Interview with Robert Fripp by Stephe Pritchard and Thos. Brooman for Recorder Three
Date Submitted: 14-Mar-1996
Submitted By: Claas Kazzer (kazzer at rzaix340 dot rz dot uni-leipzig dot de)
Note: In this interview Robert Fripp talks about, among other things, J.G. Bennett, G.I. Gurdjieff, Schoenberg, Frippertronics, God Save the Queen/Under Heavy Manners, Exposure, and many other things. I have broken the whole thing up in chunks, so it's more readable. I've tried to avoid typos & such but still there may be some. However, do enjoy!
"REMAIN IN HELL WITHOUT DESPAIR" (Under Heavy Manners.) Some years ago, Robert Fripp's despair was such that he felt he had a choice; either to end his life or to do something to change it. The particular circle of hell in which he found himself he feels was not peculiar to him - rather it expressed an insanity typical of the psychotic organisation of the family in Western society. Instead of "taking a powder" as he puts it he resolved to undertake a course of teachings after the Gurdjieffian discipline of self-development - one might say self-determination - which has radically affected the course of his life, and music.
Ever an unusual guitarist even in the earliest days of King Crimson, Fripp has developed an increasingly 'oblique' approach in an attempt, often startlingly successful, to find the qualitative 'inside' of music. Such a quality is manifest in his recent contribution to Bowie's "Scary Monsters" album; his unorthodox solos lurch wildly - yet with perfect precision - from nowhere and then head off into the unexpected. The effect is that of vitalising and expanding the musical context in a continual recreation of surprise, uniting head and heart in an irresistible combination of feeling, thought and expertise.]
It seems appropriate then that Fripp's new venture comprising Tony Levin, Adrian Belew, Bill Bruford and Fripp should be called "Discipline" - not the creation of subservience by the techniques of dominance but rather as an expression of mutual responsibility on the part of the band and audience for the musical potential available in any event.
Encountering Fripp, these musical qualities are expressed in a gentle mindful, self-assurance, a presence rehearsed in the eloquent acrobatics of discourse and a breadth of knowledge that marks him as a polymath - and not, as the N.M.E. recently implied, a know-all. Physically 'a limber elf' Fripp seemed to devote all his attention to answering and for the most part anticipating our questions - this, despite his assurance that part of hiss concentration was engaged with his left foot.
For Fripp, music is amongst other things a means of engaging perception in a process that goes beyond the act of listening or playing. If he has been described as an eccentric (and he has) then surely we must question a centrism that elevates the performer to an unreal status whilst the audience is lost in the murky night beyond the spot-lights. To combat this tendency he has often dislocated the conventional concept of performance by playing in unlikely venues for little or no remuneration.
In the same spirit of generosity, Fripp gave us seven hours of his time and the three pieces of music for The Recorder. "Urban Landscapes" he described as "a bit terrifying ... a bit disturbing" - but personally I find them a serenity reminiscent of some of his work with Eno on 'Evening Star' and 'No Pussyfooting' - perhaps because I was city born.
Fripp however, issues forth from Wimbourne in Dorset, where we interviewed him at the humourously named "Fripp World H.Q." Here we were feasted on coffee and halva whilst the gentle facade of Wimbourne Minster smiled on our labours ....
....The transcript begins whilst we were discussing the discipline of the East:
Fripp: I had breakfast with one of the whirling Dervishes in New York nearly two years ago now, a percussionist; ... the first three years of learning to play drums he didn't touch his drum, and the tradition, for example of training Sufi flute players - they play one note at the bass end of the flute for a thousand days - they can think of any notes they want to but they can only play this one, and after that other things can happen. So, the recent music I've been doing has been very much in that spirit.
The idea is that what's needed is the understanding of the East and the knowledge of the West - that's how Gurdjieff put it, that's what he was after - trying to get the synthesis. Then you have different ideas, that the currents move, and the currents that are, at the moment, in the West. But the interesting idea of ethnic music coming over into the rock territory- I mean, twentieth century classical music is rock in genesis - an Afro/American music form; in the same way that the classical period was Austro/Bohemian, Baroque was Italian, Romantic was essentially German, Impressionism was essentially French and Renaissance music was essentially Flemish. So the strong music of the twentieth century is not in fact Schönberg and all the rest of it - which is a hopeless mistake - for the very best reasons (and Schönberg had a remarkable integrity and so on), nevertheless musically it's not as vital as rock and roll, it really isn't; that's why we all go off to see rock concerts and not Schönberg's music. It's also why it's very rarely performed in public, because no-one would go and see it. All the dilemmas, all the major controversies in the past, .... maybe two decades, three decades in so-called classical music is that no-one likes it. So anyway, the twentieth century valid music form is the Afro/American music form, which is jazz, and rock and roll - which in itself is 'ethnic' if you like. I have tapes over there of Ghanaian music, pop music, which went to America and came back and is before and after examples. The Talking Heads record and the new Eno/Byrne record, I think, is important - rather more for the nature of the ideas and the influence it'll have than the actual accomplishment of the ideas. The difficulty of young rock musicians working in that area - which is the ideas of non-competence and non-musicianship - I think are very important as a political statement; that music became so technical, not only for the rock musician, in terms of the studio musician expected to have access to a certain number of licks and riffs etc. But it was impossible to play music in the classical sense until you spent maybe seven years in the conservatory - and even then after fifteen years in the field as a side-man, orchestra rank and file you probably still wouldn't ever be able to get much satisfaction from playing music, so you'd have to teach - then you'd get frustrated. So non-musicianship says - 'I can't play within the terms of your well-defined ground rules, which is a musician as a non-creative, non-participating sequencer - albeit a human one, - that since I am not competent to play according to those rules, I can only play my one chord - and HERE IT IS! And all I have can go into this one chord.' Which I think is so important; it re-establishes the principle that a musician can be creatively involved in the music they play.
