, you are its instrument – it is playing you and you are merely the rapt spectator of this spectacular play of sound in all its parameters which seem so lucidly there, so transparent, so available, all you have to do is stretch out your hand to feel its warmth, its fullness, its loving and terrifying infinity, there is nothing else you need or ever will need.

BUT – but: … the bitch of it all is that you put some of this stuff on tape and it just sounds like the most unbelievably aimless doodling, like the random toning of the wind chimes blowing on your front porch, or traffic noises outside your window. THEN you are faced with a philosophical bugaboo. Because, you see, music, in its very essence, is too great, too vast, too intangibly infinitesimal, too subtle for human conception. You are stuck with the sense that you might as well contemplate the sound of that wind chime on your porch, or listen to the screen door’s periodic groans and slams, or listen to the sound of your own breathing, or the silent sound of your own thoughts as they careen through the blank void of your pathetic awareness – you might as well do that as listen to this horrid tape you have made or to the residue of some 1969 studio session by five horrid British rock musicians called King Crimson. And well you might.

As it happens, a few of “classical music”‘s twentieth-century pantheon of composers were already hip to all this, and endeavored to enlighten recalcitrant audiences through their outrageous acts, pieces, ideas, concepts, noodlings, doodlings, and explications

One was the American John Cage, (whose final position was, and is, that “everything we do is music”) whose “silent” piece, 4’33” enraged some and entranced others as far back as 1952 (the unavoidable implication of 4’33” was that the sounds heard when attempting to listen to nothing were just as interesting as any Beethoven masterpiece), who devised methods of composing by chance so the “composer” could get his pathetic personality out of the way and let the perhaps ordered, perhaps random laws of nature speak for themselves – just like the wind chimes.

Another was the German Karlheinz Stockhausen, who took a more psychological, more practical approach, for instance in his 1968 “composition,” Aus den sieben Tagen (From the Seven Days). This is a set of prose instructions for musicians (or I suppose anyone) to follow in order to have a quality musical experience. Among the fifteen “pieces” in Aus den sieben Tagen, perhaps the most extreme is “Gold Dust,” which reads as follows: “Live completely alone for four days / without food / in complete silence / without much movement / sleep as little as necessary / think as little as possible //after four days, late at night / without conversation beforehand / play single sounds // WITHOUT THINKING which you are playing /// close your eyes / just listen.” (Stockhausen, 7 Tagen, ?) But perhaps more pertinent to our discussion of King Crimson 1969 is “It,” the piece just before “Gold Dust” in “Aus den sieben Tagen.” The instructions for “It” read: “Think NOTHING / wait until it is absolutely still within you / when you have attained this / begin to play // as soon as you start to think, stop / and try to re-attain the state of NON-THINKING / then continue playing.”

What would such music sound like? You do not have to guess. “It” was recorded by Deutsche Grammophon in 1968 and you can hear it for yourself. But in case you don’t have access to old German pressings (though the record is readily available in most university music department record libraries), it doesn’t matter much. It sounds much the same as King Crimson’s “Moonchild.”


(by McDonald and Sinfield). Along with “Epitaph,” this is the album’s other mellotron epic. The title track. Hence theme song/anthem for the laddies in the group’s early stages, though decidedly nothing like “Here We Come, We’re the Monkees.” Because it is not a Fripp composition, I will pass it over rather quickly here, except to note: the rather foursquare phraseology, which it would take Fripp a while to get away from; the ubiquitous minor modality; the false (major) ending, as in “I Talk to the Wind”; the odd circus-music woodwind/organ break after the false ending – one of those stark, unreasonable textural/associative contrasts which Fripp was to employ so effectively in later efforts; the Gothic heaviness of it all; and finally the abrupt ending – after having built up a whole album’s worth of momentum, a melodramatic climax is avoided in favor of a sort of musicus interruptus

* * * * * * * * * * * *

In retrospect, whatever one felt about this music, the seminal nature of the album cannot be denied: the variegated yet cohesive In the Court of the Crimson King helped launch, for better or for worse, not one but several musical movements, among them heavy metal, jazz-rock fusion, and progressive rock. As the Rolling Stone Record Guide was to put it some years later, the album “helped shape a set of baroque standards for art-rock.” (RS Record Guide, 1st ed., 204)

King Crimson II

After the breakup of King Crimson I in December 1969 a period of some two and a half years ensued during which Fripp struggled to keep Crimson alive and in some sense intact as a recording band, performing outfit, and concept. To make the almost continual personnel changes of this and the following period easier to visualize, I have concocted the chart which appears on page 40.

Looking at the period 1970 to early 1972 – King Crimson II as we are calling it – at a distance of nearly two decades, this writer has rather violently mixed feelings about it. It didn’t take Fripp long to figure out that somehow the music had lost its course. As early as 1973 he was talking about King Crimson II like this: “The time was spent preparing for the present, I suppose. This band [King Crimson III] is right for the present, just as the first band was right for its own time. The interim period was something I wouldn’t want to undergo again.” (Crowe 1973, 22) And in 1978 he admitted being “embarrassed” by KC II: “I went into catatonia for three weeks on a tour with that incarnation of the band. It was one of the most horrible periods of my life.” (Farber 1978, 27)

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During the period itself, with musicians entering and exiting the Court at a rapid pace, with ideas flying by, attempts being made to catch them, improvisational situations being tried out, albums being made, Fripp did his best to put the best face on it. In 1971 he said, “The beauty of the set-up in Crimson is that it can handle having a flexible personnel around a “core” of more or less permanent members” – the core, getting right down to it, being Fripp and Sinfield, and ultimately Fripp alone. (Williams 1971, 24) At the least, Fripp was able to indulge his perennial fascination with “the way musicians work together as a unit. You see, I view King Crimson as the microcosm of the macrocosm.” (Crowe 1973, 22) By which one feels he meant that being in an evolving, complex, unpredictable, perilous yet potential-laden musical situation like King Crimson was verily analogous to being alive on planet Earth, or like being in some alchemical laboratory (the microcosm) for the purpose of investigating life itself (the macrocosm).

Fripp would also issue elliptical, contradictory, unfathomable statements concerning his exact role in King Crimson. On the one hand, it was obvious by the end of 1972 that he was the only person who had been in all of the band’s incarnations, that in some sense King Crimson was Robert Fripp plus whoever, that it was his band. Yet he seemed to shrink from assuming unambiguously the mantle of authority, which he felt belonged not to him but to King Crimson itself, the concept, the idea, the force, the music, not to one or several particular merely human personalities. In 1973 he would say things like, “I form bands, but I’m not a leader. There are far more subtle ways of influencing people and getting things done than being a band leader. Although I can be a band leader, it’s not a function I cherish. Who needs it?” (Crowe 1973, 22)

In the Wake of Poseidon and Lizard

In January 1970, after the departure of McDonald and Giles, King Crimson was temporarily a trio consisting of Fripp, Lake, and Sinfield. (McDonald and Giles went on to make their self-titled duo album, released in 1971; McDonald was subsequently one of the founding members of Foreigner in 1976.) The trio cancelled future gigs and set about composing, rehearsing, and looking for new members to fill out the group, with vague plans to resume live performances. In order to sustain public interest in the band, King Crimson released the single “Cat Food / Groon” on March 13.

King Crimson’s only gig in 1970 was an appearance on BBC TV’s “Top of the Pops” program on March 25, performing “Cat Food” with the lineup listed in the chart on page 40. By the end of the month Crimson had auditioned several drummers with the intent of finding a permanent replacement for Michael Giles but had succeeded only in enlisting the services of Circus’s flute and reed player Mel Collins. In early April, bassist/vocalist Greg Lake decided to leave the Court and form a band with the Nice’s Keith Emerson: this was, of course, the nucleus of the mighty Emerson, Lake, and Palmer. In the meantime, Fripp and the whole motley crew mentioned in the last couple of pages, in various combinations, had been busy recording In the Wake of Poseidon, King Crimson’s second album, which was released in May.

Islands and Earthbound

The period immediately after the release of Lizard was what Fripp has called “a time of desperation.” (YPG 11, Dec. 19 1970) King Crimson was looking for bassists and singers, and considered Bryan Ferry, among many others. After Fripp had auditioned some thirty bass players, Boz Burrell was chosen in February 1971. Or rather, it appears that having been selected as King Crimson’s singer, Boz (who was not a bassist) was one day noodling around on a bass and Fripp decided it would be possible to teach him to play the instrument, more or less from scratch. With the lineup of Fripp, Sinfield, Collins, Boz, and Ian Wallace (drums), King Crimson rehearsed through March and by April were ready to start performing, it had been almost a year and a half since the end of the American tour in December 1969, when King Crimson I broke up, and Fripp was nervous but exceeding eager.

After four April dates at the Zoom Club in Frankfurt, the band began a long and grueling tour schedule (1971 – Britain: May, fourteen gigs; June and July, two gigs; August, seven gigs; September, six gigs; October, eighteen gigs. Canada and U.S.A.: November, twelve gigs; December, six gigs. 1972 – U.S.A.: February, twelve gigs; March, nineteen gigs; April, one gig). The touring band drew on King Crimson’s by now fairly substantial repertoire.

(Historical footnote on the pecking order among British progressive rock bands in late 1971: at two concerts at the Academy of Music in New York on November 24 and 25, Yes opened, King Crimson played second, and the headliner was Procol Harum. The Variety reviewer, who noted the undue time necessary for equipment changes between sets by the three quasi-symphonic behemoths, allowed that Procol Harum was “in fine form” but “was put to the test by having to follow strong sets by Yes and the overpowering King Crimson,” who, he felt, “should headline next time out.” When King Crimson returned to the Academy of Music on February 12, 1972, they were indeed the headliners – supported by Redbone and the Flying Burrito Brothers.)

In the meantime, work was in progress on the studio album Islands, which was completed by October and released on December 3, 1971, almost exactly a year after “Lizard.” All of the album’s six pieces were by Fripp or by Fripp and Sinfield. Fripp used the contributions of nine musicians to get the sound he wanted, but if King Crimson was a way of doing things, for Islands that way involved following Fripp’s instructions to the letter. As drummer Wallace has testified, “Fripp was in one of his weird periods. You had to play everything the way he did it. There was no room to stretch out.” (Rosen 1983, 21)

As for Sinfield’s lyrics – well, let me let another writer carry out the execution. Don Heckman, reviewing Islands in Stereo Review: “What is there to say, after all, about lyrics that go ‘Time’s grey hand won’t catch me while the sun shine down / Untie and unlatch me while the stars shine,’ or ‘Love’s web is spun, cats prowl, mice run / Wreathe snatch-hand briars where owls know my eyes’? … With Yeats and Thomas and Keats and Lord knows how many other superb English poets available to me, I bloody well don’t intend to waste my time with absurdities like this.” (Heckman 1972, 101)

One of the strangest “rock” albums ever released, Islands presents stark, unreasonable contrasts: the three excessively precious and poetic ballad-type songs “Formentera Lady,” “The Letters,” and “Islands” (all of which nevertheless continue to use highly imaginative textures); the fantastic raunchy profundity of the guitar showcase instrumental “Sailor’s Tale”; the X-rated “Ladies of the Road”; the pure if not puerile classicism of “Prelude: Song of the Gulls”; and the oceanic spaciousness of the title track, “Islands.” Of all of Fripp’s albums, this is probably the hardest to understand, the easiest to ridicule, the most difficult to be generous to. And yet …


The last thing we hear on Islands, after a lengthy silent interlude following the final song, is the chamber group used for “Prelude: Song of the Gulls” tuning up and the soft yet persuasive voice of Robert Fripp telling them they’re going to do it twice more, once with the oboe and once without, then call it a day. He counts off the beat, one-two-three two-two-three, and … silence: Islands is finished. I suppose you can read into this whatever you want, but to me it seems as if Fripp is telling us (the audience), Look, this is music, and music is made by people, and people have to tune up and practice and rehearse, and there is so much more behind music than the sound, more than ever can be told.

For all its impenetrability, its self-conscious artistic excess, its woefully labored attempts to capture innocence, there is a certain quality in Islands making the sum much greater than its parts, even if this sum does not quite tally up to musical greatness. The strange thing is, I listened to the album today for the first time in a couple of years, and I found, almost against my will (since I’ve been telling people for some time that Islands is the absolute worst King Crimson record ever put out) – I found that I actually liked it. As an overall musical gesture. The whole album has that sort of fin-de-siecle manneristic feeling, like the over-refined music of the late fourteenth century, the twilight of the middle ages – a sense of worlds falling apart, new ones as yet unborn, grand heartbreaking nostalgia for what can no longer be, rough beasts slouching toward Bethlehem to be born.

In the composition of Islands, Fripp was learning to subtract, to take things away, to let the black backdrop of silence show through the music, to heed the oft-repeated but ill-practiced axiom that less is more. To borrow a phrase from Eno (who in turn derived it from filmmaker Luis Bunuel): “Every note obscures another.” (Grant 1982, 29)

As had King Crimson’s American tour in late 1969, their American tour in November and December 1971 produced many moments of tension and even hostility among the band’s members. Sinfield – who on tour played VCS3 synthesizer and worked the group’s lighting and sound – in particular found the turmoil and pressures of being on the road in America difficult to cope with, and made up his mind that he wouldn’t return to the States again with the band “unless specific conditions were fulfilled, and I didn’t expect them to be.” (YPG 18, quoting Williams, MM, Jan. 8 1972) It wasn’t long before Sinfield and Fripp had reached a point where it became clear that they were moving in irreconcilably different directions.

