Interview with Robert Fripp in Guitar Player (1986)
Date Submitted: 3-Dec-1996
Submitted By: David Kirkdorffer (SayAaahh at aol dot com)
On the Discipline of Craft & Art
An interview with Robert Fripp
by Tom Mulhern
Guitar Player, January 1986
Relaxation. Sensitivity. Attention. Buzzwords from psychologists? No. They're part of Robert Fripp's method of teaching guitar, in which he integrates elements of personal discipline in order to improve the relationship between the guitarist and the music. Few know the 39 year-old English musician for his teachings; after all, he spent the greater part of the last 16 years in King Crimson, the unswervingly progressive rock band that finally dissolved in 1984 (in its latest form, founded in 198, it included Adrian Belew as co-guitarist, bassist / Stick player Tony Levin, and drummer Bill Bruford). He also has released two albums with Andy Summers of the Police, I Advanced Masked and Bewitched, and recorded and performed with David Bowie, Daryl Hall, Peter Gabriel, Blondie and the Roces. In the latter half of 1985, he worked as either a guitarist or producer with singer Toya Wilcox, pianist Elan Sicroff, and David Silvian.
Aside from his role in King Crimson, Robert Fripp is probably best known for his development of Frippertronics, a system in which he improvises with himself using a pair of tape recorders, his pedalboard, and a variety of guitars. Currently, instruction takes high priority in Fripp's life, and he is working with a new "standard" tuning for guitar that he feels opens up an entire realm of new possibilities for the instrument.
He is affiliated with the American Society For Continuous Education, at Claymont Court [Rte 1, Box 279, Charles Town, WV 25414], a sprawling estate of 400 acres, complete with mansion, built in 1820. Associated with the Society since 1974 and actively involved in its American operation since 1978, Fripp was added to the board of directors in 1982 and currently serves as president. At the Society, which offers a number of programs designed to help one acquire personal discipline, he teaches guitar in residential seminars, concentrating on fundamental principals in the use of both hands, coordination, and the direction of attention. He emphasizes how to play, rather than what to play. He also teaches a course titles Music for Non-Musicians.
In the following interview, Robert discusses he pitfalls of the music industry; explains how a guitarist can gain a better relationship with music, attention, and physical control; and illustrates how the musician's craft can lead directly to art.
GP -- With computers and synthesizers available to help you create music without an instrument and its technique, what attracts you to the guitar?
RF – It depends on what one's work is. I was tone deaf and had no sense of rhythm when I began playing the guitar, and I've pondered that for many years. The answer I finally came up with was that music so wishes to be heard that it sometimes calls on unlikely characters to give it voice. That's one answer. Another is that working with the guitar is part of work. And I recognize that I simply continue to work with it.
GP – Do you view it primarily as a tool?
RF – Yes, a tool to living. Some people make music their god. I don't. But music is a very remarkable opportunity. It's a tangible way of dealing with the intangible. It's a practical, down to earth way of developing a relationship with the inevitable [ineffable -Ed]. Now, most people involved in music have experienced at least once what happens music comes alive. It's as if one is living or the first time. And it's almost money for jam, that by developing a relationship with music, it becomes available to the musician all the time. When I was staying with a friend in New York in July 1981, I leapt from the sofa. I understood how it was that music came into the life of a musician; like a friend. Always present and always available, but never pushy, in a sense. But always there and available. As a working musician, as a professional musician, the way in which I worked changed because of that insight. Instead of rushing around looking for other bright ideas – Robert is going to create some music – it would be truer to say that the music creates the musician than the musician creates the music. The quality of music is always present. So I work on craft. For example I continue to develop my attention to be relaxed, to be in a place where music can more freely play the human instrument. There is a creative impulse, and if I were insensitive, I wouldn't be aware of it. So, I have to develop my sensitivity. If I were tight and tense, I wouldn't be able to respond to that impulse, so I train to respond very quickly to an impulse. And this becomes simply the way in which one lives one's life. Can one live in a relaxed fashion with sensitivity and attention present? And, if one can, one is on the way to being a successful carpenter or musician or book seller or whatever. It doesn't matter what. It comes back to the quality at which we function as a human being. A musician has hands, a head, and a heart. How do they function? How do they work together? The discipline of being a musician and the discipline of being a human being are exactly the same. There's really no contradiction.
GP – How does this philosophy relate to your courses at the American Society for Continuous Education, and at what level do students come in?