It's only about.... after 1820/1830 that the idea became current. When Mozart and the classical team went round with a new violin concerto to their friend the violinist, who lived down the road; he would have played it and taken it as a basis for playing it, he wouldn't have played it note for note - and if he had, Mozart would have said "Hey, pratfeatures, what're you doing, can't you do anything with this?"; and now it has the sanctity of Holy writ!
Stephe: It's a question of leaving space for creativity.
Fripp: Well, there's ways of working with it; for example Anglo-Saxon poetry was at least seventy per cent formulaic. At least - probably ninety five - ninety eight per cent. Similarly in rock and roll you have all the licks, particularly in the blues area, where it's not so much a question of inventing a new vocabulary or even a new harmony, or even new topics of lyric debate; it's a question of here you have it, everyone has access to the same materials, now who's going to do something with it? And every now and again you get someone who will just do that note in a slightly different way, who finds a quality on the inside of the note rather than on the outside of the musical framework; that's considered to be new. In other words, new music isn't a style it's a quality. So, the person who hits the one chord with vigour and commitment can be as musical as a person who has access to ten thousand chords and plays too many of them; they're all wrong.
The next step, however, is to develop a body of technique and professional accomplishment actually to handle the freedom we've now got. When you get into the so-called ethnic area, like, I suppose the Talking Heads and the Eno/Byrne, and there are other examples - Adam and the Ants - you actually have to be proficient to play that stuff. If you learned it in Bali, in the Gamelan orchestra, the whole village would've been involved and you'd have sat on your father's knee at the age of two and he'd have put the malet in your hand and showed you what to do - like riding a bicycle. Since Western musicians are kind of fucked-up and we learn the process through our heads, rock and roll is learned in a far more natural way but divorced from a body of traditional technique. The Western musician could only really play the "ethnic music" after about twelve or thirteen years of training, because it's not easy. A lot of European folk music is in hilarious time signatures - elevens, seventeens, thirteens and no-one would think twice about it, you just play it.
Thos: Yes, what the Hungarians see as their natural rhythm is a five isn't it?
Fripp: So is mine (beats it out on his legs) Don't think twice about it, wholly natural - you'd have to be a drummer to do that. It's natural, but I suppose I spent quite a few years working at it before it became natural.
Thos: You seem to be taking your music out of the usual auditorium where people pay their four bucks or whatever to see you in that special place. You play while your hair is cut, and in restaurants.
Fripp: Well you know, we're pretty fucked up. So we all know this and what are we going to do about it?, and this is my response - in a number of different ways and on a number of different levels. Music in the Third World or "the ethnic cultures" is, I think, treated with considerably more respect than we treat it; listening to muzak is - boring, it's really like wanking - it's going to spoil something. In the musical relationship there's essentially three terms; the performer, the listener and the music itself; at the Frippertronics events, I suggested that first of all the audience accept responsibility for having ears - active listening. I said "Well look, I'm not here to posture - so I don't feel that I should entertain you and that you should sit back waiting to be entertained!", after all, a lot of them were free and the prices we did charge were fairly moderate anyway, so "come on and do your share of the work". So the audience accepts the responsibility to listen, the performer accepts the responsibility of mediating a qualitative relationship between the audience, the performer and the music - that is, the performer accepts a role. It's a very charged role, your image and your name develops an energy all of its own and when me walks on stage I have an authority, as Robert Fripp, that I don't have sitting here. There is something in that role which develops an iconic strength. The icon over there... in the picture is Father Makarios on our left who painted the icon and Father Pisis on the right whose responsibility in that monastery is for the farming; it's a monastery in Cyprus. Now if we look at that - described by Michael Watts in the Melody Maker as somewhat garish - it would never occur to Father Makarios to look on it as a piece of art, it wouldn't matter really if the fingers were a bit wiggly - that's his style of icon painting (and he copies that from the original icon thing) and of course he would think of developing his technique in this so that he could perfect the channel of grace and so on; but he wouldn't ever think of analysing it or doing a critique of it in terms of his technical skill. As far as he's concerned that is the Virgin Mary and child, and for us it's a bit difficult sitting here with the quarter-check going and coffee and halva and soon to think that that could be anything more than a nice picture - or a garish picture. But at four o'clock in the morning, two and a half thousand feet up in the monastery with three old monks and their beeswax candles, you get a sense that maybe, maybe there could be something more. So the artist does have that role and the responsibility involved in it. Where a lot of people fuck up is they think they are the role and that the grace involved in doing that belongs to them in some way, and a lot of the personality and ego aberrations you get in artists have to do with that confusion.