On New Year’s Day 1972, the New Musical Express (YPG 17) reported that Sinfield had left King Crimson, and a week later Fripp explained his view on the matter: “I suppose that the thing to say is that I felt the creative relationship between us had finished. I’d ceased to believe in Pete … It got to the point where I didn’t feel that by working together we’d improve on anything we’d already done.” (YPG 18, quoting Williams, MM, Jan. 8 1972) As usual with Fripp, his dealings with the outer world were intimately bound up with his inner development. Eight years after the split with Sinfield, Fripp explained to an interviewer that he came to the decision to make the break on the same day he changed the name he was known by from “Bob” to “Robert”: “I felt I’d made my first adult decision.” (Watts 1980, 22)

Sinfield had had increasing difficulties dealing with his position in King Crimson, especially on tour. Fripp said that “the band often found the lights distracting”, (YPG 18, quoting Williams, MM, Jan. 8 1972) he himself had grown suspicious of the visual “trickery” associated with the British tour of 1971, “however fine it may have been. I’m thinking of the lights, and the general blood and thunder.” (YPG 18-19, quoting MM, Jan. 15 1972) In other words, Fripp wanted the band to be judged on its purely musical merits – again the suspicion of the “show biz” aspect of rock and roll performance.

For his part, Sinfield, who had nevertheless expressed a desire to let his work grow in directions other than those offered by the King Crimson format, regarded the decision for him to quit the group as “entirely on Bob’s side”: “Bob rang me up and said ‘I can’t work with you.’“ (YPG 18, quoting Williams, MM, Jan. 8 1972) Fripp was at pains to present the split to the British press in the most rancorless possible terms, and was disturbed by the sensationalist manner in which the New Music Express handled it. (YPG 18, Jan. 8 1972) The many instances of press distortion involving King Crimson constituted one reason why, later in the 1970s, Fripp would undertake a one-man campaign to reject and re-write the ground rules of the whole music industry complex.

In the opening months of 1972 the remaining members of King Crimson – Fripp, Collins, Boz, and Wallace – were not exactly congealing into what one would describe as a happy family. Yet, as reports of inner dissent came out in the press, the band was booked for one more American tour. As Fripp was later to write, the “Earthbound” tour “was conducted in the knowledge that the group would disband afterwards.” (Fripp 1980F, 38)

While in America on KC II’s final tour (February-April 1972), drummer Ian Wallace bought a portable Ampex stereo cassette deck which the group plugged into the mixing board during live performances. Many performances were taped this way, and Fripp subsequently took the cassettes home and edited them down to a live album, Earthbound, released in England on June 9, 1972. Crimson’s American distributor, Atlantic, declined to put out the record, saying the sound quality wasn’t good enough. (My copy is a later Italian version on the Philips/Polydor label, featuring liner notes by a certain Daniele Caroli titled “Robert Fripp: musica psichedelica dal vivo negli USA” [“live psychedelic music in the USA”] and incongruously sporting a cover collage utilizing the photos from King Crimson’s 1974 album Red: Fripp, John Wetton, and Bill Bruford., Sound quality or no sound quality, Earthbound is an unusual cultural document, the sole officially released record of KC II live, music somehow emerging from the wreckage of a dream.


The contrast between Islands and Earthbound is extreme to a degree, a bit like mentioning Judy Collins and Patti Smith in the same breath. The split between studio Crimson and live Crimson had grown virtually to the point of schizophrenia: there was Fripp the painfully self-conscious composer of delicate neo-romantic refinements, refined almost to a point of transparently pellucid non-entity; and there was Fripp the jagged metal warrior, brazenly brandishing his electric guitar as a weapon, band of sonic renegade vagabonds in tow. Great musicians often have some such split musical personality – Beethoven can pat you lovingly on the cheek one minute, and wheel you around and kick you in the butt the next.

King Crimson II: a period of intensive searching by Robert Fripp, who managed, in trying circumstances, some of which were surely of his own (if unconscious) making – to put out four albums of some of the most experimental, eclectic, interesting, difficult, challenging, beautiful, ugly, and at times profoundly irritating music ever to come out of the rock orbit.

Listen to: King Crimson – 21st Century Schizoid Man

Robert Fripp–guitar Ian McDonald–reeds, woodwind, vibes, keyboards, mellotron, vocals Greg Lake–bass guitar, lead vocals Michael Giles–drums, percussion, vocals Peter Sinfield–words and illumination

Cover by Barry Godber

Equipment by Vick and Dik

Recorded at Wessex Sound Studios, London Engineer: Robin Thompson Assistant Engineer: Tony Page Produced by King Crimson for EG Productions, ‘David & John’


Cat’s foot iron claw
Neuro-surgeons scream for more
At paranoia’s poison door.
Twenty first century schizoid man.

Blood rack barbed wire
Polititians’ funeral pyre
Innocents raped with napalm fire
Twenty first century schizoid man.

Death seed blind man’s greed
Poets’ starving children bleed
Nothing he’s got he really needs
Twenty first century schizoid man.

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Musical Analysis Rock & Pop Music

Robert Fripp, the amazing guitarist (2)

Robert Fripp, the amazing guitarist (2)

Fripp, the Guitarist

Robert Fripp said in 1986, “Music so wishes to be heard that it sometimes calls on unlikely characters to give it voice.” Fripp was – and is – the opposite of a musician like Mozart, whose seemingly divine, God-given talent enabled him, under his father’s tutelage, to be playing the harpsichord with facility by the age of five and composing sonatas and symphonies by the age of eight. Of his own natural aptitude, or rather lack thereof, Fripp has often said, “At fifteen, I was tone-deaf with no sense of rhythm, sweating away with a guitar.” (Fricke 1979, 26) He contrasts his situation with that of the supreme guitar hero of his generation: “One might have a very direct, very innate and natural sense of what music is, like Hendrix, or be like me, a guitar player who began music tone deaf and with no sense of rhythm, completely out of touch with it.

For Hendrix the problem was how to refine his particular capacity for expressing what he knew. For me it’s how to get in touch with something that I know is there, but also I’m out of touch with.” (Garbarini 1979, 33)

Little is known publicly about music in the Fripp household and extended family, though he has spoken admiringly of a certain great aunt, Violet Griffiths, a piano and music teacher: “As a young girl she practiced nine hours a day, five on scales alone.” Mrs. Griffiths has been highly successful in inspiring her students; she “regularly has the highest examination results for her pupils.” She attributed her success to “pushing”: “Aim for 100%, not 50%,” (Fripp 1981B, 44) Fripp quotes her as saying.

A similar work ethic permeates Fripp’s own approach to the guitar: what he has been able to accomplish, he feels, has nothing to do with talent, but has been the result of sheer effort. He has practiced guitar with varying degrees of intensity over the years, the most being “twelve hours a day for three days running,” and sometimes six to eight hours a day over fairly long stretches. Such a level of commitment has been necessary to attain the goal: “It’s a question of developing technical facility so that at any moment one can do what one wishes … Guitar playing, in one sense, can be a way of uniting the body with the personality, with the soul and the spirit.” (Rosen 1974, 37-8).

Fripp took up guitar at the age of eleven, playing with difficulty on an acoustic Manguin Frere. Fripp is naturally left-handed, but for some reason decided to go at the guitar in the normal right-handed position, with the left hand doing the fretting and the right hand doing the picking – unlike other famous southpaws like Jimi Hendrix and Paul McCartney, who turned their guitars upside down so they could play them “normally.”
After struggling on his own for some three months, Fripp took lessons for about a year at the School of Music in Corse Mellon, a village a couple of miles from Wimborne, his hometown. His instructor was Kathleen Gartell, a piano teacher who was not a guitarist but who did give him some useful music theory background. The man Fripp has singled out as his most important guitar teacher was Don Strike, whom he called, “a very good player in the Thirties style.”

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Fripp’s lessons with Strike lasted about two years, between the ages of thirteen and fifteen. Strike laid the foundation for what was to become one of Fripp’s specialties, a rapid cross-picking technique. A few years later, when Fripp was eighteen, he ran into Strike again; the older guitarist, on hearing Fripp play, shook his hand and acknowledged him the better player. Today Fripp recalls this acknowledgement as an important milestone in his life.

During his teenage years Fripp also experimented briefly with flamenco guitar styles and took lessons from Tony Alton, a Bournemouth guitarist. All such experiences were doubtless helpful in channeling the young Fripp’s musical urges, but he did not feel entirely comfortable with any particular guitar style or discipline: in 1974 he said, “I don’t … feel myself to be a jazz guitarist, a classical guitarist, or a rock guitarist. I don’t feel capable of playing in any of these idioms, which is why I felt it necessary to create, if you like, my own idiom.” necessary to create, if you like, my own idiom.” (Rosen 1974, 18).

Fripp’s first electric guitar, purchased when he was about fourteen, was a Hofner President, which he played through a six-watt amplifier with an eight-inch speaker. He has also used Fender Stratocasters, a J-45 acoustic, a Yamaha acoustic, a Milner pre-war acoustic, and a Gibson tenor guitar. The main instrument with which he was associated in the 1970s was the Gibson Les Paul, a guitar he found ideal for his characteristic single-string work. In the 1980s he used Roland synthesizer guitars (notably with King Crimson IV and in his collaborations with Andy Summers).

Recently, with Guitar Craft, he has championed the Ovation Legend 1867 super-shallow-bodied acoustic. (Technically inclined readers who are interested in more details on Robert Fripp’s equipment – amplifiers, picks, strings, devices, and so on – are urged to consult Rosen 1974, 32; Mulhern 1986, 90; Drozdowski 1989, 32; and the liner notes to several of the albums.).

Almost from the very beginning of his guitar playing, Fripp realized that “the plectrum guitar [guitar played with a pick] is a hybrid system” for which no one had ever developed an adequate pedagogical method. Left-hand position and fretting technique, at least for the nylon-stringed guitar, had been established to a high degree of sophistication by classical guitarists, but right-hand position and plectrum technique had no comparable tradition. The use of a pick is derived from the playing of banjos and subsequently guitars in the jazz of the 1920s and 1930s, but every player essentially developed his or her own method; and since in the jazz context “the main function of the right hand was to enable the guitar to be heard above ten other pieces in a dance band,” the results generally lacked for subtlety.

“So there I was at twelve in 1958 and it was so obvious that there was no codified approach for the right hand for the plectrum method. So I had to begin to figure it out … It was very difficult because the only authority I could ever offer was my own.” Beginning then, Fripp devoted nearly thirty years to the development of the picking method he now teaches to his Guitar Craft students. Part of the development took place on a conscious level, but much of it was a sort of unconscious accretion of physical knowledge gained through constant practicing. Fripp says that when he came to consolidate the approach for Guitar Craft, “There was a knowing in the hand through doing it for years which I consulted. It’s interesting. My body knew what was involved, but I didn’t know about it.” (All quotations in this paragraph from Drozdowski 1989, 30).

Fripp’s view is that educating oneself musically is a never-ending process. From a technical point of view, his approach seems to involve systematically attacking theoretical entities like scales through the physical and mental discipline of learning to play them fluently. In rock music, he points out, only three or four scales are in common use – Major, Minor, Pentatonic (Blues), and slight variants of these.

But in fact, any number of other scale formations are available to the creative musician, ranging from the old Church Modes through the so-called synthetic scales (which have exotic names like Super Locrian, Oriental, Double Harmonic, Hungarian Minor, Overtone, Enigmatic, Eight-Tone Spanish, and so on, and on into symmetrical scales (what twentieth-century French composer and teacher Olivier Messiaen called the “Modes of Limited Transposition”) such as Whole Tone, Chromatic, and Octatonic/Diminished.

All of these can be learnt in various transpositions, that is, starting the scale on a different note (C Major, C# Major, D Major … B Major). In addition, most of these scales can be used as the source of other formations by changing the tonic note while retaining the pitch-set itself. Such was the basis of Western European medieval and Renaissance modal theory – a theory in which one basic scale (the diatonic scale, corresponding to the white notes of the keyboard) ultimately served as the basis of seven different modes, each of which was felt to have its own unique psychological and symbolic character:

Today’s enterprising musician may likewise construct “modes” based on some exotic (non-diatonic) scale, yielding still more inflections or tonal dialects, still more musical variety. For instance, the modes based on the Hungarian Minor scale would begin like this:

A further avenue of scalar exploration, which, so far as I know, Fripp has never mentioned in print nor worked with himself, is the raga system of India, with its rigorously logical array of seventy-two parent scales. The point of all this is that each individual scale carries with it certain musical characteristics, certain expressive possibilities, certain objective sound-qualities available to all who master them. Western classical music got along quite nicely for some two hundred years (let’s say 1650-1850, using essentially only two scale forms, major and minor; much twentieth-century art music has concentrated on a single form, the chromatic or twelve-tone scale.

