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Robert Fripp

Robert Fripp
November 25, 2013, 06:05:42 AM
 "I'm interested in creating a new kind of guitar technique that is really working on three levels of being: heart, hands, and head. A way of life. More akin to yoga than formal guitar technique, actually an approach to living. When you listen to Casals, Mehunin or even Ravi Shankar, their music is considerably more than notes on a piece of paper, but most rock musicians are hopelessly inadequate, rooted to the earth. Most rock guitarists are thrashing around onstage using a very low-grade energy and this energy comes from a very nasty quarter. Rock & roll is not very intellectual and neither is it spiritual."


At the moment, we're going through a transition from the, if you like, old world to the new. The old world is characterised by what one contemporary philosopher has termed "the dinosaur civilisation,' large and unwieldy, without much intelligence - just like the dinosaur.

An example of this would be, say, America or any huge, worldwide power. Another would be any large band with lots and lots of road managers... all these units originally start out to service a need but you now have a situation where, being creative, they have to create needs in order that they may continue to exist. In other words, they've become vampiric.


The transition will reach its most marked point in the years 1990 to 1999. Within that period, there will be the greatest friction and, unless there are people with a certain education, we could see the complete collapse of civilisation as we know it and a period of devastation which could last, maybe, 300 years.


I saw in America enough evidence of the breakdown of social and economic order to know that something's fundamentally wrong and it can't be reversed.

You don't have to be very bright or perceptive to realise that, frankly, the system is breaking down. Life is much too complex and involved to be continued in the present way.


DM - I've always liked to refer to King Crimson as the greatest heavy metal
band of all time.

RF -  "Schizoid Man," [from _In the Court of the Crimson King_] for me, was
intelligent heavy metal. It was very very hard to play (in its
time--technical standards have come forward now, of course). It was so hard
to play, and it was so terrifying. In early 1970 I saw Black Sabbath doing
_Paranoid_ (and this is without in any way criticizing Black Sabbath--they
were excellent in their field), and it didn't frighten me. And I had
thought that this new breed of music, with Black Sabbath, would viscerally
affect me in the same way that, for example, "Schizoid Man" did. And I was
not moved in the same way. I think "Red" [from the Crimson LP of the same
name] was a beautiful piece of Heavy metal--in 5 [the unusual time
signature 5/8]. I mean, I hadn't heard heavy metal in 5 before, but for me
that was it.

DM - I always found King Crimson _much_ more terrifying than the music that
was supposed to be.

RF -  The interesting thing about the heavy bands is that the weight is in
the volume. For me, the weight is in the structure of the music, the
tension in the music as it's written and played. And if you _then_ add
enough volume so it's visceral, it doesn't have to be deafening to rip you
in two places.


GP--You can't fall back on old stock licks.

RF -- That's right, you have to play intentionally. Now, we would be remarkable--if we could be with that amount of intention all the time.


 Well, I mean, the guitar isn't in equal temperament. Supposedly, it is, but it's not at all. The intonation varies up and down the fingerboard. Someone with a sensitive ear could not possibly play a minor third on the first fret. Couldn't do it. It torments my ears. I can't bear intervals on the first fret, by and large. If one is using, for example, the old standard tuning. If it's going to be an E-major, with G# on the third string, first fret, and E on the bottom, I can't bear the sound of it. It's so off.


If you make an album for $5,000 and sell 100,000 copies, then it's commercially feasible. If you made the same album for $150,000, it would be a disaster. But if you work in a good garage studio, with two musicians playing together--then it needn't be an expensive item.


In 1974, King Crimson did not earn money by touring. When we split up, expenses disappeared and we kept on cashing royalties. Only then did we begin to earn money. I’ve always thought that the American approach that consists of creating a hit and capitalise on its success is a stupid idea. On a commercial point of view, I prefer to aim at a valuable catalogue instead of the ephemeral success in the charts. So I prefer to make albums that succeed in earning me money in the long run.


When I was eleven, that is twenty-one years ago, I understood that the conventional methods for teaching guitar were poor. Good rock’n’roll guitarists have always refused to take lessons. This symptom proved that guitar manuals were inefficient.


"The last interviews I did, when Crimson broke up, I didn't know how to explain it" Fripp continues. "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. In a different world, with a different set of responsibilities, I would have been incapable."

"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's all interlocking," Fripp begins. "As Eno would say, in a complex system one can never accurately forecast al the possible outcomes. So one takes a decision and rides on the dynamics generated by that. I would express that in the phrase, 'riding the dynamic of disaster.'"

"One very concise way of expressing that would be to say - since everything fucks up, you might as well learn to bodge it."