The third term in the relationship is the music itself. The musician can do so much, he has his three disciplines, the hands the head and the heart; but they can only get to a point where music might happen. The actual quality of music which everyone recognises when Hendrix hits the chord and you know it's all there and you don't need books on interpretation of music or twentieth century harmony or scales and modes or anything else - you know that music is there. But to get to that point you can get it because you don't know at all what you're doing, working from a point of complete innocence - the drummer who tours with the Whirling Dervishes that we mentioned earlier; he said to me that the finest music he's ever heard was played by peasants in fields in Turkey tending sheep, and of course they knew nothing about music, they were only musical. Now for us, the trained musician has to get to a point where they can re-experience that innocence - that's mastery. I define art as the capacity to re-experience one's innocence! So you either have it because you're innocent or you have it because you've gone through all the body of acquiring techniques, in order to throw them away and jump; my analogy is that one's technique and experience and so on builds a structure from which one can leap, and you have farther to go the higher the building - or, of course, farther to fall. Beyond that point music does have a life of its own, and it's a funny idea for us in the West - we're used to the copyright acts, we're used to (since 1820 & 30) the increasing involvement of the middle-class in promoting concerts in Europe plus music becoming an increasingly literary and visual experience -because music has become less and less of a natural event.
Thos: More and more objectified really.
Fripp: Well, objectified in the wrong way. Subjectified in a sense, that it becomes personal property and subjectively expressed, rather than the objective property of everyone, and even beyond that it doesn't belong to us; it's an act of grace, in a sense.
Stephe: It can't be appropriated.
Fripp: That's exactly right, yes; any more than you could weather. The medieval idea of music, both in England and in India funnily enough, was that the function of music was to quieten the mind to render it more susceptible to divine influences. That was the function of music. Now, the function of muzak, it would seem to me, is to stultify all the senses that one might be more capable of manipulation. "Music While You Work", can you remember that! I remember when I was young, this appallingly soporific nonsense. The idea of muzic M-U-Z-I-C and Eno's ambient things is that you can actually have music which will quiet the mind - but at the same time quiet the mind so that one can find an active point inside that, rather than completely putting you down.
Essentially the difference between being active and passive is that when one is being active, one is always working from a decision to do something. In other words; the behaviour is always intentional, it's never reactive - that is, attracted or repelled by liking something or disliking it. It always involves an act of will, it you like. The difference between active listening at a concert and passive listening is that if one goes to be entertained one is going to be passive, your attention will be engaged because it will be seduced by the artist who will play you music knowing you will enjoy it, so at the end you will stand on your feet and clap and cheer and so on. With active listening it doesn't matter whether you like the music or detest the music. In a way, the music is only an excuse to engage your attention in a certain kind of way and with the artist also undertaking to listen to what they do (very few musicians listen to what they do, it's very difficult, it requires an effort), with the audience and the performer making this effort and if you like awake in a certain kind of way, something remarkable is possible; it's not guaranteed but it becomes possible. It's like this is a lovely view of Wimbourne Minster, and if our eyes were closed we wouldn't see it - if they were open the curtains might be closed but at least there would be a possibility of seeing it. And on occasions, very rarely but on occasions, some remarkable things have happened in Frippertronics. One I particularly remember was at Washington Ethical Society in June 1979; the music itself wasn't very good (as music it wasn't very good) but a door definitely opened and there was (you can't really say this in the English Music Press - even The Bristol Recorder) - but, definitely a door opened. Using a kind of traditional terminology, the Muses were supposedly that level of intelligence responsible for the direction of certain artistic currents or whatever; in a sense there was a Muse present - there was a considerable presence in that room.
Thos. Felt by...
Fripp: I don't know whether anyone else felt it, but I was aware of it, and I went away to the hotel over the road and wondered what I should do with it because the sense was still quite strongly with me. I was hungry, so I thought - should I have my corn and sesame chips? Or 'Theatre of Blood' with Diana Rigg and Vincent Price was on, so I thought;- "shall I watch that?" And I thought:- "no I'll just sit quietly with this," and I sat down for ten minutes and just like that after ten minutes it went. So then I put on 'Theatre of Blood' and ate my corn and sesame chips - but it wasn't imaginary.
Stephe: So it's a three way thing between the performer, the audience and the music; or a four way thing where the total is greater than the sum of the parts?
Fripp: Yes, you have the three terms and they can interact in different ways, six different ways. You can have the performer, who says:- I have a music I want an audience or I have an audience I want some music, or the audience cries out for a certain kind of relationship, so those terms interact in different ways. You can even say that it's possible that there is an objective quality to music so great and outward reaching that it finds a musician to transmit it who then goes and finds an audience; that's one way of looking at the way the three terms interact.
Mind, when you look at someone like Charlie Parker for example (and he was a turkey, let's face it - a real putz) music was bursting through him. Hendrix was another; I met him once, only once, and he was luminous; remarkable man, luminous - shone, which is why everyone fucked him - literally, all the women loved him, because he was so attractive, he had such a remarkable presence. If you like, music was bursting through him that much - but as a human being he wasn't tough enough, so he got fucked up.