Fripp has been eager to move into new territory: specific sources of unusual scales he has cited as having been useful to him include Bartok string quartets, Vincent Persichetti’s staid but readable textbook compendium of contemporary musical language, Twentieth-Century Harmony, the eccentric yet influential Joseph Schillinger System of Musical Composition, and jazz-rock groups of the 1970s such as the Mahavishnu Orchestra and Weather Report. (Fripp 1982A, 102) Fripp sums up: “The possibilities for extending [musical, scale] vocabulary are … quite immense. Since it takes three or four years to be able to work within any one scale fluently and utterly, there’s more than enough work for a lifetime.” (Garbarini 1979, 33)

King Crimson – Islands

Paradoxes of Process and Performance

From the foregoing discussion, the reader might get the impression that the technical side of music is all-consuming for Fripp. To the contrary, it is eminently clear that he views the discipline of guitar technique, scales, and so on, not as an end in itself but merely as a means to an end. The end, to put it simply, is to make contact with music. And to make contact with music involves work on the whole personality, a process which has social, cultural, and political ramifications; art and life cannot be separated. Although Fripp’s most developed ideas on the subject of making contact with music have been expressed in terms of his Guitar Craft teaching, and are best discussed in that context, here I might attempt a brief summary of the concept of “music” that has motivated Fripp since before the earliest days of King Crimson.

In talking, thinking, writing, and reading about music as an ultimate quality – for “Music,” as Fripp has written, “is a quality organized in sound” (GC Monograph One [A], VI: see note in hard copy for actual genesis of this quotation) – it must of course always be borne in mind that we are attempting to deal with the ineffable through the medium of language, with all its limitations. Prose has its own laws and grammars, having evolved, one might say, not in order to describe or explain the ineffable, but rather to convey information of a more mundane nature.

Music, conversely, has evolved as a subtle language of the emotions – or, if you prefer (and Fripp probably would), a language of the spirit. Poetry recited aloud, with its quasi-musical cadences, meter, rhythm, pitch, and vocal tone colors, is somewhere in between. The point is that words can never convey the meaning of music; often enough, verbal formulations of the ineffable bog down in paradox, antinomy, self-contradiction. This will happen in this book, and it has happened to Fripp from time to time.

In 1973 Fripp said, “I’m not really interested in music. Music is just a means of creating a magical state.” (Crowe 1973, 22) What he meant (I think) by this was that the outer forms of music, its styles, history, structure, even aesthetics – the stuff of the academic approach to music – were not the point for him. The point was the “magical state” that the practice of music could put one in. Seen from this vantage point, the actual notes and rhythms, the timbral surface, the sounds in themselves, hardly make any difference; it is the attitude and receptivity of the participants that matter. The focus is not on the object, but on the subject – not the sound, but the listener.

Not the knowledge, but the knowing. Paradoxically, of course, it is precisely the sounds you hear, whether you are the musician or the audience, that will enable you to draw your attention to the quality of the knowing: the sounds become the knowledge, but it is the knowing rather than the knowledge that is vital.

In 1974, Fripp told an interviewer: “When I was twenty-one I realized that I’d never really listened to music or been interested in it particularly. I began to take an interest in it, as opposed to being a guitar player who worked in certain situations. I’ve gotten to the point now where I see music as being something other than what most people see. I would say that the crux of my life is the creation of harmony, and music you take to be one of the components of that harmony.” (Rosen 1974, 38)

This statement seems related to the earlier one, but here the word “music” is used in a different sense. Here “m

usic” signifies that intuitively grasped quality, organized in sound, which constitutes the “knowing” of the true musical experience. What Fripp is saying here (I think) is that he had been a guitarist for about ten years before realizing that there was a sense behind the sounds he had been producing. Previously, he had worked on music purely as a craft, as a physical skill on a mechanical level, like a typist whose fingers fly about the keyboard without any recognition of the meaning or import of what’s being typed, or like a conservatory music student who practices for hours a day, never paying attention with his ears to the music there. And, in a sense, music isn’t there if no one is listening to it as such; there may be organized sound, but not a quality organized in sound. In this quotation, Fripp uses the visual analogy: “I see music as being something other than what most people see.” Not the seen, but the seeing.

articularly during the Frippertronics tour, Fripp would invite his audiences to become part of the creative process by engaging in active listening. When the audience expects the performer to do everything for them, the result is passive entertainment, diversion, escapism. When the audience participates sensitively in the creation of the music – for the real music is not “out there” somewhere, existing as an object, but “in here,” in the quality of attention brought to the mere sounds – then the result is art. At a Boston concert, Fripp told the audience, “You have every bit of the responsibility that I have. Because life is ironical, I get paid for it and you don’t.” (Schruers 1979, 16)

The central paradox, or quandary, of Fripp’s entire career has revolved around the difference between, on the one hand, making art-objects for a product-hungry yet passive audience, and, on the other hand, actually making art with an audience on the basis of a vision of a shared creative goal. Like making love, to make art you need equal partners; otherwise one or the other of the partners becomes a mere art, or sex -object for the other. Fripp may have had such thoughts on his mind when, in 1982, he remarked bittersweetly that in swinging London in 1969, “I began to see how much hookers, strippers and musicians have in common: they sell something very close to themselves to the public.” (Fripp 1982A, 42) Once one has tasted real love (or real art), mere sex (or mere entertainment) may satisfy on a certain primitive level, but a deeper longing remains frustrated.

Fripp saw King Crimson as a way of doing things, and though he never defined very precisely what he meant, I imagine one thing he had in mind was this idea of making music with fellow musicians on the basis of a shared intuitive experience of music as a quality organized in sound – and then taking that experience to the public in hopes of expanding the circle of sharing in the creation of art. King Crimson, Fripp always stressed, was primarily a live band, not a recording unit.

Ultimately, Fripp has concluded that recordings cannot convey a quality experience of music, and for this reason has very mixed feelings about his entire recorded output. An interviewer asked him recently, “Do you still think of making records as a bother and a burden?” Fripp answered: “Sure … Because it has very little to do with music. See, the end to music is a process. The end to recording is also a process. But a record is a product. Because of the restrictions and constrictions, the way of recording … it’s very difficult for that process to be reflected in the product.” (Drozdowski 1989, 37)

Nearly a decade earlier, Fripp had expressed the same frustration, in the context of producing an album for the Roches. “Translating from performance to record,” he wrote, is something like trying to put “Goethe into English or Shakespeare into German” and trying to express “the implicit rather than the literal sense.” (Fripp 1980A, 26)

Using a variety of images and metaphors, some of them religious, many musicians, irrespective of genre, have said that the key to creativity lies, in effect, in getting the ego out of the way and allowing a greater force to play through them. Felix Cavaliere: “We are like beacons from another source … I feel some of us as human beings are tuners to this vibration that comes through us.” Lamont Dozier: “I can’t take credit for this stuff. I’m only human and these things are the makings of God. Everything I do that’s good, at least, is a reflection of His hand.” Judy Collins: “Everybody’s a channeler. Every artist who walked down the street and whistled a tune

s a channeler. We don’t do it. It comes through us. It’s not ours.” Raffi: “I find the process of where these songs come from mysterious, because … I feel that, sure, I can take credit for these songs, but they come from another place.” (Song Talk 1989)

Robert Fripp’s formulation of the principle goes like this: “The creative musician … is … the radio receiver, not the broadcasting station. His personal discipline is to improve the quality of the components, the transistors, the speakers, the alloys in the receiver itself, but never to concern himself overmuch with putting out the program. The program is there; all he has to do is receive it as far as possible.” (Garbarini 1979, 31-2)

Fripp the Listener

When I was fourteen years old there was rock’n’roll – Fats Domino and Bill Haley – but frankly I thought it was stupid. I didn’t like rock’n’roll. I was a snob and I still am. I think rock n roll is interesting and some of it is more interesting than it used to be in the fifties. Yet basically it’s not something that means very much to me. If the whole history of rock’n’roll disappeared tomorrow morning, I wouldn’t care. I’m delighted that I’ve influenced rock’n’roll musicians. I’m pleased that David Bowie has said nice things about me and so has Brian Eno. Outside of [their] being complimentary, the only thing I admire about rock’n’roll [musicians] is how much money they make.

– Steve Reich (Vorda 1989, 16)
One of the ideas that was important to me was that you could be a rock musician without censoring your intelligence. Rock music has a very anti-intellectual stance, and I didn’t see why I should act dumb in order to be a rock musician. Rock is the most malleable musical form we have. Within the rock framework you can play jazz, classical, trance music, Urubu drumming. Anything you like can come under the banner of rock. It’s a remarkable musical form …
– Robert Fripp (Grabel 1982, 22)

The Agony of Rock

The war of words over rock goes on – telling us, if nothing else, that music is still alive, and that people (some people, anyway) care deeply enough about it to take a stand one way or the other.

Critics have often contended that Robert Fripp’s guitar concepts of the late 1970s and 1980s – you can hear them in Frippertronics as well as the League of Gentlemen, King Crimson IV, and Guitar Craft – owe a debt to the minimalist tradition of Steve Reich, Philip Glass, La Monte Young, and Terry Riley – a tradition that began in the 1960s as a rebellion against the academic serial music of the 1940s and 1950s. From its beginnings, minimalism seemed to have something in common with rock: a steady pulse, plenty of repetition, a grounding in simple tonality. Furthermore, the audiences for both types of music overlapped to a considerable extent. Albums like Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air (1969) were packaged psychedelically and marketed to the rock public; many of Philip Glass’s early performances took place not in classical concert halls but in downtown New York rock clubs.

The 1970s saw a parting of the ways, however. The music of the best minimalist composers grew more complex, more difficult – in a sense, more classical and less minimal. With a few notable exceptions, such as Brian Eno, rock musicians, after some flirtations with minimalism’s intellectual base, drew back into mainstream rock styles.

Fripp himself has denied that Reich had any direct influence on his work; when he made No Pussyfooting with Brian Eno in 1972, an album often cited as one of the crucial minimalism-rock connections, Fripp had heard neither the music of Reich nor of Glass (though Eno had). Later, Fripp got to know Reich’s work and said he enjoyed it, but only to a degree: “It takes me to a point at which something really interesting could happen, but doesn’t quite make that jump.

Because it is preconceived and orchestrated. What I should personally like to do is to add the random factor, the factor of hazard, to what he’s doing, to walk on stage unexpectedly during one of his performances and having become familiar with the tonal center, improvise over the top of it.” (Garbarini 1979, 32)

The “factor of hazard” is to Fripp an important criterion for judging the effectiveness of music. In the previous chapter we discussed his dissatisfaction with making records: the human factor of interaction between musicians and audience, the creative process, the “way of doing things,” the factor of hazard, are difficult if not impossible to capture on recordings. For similar reasons, he has repeatedly remarked that he is “not really a record listener.” (Watts 1980, 22) Fripp says, “For me, music is the performance of music,” while allowing that “of course, if you don’t go to Bulgaria very much, the best way for you to hear a Bulgarian women’s choir is on record.” (Drozdowski 1989, 36)

Pundits have debated for years the difference between popular music and art music. Fripp doesn’t use the word “art” much, but he has voiced a down-to-earth distinction between what he calls “popular culture” and “mass culture”: “Popular culture is when it’s very, very good and everyone knows it and goes ‘yeah!’ Mass culture is when it’s very, very bad and we all know it and we go ‘yeah!’ Mass culture works on like and dislike, and popular culture addresses the creature we aspire to be. Examples of popular culture: Beatles, Dylan, Hendrix.”

Although critical of mass culture from what might be called an aesthetic point of view, Fripp does not dismiss it entirely. He feels that under certain circumstances mass culture can be used for the good, citing the Live Aid concert in England – an event which awakened in people a genuine spirit of caring and generosity, regardless of cynical questions that were raised regarding how well the money was used and how much help the fund-raising actually did. (Drozdowski 1989, 34)

As noted in this chapter’s epigraph, Fripp sees rock music as “the most malleable musical form we have.” In my book on Brian Eno I defined rock as a specific set of musical style norms (involving certain song forms and rhythmic patterns, certain types of instrumentation and vocal delivery, and so on), in order to show how some rock musicians have gone “beyond rock” into other, new, hybrid musical genres of their own creation.

While viewing rock as a musical style complex is interesting enough as an exercise in analytical musicology, in the real world rock is more a spirit than a style, more an audience than a specific type of music. For the sociologist, rock is a demographic bulge; for the record industry, rock is a marketing category, a publicity strategy. Fripp has said, “One can, under the general banner of rock music, play in fact any kind of music whatsoever.” (Garbarini 1979, 32) I would add only that rock seems to move in cycles – periods of creative diversity followed by periods of stagnation, and that one problem for many musicians is getting their creative music accepted as “rock” by the music industry during periods of industry stagnation.

For Fripp, rock is a democratic music. Although a masterful guitar technician himself, and although he pushes his students to develop their musicianship to the utmost, he acknowledges that in rock, ideas count more than musical competence, sincerity more than virtuosity: virtually anybody who feels the urge can make a musical statement in the language and context of rock, regardless of how well, in classical terms, they can play or sing. The voices of Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen, coarse and “untrained” enough to send classical purists into fits of derision, became the voices of whole generations. Eno, though perhaps an extreme case, was so unskilled at playing guitar and keyboard that he called himself a “non-musician.”