RF – I'm working with two courses. One is the Guitar Craft seminars – guitar craft seemed to be the best way of putting it. But we also have weekend seminars of music for non-musicians. First, the Guitar Craft. Originally, there was to be three five-and-a-half day seminars, but because of the demand, it is being expanded to eight. And there's a second level, a fortnight course for people who've already been through level I and wish to take it further. The course concentrates on relaxation for tension and sensitivity. There are seven basic guitar exercises available to the level 1 student. We live, work and eat together for five-and-a-half days, and the work can be intensive as the students can handle. The experience of the students so far has been between two and twenty years. Some are studio players, and some teachers; some are professional, some aren't at all.
GP – How do you teach music for non-musicians, and who can enroll in the program?
RF -- Music for non-musicians is open to anyone who has an interest in music and coming into a relationship with it – anyone who is interested in learning how to learn, with music as a way of doing it. In other words, by applying oneself to music, one has a very direct feedback with the learning process. We work with ocarinas, recorders, percussion instruments, guitars, singing from different traditions, 15th-century songs, Congalese call and response, folk-songs, whatever. Music is a quality organized in sound. Not all of us have experience in forms of organization or producing music or singing, but we all have access to the quality of music, the spirit of music. So, how do we get in touch with that quality? We work with the same approaches – relaxation, attention, and sensitivity. Anyone can produce a sound on a percussion instrument, but if one is working with a recorder or an ocarina for the first time, one can only play intentionally. There's no room for licks. So, you have to be there – with attention. And, if you are your state is changed from the normal and the dozy condition we wander around within. And in the heightened sensitivity and awareness, music is possible. You see, for a good player to just play licks, running on automatic, there's no music. It only seems to be music. There is what we call musical sound and organization, but there's no quality. It's only mechanical.
GP – Like a player piano.
RF – Yeah. To me, that's not music. It may be organized sound, but unless there's that quality of music in the organized sound, it's not music. So, for someone who isn't a great player, who is there with attention and presence in a percussion ensemble, when they hit their triangle or their cymbal, then it's just possible that the quality of music may be there living and breathing. Now, if that happens to appeal to you, come along. You don't need chops, you just need to come along.. And be prepared to have some fun. You don't have to play an instrument, and if you do, leave it behind and see what you do when you're presented with an instrument you have never played before.
GP – Have any of your guitar students attended these seminars?
RF – Some have, but in retrospect, we realize it was an error. The guitar players should have gone on and played occarinas, and not the guitar, so that they would have the opportunity to come up with something quite new.
GP – Where does one begin teaching a discipline? Must all students know scales, chord theory, and so on?
RF – No, not at all. One begins where one is. I generally ask for a minimum of three years of playing experience, so the musculature is developed sufficiently that we have something to work with. But a lack of experience or expertise is no limitation whatsoever. However, a commitment to work is quite necessary. For people to come along and goof off for five-and-a-half days, to have a nice holiday in the country, is fine, but this isn't the way to do it. So, we begin wherever we are. Now, if we are working with guitar exercises, obviously this involves the hands. So, the first thing is, "Are we aware of what it means to be alive inside our left hand?" Well, that would seem to be fairly obvious. But within three days, we generally are convinced we have no relationship with our left hand whatsoever, no control. So, we have to get to the point of becoming aware that we have relationship with our left hand, and what that means. One of the main problems of students is tension. Anxiety. Nervousness. Stiff as boards. One can't efficiently work with one's hands until relaxed, so each morning we begin with relaxation exercises before we have breakfast. And then we come together generally at 8:45 for a group exercise.
GP – Are the exercises performed on guitar?
RF – Yes. I begin by introducing a left-hand exercise, for example. Our lack of relationship with he left hand becomes obvious fairly quickly. For example, if the little finger keeps pointing to the sky, it's fairly obvious that we have no relationship with our little finger. Now since the human being is very involved and supposedly a well-integrated machine, if we change our relationship with any part of it, everything else changes. So, for someone to come on a Guitar Craft course to learn guitar, it becomes apparent fairly soon that this involves everything that we are as human beings.
GP – Is the left hand your first focal point because it provides immediate tactile or audible feedback?
RF – Well, yes, the beauty of working with guitar is that one knows exactly the extent of one's attention. If one is working with ideas of relaxation, attention and sensitivity in the abstract, one has perhaps very little opportunity for direct feedback to see how long your attention is. The are ways. For example, I tap 4 beats on my left foot. Now I'm beating 5 on op, and we're still having the same conversation. And I could keep this going for a long time. This has to do with attention, and it's practised and developed. It can be done apart from the guitar or it can be done on the guitar. Now, if I can't do this, I shouldn't be talking about it. So, in addition to working with pure guitar exercises, we work with such things as yoga, perception classes, forms of calisthenics and gestural language and bodily movement, and we have access to a number of techniques which can be introduced if they seem applicable. We go as far as we can in five-and-a-half days. But it's generally to the point where we just begin to be sensitive. That happens after about three days. Something changes. One becomes a little sharper, for example. People hear doors slamming and they stop slamming doors. I see the students individually virtually every day, and we also work in groups and subgroups. And the students are presented with challenges to which they have an opportunity to respond. But nothing is compulsory. When one speaks of discipline, it can sound very weighty and very heavy. There's nothing solemn here.
