August 1979 interview with Robert Fripp
Date Submitted: 17-Jul-1996
Submitted By: Jim Price (JPRICE at TrentU dot ca)
Subject: August 1979 interview with Robert Fripp by "a now defunct Toronto music tabloid".
The interview takes place in a Toronto hotel room the day after a Frippretronics concert in town during the "Exposure" non-tour. I don't know the dates as I was touring rather extensively myself at the time and I was not in town for the shows. My best guess for the date is August 12, '79. This was arrived at using the tour dates from the liner notes of RF's "Let the Power Fall." This date would have found RF in Toronto with a "free" day between two evening performances in Toronto at the Bathurst Street Theatre.
Robert Fripp: All right. Well, leave your technology where it is for the moment and lets get on with it.
Ron Gaskin: Great!
RF: All right, what can I do for you?
RG: Well... since...
RF: Do you want to get it going?
RG: I think that we are rolling right here, right now...
RG: I think I'm getting levels...
RF: In terms of smelly cheese permeating the essence of your cassette machine.
RF: I've found it very interesting, actually, that in supermarkets, ladies will take pains to make sure that what they naturally sense as being incompatable, they'll insulate them in some way in the bag, so you won't have cheese put next to bathroom clenser for example. They'll first of all stick it in some kind of bag which they sense will in some way keep the essence of the two from mingling. I find that quite intrigueing. They wouldn't have cheese right next to bathroom cleaner.
RG: Excellent. OK, let's start off talking about audio verite. This (indicates cassette machine) is basically audio verite, is it not? What is audio verite?
RF: Well, if you assume this is, then you assume, explicitly, I would have thought, that you know. So you tell me what you understand by audio verite if you believe this to be so.
RG: Well, obviously I'm driving at the production of The Roches and what I would like to get to is how you actually went about production and labeled it as audio verite. Obviously it was a studio project.
RF: Yes, well there's two senses to audio verite. The first is that it's a commitment to discover whatever the essence of the artists might be and try and express it on record. And this is done in the second sense of the term by, as far as possible, not interfering with the performance by equalization, limiting and so on. So in the second sense, yes, this is audio verite, though with a whole battery of technology which has failed, conceived to validate the main premis of the second aspect of audio verite, that too much technology gets in the way. All that one needs is a small and appropriate level of technology. I could do it on a far smaller and simpler machine than that and probaby get better sound.
RG: Than this one?
RF: Yeah. In fact, most of the voices on "Exposure" were recorded on my small pocket Sony cassette machine.
RG: I find that the quality of this is quite interesting just because of the space of it. It's intriguing. As you had mentioned, it's not necessary to go high tech.
RF: I sense those clicks are going to pick up.
RG: It's on it's most sensitive setting. We'll hear the hallway as well.
RF: Good. All right. Incorporating enviornmentally generated sound. Good. So on from audio verite.
RG: How long was the project with The Roches? Was that just a couple of days in the studio or was that over an extended period?
RF: It was over about two months. We would work four or five days a week for generally five hour sessions. We would stop for a week or so in between. It was mainly October and November of 1978.
RG: How did it come about?
RF: Originally, I'd been in..., I visited The Kitchen Arts and Video Center in Soho and John Rockwell was there, the critic from The New York Times. He introduced himself and I said... would he recommend anyone I should go and see? And he said, "Go and see The Roches." So I went to see The Roches at The Bottom Line not long aftrewards, they were there a few days later. Fell in love immediately, remarkably impressed. Since they were obviously so talented and seemed to be fairly innocent, I sensed that they were good canidates for being ripped, so I made one or two phone calls to make sure their affairs were being taken care of, which they were, and expressed interest in producing them should this arise. The Roches, for their part, felt that they needn't look for a producer, that when the producer came along, he would look for them. So eventually, I was interviewed by them for the job. They really gave me a grueling two hours, in which they said nothing. They simply said nothing.
RG: Just drilling you with questions?