For Fripp, “rock is an immediate expression of something very direct. Rock and roll is therapy on the street, it’s available to everyone. Rock and roll is street poetry. It can also be more sophisticated, but it needn’t be.” (Garbarini 1979, 33) For Fripp, “a rock’n’roll audience is always far, far better than any, because they’re instinctive, they’re on their feet, and they can cut through the pretensions of the performer very quickly.” (Drozdowski 1989, 30)

As for stylistic qualities, the rhythm or beat of rock – its most salient and consistent musical characteristic, the thing that rock’s initiates ecstatically extol while its detractors daintily denigrate – represents to Fripp positive sexual energy, “energy from the waist down.” By contrast, developmental harmony – a musical development peculiar to the Western world, and a self-conscious feature of its music really only since the Renaissance – represents to Fripp an intellectual process belonging to the province of the mind. (Watts 1980, 22) Since his earliest music with King Crimson, Fripp has been interested in combining these two sources of energy, the physical and the mental, rhythm and harmony – making, as well as speaking out on behalf of, rock music that could “appeal to the head as well as the foot.” (Garbarini 1979, 31)

Fripp came to believe, however, that many of the progressive rock groups of the early 1970s were not so much intrigued with the intangible spirit of King Crimson – that special way of listening, of doing things, of making music – as they were intent on aping Crimson’s outer musical vocabulary: the virtuosic musicianship, the epic, extended forms, the exotic harmonies, the quasi-mystical, mythological lyrics, the wide variety of instrumental sound colors.

Full-blown Gothic rock was a genre for which Fripp had absolutely no use. Declared a majestically scornful Fripp to John Rockwell of the New York Times in 1978: “I don’t wish to listen to the philosophical meanderings of some English half-wit who is circumnavigating some inessential point of experience in his life.” (Rockwell 1978, 16) Fripp’s rhetorical attack on the movement he’d helped create continued in his own column in Musician, Player, and Listener in the early 1980s, ridiculing “enthusiastic art-rock space cadets whose sudden success seemed to validate pretensions on all levels; they huddled in unholy quorum with pliant engineers to generate excess everywhere.” (Fripp 1980A, 26)

Fripp’s critique of 1970s rock extended to jabs at the stars who had let themselves get fat: in his view, they “became more interested in country houses and riding in limousines, expensive personal habits and all that. The rock musicians who were public figures in the 70’s copped out, and now we have cynicism towards our public figures that is wholly justified.” (Grabel 1982, 58)

Fripp related a story in 1979 that indicated the depths of his disillusionment with the rock fantasy. In August 1975, when King Crimson III had been defunct for a year, Fripp having broken it up at least in part because of the impossible contradictions he had been trying to reconcile between his concept of music and the conditions imposed by rock industry realities, he went to hear a rock show at the Reading Festival: “We’d been waiting an hour and a half while their laser show was being set up. I went out to the front.

It began to rain. I was standing in six inches of mud. It was drizzling. A man over here on my right began to vomit. A man over here to my left pulled open his flies and began to urinate over my leg. Behind me there were some 50,000 people who maybe for two or three evenings a week, for amusement, for recreation, would participate in this imaginary world of rock’n’roll. Then I looked at the group on stage – their lasers shooting off ineffectually into the night, locked into this same dream. Except they’re in it for twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week for the rest of their lives.” (Jones 1979A, 20)

Robert Fripp has felt the agonizing paradox of rock: on the one hand, the possibility of a real magic synthesis, the merging of body/soul/rhythm and mind/spirit/harmony, the seemingly infinite malleability of the basic forms, the potential for direct communication between artists who are passionately committed to ideas and an audience that cuts through artistic pretension and snobbery; on the other hand, the reality of rock as escapist entertainment, the greed, the homogenization of taste through the corporate structure of the recording and radio industries, the tendency to aim for the lowest common denominator of mass culture, the meaningless repetition of formulas, the very unhealthiness of the typical rock lifestyle itself: the star syndrome, the drugs, the pointlessness of wasted talents and lives.

Both punk/new wave and disco, those musical explosions of the mid-1970s that so many felt to be diametrically opposed to each other, Fripp felt as a breath of fresh air. Both seemed to him to be music of the people, to return music to the people, throwing the dinosaurs of the music industry off track, however temporarily.

The raw energy of punk had been prefigured by the aggressive intellectual heavy metal sound of King Crimson III – and even earlier by the intense negative energy and profound frustration that bursts through King Crimson I songs like “21st Century Schizoid Man.” Fripp said, “When I heard punk I thought, I’ve been waiting six years for this.” (Grabel 1979, 32) As for disco, Fripp called it “a political movement that votes with its feet. It started out as the expression of two disadvantaged communities – the gays and the blacks.” As a vital form of social expression, Fripp viewed disco as “nihilistic, but passively nihilistic,” a movement that simply ignored the traditional social framework outside its boundaries. (Schruers 1979, 16)

Robert Fripp believes that one can learn just as much by listening to music one dislikes as by listening to music one likes – in other words, that there can be an educational purpose served by music beyond that of satisfying mere subjective taste. “I go and see people who I don’t like because I get something from it which is worth far more than having been entertained.” (Watts 1980, 22) Rock writer Michael Watts characterizes this view as “puritanical”; puritanical or not, it is consistent with Fripp’s view that the quality of attention one brings to the experience of music is more decisive than the quality of the musical sounds in themselves. Not the sounds, but the listening.

Many of the musicians Fripp has mentioned in interviews over the years are jazz or jazz-rock players – Ornette Coleman, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Tony Williams, Frank Zappa. One name that pops up repeatedly is Jimi Hendrix, whom Fripp cites as an example of pure embodiment of the spirit of music. The intensity of the musical current flowing through Hendrix is what killed him in the end, according to Fripp. Hendrix’s guitar technique itself, however, “was inefficient and, as an example, misled many young guitarists.” (Fripp 1975)

It seems Fripp has never been able to muster much enthusiasm for listening to guitarists for the sake of listening to guitarists. He has peevishly and somewhat inscrutably characterized his chosen tool as “a pretty feeble instrument.” Post-Mayall-Bluesbreakers Eric Clapton he found “quite banal,” while Jeff Beck he could “appreciate as good fun.” (Rosen 1974, 18) Of the entire 1970s and 1980s crop of rock guitarists, Fripp has said little; indeed he hasn’t appeared particularly interested. The whole rush to synthesizer guitars, MIDI, and digital signal processing in the 1980s left Fripp unimpressed.

He did use the technology for his own purposes in King Crimson IV and with Andy Summers, even deigning to endorse the GR-300 synthesizer guitar in Roland advertisements in 1982. But he is not especially thrilled with new sounds for the sake of new sounds, particularly if the new sounds are merely poor imitations of old sounds: “Why would a world-class guitar player [playing a guitar synthesizer] settle for sounding like a third-rate saxophone player, and then a trumpet player and then a synthesizer player?” (Drozdowski 1989, 36)

Taking on the Classics

Some of Fripp’s most perplexing comments on other music concern the Western art music tradition. On the one hand, the music of some of that tradition’s masters has figured prominently in Fripp’s own musical self-education.

He has often acknowledged his debt to Bartok, particularly the Bartok of the String Quartets, many of whose movements sound positively Frippian, with their intense linear counterpoint, percussive rhythms, odd metrical schemes, extended tonality, exotic scales, and piquant dissonances. Stravinsky’s name comes up from time to time, as when Fripp mentioned the Russian in a discussion of tuning, temperament, and enharmonic pitch notation (Mulhern 1986, 99); on another occasion he called early Stravinsky “really hot stuff.” (Garbarini 1979, 32) Fripp expressed admiration for Handel, Bach, Mozart, and Verdi in a 1980 essay, but he was not focussing on their music so much as he was making the point that these composers had had to teach themselves how to thrive creatively while working in “very difficult political and economic conditions … Surely the most surprising point is how much inspired work had prosaic origins.” (Fripp 1980G, 30)

On the other hand, Fripp’s assessment of the classical tradition as a living, functional organism is not particularly generous. His collaborator Eno has been blunt about it: “Classical music is a dead fish.” (Doerschuk 1989, 95) Fripp is more restrained, but has expressed major reservations about the classical orchestra’s viability as a source of a quality musical experience for the musicians – and hence for the audience. As a form of musical organization, Fripp has called the classical orchestra a “dinosaur” – gigantic, lumbering, possessing little discerning intelligence, and overdue for extinction. Although he can respect the discipline of orchestra life and musicianship, Fripp himself “would find it very frustrating” to be an orchestral player: “How awful that the only person who is expressing himself is the composer, with the conductor as the chief of police and the musicians as sequencers … It’s stuck.

There is a cap on how far it can go. There is a cap on what it can do.” And then Fripp moves on to his own agenda: “Within the league of crafty guitarists … the aim is not to follow any one person but to be sensitive to the group as a whole and respond to the group as a whole.” (Mulhern 1986, 96)

According to Fripp, Beethoven was undoubtedly one of the “Great Masters,” with direct access to music at its creative source. But listening to Beethoven’s music today, “transcribed through two hundred years of interpretation and analysis and a sixty piece orchestra with an intelligent conductor”, is for Fripp an indirect, incomplete experience. He would much rather have been present to hear Beethoven improvise at the piano in person. “My personal reaction listening to the [Beethoven] String Quartets is not the sense of passion that was obviously present at the moment when it came through. Rather I feel a sense of how remarkably intelligent it is, but I don’t get that direct touch that I’m sure Beethoven had, which I’ve had from the rock band Television.” (Garbarini 1979, 32)

The Guitar Craft repertoire is by and large learned by rote and performed from memory. One afternoon in February 1986 Fripp and a bunch of his students were standing around the coffee urn during a Guitar Craft seminar discussing the pros and cons of notated music. Fripp’s final word on the topic was, “I’d much rather have a date with my girlfriend than get a letter from her.” It appears he won’t budge from his basic position, which is that the process of playing from notation inevitably takes music “further and further away from the original moment of conception.” (Garbarini 1979, 32)

This position is congruent with Fripp’s professed mistrust of written media and recorded sound – perhaps strange for someone who has put out so many records and published so many articles, and is consistent with his insistence that the highest form of musical experience can take place only in a situation of direct human contact. To musicians who have tasted the rewards of a close, devoted study of masters like Bach, Beethoven, and Mozart – through live performances, keyboard score-reading, recorded media, and the process of intuitive analysis – this is a tough pill to swallow.

A parallel might be drawn between reading a Bach score and reading the Bible. Moses’ or Jesus’ impact was undoubtedly most intensely felt in person – just as to hear Bach improvise a fugue on the organ or harpsichord must have been an awe-inspiring experience, at least to those present with the ears to hear and the musical preparation to understand what was happening. Yet without notation, Bach’s fugues, which through writing out he was able to refine to high levels of perfection, would be lost to history. I for one am glad to have the Bible and the Well-Tempered Clavier on my shelf.

Of course, whenever you have spiritual or musical masters around whom a written tradition accrues, you inevitably have latter-day disciples of all colors and stripes who battle among themselves to claim the “true” interpretation, or, worse, believe that salvation lies somehow in the written documents themselves rather than in direct personal contact with the source. Perhaps, like a modern musical Martin Luther, Fripp is saying that we can all have direct contact with music through faith and effort, that to speak directly with God we don’t need all the accumulated ritual, regulation, and written tradition, that arguing for the inherent superiority of the written art music canon is something like arguing in the manner of contemporary Christian fundamentalists in favor of the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy at the expense of unmediated personal faith.

Classical musicians play notes that are written and fixed on paper. Guitar Craft performances consist of music that appears to be carefully composed and tightly disciplined, as if the musicians are simply doing their best to execute some sort of pre-conceived composition. But in theory, or in the ideal, there is an element of improvisation in both classical and Guitar Craft performances: according to Fripp, the guitarists “can play any note they like provided it’s the right one”. (Drozdowski 1989, 30) It seems to me that in any kind of musical performance situation there will always be a danger of the musician falling into unconsciousness, relying on technique alone, and becoming in effect a sound-producing automaton.

In order to place Fripp’s approach in perspective, perhaps a bit of historical background would be helpful. The Western art music tradition has a rich history of performers taking all kinds of liberties with the written score, in many instances in effect completely re-composing it, whether in actual notation or in the heat of an inspired performance. Many composers have also been improvisers, able to develop and transform themes into new creations on the spot. It was really only with the rise of positivist musicology in the twentieth century that this sort of thing went out of favor and that improvisation, in the art-music world, became a lost art. Nowadays, indeed, the original composer’s “intentions” are widely held to be primary and inviolable, and the best performances are commonly deemed to be those most closely in accord with those sacrosanct intentions.