Brian doesn't really have a very strong musical background in terms of the craft of music. But what he does have is good taste. He has good taste and a perception of what's right that very, very few musicians have. So working with Eno, it's refreshing to hear the few notes but right, rather than the many, many, many that are wrong from most musicians of my acquaintance.


Go back to that night in early in 1967 when Sgt. Pepper was on the radio and I didn't know what it was, and my listening involved Bartok and Clapton and Hendrix and the Beatles and Stravinsky. To me they were all speaking with the same voice but with a different accent. Now for me it was if only the feel of Hendrix, if only the vocabulary was a little more sophisticated and if only Bartok was on guitar with a Marshall stack and the power turned up on 11, you know. There was a viscerality, about standing in front of a wall of Marshalls and Les Pauls and thrashing Fender basses that didn't speak directly to the intellect.


“So that was until 1990. I don’t know what is beyond that but my sense is there is a powerful impulse coming into the world in the spring of 1991, so powerful we can’t predict it.”


Fripp: All right, but the expectation's there, because it's all improvised, I mean, it's purely improvised. It's an album I did with Brian Eno, _No Pussyfooting_. Side one is...I had just met with the fellow and had gone and spent the evening with him with a glass of wine and coffee, this was in 1972, and he had a system of recording with two Revoxes (tape machines), and he didn't explain it to me and I didn't know what it would sound like, but I plugged in and played. It was simply, there you are - do it. I had never heard the guitar quite sound like this, yet it provided me with the technical facility for getting a sound which I had been hearing on the inside for about five years, but had never managed to get.


McLaughlin: I think it was gradual. It started when I was about nineteen or twenty. I had no religious education whatsoever. I was taught religious instruction at school, which was completely meaningless. Christ, God...it didn't mean anything to me. And, in fact, it was my association with Graham Bond that really triggered a desire to know. This must have been around 1962. You know, we were smoking dope and this and that I remember having a few acid trips, and that itself is a very profound psychic influence, I think. Psychological, too. And Graham Bond wwas, bu this time, involved in the Tarot, but, how shall I say, not just the cards, but from a philosophical point of view. He had this book he showed me one day, which I found fascinating. He was talking about what is possible...which seemed science fiction...what kind of powers we're capable of. I bought the book and traced through the author, discovering through his index that he was a disciple of Romana Maharshi, who was a great Indian saint. So that was my first contact with Indian culture in general and philosophy in particular, and I joined the Theosophical Society in London, since my appetite was whetted. The best thing about the place was the library. They had incredible books in this library by people you don't find in the local library around the corner. And it was through reading that I came in contact with the Indian philosophy. I felt I was walking into a new world. It's a wonderful feeling to suddenly discover after all these years that the world was not how you thought it was. In fact, everything was possible...to discover that everything's magical, nothing's ordinary.


McLaughlin: Happily, my mother was an amateur musician; she was a violinist and there was always music going on in the house. We got a gramophone one day, and someone had Beethoven's Ninth, and on the last record, which is at the end of the symphony, there's a vocal quartet in which the writing is extraordinary...the voices and the harmonies. I must have been about six or seven when I distinctly remember hearing it for the first time. I suppose that's when I started to listen.


I saw Segovia in the Winter Gardens, I think on my 15th birthday, and he played without a microphone. Then John Williams began using a microphone, and wow, the problems this caused, ‘this isn’t what the acoustic guitar sounds like….’ But the point was that you could hear it. So for me, I am happy to accept amplification, but you also have to accept that it is no longer the same instrument. As soon as you change the function of the performance space or presentation, everything changes.  The contextual understanding of the listening community, all of the assumptions have changed, so our hearing of that has also changed, so you can’t treat a moment in time, you can only be in the moment. But, and this is an interesting thing, if you make the shift, within the listening, you can go into the eternal moment in which the music is fresh, but for that you need mastery, which is Pablo Cassals, playing a part for the first time on a guitar, even though 40 years have been spent in the preparation for the moment, this is irrelevant, this is the first time that it has been played, and this is mastery.


However the key thing for them in any possible deal is to hold your own copyrights. So, I was sent a draft contract, I went through page by page, until I found that the copyrights would not be held by them, and also that anything that they recorded during the period of the deal belonged to the record company. So I wrote some very strong words on it, tore it up, and gave the pieces to a secretary within Discipline and said please return this to point records, the pieces, it was my formal response to their proposal.  And the head guy at point actually went to Polygram, the parent company and said ‘can we do something to work with this’ ‘Absolutely not!”


