FAQ - Miscellaneous

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What is the "tritone" and how does it relate to the music of King Crimson?

The tritone, as it relates to music theory, is the interval of three whole tones. It can also be thought of as an augmented 4th or a diminished 5th.

An excerpt from McGill University Web site:

"The tritone was used in Gregorian chant, but from at least the tenth century it was considered dissonant and labeled as the "diabolus in musica". In the sixteenth century, composers started to use the tritone as part of the dominant seventh chord to strengthen the authentic cadence, and also to achieve tonal ambiguity. In early nineteenth century opera, the tritone was often used to portray the ominous or evil - this use continues in theatre music today."

Now, perhaps, one can see how this dissonant sound is related to the music of King Crimson. Early KC often played 'Mars'(the Holst composition), which itself is a well-known classical use of the tritone. 'The Devil's Triangle' (from the 'Wake of Poseidon' album) is a further evolution of this idea. The tritone continues to be heard today in the music of King Crimson as well as the ProjeKcts.

For more information on the "tritone", check out: http://www.exploratorium.edu/exhibits/highest_note/ex.tritone.fr.html and http://www.medieval.org/emfaq/harmony/tritone.html.

What is a Chapman Stick ®?

The Stick, invented by Emmett Chapman, is a 10 or 12-stringed guitar-like electrical instrument designed for two-handed tapping. Stick Enterprises can be reached at stick at earthlink dot net. Their Web page can be found at: http://www.stickent.com/

Stickwire, the e-mail newsletter for Stick players and for those curious about the Stick has its Web page. Stickwire itself is currently running, but not in digest form.

What is a Warr Guitar?

The Warr guitar, designed by Mark Warr, is quite similar to the Stick. The biggest visual difference is that it has a body. The Warr guitar is meant to be played in a variety of ways and is available in several configurations. It should be noted that Trey Gunn usually plays a Warr guitar onstage.

For more information, visit the Warr Guitar web page.

What is a Mellotron and have I heard it in music other than King Crimson's?

The Mellotron is a keyboard instrument that provided "samples" of instruments in the pre-digital days. The white waist-high boxes seen in early photos of KC are the most common version, the Model 400.

It works by using a rack of 35 (one per key), 6-foot, three-track tapes, each with its own playback head. The tape strips are moved mechanically from side to side to select which track, and therefore which instrument is played when a key is depressed. A blend of any two instruments on adjacent tracks can be achieved by parking the rack so that the heads are "halfway" between the two tracks.

When a key is pressed, a motor-driven rotating spindle catches the front end of its associated strip of tape, pulling it across the tape head and the instrument(s) recorded on that tape are played back in the same fashion as a tape deck. The tape length and motor speed combine to provide about 8 seconds of playback time per note. When the key is lifted, a spring snaps the tape back to its original position, ready to be played again.

Rumour has it that the Mellotron is monstrously hard to tune and keep it there. As one presses more keys, the motor is forced to drive more tapes. It usually responds to this demand by slowing down. This causes the tape to run more slowly and the notes go slightly flat. If one tunes single notes slightly sharp (by adjusting the motor speed), chords will sound in tune but single notes will sound sharp. Age and the rigors of travel worsen this condition. The truth is, of course, that the Mellotron is actually a fairly reliable piece of equipment; the major problems experienced with it were not due to the instrument but to the fact that hardly anyone ever had them properly maintained, as the manufacturers suggested. Problems with notes dropping pitch were largely controlled by improved motors within the units, which not only had better torque, but also had a 'self-righting' mechanism which allowed for a sort of error correction to be employed when faced with dirty or unstable voltage supplies, such as when you're on stage and all the lights suddenly come on the rig. (OMD keyboard player Paul Humphries stated that they always played their Mellotron pieces live to 'moody lighting' for that very problem!) However, problems with atmospherics proved problematic for the relatively delicate tape mechanism. Taking a Mellotron from a cold van into a hot venue often caused the tapes to distort, as Blue Weaver attests when playing at an open-air Strawbs. Dry ice also did it few favours.