Thos: Who wouldn't be?
Fripp: Well there are some. You see, if you spend a thousand days playing your one note - you're prepared for that kind of pressure. The analogy to electricity is very close - if you're going to put two hundred and forty volts through a ring main you're going to have circuit breakers; and in any kind of appropriate training (for a human being, let alone a musician) then one has access to techniques and certain ways of dealing with things that you don't normally find if you're growing up to be a rock musician in England, for example: it's a very good education, but it only takes you so far - and then, for me, the only way I could improve or continue to learn in music was to leave it alone for three years and go a different way round; an oblique approach to it.
Thos: The Drive to 1981 mentioned in the sleeve notes to God Save the Queen - how is it?
Fripp: It's on course. It's not easy. I don't really have to do this for my own fun and amusement. I have other things which I would be at least as happy doing as being a public figure. It strikes me as an irony, that for a person who is as private as I am that I'm in such a non-private business. But the point is that I took an intentional decision to work in a certain kind of way for quite definite and specific reasons and if you take a decision in that kind of way there's nothing will stop you. This is a most important exercise from Sherborne - to do with taking decisions in a certain kind of way. That if you do take a decision in a certain kind of way, that you commit all of yourself to it, then theoretically that commitment is outside all the normal terms of even being alive or dead - that one will fulfil the decision - whatever. And there is a strength in that, but one has to practice it and build up to it.
But having made a decision you know there is nothing will stop you and then you do it. The drive is on course - it completes on September 11th, and I've taken an intentional decision for a second three year campaign in the marketplace to replace it - that's the Incline to 1984.
Stephe: We wondered if you were going to drive back again.
Fripp: The return to 1978. Well, it's interesting, you see, that the Drive to 1981 embraces a paradox; that in any course of action that's going to take you from A to B is going to take you through time, but there's a part to it which is, in a sense, outside time, that where you're going to is how you have to travel. So if one has an aim - just using political things for example - the obvious thing, oh boy, is peace - how do we achieve peace? Well the normal approach of course, is to get an army and go out and kill people to thrust peace on them! Well, the only way to achieve peace is to be peaceful - in other words, you work as if the aim is achieved and the way of travelling is its accomplishment: any revolutionary change is, in fact, evolutionary - you never get there, you're always in process, so the process is what you wish to arrive at. Any social process at all is necessarily political, so the musician who is working in the market place is inevitably a politician - and anything one does, if you like, on a public platform has significance; whether it is intentional or not. If one is looking at an artist selling millions of records, working in colossal arenas with high-powered lights, equipment, musicians and all the rest, the political statement, necessarily, is: "I wish to make a lot of money and I am prepared to underwrite traditional ways of working in order to achieve that." That's the political statement; and then you might say: why is it that you're underwriting the work of multinational corporations and very strong factions of government which are if you like, militaristic and all the rest of it? and the artist would turn round and say:- "Hey, nothing to do with me!", but of course, it is. So one can therefore be ignorant or innocent (which is a different bag of bananas) or acquire innocence by a process of learning, which is the state that I'm at.
It seems to me that any kind of change has to be slow - it has to be gradual - that you can only change anyone else by changing yourself: that's all one can do.
It always begins with personal decision. Political life is always geared toward changing the structures and the externals. Like building a welfare society: you build all the structures of a caring society but with people who detest and dislike each other. It's like say getting an architect to draw up the plans for a home and he designs a high-rise, and you look on the outside and say: is this a home? If you went on the inside of any building, however good and bad - even something as appalling as high-rises - the home would be the quality inside, it would have nothing to do with the cosmetics (in fact, as a small rider to that, there is a science of building - to do with the geometry of sacred proportions and so on - which would say: - yes, you can build a house which you could almost guarantee would become a home but, and there's the point, it's the quality on the inside which is really significant). So, our political life is geared to imposing, by force, external structures which will only generate the opposite - because any action by force only generates an (at least) equal reaction to it. So political life could be defined as an awful lot of energy expended in achieving the opposite aim from that which you intended.
If you want a welfare society, then what you do is get people to care for each other, and once you have that established as a quality then the structure naturally emerges. It's so obvious that with the welfare society one can't really criticise the welfare state, because everyone would wish that to be; but schools don't educate, police don't keep the peace and the health service is appalling - you wait for hours, if you get an appointment it's next week by which time you've died, and then you get five minutes. So it's hopeless, and it's born of bureaucracy which cares nothing at all for the people it's administering to; the people who need the welfare system are the people who are the least able to get it: problem families on council estates that the police number....
Stephe: Self perpetuation seems to be dear to so many of these institutions and bureaucracies.
Fripp: The first aim of any system is to perpetuate itself - which is generally not the aim which the system was set up for.
Stephe: Are strategies that throw nets over the future desirable? In the sense that: is perhaps the discipline of an aim, the discipline of a conscious decision restrictive, sometimes negatively so over a long-term plan?
Fripp: Do fish fly into fishing boats? Does roast pigeon fly into one's mouth?