RF: No, they said nothing. They just sat there and said nothing.
RG: What did you say?
RF: Well, I talked. I said... I tried to explain my background generally, in terms of how I approach work, generally outside the conventional wisdom of the industry, and that I would record them as they were, substantially without alteration or addition. That was the first evening that we spent together.
RG: Very refreshing music.
RF: One man said to me... let me see... it was in Canada...he interviewed me... I think it was maybe in Edmonton, he said how much he disliked the Roches album and how angry certain people were that I'd been involved in it at all.
RG: Did he give you a particular reason?
RF: He didn't like it. He thought it was just... not very good. Lacking in talent. What was the word... he thought it was ... comic in a sense and I said, " You mean in the same way that Charlie Chaplin was a comedian?"
RG: Well, maybe he has difficulty digesting something that is light and bright and energetic all at once.
RF: Whatever. Yes.
RG: Could you give the same basic rundown about why you left the music industry in 1974 as you did at the concert last night?
RF: If you'ld like me to.
RF: All right. Frippertronics is defined as that musical experience which results at the (intersection) of Robert Fripp and a small and appropriate level of technology which is my Les Paul, the Fripple board, the Fripp pedal board of fuzz, wah-wah and volume pedals and two Revoxes. And it's my attempt to promote human contact in the performance situation. And when I left King Crimson in September 1974 there were a number of reasons. On a professional level a lot of it had to do with my feeling of frustration of not being able to make good contact with the audiences and I sense this was from three main reasons. The first was the scale of the event, that even in a situation of some three thousand people, the situation is simply too large to make any real contact, and my feeling on this is expressed in the phrase, "Some relationships are governed by size." And in response to the criticism, "Oh, but there are people who would like to come and see you who can't get in." I respond presumably therefore on one's wedding night all the bridegroom's old boyfriends should come along too since it would keep more people happy. So the proposition is that some relationships are governed by size. And the second reason is to do with difficulties members of an audience to feel in any way we can be involved. How can we participate? And of course we don't expect that we should have to. We paid our money, we wish to be entertained. We don't expect going along with having to accept responsibility for our ears and make the act of attention and listen. And the third reason is this vampiric relationship between audience and performer where we humor the performers very worst pretentions and conceits in return for vicariously enjoying that paritcularly strange lifestyle for ourselves (garbled) and we expect certain things in return for tolerating these strange proceedings.
RG: Is anonymity one of these things?
RF: I would say photography, autography, a whole battery of personal techniques and if we can, steal the sound from the air on small cassette machines hidden 'round our persons. There are a battery of other, more insidious personal techniques as well.
RG: Are you opposed to people bootlegging...
RG: ...your performances?
RF: Yes. People who turn up to Frippertronics concerts need only bring their ears. They need have responsibility to nothing else but their ears. If they're not prepared to get involved in the spirit of what is trying to be created there, they really shouldn't come, and I don't say that in any callous way at all. If the idea is to come along to take photographs, this is not the idea of a music concert. This is a peculiar custom that one should listen to music through the lense of a camera and I don't like being put in a situation where the sound, the atmosphere is being punctured by theft. I understand that on the subject of bootlegging there is this notion that it's preserving music which is perhaps of some value to other people and all those other vague notions. When I recieve the traditional proportion of royalties which a record makes from all the different bootlegs and notice that the ... whoever wrote the music is getting their proportion as well, I shall perhaps look on bootlegging, the... if you like...the so-called public-spirited bootlegging, in a different way. Were I a bootlegger, I would deduct a portion of the royalties for the artist and the writer and send them off anonymously. That's what I should do. I know of no one yet who does that so my suspicions of bootleggers and their motives remain. In fact I've just obtained the address of a man who, against all my requests, bootlegged the Kitchen concert in New York and I'm considering exactly what to do. You see, the traditional approach is that three very large burly men go around and inflict a considerable amount of muscular and organic damage upon the body of the person who's bootlegged this and destroy a lot of material objects. That's not my approach. But I don't like having the idea of working through the traditional dinosaur structure of copyright law and so on but I sense that I may have to do it because in a situation where normal requests from one human being to another in a very straightforeward way, where this isn't met by a decent and honorable response, one is violated and that situation simply can't go on. And it's such a pity that a very, very small proportion of people have led, for example, to increased security at airports throughout the world which make traveling now, for me, personally, almost intolerableand in terms of performance situations the point is that within two and a half years, we shall all be frisked when we go to a rock 'n' roll event.