In the twentieth century, positivist musicologists have industriously cleaned up the music of the masters, assiduously sweeping out all the editorial additions that had crept in through the nineteenth century, getting back to the composers’ manuscripts and first published editions in order to take a new, refreshed look at the music in its original form (though often enough, with composers’ revisions, discrepancies between sources, and so on, reconstructing the “original” score can be a bit of a headache, to the point that doubt may be cast on the very concept of a single “original score” or Urtext). This cleaning-up was a first step; the second stage, now in full swing, is the movement toward faithful reproduction of historically authentic performance practices involving the use of period instruments, original scores, and all the knowledge of style, ornamentation, improvisation, and so on, that musicology can manage to dig up.

In the contemporary historical performance scene, opportunities for whole new ranges of use and abuse of knowledge have opened up. On the one hand, the educated musician can respond to the situation by contacting the spirit behind the music and – not slavishly but with considered knowledge – playing with a range of embellishments and other expressive elements (tempo, dynamics, phrasing, and so on) not literally specified by the raw notes in the score but called for by the spirit of the music, internalized in the sensitive performer through study and practice.

On the other hand, the historical performance movement is all too full of musicians and academic authorities squabbling over obscure details of musical praxis, not unlike scholastic medieval theologians squabbling over the “correct” interpretation of a verse of Scripture.

The music of every historical period calls for different kinds of interpretation, and it is probably true that there is more freedom in interpreting the music of the eighteenth century and earlier than nineteenth- and twentieth-century music, since in recent times composers have become more and more meticulous in notating their intentions with regard to every last nuance of expression.

Be this as it may, surely one can speak of a range of possible interpretations of a given piece of classical music; when all that is played is the notes, with no hint of internalization of the style, of the music – such playing is (and has always been, I suppose) the bane of music departments and performance spaces around the world. But assuming cultivated sensitivity and intuitive musicality on the classical player’s part, performance of the traditional repertoire can surely approach Fripp’s ideal of a music where one can play any note one likes “provided it’s the right one.”

One thorny problem for classical musicians is that it’s just so awfully difficult to “improve” on what Bach, Mozart, and the lot wrote down on paper. To anyone who has not fully fathomed such composers’ consummate mastery nor directly felt the complex yet elegant system of emotional and structural checks and balances built into the interrelationships among even the smallest details in such music, this is probably impossible to explain.

With the possible exception of free-form avant-garde jazz, all music that I know of has a “program” of some sort, that is, a tacit or explicit set of conventions and directions to be followed; the paradox is that the sensitivity and meaningfulness of the performance increases in proportion to the degree the musician surrenders the ego to the will of the music itself.

This is as true of the King Crimson or Guitar Craft repertoire as it is of the classical. And it is no different even in most forms of “free” improvisation – the musician is not starting in a vacuum but, with the technique at his or her disposal, is drawing on his or her total knowledge of music (scales, theory, harmony, sense of rhythm, sense of continuity, principles of unity and contrast, and so on). Music plays through the performer, conditioned in a sense by the performer’s individual knowledge, experience, taste, and talent, but (in those rare moments) transcending such limitations and manifesting itself as Music in a pure state.

We have already noted Fripp’s lament, “How awful that the only person who is expressing himself [in classical orchestral music] is the composer.” Fripp has also said, “Whenever a musician is interested in self-expression you know it’s gonna suck.” (Drozdowski 1989, 30) Does anyone except myself sense yet another paradox lurking shadow-like in these two statements? Chew them over for a while; we will return to them in the final chapter.

Musical Analysis Rock & Pop Music

Robert Fripp, the amazing guitarist (1)

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Robert Fripp, the amazing guitarist (Part 1)

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Fripp, the man

Robert Fripp (b. May 1946, Dorset, England) – band leader, recording artist, rock star, virtuoso electric and acoustic guitarist, producer, writer, composer, and, currently, music educator – has been a fixture on the contemporary music scene since 1969. On July 5 of that year, Fripp’s first commercially successful group, King Crimson, catapulted themselves to the forefront of public awareness by playing in front of 650,000 people at the Rolling Stones’ free Hyde Park concert.

For all his public exposure in the twenty-one years since then, Fripp has remained something of an enigma. Since the drift of what he does tends to be determined by experiences of inner upheaval, it has always been impossible to predict his next move, though in retrospect the logic of the development may seem clear enough. With almost every new venture he has startled his audience and opened up new doors of perception and music.

The music press has had a great time with Fripp. He has been called “the world’s most rational rock star,” “the Mr. Spock of rock,” “the owlish one,” a “persnickety plectrist” and a “plectral purist.” He has been characterized as a “nouveau conceptualist,” a “tin woodsman with a microtonal heart,” and as “a riddle wrapped in an enigma wrapped in a guitarist.”

One writer described him as having “the air of an old-fashioned, straight-laced and hidebound European professor.” That’s not the way he came across to me at Guitar Craft XII; well, there was an “element” of the learned professor, perhaps – even of the streetwise priest – but more striking was how genuinely funny he could be, able to make great fun of himself. Fripp possesses a bitingly pointed sense of irony.

The liner notes to God Save the Queen/Under Heavy Manners, for instance, are hysterical if you read them in the right spirit; if you read them somberly or defensively, they sound like the most god-awful pomp. (Years ago I noticed a similar phenomenon when reading the manifestoes of the nineteenth-century Danish Christian existentialist Søren Kierkegaard.)

Fripp isn’t above ordinary, earthy bathroom humor, either. Rolling Stone writer Fred Schruers describes an encounter with Fripp and his tour party in the men’s room at Boston’s WBCN: “What does one do? Walk over to meet this ferocious intellectual composer guitarist as he lines up at the urinal? As I lurk uncomfortably, the investigator of archetypes addresses his companions: ‘I don’t see how you can piss without waggin’ your willies afterward.’“

Fripp is robust, poised, and physically nimble; he moves gracefully. A peculiar thing about the man is that he must be one of the world’s most unphotogenic people. Having seen dozens of photographs of him from every stage in his career, I can attest to the fact that almost none of them look anything like he does in person. Fripp’s face, which in pictures can look muggish, leering, or frozen (sorry, Robert!), is in reality a constant dance of expression, handsome and fascinating (that’s better).

Although he is moderately small in stature, Fripp’s presence has a way of filling up the room. He is indeed one of the most present people I have ever met: present to those he is with, acutely sensitive to the situation of the moment, capable of exceptionally keen concentration.

Fripp does have something of a reputation in the press for keeping his emotions carefully under wraps, for being cool and considered, for being something of a mechanical marvel. An interviewer from Creem relates: “He asks me how many words I will need for my article, mentally calculates how much talking he will have to do to provide them, and stops at that point.”

For his part, Fripp laments: “One of the disadvantages of having the particular stereotype I do is that I tend to get serious interviewers. When I have a serious interviewer coming in my heart sinks. But what can you do? Either refuse to answer his questions, or speak to the serious young intellectuals in the vocabulary serious young intellectuals understand.”

Jungian theory postulates four basic psychological functions – thinking, feeling, sensation, and intuition – any of which may dominate the others in a given individual personality. Fripp rejects the notion that he is primarily a rational thinking type: “I’m instinctive [intuitive, in Jungian terms] by nature … I analyze and rationalize after the event in order to persuade people of something I think to be right.” Nevertheless he presents the image of a man to whom self-control is a cardinal virtue, who is aware of his lower nature but struggles to keep it in check. Fripp will instantly retract a remark that in the next moment he considers “flippant” or “inconsidered.”

Fripp’s studied objectivity about himself has disconcerted some and charmed others. He indulges in the habit, frequently to comical effect, of referring to himself in the third person, as “This Fripp …” But indeed this detachment from the multiplicity of inner selves gives rise to the question: where, or who, is the real Robert Fripp? He is a self-conscious role player, moving in and out of entirely convincing personas seemingly at will.

In Guitar Craft seminars he adopts the role of the Teacher and sits as it were enthroned smack at the middle of the head dining table, surrounded by a Da Vincian phalanx of subordinate teachers; but the moment the seminar is officially declared over, he deserts his central position and carries his breakfast tray to a side table, mingling among his students.

When a student now asks a question he deems inappropriately deferential, Fripp brushes it off with an exasperated twinkle in his eye, saying, “Do you want me to go back and sit over there?” motioning with his hand to the head table.

David Bowie once remarked that being a person is like maintaining a car: you can alter parts of your personality just like you might decide one day to change the oil or install a new carburetor. Laurie Anderson has said, “I operate my body the way most people drive their cars.” While Fripp refrains from the automotive analogy, he has expressed a similar idea: “One has to see that one’s personality is not what one is. It’s an organ through which I experience life. So, how can one come to see that? Years of observation, years of discipline … Not long after I was born – I think I was between about three and six months old – I had a clear moment of, I suppose you’d say, waking up in my body. Here was a little Fripp baby in a pram, and I saw quite clearly that this was the animal that I inhabited …

Then, in March 1976, when I was in retreat in England, as I was wheeling a wheelbarrow of compost in the garden, in a flash I saw quite clearly that Robert Fripp did not exist … Robert Fripp consists of a collection of impressions and experiences over a period of years that seem to have some coherence, but the level of coherence is very, very fragile.”

If one thing is clear, it is that Fripp is a person of concentrated self-discipline. He likes to keep regular habits and daily routines, beginning each day with a relaxation exercise before breakfast. (Although he has not divulged much publicly in terms of other specific personal exercises or disciplines, the general nature of his work in this realm will be considered more fully in Chapter 7 and 10. Certainly guitar practice itself has been a major discipline for Fripp. In 1979 he described himself as having “a very modest lifestyle, one that some people would call ‘mean.’

I don’t have a string of fast cars or fast women, and I don’t take any drugs at all, not even aspirin.” He does, however, go for a good strong cup of coffee, or a beer or two at the local pub.

Fripp is known as an avid reader with an extensive personal library containing volumes on religion and philosophy, politics, psychological theory, and economics. In the articles he wrote for Musician, Player, and Listener magazine in the early 1980s, he quoted freely from Plato, Shakespeare, Jacques Ellul, E.F. Schumacher, T.S. Elliot, Stafford Beer, Proudhon, and other writers. As the “world’s most rational rock star” has said, “Me and a book is a party. Me and a book and a cup of coffee is an orgy.” (Freff 1984, 106).

Fripp, the professional musician


In the chapters to follow we shall come back and look at the music of each phase of Fripp’s career in greater detail; for now let us trace the development in broadest outline.

robert fripp guitar sheet music

The original King Crimson comprised Fripp (guitar), Ian McDonald (reeds, woodwind, vibes, keyboards, mellotron, vocals), Greg Lake (bass guitar, lead vocals), Michael Giles (drums, percussion, vocals), and Peter Sinfield (lyrics). This band began rehearsing on January 13, 1969, and made their debut at the London Speakeasy on April 9.

King Crimson was “a way of doing things.” In all its manifestations, King Crimson represented, at least in Fripp’s eyes, a certain approach to music-making and a certain approach to the relationship between the performers and the audience. The exact nature of these approaches was never defined explicitly, at least not for public consumption: King Crimson was, for Fripp, a powerfully motivating if deliberately nebulous concept. The following extract is taken from a “Rolling Stone” interview conducted in 1973 by Cameron Crowe:

Crowe: You often say that you feel King Crimson is a way of doing things.
Fripp: I gave that to you as your key. That’s your key to the core of the band. King Crimson, you see, is a magical act.
Crowe: In what way?

Fripp: Every act or thought is a magical act.
Crowe: You seem to tell many interviewers that King Crimson is a way of doing things … what?
Fripp: Being.
Crowe: Then why don’t you simply say that King Crimson is a way of being?
Fripp: It’s that as well. I’m not interested in being pegged down with narrow definitions … As soon as one defines, one limits. I don’t want to define what King Crimson is. I’d rather let you do the thinking.

King Crimson I released their first album, In the Court of the Crimson King, on October 10, 1969. Each song on the record was different from the others: some had the melancholy “classical” sound of the Moody Blues and Procol Harum, others featured glittering, painstaking arrangements reminiscent of the Beatles, still others offered the raw rock and roll energy of the Rolling Stones, but jazzified, kicked into overdrive. Some writers in the rock press proposed King Crimson as heir to the throne of the Beatles, who were at the time in the process of abdicating.

King Crimson I, however, fell apart immediately following a U.S. tour in the late fall of 1969. 1970-1972 represents what Fripp has called an “interim” period for the group; King Crimson II, as I shall call it, was a sort of concept band with an almost revolving-door policy in terms of the musicians who comprised the group at any given moment. Among King Crimson II’s participants new were Mel Collins, Gordon Haskell, Boz Burrell, Andy McCulloch, and Ian Wallace; Greg Lake and Michael Giles contributed to studio sessions.

Four albums were released during this period: In the Wake of Poseidon, Lizard, Islands, and the live Earthbound. It was a time of enthusiastic if sometimes injudicious musical experimentation, with often dubious results. Some of King Crimson II’s songs were hard rock, some were jazz-tinged, several were classicized, overly precious ballads. The music was astringently dissonant one moment and vacuously airy the next. Many of the rhythms were either skittish and jumpy or obvious and foursquare. The attempt at a grand fusion of styles was difficult to bring off; Sinfield’s lyrics, originally so evocative and in tune with the late-1960s Zeitgeist, seemed increasingly improbable and contrived. Critics in the press began to be put off and confused, and Fripp himself was later to voice grave doubts about the validity of his music of this period.