There are ways of establishing an aim. One has to decide what one's aim is, and that's by no means easy; but unless you know where you are going it's very unlikely you're going to get there. In other words, the difference between being a human being or otherwise is whether or not an activity is intentional; otherwise the wind blows, you go with it. Well that's not freedom. A freedom is not even something you can define in a Bill of Rights. Freedom is the ability to make a decision, to act in a certain kind of way and be able to achieve it. So, one has to make the aim; behind the aim comes a structure of how to achieve it; that isn't a constrictive net; to a degree it limits one's behaviour - in that one has decided to do this certain thing - but the way of actually making that work is entirely different. There's freedom within that, there's not a lot - I mean unbelievably little -you know, we all think that we're free to sit here and talk and really little choice is involved in any of us being here.
Stephe: Isn't "art" necessarily bound to have a large unintentional aspect to it? - whatever the artist may intend - and probably in some cases he or she would be disappointed if it were merely the intentions that were achieved.
Fripp: Well, there's a number of things. The first is there's always hazard - hazard is where things fuck-up. Now you can say that that is a creative opportunity or a disaster - and it's both. But it's inevitable in being alive in a mechanistic framework and where we get these theories of entropy and so on. Entropy does apply to the physical process and things on a physical level do down-grade and any kind of mechanistic situation breaks down.
There are ways however of, first of all, working within breakdown and two, slowing down the entropic flow. Now, one can only work within a machine if one is free and apart from it; and in a human being it's finding that part of oneself which has a capacity for free behaviour:- Can I make a decision to do something and know that it will be done, and know that there are no mechanical currents or mechanical forces or constraints on my behaviour which will prevent me from doing that? And to be able to say that is very considerable - to be able to guarantee that two minutes of one's day will be intentional behaviour is very, very bold; hot stuff!
So how can one do that? It's a question of learning to keep a part of oneself outside the machine all the time - having a sense of oneself apart from everything that we're doing. Whatever Fripp is and whatever Fripp does, I might be something apart from that. It's to do with the division of attention initially, but one needs a discipline for this - and it's not a thing which comes naturally to very many people - and the people it does come naturally to probably you and I have never met. So we need supports, we need structures, one needs training, one needs body of techniques, one needs discipline; but it begins with a wish really. One had a wish, and then an aim, and then you find a means of discharging that - that's, I think how it goes.
For me, it was simply a point of I couldn't go on living in the way I was, so it was either take a powder or do something about it.
Stephe: In what ways do you think Gurdjieff has influenced you?
Fripp: Well I probably wouldn't be here now, certainly not in this form, if I hadn't come across that. I went to a school called the International Academy for Continuous Education - a silly name and I think chosen with a sense of humour - at Sherborne House, in Gloucestershire, and it was based on Gurdjieff's Prieuré at Fontainebleau; and it was very difficult work. One had to be there for ten months and we had one day off in three weeks when we could leave the premises; we lost three people to the asylum in my year and overall twenty per cent left. I met the man in Philadelphia two weeks ago who became an alcoholic, couldn't sleep a lot of the time, urinated over people's laundry bags and eventually cut his wrists and went to the asylum - he was in good shape actually when I saw him, but at the time he was difficult.
It was very, very hard work; it was the difference between working on the inside and the outside, that if you're feeling a bit pissed off you can go to the pictures or watch television or get drunk or do whatever. But in Sherborne you had to sit there and find a way of dealing with it - the expression would be working with it - not easy. The woman I was living with left me while I was there which was awful for me - I was pretty suicidal - it was not easy. But, on the other hand, that was certainly the beginning of my life, if you like.
Thos: What disciplines, training, exercises were involved?
Fripp: Well, one began with the morning exercise - a series of psychological exercises to do with working with fairly sophisticated currents. One would get up at six o'clock, morning exercise would be a quarter to seven, breakfast at seven thirty, then you'd begin practical work at eight thirty. One would try and learn new, practical skills in a hurry - I was metal-workshop chief for example - I remember seeing this sixty year old Tasmanian housewife laying a stone wall, we were trying to build this gymnasium, it became a real white elephant. I thought, having seen some of the work that went into it, that the only thing that would hold it up at the end of the day was prayer - the externals were shaky, let's put it like that! In addition to practical work we had cosmological lectures, psychological lectures, there were remarkable Gurdjieff movements, sacred kinesis but essentially it was very practical, the school wasn't primarily theoretical - it was a practical school, and it was balanced, if you like, you didn't just learn theory you were given exercises; and a lot that confounded the mind, a lot of the things that went on there one couldn't perhaps find rational solutions to.
Stephe: It worked as a provocation, presumably.
Fripp: I wouldn't even use that word. One didn't have to generate provocative situations, you just put a hundred people in the house together and you get provocative situations.
Thos: Do you think the necessary circuit breakers were present there? - it sounds like quite a heavy toll of mental stress.
Fripp: Yes.... Well, people who felt that they couldn't stay didn't. The man who had the very heaviest breakdown of the year seemed to me in remarkably good health and spirits two or three weeks ago. It was a remarkable school; it wasn't perfect, but it gave four hundred and fifty people opportunities for an education which simply wouldn't have existed otherwise.