"I had realized that King Crimson was too important to let die. That particular band was especially good, perhaps because we shared an intense frustration and animosity towards the world in general and ourselves in particular. We were very creative, most definitely because pain and frustration lends itself to such a fruitful artistic state.”


Fripp: I did a radio show in New York with Bob Geldof of the Boomtown Rats recently, and he said he didn’t believe rock and roll could change anything. And I said to him, I disagree. So he said, well, if you build up hope in Joe Bloggs in some slum in Northern Ireland, he’s just going to wind up disappointed. And I said, look, if there’s Joe Bloggs in his appalling social conditions in Northern Ireland with no hope, and that becomes Joe Bloggs at No. 8 in his appalling social conditions but with hope, you have two entirely different situations.

S: That’s right. Good point that.

F: Then it’s possible for the geezer at No. 10 to get some hope, too. And then it spreads up the street, and you have a community. Then you have a community. Then you’re talking about something which isn’t dramatic and exciting, but which contains the possibility of real change. It’s easy to miss because it’s essentially personal, and it’s very quiet. And like Joe says, it takes time.


I realized rock was very malleable—that within it you can play classical music or jazz or blues or whatever you cared to, and it was still rock.


Marx was something of an old fart. He was an authoritarian and a centralist, and what he proposed was essentially the same as capitalism, except with a different set of people in charge. In any kind of realistic political change you have to start on the inside, by changing the central value system. You can’t start by changing the structure, change has to be a personal choice.


America’s a commercial culture, and I suppose it’s nearer a pure democracy than we are, ’cause if you want to vote you just put your dollar in and it counts, and there’s a great deal of social mobility as a result


I think the main difference between my generation and yours is that in the 60s it was “everything seems mad, therefore I question my sense.” Now it’s “everything seems mad, therefore I approve my senses because everything is crazy.”


One night at the Marquee in 1969 King Crimson went out on a tangent, maybe just for five minutes and you never knew where the hell it was , but I was telepathic—I knew everything that was going on, and what people were thinking. Because there was that energy in the room, and… I became a human being in such a way that… if that’s what it means to be a human being, then I want to become a human being! Once you’ve had it, you have to find a way of living like that again. Otherwise there’s no point in anything.


New standard tuning (NST) was invented by Robert Fripp of King Crimson in September 1983.

For me "Schizoid" was the first heavy metal track, that sound of an electric saxophone going through a Marshall amp.


In 69 there was a great hostility and great prejudice toward technique and intelligence in music, as if one had to be stupid and incompetent to matter in British rock. Today it's like athletics, where people are ready to lose a competition to make money. The athletic spirit is dead, the guitarists, although more and more technical, play only on the surface.


“The quality of artistry is the capacity to assume innocence at will, the quality of experiencing innocence as if for the first time,” he says.


In Fripp’s view, a narrow focus on sales turns the artist into an automaton. “The greater the success, the greater the pressure to keep repeating yourself,” he says.


"Forty years ago there was a market economy. Today there is a market society. Today, everything, including ethics, has a price.”


“Music is a language in which we can express our struggle with what it is to be a human being,” he says.


As a basic scale I use a diatonic major scale based on the second or the Dorian mode which enables me to play in either a major scale, by taking the root note of the scale down one, or also as a basis for minor. I also enjoy whole-tone scales. But it really doesn't matter, it all depends on what you're trying to create. Sometimes the best way of evoking a certain feeling is to use a melody, and certainly there are few things as satisfying as a superb tune or a very nice chord change. I find them completely overwhelming -- practicing all different keys and scales and becoming familiar with them, and then when you walk on stage completely forgetting all you've ever practiced and just being. I don't allow a form of practicing to get in the way of the music.


Nothing worthwhile is acheived suddenly, although it seems that way. One practices and goes through situations and there seems to be no improvement. But one day, a certain situation will arise in which one will have to do something as a player or as a person. And one will then find that one is able to meet that situation. Then you know that all the years' hard work and training has not, in fact, been useless. Nothing is, in fact, ever wasted. It all depends on what one wants. I suggest that guitar playing, in one sense, can be a way of uniting the body with the personality, with the soul and the spirit. Working in a band is a good way of making magic. You see, I don't think of myself as a musician. Again, as I said, I think the guitar is a pretty feeble instrument. One uses the tools one has at hand and does what one can. What affects my playing more than anything is my state of mind. I mean, obviously, there are physical things involved, like if one hasn't practiced for a week, one's muscles won't work. I've been more interested in being a musician than a guitarist. Being a musician one creates music; being a guitarist one plays the guitar, which doesn't mean music is involved in it.



by Eric Tamm