GP – So, the acquisition of a discipline through these courses is not necessarily a linear progression.
RF – Oh, no, no, no. It might seem like that, but on the inside it's not like that at all.
GP – The original idea behind recording was to document the event, but any people now create an event specifically to fulfill the obligation of the record.
RF – Yes. Well, there are two sides to it. One is where one is primarily a live band and the music comes alive with an audience. And to put that music on record requires a translation, which, if you like, is analogous to a change from an aural culture to a cryptographic culture. That's one position. The other is where the record is the instrument – that the music is a product of the recording studio and can never be played live. And it shouldn't be. It's purely a product of the recording studio. Well, that's different. Crimson was primarily a live band. The music that went on record was to be played live.
GP – King Crimson was better suited for the stage?
RF – It was never a good recording band, mainly because of the amount of freedom that all the musicians had – equal power of veto. And that amount of freedom implies responsibility and personal discipline. If anyone wishes to cop an attitude – if egotism runs riot – then everything breaks down. It's a situation of high hazard. More is possible, and it can be spoiled far more easily. My own view is that Discipline was a remarkable album. King Crimson live in the second half of 1981 was the best performing rock band in the world. I felt it as remarkable because of the risks. There was that amount of room where something could take place, and it did. But it was also very unstable.
GP – In what respects?
RF – If you work with hazard, the situation's not guaranteed. The point there is: "We're all good players. We're all good pros. We'll make things safer. We'll put on a good performance. And that's it. It's only mechanical – a very wonderful, smoothly working, efficient machine. But so what? It doesn't go beyond that. I like to work with very good professional musicians who go beyond being professional. It's only a level of craft. It takes you to the point from which you leap; you're very high up and you jump. And because you're high up you might fly a long way, or you might go straight down with a crash. You can either play safe and that won't happen; but neither will you take off and fly. Or, you build the hazard into the situation, so things can occur, and sometimes they might go wrong. And effectively, I traded two-and-a-half awful years for one that was superb.
GP – Taking risks in music implies a certain amount of trust in the other musicians.
RF – That's right. And willingness. It means the very best band does not reflect any of the individuals, because a band has a life of its own. It has its own identity. The identity of King Crimson was not the identity of Bill Bruford, Tony Levin, Adrian Belew and Robert Fripp. That was quite different. King Crimson had its own identity in 1981, and afterwards increasingly became a number of individuals working together, however well. For me, that was not the point.
GP – Where does the right hand enter the picture?
RF – That's the second prime guitar exercise. And I call the approach "the middle way." The left and the right hand are in a position of equicourse. The left-hand thumb is behind the neck of the guitar in the middle, and the other fingers are ready to fall between the third and fourth strings. The right hand, with the wrist in a straight line from the elbow, is ready at a position of rest between the third and fourth strings. I've been developing the specific guitar exercises over a period of 25 years. I began playing when I was about 13. It became very apparent to me that there was no rigorous system for playing the plectrum guitar as there was or the piano or the violin – just a body of arbitrary techniques. So, I began developing my own exercises, and I have refined them. For instance, when we put our left-hand fingers on the strings, we generally think there are two impulses. One is to put the fingers on the strings, to stop the strings, and the second is to take them off.
GP – More often to take them off.
RF – Well, actually, that's an error. We should only put the fingers on the strings, and we never take the fingers off – we release them. To take the fingers off is a separate command. Here we are, ready to play on the strings:
[picture of left hand – all fingers touching strings.]
So, we have put the fingers on the strings, and if we took them off, here's what would happen:
[picture of left hand –fingers hovering slightly above strings, but not touching strings.]
Put them on, take them off. I suggest that is a fundamental error. We should release them:
[picture of left hand –first two fingers touching strings, but now the third and fourth fingers are hovering slightly above strings, but not touching strings.]
Taking the fingers off and releasing them are two quite different motions. The difference is very subtle. You see, if we take them off, we apply pressure. If we release them, we complete the first movement; only a completion of the first. By taking them off, you're introducing an unnecessary command, which is highly inefficient.
GP – This is much like keeping your fingers depressed as you ascend on a string.