"Tuning a Mellotron doesn't." - RF

This system (as opposed to similar systems using tape loops) allowed each note to have it's own "attack transient". This is the beginning portion of a note played on any instrument, the most important part as far as the brain's ability to identify an instrument is concerned. In pre-sampler days, this was the only way this kind of "realism" could be achieved. Badly adjusted machines started the attack slightly 'into' the sound which resulted in a noticeable 'click' at the start of the note as the playback hhead came into contact with the tape. You can hear this in some parts of the In The Wake of Poseidon album.

Other models included the Mark 1 and Mark 2, both with two side-by- side 35-note keyboards (G to F), the Model 300, (only two tracks per tape and a 52-note keyboard split into tywo parts - this model also had no tuning capabilities!), and the T.550 (a 400 built into a road case). In addition, there was also the Mark V which was effectively two M400s in one case.

The Mellotron was preceded by the Chamberlin, an instrument based on very similar technology, and manufactured by the same company. Harry Chamberlin of California built the first such instrument, the Chamberlin Rhythmate using continuous tape loops. The Bradley brothers, Leslie, Frank and Norman, became involved in 1960 and produced the first Mark 1 in 1962. (Leslie Bradley passed away in Feb. '97.)

Available sounds included strings, flutes, choirs, brass, sax, Hammond organ, marimba, glockenspiel, timpani rolls, and -lots- of sound effects, -including- the classical guitar run that opens 'The Continuing Story of Bungalow Bill' on The Beatles' 'White Album.' Mike Dickson tells us that Adrian Belewe (electric guitar), Tony Levin (electric cello) and Ian McDonald (classical flute) have contributed new sounds to the Streetly Mellotron library.

Robert Fripp has owned five of these instruments;

"Two double manuals from the earliest Crimson days (one was destroyed in Chicago in 1969, one was sold to Genesis in early 1970) and three single manuals including those used in 1972-74." -RF

Users include KC, Yes, The Moody Blues, Genesis, Pink Floyd, and many other "progressive" bands from that era. More recent sightings include XTC, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Soundgarden, Anekdoten, Smashing Pumpkins, Soul Asylum, Garbage, Freddy Fender, Heart.... It's a Renaissance!

For more information, proceed to David Kean's Mellotron Archives Web Site.

Also, Streetly Electronics is currently the only company that guarantees to totally refit, restore or supply Mellotrons to those who want them. Contact Martin Smith at 01889-504211 or by e-mail: tronbros at aol dot com. For a sample library of Mellotron sounds have a look and listen to Streetly Electronics' Mellotron Tape Library web site

Streetly Electronics have recently unveiled the all-new Streetly M4000 Mellotron, which looks like an M400 but swhich has innards similar to the Mk II, with the tapes installed on drums, allowing numerous sounds to be stored within the machine without the need to change tape frames. They have also promised an M5000 which is a rebuild of the old Mk V, but again with cycling tapes instead of frames.

The five Mellotrons owned by RF were recently auctioned off at the DGM website. Bids are no longer being accepted. Apparently, no acceptable bids were received, and RF is still in possession of them all.

(Thanks to ET staff member and Mellotron M400 owner Mike Dickson for contributing updates - FAQmaster.)

Q. What's the difference between a '57 Chevy and a Mellotron? A. You can tune a '57 Chevy.


What are those long metal things Tony Levin sometimes uses to play the bass?

He calls them "funk fingers". The idea is to tie two drum- or stick-like objects to the index and middle fingers of your picking hand, allowing for a simultaneous plucking and percussive effect when playing the bass guitar. They're patented, and have been used on such tunes as 'People' and 'Thela Hun Ginjeet'.

The genesis of the idea came when Tony tied some sawed-off drumsticks on his fingers. He explains:

"Its basis was when I recorded a solo album with Peter Gabriel and we did the track "Big Time" and I asked Jerry Marotta, the drummer, to play on the bass strings while I did the fingering - it just seemed appropriate for that song. I had first heard that technique when I heard a Gene Krupa album that was recorded in the 40s or early 50s."
- Tony Levin

For more info, check out the Official Funk Fingers FAQ.

What is the instrument being played at the beginning of 'Larks Tongues In Aspic Part 1'?

The first sound heard on 'Larks Tongues In Aspic' is Jamie Muir performing on a "thumb piano". This is an instrument of African origin also known as a "kalimba".

What is a "talking drum"?