The place had a chill about it. Physically it was unbelievably uncomfortable.
The only time the building (which was designed by Inigo Jones in about 1760) was warm was the two months August and September, when the school shut down. It was unbelievably cold, but it wasn't only physical cold - there was a cold which chilled the soul. The place was also haunted, and any kind of school which works like that obviously attracts the other side, if you like. The opposition poke around.
Thos: Do you have to make music? Presumably not, by what you were saying.
Fripp: I think probably by now I do; not as much as I do - in fact, if I consider, I probably don't spend much of my time involved with music. I think very few professional musicians do. It's so difficult actually to create a situation in which one can be musical, nearly all the existing machinery for playing music is inadequate. The difficulties I have, even doing Frippertronics. A comment was made to me last week by a person within the business framework that I deal with, that it was dangerous for me to do Frippertronics because I might blow my mystique; "The Emperor has no clothes!" were the words used to me. And I said:- but listen, I stand up and say "look! I have no clothes!" So yes, there's problems. Could I do without music? Mmm. Not now I think - not now; I would need it. You see, I've developed a relationship now with music which is something that's changed fairly recently; I learn from the music I play - if I write a piece of music, then I can learn so much from it, but if it's improvised it really can take on something of its own - which I learn from. So it's something like breathing now, I need oxygen and if you assault the gates of heaven for a sufficient length of time I'd think they'd probably cave in. I've been going at music for twenty three years, from a person who was wholly unmusical - tone deaf with no sense of rhythm - and now something is beginning to open and I'm just beginning to hear something about the music on the inside, just about. In Philadelphia I was playing a few weeks ago - a couple of benefit concerts for a college radio station - and I was soloing over the Frippertronic loop and I heard the next note and played it and heard the next note and played it and heard the next note and played it, and I was weeping as I was playing because something was beginning to move. So, once upon a time I could've switched to being a full-time writer, now I think I need music.
Stephe: As a full-time writer? of what?
Fripp: Dunno, but one of my natural talents tends towards the English language, which was my best subject at school.
Thos: 'Under Heavy Manners' for instance seems on the one hand almost to delight in language and on the other hand - almost to resent it.
Fripp: That's Fripp-language. You have to find a way where the language confuses itself to the point where anything can come through. The silliest bits of 'Under Heavy Manners' are, in fact, the most important: "I am resplendent in divergence". "Remain in hell without despair" is actually taken from the Spiritual Father of Father Saffroni - it's taken from the monk at Mount Athos whose advice was: "Keep thy mind in hell without despair" I think the exact background is where one of the Saints was suffering the torments of hell - however one would wish to express it in modern technology - but really going through a bummer and at the end of this particular period of personal turbulence or freak-out or whatever, said "Christ, how could you desert me and leave me with all this nonsense going on?" and Christ said "I didn't desert you, I was with you through all of it; admiring you work." So the advice was to remain in hell without despair. In other words, one learns how to suffer - but the necessary suffering, not the nonsense - and, a lot of my personal life was remaining in hell with despair. But I think Sherborne shifted that away you know. I wrote those the morning after coming out of the monastery; it's about how far one can go with a process of logical thought and how much is possible through the intellect and it's only when you go beyond that that something happens. The mind, of course, has its use - a well-ordered mind has its use but the geezer obviously goes through the different possible things he can go through and with the long scream with forty-seven A's in it (AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAH) obviously it's confused him to the point where he has to go a bit beyond that. And his solution is that he's resplendent in divergence - he's found a way of working in a different kind of way which goes beyond merely the process of, if you like, subjective meditation.
He moves through politics into religion; he still finds it all confusing, I thought 'Sunder here navy man' was quite nice - that's an anagram of Under Heavy Manners and after fascism I thought that was rather nice. I also like the neologism the word was printed underneath, the only neologism that was used - 'cleverism'; that was another goody. Then 'bells, I can hear bells' - the bells of Wimbourne Minster were recorded through that window with that cassette machine, I thought that was nice too.
Thos: We wanted to ask about the practical aspect of Frippertronics; How many tape loops you use and the whole approach.
Fripp: There's no tape loops as such, it's a regenerative system; it's not an endless loop. Tape loop is a convenient way of explaining a system of multiple regenerative delays, but it's not a genuine loop system. What happens is one records on the left machine (I use Revoxes, but I understand you can use Teacs) and play back from the right to the left machine where the signal is recorded a second time; but depending on the distance between the two machines and how long it takes the tape to move along from the record to the playback head, with me normally four seconds, the signal is recorded the second time four seconds later; while I'm putting in new signals which are also being recorded.
Thos: We were talking about musicians very rarely listening to what they do, that seems to me to distinguish what you do. Something emerges from silence and then what's put on top of it is a direct response to what you've already heard, what you've already played.