RF – That's right. It's the principle of procession. The first exercise, the exercise on the left hand, enshrines three principles. The principle of succession: when ascending, leave the fingers on. The principle of release: one releases the fingers; one does not take them off. And the principle of simultaneous release: moving from one string to another. It's remarkable how many players take their fingers off, when all one needs to do is release them. But little fingers continue to point to the sky. As soon as students think they've got that exercise, we put attention into the right-hand exercise. Then immediately, the fingers of the left hand start to spread and point away. After about three or four days, players who believed they had a relationship with the hands begin to get desperate, because it becomes apparent that most of us have absolutely no relationship with our hands whatsoever.
GP – Beginning pianists are often taught to do scales with both hands moving in unison, and the development of the hands seems to be fairly equal at the outset.
RF – The exercises I use for the left hand are to develop equality among the fingers, and it's a systematic examination of different patterns and combinations of fingerings. But it's not related to music.
GP – It's purely physical then.
RF – It's calisthenic. It's a systematic examination of calisthenics – bodily grace, in other words. And part of that is, "What does it mean to be alive inside my left hand?" For example, if I put my attention within my left hand, I'm aware of the blood moving within my left hand, I'm aware of the sensation of being inside my left hand. Without that, we have no relationship with it. So, it seems absurd if someone says, "Show me this exercise with the left hand." I say, "Are you aware of what it means to be within your left hand?" We assume that we are. But in fact, we're remarkably insensitive. And this has to do with attention; if I can exert my attention I can put my attention within my hands and have a relationship. But if I can't, then it's unlikely that I'll have a relationship with my hands, so it becomes difficult to introduce a guitar exercise. But the trick, in a sense, is that one comes to a relationship with attention by working with the guitar exercise. It's a circular process; one works with relaxation by directing the attention. It is difficult to direct attention unless one is relaxed. So the two go hand in hand. And the guitar exercises are a very good way of seeing how far our attention can stretch. Then we can divide our attention. This gets back to beating 4, and then playing 5 over it, and once we can do that, maybe 7. And we can have a conversation at the same time as we do that. At that point, things begin to get interesting. Very few guitarists listen to themselves or anyone else. And in a circle of 18 guitarists playing together, it's so obvious who isn't listening to anyone else.
GP – But to a certain extent, you could accuse an orchestral player of paying no attention to the other players, yet the music works.
RF – Well, the discipline of an orchestra is a bit different. There, one is trained not to tap one's foot, and the rank and file are reading the music. The eye is spread so that one is covering partly the music and partly the conductor, who is the boss. In the group context, that of the crafty guitarists – those who go through the Guitar Craft course – what we go for is an awareness of the group as a whole, not any one person directing the group. It's very different. The conductor is the composer's chief of police. An orchestra is not a group as I understand it.
GP – There's no spontaneous interaction.
RF – That's exactly right. And within an orchestra context, I severely doubt if members of the orchestra hear each other. So it becomes critically important to follow the conductor.
GP – However, the piece can come out exactly as written by the composer.
RF – Well, I have severe reservations about orchestral playing and orchestral music and the Western so-called classical system. The orchestra for me is a dinosaur. I went to see the London Symphonetta in Bournmouth, England, a couple of months ago, and they were quite remarkable. But the attempts to find ways of bringing this form of organization to life; I have major reservations.
GP – Is it because of the approach, the repertoire, or both?
RF – Both of those and a few more. I would find it very frustrating to be an orchestral player. There is a discipline in it, and one can respect the discipline and so on, but how awful that the only person expressing himself is the composer, with the conductor as the chief of police and the musicians as sequencers.
GP – So, it's analogous to a MIDI sequencer controlling many synthesizers.
RF – It would be performed more reliably, but obviously there would be something missing. The attempts with aleatoric [randomness] principles introducing chance into orchestral playing, and so on, is a way of bringing life back into it. I still have reservations with that. It's stuck. There is a cap on how far it can go. There is a cap on what it can do, Within the league of crafty guitarists, if we're playing in circle, the aim is not to follow any one person but to be sensitive to the group as a whole.
GP – You want not only to be hitting the downbeats at the right time, but you also want to be reacting to the others, forming impressions.
RF – Yes, that's right. One responds to the situation and the moment. But one can only be in the moment if one is sensitive. So, how does one get to that point of sensitivity. They don't even listen to themselves, let alone other people. But you see, one has to be able to divide one's attention in order to listen to other players, as well as oneself. And it's important to have an awareness of the audience.
GP – Do you think that a certain amount of this lack of awareness can be attributed to egocentricity?
RF – Yes, a considerable part of it.
GP – Aren't successful musicians often given an inflated view of their own worth from promoters, fans, etc.?