The Talking Drum is an acoustic instrument of African origin. It is hourglass-shaped, and has strings that stretch from the head and tie at the base. The player holds the body of the instrument under the arm and makes it "talk" by increasing or decreasing the pressure - loosening or tightening the head and varying the pitch.

It is not believed that Jamie Muir played this instrument during the LTiA album version of 'The Talking Drum', although he is credited with playing "percussion and allsorts", and this instrument would certainly fall into that category.

What is the instrument Bill Bruford is playing during 'The Sheltering Sky'?

Although similar in appearance to the Gato drum, Bill Bruford states in his video 'Bruford and the Beat' that the instrument he plays in 'The Sheltering Sky' is an African Slit Drum.

Is there a book out by/about Bill Bruford?

Yes, it's called "When In Doubt, Roll": ISBN #0793535298. The book was written by Bill and features 19 transcriptions of Bill's drum parts. (The fellow who wrote the transcriptions, Michael Bettine, made a post about the book in ET#524). From the book's back cover:

"This book is an attempt to describe how one drummer has managed to survive all the lunacy that goes with a professional musician's life, and still retain the desire to sit at the drumset and play."
-Bill Bruford

The book is available in bookstores as well as many online resources. It was produced by Modern Drummer magazine, which sells it online.

Is there a book out by/about Tony Levin?

Yes. It's called "Beyond the Bass Clef: The Life and Art of Bass Playing". It was written by Tony himself, and you can order it at his website.

Are there any books available about King Crimson?

In addition to the books about Fripp and Bruford, some ETers have recently reported that some books are available on King Crimson as a band.

Brand new: King Crimson - The Russificated KING CRIMSON! The website for this new Russian-language book is at http://indoor-games.ru/. The details:

The Russificated King Crimson by Vladimir Kalnitsky ISBN 5-306-00043-6 Printing house: Crystal, FONO (Saint Petersburg) Number of pages: 320 Content:
Chronicles of the Crimson King (history of the group)
Revelations of the Crimson King (original and translated lyrics)
Treasures of the Crimson King (official discography)
Mysteries of the Crimson King (inner meaning of first four albums)
Journal of the Crimson King (history 1968-1975 in extracts from the press)
Black/white photos and color insets with timetable and albums' pictures

Thanks to the author, Vladimir Kalnitsky, for providing this information to ET. - FAQmaster

Also, in Spanish, we have .....

King Crimson
by Carlos Romeo
Madrid 1999


Robert Fripp & King Crimson
by Jose Miguel Lopez
Madrid 1994
King Crimson Canciones
by Exceso Electrico
Mexico 1996

ETer Lukasz Drozd also reports that there is a Polish-language book about KC, called:

King Crimson - In The Court Of the Crimson King
by Beata Zawieja and Piotr Kosinski
Cracow 1991

Also in Polish:

King Crimson Dyscografie
(Discography, no author)
Rock-Serwis - Poland 1995

And in Japanese:

(124 page Japanese book contains hundreds of photos & band history)

However, probably the premier book on the band was written by Sid Smith, In The Court of King Crimson, in 2001. Sid had unparalleled access to practically all the musicians, and covers every track recorded up until that point.

Where does the Fripp quote "A cruel thrust" originate?

From the liner notes from 'A Young Person's Guide to King Crimson' (YPG):

"Conversation during rehearsals in the Fulham Palace Cafe.
Peter Sinfield to Boz: "You're ignorant".
Robert Fripp: "A cruel thrust".
P.S.: "I'm honest - I have a sore throat, a headache and I'm tired so I'm in no mood to mince words"
Boz: "I've got a sore throat and a headache, and I'm singing".
P.S.: "That proves you're ignorant". Recorded in Fripp's Journal" - April 27, 1971

Where did the name of "E. G. Records" come from?

From the liner notes from 'The Great Deceiver' box set:

"'E. G.' was taken from the surnames of David Enthoven and John Gaydon, the two founder-members of EG. John left in 1971 and David in 1977." -RF

Is there a Brian Eno mailing list/web site?

"EnoWeb" can now be found at http://www.enoweb.co.uk/.

The Brian Eno mailing list is administered by Alexander Rubli. Archives are available by anonymous FTP at ulapvms.pue.udlap.mx ( Uploads can be sent to Rubli at udlapvms dot pue dot udlap dot mx or directly uploaded to the /pub/eno-1/uploads directory.