RG: That's already the case here in Toronto.
RF: Well, the one response that everyone can do is simply... do not buy bootlegs... Do not buy bootlegs.
RG: You've obviously been in contact with some of your material which has been bootlegged.
RG: Has any of it stood up to you as being at all relevant on a historical basis or any of the other reasonings that are attached?
RF: As I say I can see that in some context this notion of ...there is worth in a parrallel organization for the distribution of sound, distribution of music which doesn't carry with it the expectation of so-called official preformance but I will not accept this popular notion of bootlegging as being music for the people and so on, with the bootlegger making very considerable profit for his labor and absolutely none of it being returned to the artist or writer. That... when that situation is reached there will be a more genuine parallell organization for alternative music, which, in principal, I have no objection to, provided it is equitable. The so-called excuses of bootleggers simply don't meet up to this requirement. As I say, I would be an honorable bootlegger. I know, theoretically, how to do it, and if it ever came to it, I would, but with the provision that it would be an equitable distribution of income. Alternatively, it would be a question of giving away at cost.
RG: I wanted to ask you if you consider Frippertronics to be a form of Muzak, or to use Eno's term, ambient music?
RF: A lot of Frippertronics is ambient within Eno's definition of the term, that it's music as ignorable as it is listenable. There are two categories of Frippertronics, pure and applied. Applied is where it's used as an alternative to traditional orchestration, instrumentation, arrangement and so on and pure Frippertronics is where Frippertronics stands up as music in it's own right. Some of this is ambient and some of it has an imperative, a demand to be heard, that one must listen to it in order to catch the sense of it. So some of it is and some of it isn't.
RG: What have you found to be the most exciting response? You were speaking earlier about wanting to do the Frippertronics performances in order to make contact with the audiences. What's the most exciting response that you get from an audience?
RF: The most exciting response is where there's no excitement. That excitement is a cheap state of the release of tension, that a qualitative experience does not involve excitement, that it involves something quite different. It involves a sense of still, a sense of calm, a sense which is tangible but quite intangible and it's very difficult to express rationally. And probably this poetic lump... (Knock at door. Maid arrives to clean the room. RF refuses in deference to the interview.)
RG: I guess I should rephrase my question. What is the most positive feedback to you personally in giving your individualized Frippertronics performances?
RF: There was one particular night which stands out remarkably which was the Saturday night at The Washington Ethical Society and there were about 450 people there and something happened. There is this idea that music is capable of opening a door to a completely different kind of perception or energy. Blake(?) expressed it by saying, "Music can come from a place more real than life itself" and on this one night it did and it was remarkable. There was such a presence in the building which didn't go away when the show finished. It remained with me and I went back to the hotel and I didn't know whether to eat my bag of Dr. Braun's Corn and Sesame Chips since I had no time to eat lunch or dinner for several days, the schedule was so hectic. I didn't know whether to do that or watch Vincent Price and Diana Rigg on "Theatre of Blood" and I decided I would simply sit down quietly with myself and I did. After sitting down for ten minutes this remarkable presence... (RF snaps fingers)... like that, left. You know this expression of Blake, "He who catches joys that flies, learns to live in eternity's sunrise." It was like that. Remarkable. And for me it was a validation that music really can enable us to touch ... a certatn something which is, I think, probably always with us if we did but know it. One would simply write a poem... I think a line from the poem I would write about this would be to say that "Music is the cup that holds the wine of silence."