RF – I think this is a hangover from the romantic tradition of the last century. I'm not particularly romantic about artists. A good personality, even a strong personality, is important to the performer. But it's a question of being in relationship with it. The personality, in a sense, is an organ through which we live our lives. But to attach any more importance to it than another organ is silly. For example, if one says, "Look, here's my stomach, and I believe my stomach is everything," then there's a limited perspective. A good personality is important, but one has to be in the right relationship with it. One way of describing the personality is to say that it's the organ of digestion of experiences, to continue the analogy with the stomach. But one has to see that one's personality is not what one is. It's an organ through which I experience life. So, how can one come to see that? Years of observation, years of discipline.
GP – But in the meantime, musicians may be told they're #1 in the charts, everyone wants them on their records, and so forth. This positive reinforcement from external sources may be hard to cast off.
RF – Well, it depends on how clearly one sees what one is. For example, not long after I was born – I think I was between three and six months old – I had a clear moment of, I suppose you'd say waking up in my body. Here was a little Fripp baby in a pram and I saw quite clearly that this was the animal that I inhabited. So for me there was never any confusion: Robert Fripp is the animal I live inside. Then, in March 1976, when I was in retreat in England, as I was wheeling a wheelbarrow of compost in the garden, in a flash I saw quite clearly that Robert Fripp did not exist. Which is simply another way of saying that I saw the extent of Robert Fripp. Robert Fripp consists of a collection of impressions and experiences over a period of years that seem to have some coherence, but the level of coherence is very, very fragile. Nevertheless, there was "whoever I am" seeing, on two occasions – first this a creature I live in, and, second, this is the person that I inhabit. I have a clear perspective. This may sound strange, but for someone to flatter me doesn't touch me, because it's unreal.
GP – However, conditioning through flattery and reward go on from the time you're born, acting as positive reinforcement.
RF – What you're talking about with the kind of level of flattery and so on has to do with manipulation. And obviously, it occurs when one is younger. I've seen many situations within the music industry where people I'm working with are manipulated by drugs and flattery and all the bit. And sadly, not everyone I've worked with is in great shape. It's a very, very difficult job. One needs to be well-earthed. If one's heads are in the clouds, then one's feet need to be firmly placed in the earth. When I came to live in New York in 1977, I had three rules: ride on public transportation, do my own laundry, and do my own grocery shopping.
GP – To keep a firm grip on reality.
RF – Yeah. There would be few people in a laundromat in New York, or in a grocery store or on the subway to entertain anyone's bright aspirations of personal conceits. You know exactly where you stand. You're told very quickly. I found that useful. I'm nervous about one's life becoming distant by limousines and first class travel.
GP – At the opposite extreme, sometimes there are people in the same band who have everything done for them, and they travel separately, live separately, and never see each other except onstage and in the studio.
RF – The answer is they're not in the same band. They're in different worlds. There's only the form that seems to be together. But, why bother, if people loathe each other? And, obviously, anyone that one works with, perhaps, irritates one a little. But like and dislike are fairly cheap; I don't concern myself too much with that. If one can respect the person one's working with, and the music is good, then one can put up with quite a lot. But, if the music isn't nourishing, then life becomes difficult.
GP – Once the student has come to grips with his out-of-controlness with the left and right hands, what next?
RF – After the first basic left-hand exercise – the principles of succession, release, and simultaneous release – and the right-hand system of alternate picking, we then look in more detail at developing the left and the right hand. For example, with the right hand we move on to cross-picking. And I'm using a new standard tuning for the guitar to replace the E A D G B E. I'm not quite prepared to go public on it – very close to going public. It's a new standard tuning. However, it's not an altered tuning.
GP – It's not fourths all the way across, or anything like that?
RF – No, it's different, and I would say it's better than the old standard tuning. Infinitely better. So far 91 guitar students have worked with it, and I have adopted it and work with it all the time myself. It flew by while I was in a sauna in September 1983. Then I went down to Campaign-Urbana, Illinois, to work with Adrian Belew, and I tried it there, but I didn't develop it: I didn't work with it seriously until March 198?. So, the guitar students came along, and we put on the new standard tuning. This way everyone is beginning at the same point, whether they've had two years or twenty years of experience. It means one cannot run on automatic.
GP – You can't fall back on old stock licks.
RF -- That's right, you have to play intentionally. Now, we would be remarkable – if we could be with that amount of intention all the time.
GP – Wouldn't a new tuning each week help to maintain that level of concentration?
RF – Yes.
GP – Couldn't it also reach a point of muddling you?
RF – Yes, that as well. The point of this new standard tuning is that it's an infinitely better standard tuning than the old one, in terms of chords and single notes. It's a more rational system, and it sounds better. But the practical effect within the Guitar Craft course is that everyone is at the same point and they have to play intentionally. I have heard of some players that alter their tunings regularly in order to keep themselves fresh. I believe that is a valid approach. Adrian Belew has a new system of his own [Ed. Note: On some songs, Belew uses E A D A B E, low to high: for more on his tuning, se Jan '84 Guitar Player.] But it's not an organized standard tuning system quite like the one I'm using.