Fripp: Oh yes, that's true. That's when it works and if I'm particularly insensitive or crass, of course, it goes wrong. One has to be able to relax. If an audience is very very restive, its very difficult to deal with that expectation - if the audience demands entertainment to be excited there's very little I can do until that is changed. So what I can do is talk, or tell funny stories, or whatever, and wait until there's an appropriate mood. Another thing I do to deal with expectations is to play from the moment people come in, so that it doesn't start. There is a beginning (a start is an abrupt commencement), a beginning is more gradual. So when people come in and there has been music from the moment they've come in, it's obvious the kind of music that will be happening, so there's no shock and if people don't like it they can, of course, turn round and go straight out again. In the early days that was definitely true - that people were expecting 'Exposure' or a rock'n'roIl band but they weren't expecting this kind of thing. Now, the very last time I did it, which was in Philadelphia three weeks ago, the audience had expectations of Frippertronics, which were limiting in their way but less limiting.
Thos: Do you ever sacrifice your control in session situations?
Fripp: Oh completely, I have no control over what happens. With Eno for example, I can't, generally, tell what it is that I was doing by the end of the day when he's souped it up. With Bowie, he tends to leave the guitar sound as it is. 'Up the Hill Backwards', which is the new single, I explained the sound I wanted to Tony Visconti and he said "I'll be ten minutes" and got it in five - a system of echo repeats, fairly fast, on the guitar. But after the event they'll have compressed or limited it or put it in context or whatever; but essentially the sound is mine.
Stephe: How are you affected by your own music?
Fripp: Well, by developing different parts of what I am. The assumption is that if you're a cerebral person you can't be an emotional person, and you can't be moved by sensuous and bodily passions. Well, the thing is to grow in all areas, but essentially to be balanced; so that, for example, the amount of information which the twenty five watt grey computer which runs on glucose .... the information is not more than one can work with and one can understand.
This is knowledge; this is understanding; this is doing. Sometimes I understand what it is I know - it happened fairly recently that I really understood something I had known for quite a while. Which means simply that the head clicked in to what the heart had going around; and the strength of any idea is that understanding of it can generate action - that's the strength of an idea.
Modern information theory would say that an idea is negentropic - that is that an idea actually contains a certain amount of energy which can be used for work. I'd say that was true; that ideas essentially work in a qualitative, rather than a quantitive, domain. So that a qualitative world isn't bound by entropy - which is a physical law. So that there is a part of the human being which is, of course, physical and entropic and degrading, and we have our three score years and ten and so on. But that's not all there is, that's the mechanical aspect of being a human being; there's a point of finding something inside all of that which belongs to a world of qualities; and once in connection with that one has access to an entirely different way of living - one becomes a human being essentially. But how to make contact with that is, of course, very very difficult and, once again, the point of Sherborne and the exercises and so on, there's a Gnostic tradition. The Gnostic story of the pearl - the geezer's so busy looking for the pearl that he gets stuck into the marketplace and forgets he's looking for the pearl.
We are in a remarkably degraded condition. Every time I get pissed-off with someone, I think:- this is not a worthy feeling for a human being. It takes about twelve years of hard work to be able to break away from that kind of reaction of "Don't like him, huh!" So I refuse to work with that person!
The next step of whether or not you like someone.... is really too cheap; and if you can get over that one; if you can go beyond that I find in my experience that a lot of people I feel the deepest for are not necessarily people I like, and I think a time will come when this becomes wholly irrelevant (whether or not I like them or dislike them), that the relationship will be so strong I wont even think it.
Chris Stein, who I like enormously, when I first saw him I thought:- can he be that gauche? But I said, you know:- this isn't worthy of me; and persevered, and now he's a good friend - I like him a lot, he's a good mate. That's just one example.
Thos: I don't know how far one can take that kind of theoretical response in a world of a primitive fashion.
Fripp: You do as much as you can take honourably is the answer. If there's someone I really can't bear to be with (and I can think of one person) then all I can say is I can't work with that person (I'm polite to them, I'm not nasty to them) and I leave it at that - I can't work with them, it's a task which I find beyond me, so I leave it at that. One can't act with brutality towards oneself. If something is too big a job then you can't take it on at the moment - it would be absurd to try and lift a heavy weight you couldn't lift, you'd strain your back so you wouldn't do it, You can gradually build up to it and in terms of work; and like and dislike, that takes about twelve years.
Stephe: How do you manage to remain in the marketplace without being governed by the values of the market?
Fripp: Well one way, for example is; we were talking about the division of attention, and nothing is possible without division of attention. For example part of my attention at the moment is on my left foot, so (this is how the theory goes anyway) I'm never wholly sucked into what we're doing, I have something apart from it. And, having part of oneself away could remind you - for example if I was getting irritated - could remind me that I really needn't be irritated; or if I am irritated, to watch it going on. The first thing is not to try and do anything with it; the first thing is to see it go on and one gets to know how fragile a creature one is and how easy it is to do damage by even little changes. But then, by working (regular kind of exercises, not in a big-deal way) maybe a foot goes in the door and then you can put your shoulder against the door and so on. But, again, in the marketplace it's very seductive - it's very easy to be seduced. I know a number of people who're friends who have a bit of them that's outside it, but there are so many pressures and so many reinforcements from personal managers to people in the record company to other musicians you work with to members of the public that like your work - it's all in their self-interest that you remain separate in terms of having a cheap relationship with them. It's not easy working with me and I'm beginning to realise it - l'd've thought it was very easy to work with me. I have a choice between either having a good social life, or having a career; it's that easy. It's not possible for me to keep up with my friends in the way that friends do keep up with each other or should keep up with each other. But having made a commitment to work in the marketplace and to bring to bear the kind of concentrated effort which is really necessary to work in it, it doesn't leave a lot of time over to develop friendships.