RG: Whence came the passages on "Exposure" which you said you recorded on a small Sony machine, Bennett's statements?
RF: No, Bennett's statements came from a series of cassettes, mainly taken from cosmological and psychological lectures Bennett gave at Sherborne House, the school I went to in England, the International Academy for Continuous Education. The passages I recorded were Eno in the falafel restaurant. Eno introduces the record and it's Eno finishing talking about the hoax. I recorded my mother at the beginning of "Disengage", since it's a song about internalized parental archtypes and since many schools of personality formation attribute considerable importance to toilet training, I interviewed my mother on the subject of my toilet training and included that at the beginning of the song. And also the argument next door on "NY3" which is a real-life argument next door when I was living in Hell's Kitchen in New York.
RG: Very intense passage,that.
RF: Oh, terrifying. Terrifying. You should have heard the rest of it. I recorded about ten minutes and you only heard odd phrases. But some of the things they were saying to each other... And bear in mind that I had ten minutes.There had been an hour-and-a-half before I started recording of equal virulence. They kept that up for an hour-and-a-half without any abatement. Terrifying...terrifying. The nuclear family in New York City. The NY3.
RG: Whose voice is the passage, "I could easily spend the rest of my life with you"?
RF: A woman who could not easily spend the rest of her life with me. She, at the time of the recording, had just left me to live with another man. Bennett pops up on "Exposure", "It is impossible to achieve the aim without suffering." and "If you have an unpleasant nature and dislike people, it is no obstacle to work." These are both taken from the First Inaugural Address to Sherbourne House, which is included in it's complete form at the end of "I May Not Have Had Enough of Me, But I've Had Enough of You". The (RF makes a loud hissing sound). It's put up some six-and-a-half thousand octaves, condensed to three-and-a-half seconds from it's original fourty minutes.
RG: Are you living Bennett's philosophies that you learned?
RF: I try. You can judge an idea by it's efficacy in promoting change, so any idea, however seemingly high or cosmological or whatever... if it's, if you like, true, we will be able to find some simple down-to-earth way of incorporating it in our practical day-to-day living, and if we can't, then the idea isn't true. Any seemingly complex idea has, at it's base, a very simple proposition but we have to work awfully hard to go through the process of aquiring all the information to examine the complex idea before throwing it all away and coming back and understanding it in a simple way.
RG: "It's impossible to achieve the aim..."
RF: "...without suffering." But the point is much suffering is unnecessary. Greed, for example. All the suffering involved with greed. It's wholly unnecessary. I'm greedy. If I could give up being greedy, I would have a lot more energy to suffer in a... in a more appropriate way.
RG: In what realm do you find you're greedy?
RF: I want everything. That's all. I want everything. I want to live in New York and Paris and the country and London... and a small apartment, modern; a large Georgian mansion with antique furniture and gardeners to keep the lawn impeccably tidy. But I don't wish to have to go out and work hard to pay for this. Instead I shall muse and ramble among the trees, that is, when I'm not sitting on the boulevard cafe in Paris, eyeing and winking at very attractive Parisian women walking by. But then, I don't need a sexual life, do I, because I'm spending all my time practicing guitar. Oh, how it will be nice to be such a tremendous star and have all these women throwing money and gifts at me but then that would intrude on me, because, really, I'm so happy in my Georgian mansion or even my small cottage in Dorset, and so on.
RG: When you were studying for three years at...
RF: Well, it was a year to wind up my affairs, a year to be there and a year to recover.
RG: So it was the central year that you were actually there.
RF: Yes. It was a ten month intensive course. We left the premises one day every three weeks. That was a day off.
RG: Were you actively persuing your guitar at that time?
RG: Not at all?
RF: Very, very marginally. There would be a concert every two or three weeks, month or so, and occasionally, on three occasions, actually, I got up and played duets with an art teacher, Don Tate.
RG: On which instrument was Don Tate?