GP – After playing in the widely used tuning for many years, how far can you divorce yourself from your original concepts?
RF – That depends on how much work you're going to put into it. You see, if one puts attention into what one's doing, the effect is to invest an awful lot now for the future. The older one gets, ten probably the greater effort one has to make. But I find that it's becoming difficult to go back to the old standard tuning – and I've been playing with the old standard tuning for over 27 years. If one puts attention in, then that means one's putting in a lot of high-grade energy, and an awful lot can be done.
GP – To induce a guitarist to abandon his old system for a new one, there would have to be many superior attributes to the new system. Does your new system facilitate new intervals or harmonies that aren't readily available in standard tuning.
RF – Yes, that's part of it. It's more effective. It's a more rational system, but it's also better sounding – better for chords, better for single notes.
GP – It doesn't use a 31 note per octave fret scheme or anything exotic like that?
RF – No.
GP – So, you still use the standard 12-tone equal temperament. [Ed. Note: Equal temperament is our modern system in which all half-tones are equal, and therefore all intervals except the octave are slightly out of tune. This allows music to be performed in any key with complete freedom.]
RF – Yes. Well, I mean, the guitar isn't in equal temperament. Supposedly, it is, but it's not at all. The intonation varies up and down the fingerboard. Someone with a sensitive ear could not possibly play a minor third on the first fret. Couldn't do it. It torments my ears. I can't bear intervals on the first fret, by and large. If one is using, for example, the old standard tuning. If it's going to be an E-major, with G# on the third string, first fret, and E on the bottom, I can't bear the sound of it. It's so off. In the old standard tuning, what I would always do is take the G# on the fifth string [eleventh fret]. That's how I would handle it. Or I would take it at the sixth fret on the fourth string, with the E in the bass. As I moved up the fingerboard, the intonation changed such that my ear could accommodate it. For my own tuning, I use perfect intervals in fourths, fifths and octaves. I think every player finds his own way on guitar. They wouldn't necessarily call it Pythagorean temperament or just temperament or equal temperament. It's just some ears can't bear, for example, major thirds. I find it very difficult to listen to major thirds, by and large.
GP – Is it easier to listen, say, to a minor third?
RF – Sure, minor thirds or perfect intervals. And I can't bear equal-tempered pianos; they sound quite wrong to me. In fact, in England it was only after 1850 that organ players began to build organs effectively with equal temperament. Many of the forms of musical organization are made possible by equal temperament, although an orchestra doesn't play in equal temperament. The only instrument that probably does is piano.
GP – Fretless string instruments such as cello and string bass allow you to compensate.
RF – Yes. Stravinsky used sharps and flats to designate different pitches, realizing that although the notes may be enharmonic in practice, if you write in a flat, it's going to be flatter than if you write in the enharmonic sharp note. [Ed. Note: In standard notation, enharmonically equivalent notes are two names for the same pitch; e.g., C-sharp equals D-flat, etc.] With a sharp, you're going to pitch slightly over, while with a flat, you're going to pitch slightly under. So if you wanted a descending string line to be a bit sharper, then instead of writing the notes down as flats, you write them going down in sharps.
GP – In acquiring facility with your new tuning, does one simply discard their former repertoire?
RF – Yes. It's a wonderful opportunity to begin again. If you want to rewrite or reposition your former work, fine. One of the guitar students set himself to work with the old tuning and the new one, and to relearn all his licks, runs, and patterns. He's also working on a chord encyclopedia for the new standard tuning. That's wonderful; anything he wants to keep he can, he can keep, and anything he wants to drop, he can drop completely.
GP – But, as you become comfortable with the new tuning, doesn't one the risk of falling back on stock patterns all over again?
RF – Yes, certainly. There is always a tendency to work at the lowest level of intensity that the situation will permit. We call it laziness. So, the question is: "How can one remain alive?" Well, there are two prime techniques. One is shock – working with shocks. And the other is to work with challenges. For example, let's deal with shock. The sound of the electric fan over there is particularly irritating, but instead of thinking, "Oh, boy, that's irritating," and become cross and angry, I can use that as an opportunity to keep me awake when I'm answering these questions, rather than nodding off into a nice routine interview. But within a short time we'll both be used to that sound and we won't hear it anymore. So, one can work with shocks in the short term, although it's limited. The other technique is to organize a challenge beyond that which we can comfortably reach. So, for me it's taking on more guitar students than I can handle, because there's no way I could deal with that number of guitar students and work on automatic. Once you can do a guitar seminar with too many students, then do two back-to-back. And then once you can do two Crafty Guitar courses back-to-back with too many students, put a seminar in the middle: a weekend of music for non-musicians. There's always a challenge one can set to take oneself the coasting level.