Subscribe/Unsubscribe/mode change requests may be sent to Eno-L-Request at udlapvms dot pue dot udlap dot mx.

What is the difference between the 'Young Person's Guide' (YPG) booklet and the 'Frame by Frame' (FbF) booklet?

FbF is YPG updated from 1975 to 1991. The contents of YPG are reprinted in FbF. However, it should be noted that some of the photos are formatted differently in the FbF update, and in other cases entirely different photographs are used.

Who is the artist doing so many covers on recent KC/DGM releases?

The ornate artistry of P.J. Crook adorns the covers of 'Heavy ConstruKction', 'The Night Watch', 'Absent Lovers', 'The Deception of the Thrush', and 'The ProjeKcts' box set, to name a few. P.J. is a British professional artist with exhibitions all over the world. Many of these paintings may be viewed online, along with her diary and a brief bio.

What do all of the acronyms and abbreviations mean in this FAQ?

Here's (hopefully) a complete list:

  • RF, Robert Fripp's initials.
  • Crimso, an abbreviated form of "King Crimson"
  • ET, a reference to the "Elephant Talk" newsletter, as opposed to the song 'Elephant Talk'
  • q/a, question/answer format, as in this FAQ
  • KC, an acronym for (you guessed it) King Crimson
  • LoG, an acronym for the early 1980's band The League of Gentlemen, which featured Fripp on guitar
  • Crim, a reference to the band again; this one often used by Fripp himself
  • LTiA, an acronym for the 1973 album 'Larks Tongues In Aspic'
  • SaBB, an acronym for the 1974 album 'Starless And Bible Black'
  • FbF, an acronym for the 'Frame by Frame' 4-CD box set compilation
  • TGD, an acronym for 'The Great Deceiver' 4-CD box set live compilation
  • THRAK, either an acronym or a sound-effect, depending upon your point of view; more precisely, the 1995 studio album by King Crimson
  • VROOOM,either an acronym or a sound-effect, depending upon your point of view; more precisely, a song from the 1995 studio album 'THRAK' by King Crimson
  • TCoL, an acronym for the 2000 studio release 'The ConstruKction of Light'

The music of King Crimson is so serious. Don't you guys know any jokes?


Childhood Guitar Class Remembered:
Instructor: "Class? Class! We'll begin today's lessons by tuning. Start with your low E string..."
Kid: "Instructor? I'd like to tune by fifths."
Instructor: "Don't get Fripp with me young man!" Q: How many ETer's does it take to change a lightbulb?
A: Four, one to change the lightbulb and three to rave on about how good the old one was.

Jon Benfield relates:

"This isn't really a joke but more of an amusing anecdote. I was watching "Mystery Science Theatre 3000" one time, I don't remember the movie, but, there was a scene in which the camera passed by a laboratory from which emanated loud screeching sounds. One of the robots said, "Oh, Robert Fripp must be practicing in there..."" Michael Cox tells us that the actual movie in question on MST3000 is 'Monster a Go Go'. "In one scene where someone is walking down a hallway while this (music) is jangling in the background, Joel quips, 'He's walking past Robert Fripp's room'. At another point Tom Servo complains, 'Someone please get the cat off the Fender Rhodes'."

And this from ETer Paul Hubers:

The only time I heard KC used in a joke was by Dennis Miller referring to a man with hair implants: "He has more plugs than the soundboard at a King Crimson concert."

What are gold CDs all about?

One of the great ET debates that still rages on (please do not post questions to the newsletter about this), it is an issue that seems to have never found a resolution. Proponents of gold CDs point out that there is a higher reflective quality of gold over aluminum. Because timing is crucial in the conversion of the digital signal to an analog signal, the higher reflective quality would allow a faster conversion, independent of the bit sampling rate.

Other factors contribute to the complexity of this issue: for example, the tendancy for aluminum surfaces to oxidize and degrade in quality, Digital to Analog converters, and so on.

How do you know all this stuff?

RF has written extensive notes accompanying releases such as 'Frame by Frame', 'YPG', 'TGD' and the Soundscapes albums. Also, various articles and interviews are available via this web site. Eric Tamm's book on Fripp provides a plethora of information. And finally, people who become FAQmasters possess great knowledge and intelligence.