RF: The acoustic guitar. Two acoustic guitars. Peter Gabriel came to the first, I think. First or second he came. He came on a visitor's day with his wife and daughter.
RG: How did you arrive at the cycle of three; three albums, three years?
RF: Well, two is not long enough to do anything and four is too long to be able to grasp. I can understand three years. I know what three years is. I know how long it is. It gives me enough time to achieve what it is I'm setting out to do without being so long that it's too long for me to grasp. It has a sense of cohesion which I can work with.
RG: Does that follow through in the idea of the trilogy, the drive into '81?
RF: Yes, three is the number at the moment, but as I say two is not enough to do everything and four is too much. Three, the quality of three... the characteristic of three is something that I'm working with at the moment.
RG: Could you simply explain the process of Frippertronics?
RF: Yes. I record on the left machine, the guitar is recorded on the left machine, the signal passes along the tape to the right machine where it's played back to the left machine and recorded a second time.
RF: The signal recorded the second time passes along the tape to the right machine where it's played back a second time and recorded a third.
RG: And at what point is it released into the room?
RF: Oh, straightaway. Unless, what I could do if I wanted to be crafty, would be to build up a chord which no one could hear and then turn the chord on, but, in fact, that doesn't happen. I've only done that, I think, on a couple of occasions. You hear it happening.
RG: Did you consider the audience hard to work with last night because of the size?
RF: The audience last night were remarkably good. To have 550 people in that situation is risky. Very risky. It's about twice what I would consider safe. They were a remarkable audience. There was only one real problem with a drunk whose friend was so embarassed that he carried him out. That no one said, "Why don't you piss off." That the man who was with the drunk was simply so embarassed he took him away. In fact, in one situation I was working a record shop in... I think it was Albany, there were two men in front of me that were brained. The expression, I believe, is space cadet. These were space commanders. Oh dear. And every other note was a revelation from the beyond and would invoke applause and celebration ad so on. After 45 minutes of this, I said "I'm sorry, I simply can't continue with this" and... they were nice lads. Because someone is spaced or because they're drunk doesn't mean they're a nasty person, it simply means they're not in a space where they can listen. So these two space commanders said, "Would you like us to go, man?", and I said, "I'm sorry, yes." So they went. They were very nice about it. Such a pity that they felt they had to turn up in this oblique fashion.
RG: How do you feel about drugs? Psychedelic drugs?
RF: I don't use them. I never have used them.
RG: Do you find that they interfere with appreciation? That instance obviously was an interference with you personally and with the rest of the audience and with the performance in general.
RF: The sense of what I'm trying to convey, something that is possible with attention and with human beings interacting together, is far better expressed without drugs. Far better.
RG: You have the same feeling about alcohol?
RF: Substantially, yes.
RG: I'm wondering if that's part of the motivation for this particular series of performances being in non-traditional music situations the way we've grown to know it now. You're not playing in bars where people are...
RF: I have played in one or two. One of them was disasterous. Disasterous. It involved a certain callousness on the part of the management. It was actually... not nasty people but very, very neurotic, and, I think, a little callous, too. They saw an opportunity to clean up and cleaned up. Eighteen dollars to get in. There were no tickets sold up in front so everyone can queue and first come first served. Fine. Unless you have eighteen bucks. And then it's six dollars to get in and six dollars for food and six dollars for drink and there's eighty on sale. Guaranteed seating. That's one situation I ran into. And after that I said (RF audibly puts foot down), "No." Mabuhay (Phonetically, it's M'BOO-HAY) Gardens in San Francisco was very good. They stopped serving while I was performing. In a rock 'n' roll situation one has to work to confound the expectations and traditions of the rock 'n' roll enviornment. In... in... serious, artistic performance situations, such as concert halls and so on, I have to work to confound them in a different kind of way. In rock 'n' roll situations it's a question of how can one... not formalize exactly, but bring a sense of quiet, bodily quiet, to the situation. How can one bring order into it. And in terms of the art (venue), it's a question of how can one disorder that tradition of sitting there passively thinking all is serious and gritting one's teeth in an effort of devotion and so on. How can one informalize that particular situation. And I turn up and do what I can when I get there. There's no perscribed single means. One simply has to wing it.