GP – Do you plan to print any of your concepts?
RF – Yes, I'm writing them up and will be going public with them fairly shortly. At Claymont, the different ideas and talks given in the guitar seminars will be published in the Guitar Craft monograph series. I would think in early 1986. The course is very, very practical; it's not particularly theoretical, and level 1 doesn't talk about music theory, for example. It focuses purely on the discipline of producing a sound, the music as a quality of organized sound. Rather than moving onto syntax and semantics, we begin with sonology – how to produce a sound – and what's involved in coming into a relationship with the hands. The forms of organization of music, I think, will be part of the level 2. We examine many things. What is the implication of basing a form of music on asymmetry, rather than symmetrical principles? Or, what's the implication of building a formal structure on the golden mean [a geometrical proportion] and Fibonacci progressions [a series based on he addition of 1 and 1, followed by a succession of numbers that are the sum of the two preceding numbers], rather than on traditional formal symmetry of the Western classical tradition? Again, what would the implication of working on 5 rather than 4 beats be?
GP – You wouldn't get much pop radio play.
RF – Well, that's probably true.
GP – In the context of rock and roll, for example, everything revolves around 4.
RF – Well, there's 4 (taps 4 with one hand while tapping 5 with the other). It's not being denied; it's still there. It's a fundamental pulse.
GP – Don't people generally want a strong primary pulse, rather than an implied or subjugated beat? After all, such a firm 4/4 beat is all around them, on the radio, TV records…
RF – Well, it's very difficult to speak on behalf of what people want.
GP – It maybe more of what they're used to.
RF – Yes, well, pulse is fundamental. (Holding index finger to his wrist.) There we are. Everything comes back to our [pulse?]. It's fundamental time. Then you have a time signature, which might be 5/8, which is a form of organizing the pulse. And there's tempo, the speed at which the fundamental pulse is moving. Then you have timing, which interrupts and stresses certain discontinuities in order to express meaning. So, fundamental pulse – for me – comes from the body. Time signature, the organization of time, is help by the mind. Formal structures and timing are generally the heart – to know exactly the right moment to stress a mild discontinuity.
GP – It would largely be up to musicians to open up people's minds to complex syncopation or meters such as 13/8, 5/4, and so on. However, such non-dance-oriented irregularities can make it hard for a musician to get gigs, a record contract, airplay, or other means of making a living.
RF – To answer a question like that at a Guitar Craft course, I'd refer back to a diagram of the music system which we would discuss on the first evening. To begin with, there's music, and then, if you like, we have the musician. And what is involved in the musician developing a relationship with music? Well, there are comes a period of time when one has to introduce the third element of the audience, to bring the relationship to life. So, the musician begins to develop a relationship with music and take that relationship further. He has to play in front of people for a good reason. One needs the energy of the audience. If one wishes to take one's relationship with music further than that, you have to introduce a fourth element, which is the music industry. So, you have these four elements: music, the musician, the audience, and the industry. No, how can I put this quickly? Any three-term system works in six different ways. If you introduce a fourth term – the industry – you have four triads, or three-term systems; so the are 24 different triadic qualities present in a four-term system.
GP – In other words the life of the professional musician is a lot more complicated than the life of the amateur musician?
RF – Yes. Now if one goes into this with one's eyes open, you can plot what is involved in being a professional musician. When I came to New York in 197?, I set myself quite deliberately to develop a relationship with the record industry – to see from their point of view. Part of the professional musician's craft involves developing a relationship with the music, the audience, and the music industry. There are constraints and opportunities because of that. But once again, it's only on the level of craft, in the same way that one develops one's vocabulary as a musician so that one has resources at one's disposal. Because you know what it means to play in the Mixolydian scale doesn't mean that you're going to be any good. It means you're going to be able to play the Mixolydian scale. The craft of the professional musician, as opposed to the craft of the amateur musician, is more complex. But it's still craft. And there are opportunities and limitations as part of it – within that. The point is that one has to rise above craft, and the quality of music, I suppose we say, now becomes available to the artist.
GP – There seem to be so many pitfalls for the potential artist when they reach the music industry after years of musical training.