King Crimson II broke up definitively in April 1972, following the Earthbound U.S. tour; it had been a long time coming. In July, Fripp was introduced to a new interactive tape technology by his friend Brian Eno: whatever the human performer played – typically one or two notes on electric guitar – would be heard again, at a slightly lower volume level, several seconds later. Several seconds after this, the sound would be heard again, slightly softer; in the meantime, the performer could add more notes, which then began their cycles of gradual repetition and decay. In September Fripp and Eno recorded “The Heavenly Music Corporation” in Eno’s home studio, a piece that was to become Side One of their first collaborative album, “No Pussyfooting.”

The simplicity and novelty of the signal loop and layer technique must have been refreshing to the Crimsoned-out Fripp, who was later to refine the technique and call it, for his own performance and recording purposes, “Frippertronics.”

Also in July 1972, Fripp assembled the all-new lineup that would constitute, more or less, King Crimson III: David Cross (violin, viola, mellotron), John Wetton (bass and vocals), Bill Bruford (drums), and Jamie Muir (percussion). Taken as a trilogy, the three King Crimson III albums (Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Starless and Bible Black, and Red, released between 1973 and 1974), present a more muscular sound than most earlier Crimson efforts; by the time “Red” was recorded, the group had been pared down to the basic power trio of Fripp, Wetton, and Bruford.

Wetton was capable of playing bass lines that fused harmonic backing with gritty melodic interest; Bruford’s drumming was more rock-oriented than previous Crimson drummers, with less emphasis on trebly cymbal and snare drum colors, yet with a unique straightforward attack; Fripp’s guitar work had developed a new emphasis on big power chords, without sacrificing its original melodic intensity; violinist Cross proved more than equal to the task of blending into the Crimsoid alchemy, contributing many sensitive melodies and counterpoints; and it is to Muir’s percussion that Larks’ Tongues owes many of its most exquisitely surreal passages.

The King Crimson of 1973-4 played, in effect, artistic heavy metal, in what was one of the most convincing syntheses of hard rock, instrumental virtuosity, and compositional artifice to come out of the period.
A live album, USA, was released in April 1975; it was more consistent and well recorded than the previous live album, Earthbound.

By July 1974, an accumulation of doubts and powerful personal experiences had led Fripp to a position where he felt compelled to disband King Crimson III unilaterally: “I felt I had to stop performing in the rock circus because the reciprocal relationship between audience and performer dropped markedly, to a point where it was just antithetical to what I wanted to do … Everything deteriorated through 1970 and 1971, and it was very much a struggle to try to find the spirit that had interested me in 1969. The tremendous burst of energy that kicked off King Crimson became steadily refined and sophisticated, to the point that for me, absolutely nothing was happening. When Crimson finished in 1974, it was the last possible moment for anything to have stopped.”

Between September 1974 and August 1977, Fripp retreated from the music industry for three years, a period he has described as having three phases: preparation (winding up his affairs), withdrawal (attending a ten-month course at J.G. Bennett’s Academy for the Harmonious Development of Man at Sherborne), and recovery (slowly readapting to reality, and easing his way back into the musical scene).

Fripp’s first step out of self-imposed retirement was occasioned by an invitation from Peter Gabriel in September 1976 to work on the latter’s first solo album in Toronto. In June, Fripp began working intensively with the tape-loop system Eno had shown him five years before. During this period he worked with David Bowie and Brian Eno on Heroes in Berlin, produced Daryl Hall’s solo album Sacred Songs, and played and recorded with the novelty/new wave band Blondie and the quirky acoustic feminist trio of sisters, the Roches.

As early as November 1977 Fripp was at work on his own first solo album, Exposure, which was not to be finished and released until 1979. Exposure was an oddly masterful piece of vinyl, as clearly influenced by the New York new wave aesthetic as it was to have a marked influence on that same genre. Exposure represents a diverse stylistic spread, from punk to electric urban blues, from gentle emotional ballad to apocalyptic epic, from musique concrete to Frippertronics: all in all, a conceptual collage representing the artist’s diverse interests at the time, which seemed uncannily congruent with the interests of the contemporary musical public.

On September 11, 1978, Fripp launched what he called “The Drive to 1981,” whose philosophy involved a sound rejection of ingrained music industry values of seeking greater and greater profit through the mindless and greedy promotion a few selected, almost prefabricated groups based on the lowest common denominator theory of public taste and sensibility. Fripp railed against what he called the music industry’s “dinosaurs” – cold-blooded, reptilian corporate entities of immense size and dangerously little intelligence. As an alternative way of presenting music to the public, he proposed the “small, mobile intelligent unit” – a phrase which became the Frippism par excellence of the late 1970s.

In order to demonstrate his concept of the small, mobile, intelligent unit in action, Fripp undertook a solo world Frippertronics tour (April-August 1979); he released records of Frippertronics and Discotronics (God Save the Queen/Under Heavy Manners [1980], featuring vocals by David Byrne of Talking Heads, and Let the Power Fall [1981]); and he formed the League of Gentlemen, a sort of new wave dance band that toured England and America from April to November 1980 and released one album.

In the spring of 1981, Fripp began practicing with one of the recently available Roland guitar synthesizers, and began rehearsing a new group, originally called Discipline, with bassist/stick player Tony Levin, guitarist/vocalist Adrian Belew, and drummer Bill Bruford. This was to become King Crimson IV. In a number of statements to the press, Fripp attempted to explain that the new band had not consciously decided to use the King Crimson name for commercial purposes, but that at a certain point it simply became evident that they “were” King Crimson.

King Crimson had always been a way of doing things, and indeed with the new band the historical King Crimson pattern played itself out once more: a short period of intense collective creativity resulting in a dynamic, new musical style, followed by a decline into somewhat mannered refinements and repetitions of the original insights and a fragmentation of group identity due to the individual creative leanings of the musicians.

King Crimson IV toured and released three albums between 1981 and 1984: Discipline, Beat, and Three of a Perfect Pair. The style typically involved complex meters, polymeter, short note values, precisely controlled instrumental textures, ambiguous tonality, and driving percussion. The incredible complexity of the rhythms obtained from the interaction of high-speed guitar and stick ostinatos was offset by Belew’s quirky vocals and Bruford’s admirably precise and restrained drumming. The music of King Crimson IV was an intelligent and impeccably crafted synthesis of several of the musical trends animating the early 1980s: new wave, synthesizer rock, and minimalism.

Apart from Fripp’s work with King Crimson, his most significant collaborations to come out of the 1981-1984 period were two albums with Police guitarist Andy Summers, I Advance Masked (1982), and Bewitched (1984). The first album was a virtual catalog of techniques and tone color possibilities available to the guitarist of the early 1980s. The pieces, all instrumental, ranged from structured improvisation over a disco-like beat to soft-edged fantasy soundscapes. Best were those passages in which Summers’ and Fripp’s guitars discernibly talked to each other; the music then took on the character of abstract conversation, of a communion of spirits.

Side One of Bewitched consists of three long dance-oriented tracks – perhaps “dance-oriented art music” in the manner of Bach’s keyboard, violin, cello, and orchestral suites. Side Two contained seven electronically-based soundscapes more or less in the vein of I Advance Masked, but with somewhat more distinctively shaped formal, harmonic, and textural outlines.

Other session guitar work Fripp has done over the years includes work on Brian Eno’s solo albums Here Come the Warm Jets, Another Green World, Before and After Science, and Music for Films; with David Bowie on Scary Monsters; with David Sylvian on Alchemy – An Index of Possibilities; and with the Flying Lizards on Fourth Wall.

In the liner notes to the 1985 album The League of Gentlemen/God Save the King (a record containing revised versions of previous releases from the Drive to 1981 period), Fripp summed up the position at which he had arrived: “The period 1977 to 1984 was one of intense activity for me, following a three year retreat from the music industry. This intentional work in

the market place was presented as the Drive to 1981 and the Incline to 1984.” (The Incline to 1984 was never so formally defined as the Drive to 1981; my understanding is that it was a sort of self-parodying running joke in the manner of the late Beatles, “And here’s another clue for you all / the walrus was Paul.”). Fripp continued: “When the seven year commitment completed once again I went into retreat, to allow the future to present itself. Currently I am conducting a series of residential guitar seminars in West Virginia for players of all levels of experience.”

This rather innocuous-sounding announcement portended the launching of an entirely new type of enterprise, one for which Fripp had been preparing himself for at least a decade. Guitar Craft is not simply the title of a school of music or a particular method of learning to apply oneself to the technique of playing the acoustic guitar; it is not in itself a performance ensemble, a musical style, or a repertoire; it is neither merely a set of finger exercises nor a set of relaxation exercises.

Guitar Craft is all of these things, but perhaps most significantly, it is a virtual style of life – one embraced by Fripp himself, and by a number of the more than six hundred students who have attended courses since in the United States, England, Germany, and other countries around the world.

My own stimulating encounter with Guitar Craft will be discussed in Chapter 10. For now, suffice it so say that Guitar Craft represents, or represented for me, a systematic debunking of many popular myths surrounding the creative process, and the replacement of such myths with a novel and eminently practical approach to music in general and to the guitar specifically. The Level One student (there are seven Levels in Guitar Craft – everyone, regardless of expertise, starts at the bottom, is invited to disorient himself at the outset by tuning his guitar in a new way; he is then enjoined to sit in a particular way, become aware of his body in a particular way, hold the pick in a particular way, utilize the left hand on the fretboard in a particular way, and memorize a set of exercises by rote.

The pedagogical technique of Guitar Craft involves daily group and individual guitar lessons, morning relaxation sessions, classes in the Alexander technique, classes in rhythm, instruction in concentration and attention, communal meals, and as much practice during “free time” as one can possibly fit into a nineteen-hour day.

King Crimson was a way of doing things that seemed to work for short periods of time and then fall apart. With Guitar Craft as a style of life, Fripp seems to be succeeding in training young musicians to exercise a certain quality of attention in the practice and execution of music: in the pedestrian sense, he is training professional performers. The next step – and it is a tall order, an enterprise of a qualitatively different nature – would involve training the audience.

One of Guitar Craft’s current projects is the establishment of a more or less fixed performance ensemble. To this point, the League of Crafty Guitarists has been an ad hoc affair – any number of Fripp’s students (including myself) have performed together in public in different circumstances. One early configuration of the League – which Fripp visualizes metaphorically or metaphysically as one guitarist in many bodies – recorded an album, The League of Crafty Guitarists – Live! in December 1985. The album gives some sense of the style and atmosphere of the ever-growing Guitar Craft repertoire, but ultimately, and probably inevitably, fails to capture the spirit of the music itself, which, it can be convincingly argued, can only be experienced live by an attentive audience.

Over the last year or two, Fripp has performed with Sunday All Over the World, a band consisting of Fripp, his wife rock chanteuse Toyah Wilcox, Crafty Guitarist Trey Gunn, and drummer Paul Beavis. Since the group has neither, as of this writing, appeared in the United States, released any recordings, nor generated a great deal of press, I have little information to go on. In 1989 Gunn reportedly said that Sunday All Over the World was the result of Fripp’s “trying to find the right way to work with Toyah … So far it’s all built around the vocals, but everyone’s contributing pretty much equally. We’re not looking to be a heavy soloing band, but it’s sure there when we need it.” (Drozdowski 1989).

Rock & Pop Music

I Talk to The Wind – King Crimson (with sheet music)

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I Talk to The Wind – King Crimson (with sheet music)

Words and Music by Ian McDonald & Peter Sinfield, from the album In The Court of The Crimson King.

king crimson sheet music pdf

I Talk to the Wind” is the second track from the British progressive rock band King Crimson‘s debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King.

Starting immediately after the cacophony that ends “21st Century Schizoid Man“, the mood of this song is a stark contrast; it is serene, simple and peaceful. Ian McDonald‘s flute begins the song, and is one of the lead instruments throughout. He also plays a classical-inspired solo in the middle of the song as a “C” section and a longer one at the end as a coda.

These themes would be revisited by the band, notably on their second album, In the Wake of Poseidon. “Pictures of a City”, with a similar mood as “21st Century Schizoid Man”, would be followed by “Cadence and Cascade”, another calm song, and the second album’s title track also mirrors “Epitaph” in some aspects as well, both of which end side one.

This song is the only song on In the Court of the Crimson King that does not have at least one separately titled section.

An earlier demo version of this song may be found on the now out-of-print LP A Young Person’s Guide to King Crimson, which featured Robert Fripp (guitar), Peter Giles (bass), Michael Giles (drums), and Ian McDonald (flute), along with Judy Dyble (formerly of Fairport Convention) on vocals.

This version was more up-tempo and lighter in instrumentation. The Young Person’s Guide recording and another demo of the same song were recorded in 1968 by Giles, Giles and Fripp. However, the song did not actually appear on a Giles, Giles and Fripp record until The Brondesbury Tapes (1968) was released on CD in 2002. There are actually two recordings of “I Talk to the Wind” on this CD; one features vocals by Judy Dyble.