RG: Do you find that one of the major barriers is overcoming that pretense of, "Oh, well this is arty, this is gallery music"?
RF: Yes, that's one of the reasons why I'm playing in record shops, pizza houses, canteens and all the rest of it. We have this notion that art is something that should be locked up in museums and made available to adults of consenting age, preferably in daylight hours. That's the implication. So, presenting Frippertronics in an informal, off-the-cuff situation, just human to human, is a question of re-invigorating "Ah-rt"; an aphorism which popped up from yesterday. Art is the capaity to re-experience one's innocence. Ooh, that was a nice phrase.
RG: Do you feel that what you're doing now is rock 'n' roll?
RF: Some of it is finding that. Rock 'n' roll is characterized by an energy which works from below the navel. Some Frippertronics has that. Funny enough, it's generally only the women that recognize it. 'Cause it's not often crass and straightforeward. (RF makes loud drunken animal noises)
RG: More sensual?
RF: Well, it varies, doesn't it? But the point is that generally men come up and say, "What a remarkably good idea that was, stacking those fourths one on top of the other. Oh, remarkable. Remarkable parallell modulation there. Yes, very good, very good." Women come up and sort of, "Hmmm! Yes!" (warmly). I've had more propositions from Frippertronics in three months, two months in America, than I had in six years of rock 'n' roll with Crimson. Yeah, really astounding.
RG: So how does that affect you? How do you respond?
RF: Oh, generally go home and go to bed and pack my suitcase to be getting up and in a fit state to go on the road the next day. That's what I generally do. I see to business.
RG: Your transportation has been primarily by airplane?
RF: I'm afraid so.
RG: You haven't had an opportunity to take a leisurely train ride or...
RF: In this tour one doesn't do anything leisurely. I don't enjoy travelling. It disturbs my body. My organism is physically disturbed by travelling the extent that I do.
RG: Are you regularly indisposed as you mentioned in the Washington performance whereby you would go a number of regular mealtimes without food? That must affect you.
RF: If you had any idea of my schedule in the past two or three months you would weep blood vicariously.
RG: Are you going to tour with Discotronics when that comes out?
RF: I doubt that I shall ever tour.
RG: After this?
RF: This is not a tour. It is in a sense but it's not in another sense. There are certain implications in the word touring that implies a certain... There is a conventional wisdom about touring. In that sense I shall never tour again, I hope. I have no plans to form a band and go out and play music to promote an album quite in those terms. Darryl Hall and I have agreed to get togeather in an informal and unofficial fashion to play rock 'n' roll in a group with Tony Levin on bass and Jerry Marotta on drums, but it won't be an official touring band. If it's official, we won't be alive to do it. So it will be unofficial and informal. If it's formal, it will be inflexilbe, so it will be informal.
RG: You consider this to be an informal... what you're doing right now is an informal series of performances as opposed to a tour to promote "Exposure"?
RF: Well, because it's such an organic tour, because it is a small, mobile tour, it permits some intelligence to enter, and, because it is intelligently constructed, and works on a number of different levels simultaneously...
(Phone rings. RF continues as he moves to answer it.)
...it covers many things, many areas.
Hello..... Yes I am.... Thank you. There's my next interview. Does that answer your question?
RF: Today we only have four-and-three-quarter hours.
RG: You only have four-and-three-quarter hours?
RF: Of interviews.
RG: Can I ask one last question?
RG: What's next after the three years? Do you know?
RF: Well, yes. The first three year campaign, the Drive to 1981 completes on September 11, 1981 and on the same day, the second three year campaign begins. That's the Decline to 1984.
RG: What does that include?
RF: You said you had one more question.
RG: OK, you're right.