The other thing is that because I'm a very private person, I don't have enough time for myself; and I really need it, like people need oxygen I really need it, and I don't get anywhere near enough. And my friends don't realise it. You don't make allowance's for your friends' needs beyond a point; it's easier to work with people you don't like. If you work with friends you expect something from them, you want their attention. With people you don't like you don't want their attention and therefore the relationship is, in a sense, more straightforward, more honest; there's not the amount of manipulation involved. It's very difficult to deal with people in a straight way - it's something I learned very hard; after Sherborne, going to live in America, going to therapy (transactional analysis under a very remarkable lady called Marie Weisberg), I learned to be straightforward so if someone said to me "are you pissed off?" I'd say "yeah, I'm pissed off!" but accepting responsibility for being pissed off. The English thing is:- "Have I made you angry?" "No!" and I realized that made me crazy - 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? So that, in the 1960s with the kind of acid rock and so on, it was a question of "I think the world is mad, therefore I doubt my perceptions". The post-punk thing is "I think the world is mad, therefore I approve my perceptions . The world is mad; that's the difference of viewpoint and the difference of generations. In England, we don't have a tradition of being straightforward and honest, we always talk around the point, we use very elaborate symbols, euphemisms and metaphors and instead of coming out in a straightforward way it all comes out sideways. For example, you upset a solicitor on the street somehow or other - you scratch his car with your bicycle one day - and four years later, when he's in a position to do a transaction, something goes wrong and you don't get planning permission for your garage plot, or something. I've no doubt that happens in America but the point is the attorney over there would say "you pissed me off four years ago" and you'd know where you stand.
Stephe: Double Binds that act on each other.
Fripp: It was Bateson who coined that phrase.
Stephe: While we're on the subject: 'Zero of the Signified'.
Fripp: Is a phrase of Barthes'. "To repeat excessively is to enter into loss, this we term the 'Zero of the Signified'." Being an English person trying to work out my background and what it is that people were telling me; if you like I became a little more sussed in the science of signs (and then discovered the Barthes semiology and all the rest of it) and the zero of the signified is essentially contrasting two ideas; one is the Eno/Schmidt strategy, that repetition is a form of change and the other of "to repeat excessively is to enter into loss, this we term the zero of the signified."
Musically, it's the contact between technological or taped repetition, and manual repetition - just playing a fast phrase non-stop for ten minutes.
Thos: Isn't that a theory of John Cage's, repetition - finding value through persistence. If something bores you for four bars, do it for eight; if it bores you for eight, do it for sixteen.
Fripp: Yes, I gave that advice at one of the Frippertronics concerts:- if you're bored with this, keep listening until it no longer bores you.
Thos: Just out of the blue, music as an expression of silence; who in the twentieth century wrote about that?
Fripp: Sounds like a very Stockhausen type of thing. Yes, obviously I, in a sense, work in those areas, or at least with that awareness. If you take that Medieval idea we were talking about earlier, that music stills the mind - the idea is through sound to create silence.
Stephe: We haven't asked you anything directly about 'Exposure' or 'God Save the Queen'. Why is 'Exposure' in the form it is? Why a number of vocalists?
Fripp: Well, originally Daryl Hall did a lot more than he ended up doing, I had to find a singer to sing the songs and the one who had got numbered by his record company. As it turned out it worked. I'm very happy with a number of singers, different personal voices within myself acting vicariously.
The album itself, musically, brought everything I'd done up to that point together and it was essentially an M.O.R. album. It was a kind of autobiography on three levels: one was the day-to-day life and the stuff that happens - you're dreaming, the telephone goes off, you have an argument with the woman you're living with, you rush off to work, your mother phones you up and bends your ear, and finally at the end of the album you calm down and go to sleep again, and go out in dreams. So that's that level, the other is that it's an investigation of internalized family archetypes, psychological archetypes; 'Disengage' is a kind of rock version of 'Schizophrenia Madness in the Family', have you ever read that? Well, the basic premise of the book is that schizophrenia (which has never been clinically defined) is where the family makes the person feel crazy. I could relate to that, and I have a good family. So think what happens when someone really has it in for you.
People simply aren't aware of themselves, it's unbelievable. In America, if you don't know your psychological mechanisms so that you know how it works, it's considered rude, you're not amusing. It's just bad manners if you walk about exploding all over the place and you have no notion at all of why and how you work. It's just rude of you to inflict it on other people. So that beyond a certain point one wouldn't develop very many mature friends unless you got to grips with it.
That's the other level; and the third is, of course, that it had to do with starting some kind of inner development, and the commitment to work and that it's impossible to achieve the aim without suffering; the aim is freedom, conscience and truth, in Bennett's words - that comes from the first inaugural address to Sherborne House.