Opus III version

In 1992, the song was covered by English electronic music group Opus III, whose lead vocalist was Kirsty Hawkshaw. It was released as the follow-up to their successful “It’s a Fine Day” and the second single from the album, Mind Fruit. The single reached number 6 in Finland, number 52 in the United Kingdom and number 162 in Australia. The music video for “I Talk to the Wind” is similar to the video for “It’s a Fine Day”. It features Kirsty Hawkshaw with her head shaved and dressed in a silvery bodysuit with silver boots and silver make-up.


Said the straight man to the late man
Where have you been
I’ve been here and I’ve been there
And I’ve been in between

I talk to the wind
My words are all carried away
I talk to the wind
The wind does not hear
The wind cannot hear

I’m on the outside looking inside
What do I see
Much confusion, disillusion
All around me

I talk to the wind
My words are all carried away
I talk to the wind
The wind does not hear
The wind cannot hear

You don’t possess me
Don’t impress me
Just upset my mind
Can’t instruct me or conduct me
Just use up my time

I talk to the wind
My words are all carried away
I talk to the wind
The wind does not hear
The wind cannot hear

I talk to the wind
My words are all carried away
I talk to the wind
The wind does not hear
The wind cannot hear

Said the straight man to the late man
Where have you been
I’ve been here and I’ve been there and
I’ve been in between

Critical reception

AllMusic editor MacKenzie Wilson said that their “crafty version” of King Crimson‘s “I Talk to the Wind” “composes a dreamy synthetic wave.” He also noted Hawkshaw‘s “dove-like vocals transcended into freewheeling soundscapes”. Randy Clark from Cashbox wrote that her “childlike and breathy voice blows through this dance track like a gentle breeze.”Music Week stated that the song “is similar in style” to “It’s a Fine Day”. Sian Pattenden from Smash Hits commented that “the flutes whisper along merrily with the bubbly syntheramic background”.

King Crimson

King Crimson are an English progressive rock band formed in London in 1968. They have exerted a strong influence both on the early 1970s progressive rock movement and on more recent rock and experimental artists. Although the band has consistently undergone changes in personnel throughout its history, guitarist and primary composer Robert Fripp, the only remaining founding member, has acted as a driving creative force. Though he is often seen as the band’s leader, Fripp himself tends to shun this label. King Crimson has earned a large cult following.

They were ranked No. 87 on VH1‘s 100 Greatest Artists of Hard Rock. Although initially considered a seminal force in progressive rock (a genre originally characterised by lengthy compositions featuring extended instrumental sections), Fripp in particular has often distanced himself from the genre: King Crimson has drawn influence from a wide variety of genres and approaches. Classical music, jazz, folk, heavy metal, gamelan and experimental music have all been reinterpreted and explored by the band, and they have exerted influence on several generations of progressive, psychedelic, alternative metal, hardcore and noise bands and composers.

Developed from the unsuccessful psychedelic pop trio Giles, Giles and Fripp, the initial King Crimson were key to the formation of early progressive rock, strongly influencing and altering the music of contemporaries such as Yes and Genesis. Their debut album, In the Court of the Crimson King (1969), remains their most successful and influential release, with its elements of jazz, classical and experimental music.

Their success increased following an opening act performance for the Rolling Stones at Hyde Park, London, in 1969. Following In the Wake of Poseidon (1970) and the less successful chamber jazz-inspired Lizard (1970), and Islands (1971), the group reformatted and changed their instrumentation (swapping out saxophone in favour of violin and unusual percussion) in order to develop their own take on European rock improvisation, reaching a new creative peak on Larks’ Tongues in Aspic (1973), Starless and Bible Black (1974) and Red (1974). Fripp disbanded the group in 1974.

In 1981, King Crimson reformed with another change in musical direction and instrumentation (incorporating, for the first time, a mixture of British and American personnel plus doubled guitar and influences taken from gamelan, post-punk and New York minimalism). This lasted for three years, resulting in the trio of albums Discipline (1981), Beat (1982) and Three of a Perfect Pair (1984). Following a decade-long hiatus, Fripp revived the group as an expanded “Double Trio” sextet in 1994, mingling its mid-‘70s and 1980s approaches with new creative options available via MIDI technology.

This resulted in another three-year cycle of activity including the release of Thrak (1995). King Crimson reunited again in 2000 as a more industrial-oriented quartet (or “Double Duo”), releasing The Construkction of Light in 2000 and The Power to Believe in 2003: after further personnel shuffles, the band expanded to a double-drummer quintet for a 2008 tour celebrating their 40th anniversary.

Following another hiatus between 2009 and 2012, King Crimson reformed once again in 2013; this time as a septet (and, later, octet) with an unusual three-drumkit frontline and the return of saxophone/flute to the lineup for the first time since 1972. This current version of King Crimson has continued to tour and to release live albums, significantly rearranging and reinterpreting music from across the band’s career.

Since 1997, several musicians have pursued aspects of the band’s work and approaches through a series of related bands collectively referred to as ProjeKcts.

King Crimson have been described musically as progressive rock, art rock, and post-progressive, with their earlier works being described as proto-prog. Their music was initially grounded in the rock of the 1960s, especially the acid rock and psychedelic rock movements. The band played Donovan‘s “Get Thy Bearings” in concert, and were known to play the Beatles‘ “Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds” in their rehearsals. However, for their own compositions, King Crimson (unlike the rock bands that had come before them) largely stripped away the blues-based foundations of rock music and replaced them with influences derived from classical composers.

The first incarnation of King Crimson played the Mars section of Gustav Holst‘s suite The Planets as a regular part of their live set and Fripp has frequently cited the influence of Béla Bartók. As a result of this influence, In the Court of the Crimson King is frequently viewed as the nominal starting point of the progressive rock movements King Crimson also initially displayed strong jazz influences, most obviously on its signature track “21st Century Schizoid Man“. The band also drew on English folk music for compositions such as “Moonchild” and “I Talk to the Wind.”

The 1981 reunion of the band brought in even more elements, displaying the influence of gamelan music and of late 20th century classical composers such as Philip Glass, Steve Reich, and Terry Riley. For its 1994 reunion, King Crimson reassessed both the mid-1970s and 1980s approaches in the light of new technology, intervening music forms such as grunge, and further developments in industrial music, as well as expanding the band’s ambient textural content via Fripp’s Soundscapes looping approach.

Compositional approaches

Several King Crimson compositional approaches have remained constant from the earliest versions of the band to the present. These include:

  • The use of a gradually building rhythmic motif. These include “The Devil’s Triangle” (an adaptation and variation on the Gustav Holst piece Mars played by the original King Crimson, based on a complex pulse in 5
    4 time over which a skirling melody is played on a Mellotron), 1973’s “The Talking Drum” (from Larks’ Tongues in Aspic), 1984’s “Industry” (from Three of a Perfect Pair) and 2003’s “Dangerous Curves” (from The Power to Believe).
  • An instrumental piece (often embedded as a break in a song) in which the band plays an ensemble passage of considerable rhythmic and polyrhythmic complexity. An early example is the band’s initial signature tune “21st Century Schizoid Man“, but the “Larks’ Tongues in Aspic” series of compositions (as well as pieces of similar intent such as “THRAK” and “Level Five”) go deeper into polyrhythmic complexity, delving into rhythms that wander into and out of general synchronisation with each other, but that all ‘finish’ together through polyrhythmic synchronisation. These polyrhythms were particularly abundant in the band’s 1980s work, which contained gamelan-like rhythmic layers and continual overlaid staccato patterns in counterpoint.
  • The composition of difficult solo passages for individual instruments, such as the guitar break on “Fracture” on Starless and Bible Black.
  • The juxtaposition of ornate tunes and ballads with unusual, often dissonant noises (such as “Cirkus” from Lizard, “Ladies of the Road” from Islands and “Eyes Wide Open” from The Power to Believe).
  • The use of improvisation.
  • Ascending note structure (e.g. “Facts of Life” and “THRAK”).


“We’re so different from each other that one night someone in the band will play something that the rest of us have never heard before and you just have to listen for a second. Then you react to his statement, usually in a different way than they would expect. It’s the improvisation that makes the group amazing for me. You know, taking chances. There is no format really in which we fall into. We discover things while improvising and if they’re really basically good ideas we try and work them in as new numbers, all the while keeping the improvisation thing alive and continually expanding.”

—King Crimson violinist David Cross on the mid-1970s band’s approach to improvisation.

King Crimson have incorporated improvisation into their performances and studio recordings from the beginning, some of which has been embedded into loosely composed pieces such as “Moonchild” or “THRAK”. Most of the band’s performances over the years have included at least one stand-alone improvisation where the band simply started playing and took the music wherever it went, sometimes including passages of restrained silence, as with Bill Bruford’s contribution to the improvised “Trio”. The earliest example of King Crimson unambiguously improvising is the spacious, oft-criticised extended coda of “Moonchild” from In the Court of the Crimson King.

Rather than using the standard jazz or blues “jamming” format for improvisation (in which one soloist at a time takes centre stage while the rest of the band lies back and plays along with established rhythm and chord changes), King Crimson improvisation is a group affair in which each member of the band is able to make creative decisions and contributions as the music is being played. Individual soloing is largely eschewed; each musician is to listen to each other and to the group sound, to be able to react creatively within the group dynamic. A slightly similar method of continuous improvisation (“everybody solos and nobody solos”) was initially used by King Crimson’s jazz-fusion contemporaries Weather Report. Fripp has used the metaphor of “white magic” to describe this process, in particular when the method works particularly well.

Similarly, King Crimson’s improvised music is rarely jazz or blues-based, and varies so much in sound that the band has been able to release several albums consisting entirely of improvised music, such as the THRaKaTTaK album. Occasionally, particular improvised pieces will be recalled and reworked in different forms at different shows, becoming more and more refined and eventually appearing on official studio releases (the most recent example being “Power to Believe III”, which originally existed as the stage improvisation “Deception of the Thrush”, a piece played on stage for a long time before appearing on record).


King Crimson have been influential both on the early 1970s progressive rock movement and numerous contemporary artists. Genesis and Yes were directly influenced by the band’s initial style of symphonic Mellotron rock, and many King Crimson band members were involved in other notable bands: Lake in Emerson, Lake & Palmer (some of whose songs can be regarded stylistically as Lake’s attempt to continue the early work of King Crimson); McDonald in Foreigner; Burrell in Bad Company, and Wetton in U.K. and Asia. Canadian rock band Rush cites King Crimson as a strong early influence on their sound; drummer Neil Peart credited the adventurous and innovative style of Michael Giles on his own approach to percussion.

King Crimson’s influence extends to many bands from diverse genres, especially of the 1990s and 2000s.

King Crimson discography

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

King Crimson discography
Studio albums13
Live albums15
Compilation albums13
Video albums6
Major box sets9

The discography of King Crimson consists of 13 studio albums, 15 live albums, 13 compilation albums, 3 extended plays, 10 singles, 6 video albums and 9 major box sets.

Rock & Pop Music

Stevie Wonder “Isn’t she lovely”

Stevie Wonder “Isn’t she lovely” with sheet music in our Library.

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Isn’t she lovely?
Isn’t she wonderful?
Isn’t she precious?
Less than one minute old
I never thought through love we’d be
Making one as lovely as she
But isn’t she lovely made from love?Isn’t she pretty?
Truly the angel’s best
Boy, I’m so happy
We have been Heaven blessed
I can’t believe what God has done
Through us He’s given life to one
But isn’t she lovely made from love?Isn’t she lovely?
Life and love are the same
Life is Aisha
The meaning of her name
Londie, it could have not been done
Without you who conceived the one
That’s so very lovely, made from love, hey!

“Isn’t She Lovely” is a song by Stevie Wonder from his 1976 album, Songs in the Key of Life. The lyrics celebrate the birth of his daughter, Aisha Morris. Wonder collaborated on the song with Harlem songwriter and studio owner Burnetta “Bunny” Jones.

The song opens side 3 of Songs in the Key of Life, and starts with a baby’s first cry recorded during an actual childbirth. A recording of Wonder bathing Aisha as an older toddler is brought into the final section of the song, mixed with Wonder’s extended chromatic harmonica solo. All of the instruments heard in the song are played by Wonder, except for Greg Phillinganes on some of the keyboard parts. During the recording process, bassist Nathan Watts laid down a bass guitar line to serve as a guide track for Wonder, but Wonder eventually replaced this with his own keyboard bass performance.

The more-than-six-minute song was not released as a single, as Wonder was unwilling to shorten the song to fit the 7″, 45 rpm format. With consumers demanding a single, Tamla compromised in late 1976, and a promotional version was given to radio stations. This edited version, 3:12 in length, received so much airplay that it reached number 23 on the Adult Contemporary chart in January 1977. Since then, the song has become a jazz and pop standard, covered by many artists.

Wonder performed the song live for Queen Elizabeth II at her Diamond Jubilee Concert on June 4, 2012, with lyrics modified to refer to the Queen.


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Rock & Pop Music

Eric Clapton Tears in Heaven (easy Piano solo)

Eric Clapton Tears in Heaven (easy Piano solo arrangement) with sheet music download.

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eric clapton
sheet music pdf
Rock & Pop Music

Yes Symphonic – And you and I

Yes Symphonic – And you and I (sheet music in our Library)

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yes sheet music
Rock & Pop Music

David Gilmour Shine On You Crazy Diamond Live At Pompeii (2016)

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David Gilmour Shine On You Crazy Diamond Live At Pompeii (with sheet music in our Library)

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David Gilmour CBE, the voice & guitar of Pink Floyd, hit No. 1 in the UK with his 2006 solo album On An Island. Following Pink Floyd’s final album, 2014’s The Endless River, (No. 1 in 21 countries), David’s latest studio album, Rattle That Lock, and 2017’s release of Live At Pompeii are out now. Buy via A Cambridge friend of Syd Barrett, David joined Syd, with Roger Waters, Richard Wright, and Nick Mason, in Pink Floyd in early 1968, only for Syd to leave the group five gigs later.

Pink Floyd’s subsequent huge worldwide success continued after Roger Waters’ departure in 1985, with the albums A Momentary Lapse Of Reason and The Division Bell both charting at No. 1 in the UK and the US, and sell-out world tours. Rattle That Lock released in 2015 and David’s 4th solo album, went to No. 1 in 13 countries. In 2017, Live at Pompeii released as a live album and film which was recorded at the Amphitheatre of Pompeii.

Inside David Gilmour’s Stunning New Pompeii Concert Film

David Gilmour is reclining on a greenroom couch inside a large cineplex in London’s West End. He looks relaxed in a blue blazer and sneakers, his brown flight bag tossed in a corner, but tonight he has much to be excited about. In a few hours, the movie theater will be hosting a VIP premiere of his new concert film, Live at Pompeii, chronicling his brilliant two-night stand last year in the ancient Italian city’s millennia-old amphitheater, which was once razed and buried by the volcano Vesuvius. As he inspects a poster for the movie, his mind wanders back to the first time he performed in the venue – as a member of Pink Floyd playing before an audience of ghosts in the empty amphitheater – and he parses how it felt to come full circle 45 years later.

“I can’t remember how long we were there – it must have been well over a week in the area – but it was really hot,” he says, thinking back nearly five decades. “This time, it was really hot again but it was very different overall, since we had an audience and were putting on a show.” He pauses and thinks about the film. “That moment at the beginning of the show, when you got the last bit of sunlight circling down behind Vesuvius over the top of this fantastic arena, it’s beautiful.”

That cinematic moment captures the spirit of the concerts, which found Gilmour’s soaring guitar lines providing a soundtrack for picturesque views of the volcano (at one point, the sky at dusk was a shade of deep green) and the scent of ancient dust. Only a couple thousand concertgoers witnessed each show, which featured Gilmour playing selections from his recent solo LP, Rattle That Lock, and Pink Floyd classics at the center of a brilliant light show, complete with pyrotechnics and his circular projection screen. It was the first time an audience had watched any performance in the amphitheater since Roman times, a once-in-several-lifetimes experience.

Now a much larger audience will be able to experience the concert when the film gets a special one-night-only screening in more than 2,000 theaters around the world on Wednesday, followed by a CD and home-video release later this month. It’s all part of Gilmour’s vision to create unique experiences for his fans.

“Over the last couple of years, we’ve aimed to play real beautiful, lovely venues,” Gilmour says, pointing to his 2016 performances at New York’s Radio City Music Hall and the Chicago Auditorium, as well as Pompeii and Rome’s Circus Maximus. “I really like to create something where people have something on top of just the music experience in a room, where they say, ‘Ah, that was something special.’”

For Gilmour, the pressure was even heavier at Pompeii since he had a history there. When he performed there last, in October 1971, it was for another concert picture. Filmmaker Adrian Maben had courted the band to be the focus of his now-oft-mimicked “anti-Woodstock” flick, Pink Floyd: Live at Pompeii, which saw them playing on the floor of the venue to nobody.

At the time, it was more of a noise-making mission. The band banged gongs, played slide guitar and whispered into microphones for a mini set that included their Meddle masterpieces “Echoes” and “One of These Days,” as well as more experimental fare like “A Saucerful of Secrets” and their eerie single “Careful With that Axe, Eugene.” It was at a time when Gilmour was defining himself as a guitarist (“It was a little tricky coming into Pink Floyd after Syd [Barrett] and trying to copy his style a bit but move it towards what I wanted to do,” he says) and the music from the time paved the way for 1973’s The Dark Side of the Moon, nearly half of which Gilmour played at his solo Pompeii gig.

This time, he also made a decidedly less experimental film, putting it in the hands of director Gavin Elder, who’d previously made Gilmour’s 2008 concert film, Live in Gdańsk. “He said to capture it the best I can and to make it as exciting and momentous as I can,” Elder says. “He wanted to capture the majesty of the arena.”

“I tried not to say too much to him about what I wanted,” Gilmour says. “My plan is to get people who have an artistic vision themselves and see what they can do. I don’t want it to be rigid or controlled. I don’t know how to make films; I’m a guitar player. And Gavin knows what he’s doing.”

Despite Elder’s experience, it wasn’t an easy shoot. The camera crew had to be especially careful of the ancient structure’s foundations. Although the concert was in July, Elder was working with the staff at the ruins for four months figuring out just how to shoot a concert film there. “All the gear had to be trucked in, pushed in on a special ramp they built and brought back into the arena,” the filmmaker says. “It hasn’t been modernized, so it’s not built for concerts.” The night they tested everything, one of the lighting guys fell into a hole in the ruins and broke his arm. “Health and safety wasn’t big with the Romans,” Elder says.

The crew wasn’t allowed to bring cameras onto the floor of the arena, so the stationary cameras were either on the sides or on cranes. They were allowed only one Steadicam but it had to keep moving, which made the shoot all the more difficult. They solved some of these problems by using a drone to capture some of the film’s magnificent aerial shots from afar. (The Italian authorities wouldn’t let it fly over the actual amphitheater, and during one of the concerts, a rogue drone was spotted, though the footage has yet to surface.)

“We got shots from maybe a mile away,” Gilmour says, smiling, thinking about the drone-shot footage. “You’ve got this little disc down there, which is the arena with Vesuvius behind it, and the light and the smoke and light coming out of this little disc and you zoom towards it and it’s fabulous.”

The overarching challenge, Elder says, was to make it not feel small and to relay the special feeling of the occasion. “We felt we were in the presence of history when we were doing the laser testing, especially the night before in that amazing southern Italian heat,” Elder says. “There’s a real presence that a lot has gone on there before.”

The film opens with the Rattle That Lock instrumental “5 A.M.” just as the sun is setting behind the amphitheater. “I was very conscious of what time the show was going to start,” Elder says. “I really wanted to capture the magical twilight time, so that you got the sense of where Vesuvius was behind the arena in the distance. I remember going back and forth with the production staff, because the lighting guy was saying, ‘No, no, no, we need to start the show when it’s dark.’ And after some heated moments, we reached a compromise that definitely works for the show.” It turned out perfectly.

The rest of the night’s magic was left up to Gilmour and his band. When he thinks back to his first Pompeii performance in front of an audience, the singer admits he felt a little nervous before going onstage. “I pretend that I’m not,” he says, “but I think I probably was a bit.” It helped him, though, that he had a backing band that inspired confidence in him. Prior to the European leg of his Rattle That Lock tour, he brought in Rolling Stones keyboardist Chuck Leavell and former Michael Jackson musical director Greg Phillinganes, among others, to make the music a little looser. “It was more in the groove in Pompeii,” Gilmour says. 

Three band members who stayed in the ensemble through each of the legs of the tour were the backing vocalists Bryan Chambers, Lucita Jules and Louise Clare Marshall, who provided a stunning three-part harmony for Dark Side‘s “The Great Gig in the Sky,” which Gilmour had not performed live since 2006. “Louise came to me when we were rehearsing for the tour and said, ‘We’ve been working at home on a version of “Great Gig in the Sky,” do you want to hear it?’” Gilmour recalls. “I said, ‘Of course I do.’ So we ran it a couple of times and it was fabulous. They really worked hard on creating a mixture between the classic performance and some new, distinct arrangement parts. We couldn’t wait to do it, but we thought we’d save it for Pompeii.”

Another song Gilmour kept in his back pocket until just before Pompeii was Pink Floyd’s galloping space-rocker “One of These Days,” one of the highlights from Maben’s original picture. “We had to do one that we did back in those days,” he says. “That was the one that fit, and we always had great fun with it. You get the wind machine going, a bit of smoke and fog, and let Guy [Pratt] loose on his thundering bass. And, of course, I get to play slide guitar which is always,” he pauses, “a big moment.”

When Gilmour spoke to Rolling Stone before the Pompeii gig last year, he said the one original Pompeii song he absolutely would not perform was “Echoes,” because it would feel off without late Pink Floyd keyboardist Rick Wright playing on it. Instead, he included some musical tributes to Wright, who played in Gilmour’s solo band in 2006, in the set. “‘The Blue’ was written and recorded before Rick died but to me, it’s got a little bit of Rick in it,” Gilmour says, referring to a track from his 2006 solo LP On an Island. “It’s another rolling, waving song, along with [Rattle That Lock‘s] ‘A Boat Lies Waiting’ and ‘Great Gig in the Sky,’ that feels to me that he’s in it. So we do a little moment of three or four songs that are all connected [to him] in that way.”

Wright’s memory is also present in spirit in the film’s finale, a rousing, elongated performance of Pink Floyd’s “Comfortably Numb” that also features Gilmour playing a supersized guitar solo. “I just try and let the solo come out,” Gilmour says. “I couldn’t play the one off the album. I try not too think about it too much.”

Another thing that Gilmour is just letting happen is the process of writing a follow up to Rattle That Lock. Since the tour ended last September, he’s been recording a few song ideas he has into his iPhone with the intention of examining them when he can get into a studio. He also has a few leftover ideas he’s been sitting on.

“I’ve recorded some pieces of music in one form or another,” he says, noting that he’s been dedicating his time to getting the 3D-style Atmos sound mix just right for the film. “Whether they will remain as they are or whether those pieces of music will take a new shape when I start working on a new project is something I can’t really say yet. I suspect they will be revamped a bit, maybe started again on, but the bare bones of what I’ve written are something good. And some of them definitely are. It’s a good starting point. We’ll see how I want to make it. I just need to knock them into shape for another album one of these days.” (He adds that recording a new album is a prerequisite for any future touring.)

Now, though, Gilmour is simply eager to see his Live in Pompeii. “I’ve only really watched it properly in bits in editing suites,” he confesses. “I’ve listened to the sound and I’ve watched some of it during the Atmos sound adjustments, but I haven’t seen the whole package put together like we’re going to see it tonight. So I can’t wait to see it myself.”

Outside the greenroom, people are setting up a red carpet to welcome the Gilmour’s VIP guests to the premiere. As band members like Leavell, Phillinganes and the backup singers funnel in, along with Elder and guitarist Jeff Beck, Gilmour smiles broadly and greets each one, posing for the occasional photo. A video screen shows scenes from the film.

Eventually all of the guests go upstairs to experience Live at Pompeii in a proper theater. The Atmos mix makes it sound as though the audience at Pompeii is all around the theater, clapping and cheering in surround sound along with the VIPs who do the same. When it finishes, Gilmour stands up and smiles, speaking with friends one on one rather than making a speech.

“It was a really spectacular gig,” Beck tells me outside. “I wonder if the spirits of Pompeii will recover from it. I know what happened there historically – all sorts of blood and guts, so at least [Gilmour] came in peace.” He laughs. “The concert was amazing, astonishing. The film drew the whole thing together nicely.” We’re then interrupted by Gilmour, who comes up to Beck with a broad smile, chatting for a minute and then ushering him behind a velvet rope into an after party.

From the look on Gilmour’s face, he’s at peace with his long-overdue return to Pompeii.

Rock & Pop Music

Genesis – Selling England By The Pound

Genesis – Selling England By The Pound (Full Album Remastered) with sheet music in our Library.

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Track List:

00:00 – Dancing With The Moonlit Knight 08:03 – I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe) 12:13 – Firth Of Fifth 21:48 – More Fool Me 25:00 – The Battle Of Epping Forest 36:43 – After The Ordeal 40:58 – Cinema Show 51:40 – Aisle Of Plenty

The album

Selling England by the Pound is the fifth studio album by the English progressive rock band Genesis, released in October 1973 on Charisma Records. It reached No. 3 in the UK and No. 70 in the U.S. A single from the album, “I Know What I Like (In Your Wardrobe)”, was released in February 1974 and became the band’s first top 30 hit in the UK. The album was recorded in August 1973 following the tour supporting the previous album, Foxtrot (1972).

The group set aside a short period of time to write new material, which covered a number of themes, including the loss of English folk culture and an increased American influence, which was reflected in the title. Following the album’s release, the group set out on tour, where they drew an enthusiastic reception from fans. Critics and the band have given mixed opinions of the album, though guitarist Steve Hackett has said it is his favourite Genesis record.

The album has continued to sell and has reached Gold certification by the British Phonographic Industry and the Recording Industry Association of America. It was remastered for CD in 1994 and 2007. Several of the album tracks became fan favourites and featured as a regular part of the band’s live setlist into the 1980s.