RF – Well, the training for the musician isn't necessarily the training of the performer. Nevertheless, the professional has to learn performance, and so does the amateur. At a certain level, craft becomes an art. So, purely by hard work, one can become an artist. It's a remarkable thing. We still have these romantic notions of the artist being some select god-like individual with direct contact with the muses. A few do, but it's not like that for most of us. By hard work, we can put ourselves in a position where we have a direct relationship with the quality of music. For me, art is the capacity to re-experience one's innocence; in other words, to simply be who you are. Now, there are a number of different ways of becoming who you are. One doesn't necessarily have to go the route of music, but music and guitar give you very direct information on, for example, your attention span, sensitivity and so on. And one can discover the person one is by working on the discipline of being a musician. If one works at a sufficient intensity, one's personal state changes. And at the point at which our state changes, art is available. It took me a long time to see how real that is. Hard work is never enough. Well, it's not, but it is. By working hard enough, at a certain point, the way in which one works changes. And that's the point at which hard work is irrelevant, in a sense. But you need the hard work to get you there. So, I simply say that one can't approach art directly. And at the point at which craft becomes an art, the quality of music is there waiting.
GP – Craft multiples your means of expression.
RF – That's part of the offshoot of it. But that's not, for me, the prime thing. By working on the craft side of things, one's personal state changes. And at that point, it's not a question of expressing oneself. One is whoever one is.
GP – How did you convince the record companies to release something that falls as far outside the mainstream as I Advance Masked with Andy Summers?
RF – Well, there's the commercial side of it. I divide the music industry into three divisions. The first is the area with mass and popular culture; the second is where one is a craftsman who can earn an honorable living; and the third area is the area of research and development, arts and crafts and so on. And each of the divisions has its own divisions. I would say the I Advanced Masked album was a matter of research and development and arts and crafts, and of professional musicians working honorably. If you make an album for $5,000 and sell 100,000 copies, then it's commercially feasible. If you made the same album for $150,000, it would be a disaster. But if you work in a good garage studio, with two musicians playing together – then it needn't be an expensive item. And because of that, you can release it. You don't have to undertake hugely expensive promotional campaigns. It's good work and it will find its own level. I think it's absurd, for example, that you spend $350,000 to make an album and then $250,000 to make the video of the single. That's absurd. At that level, you have to sell 750,000 copies before you break even. That's madness.
RF – That's an awfully big gamble for a group. It puts a lot of pressure onto the music, which the music might not be able to handle on its own level. To come back to what we were talking about earlier, regarding the craft of the professional musician, the economics of the proposition we just discussed are stupid. It's bad craftsmanship.
GP – However, many musicians are not particularly strong in areas of economics, management, and other business aspects – especially on a world-class scale.
RF – There it's up to a manager. You see, if a band is very successful, and they don't get on, then one way of dealing with the successful band, getting the records out even though they loathe each other, is to hire a recording studio that has three studios for 24 hours a day for three months. The drummer will do the drumming, and then send it to the next studio where the bass player will put on the bass part, and so on. So everything is remote. Well, what happens is the album is very expensive. Because it's expensive and the band don't really like each other – it's not a group – generally, the album stinks. So, then you have to launch heavy campaigns to get it off, and you spend a fortune on the video. Well, the whole thing becomes arbitrary. This is not how I wish to live my life.
GP – With King Crimson, did you have more money and/or time than with Andy Summers?
RF – Yes, the budget was higher; the time spent was more. With only Andy and myself, we'd sit down and lay anything at all for a week and record it on a running tape. And after a week of having thrown out ideas, we'd assess the ideas and develop and rehearse those which particularly struck us. With Crimson, my feeling is that one should take the material on the road first, and then record. So you write the material, rehearse it, take it on the road, and then come in and record it. Which was how we worked with Discipline. It was recorded and mixed and done completely in three weeks. So, it was a very cheap album. The other two albums [Beat and Three of a Perfect Pair] were different. They were more expensive, they were harder to make, and the material, by and large, was not played live prior to recording – which, in my view, is a considerable error. But my opinion – contrary to a lot of popular belief – was only one among four, and generally one against three. The way I envisioned the group was probably true for the first year with this group, 1981, but not for the rest. So the other albums were more expensive and, in my view, not nearly as good.
GP – You believe that you should work out the feel of the music in advance.
RF – That's exactly right. How can you get a feel otherwise? If you take the music on the road, the music goes into the body. So, when you get into the studio, your attention is not only on purely producing the notes. Your attention is available for the quality of music and the interaction between the musicians. If you're simply learning music and playing in a studio, it hasn't gotten to that point. In other words, the music isn't breathing; the music hasn't come alive on its on.
GP – By working in a small studio, where you aren't paying hundreds of dollars per hour, do you feel that you have a lot more freedom or less pressure to produce.
RF – It depends on the artist. Some need that particular tension to make them work. I'm what's called a self-starter. I don't need, if you like, arbitrary tension to make me work. The demand of the music is sufficient for me. I work better knowing that the record isn't costing a fortune, because if it costs a quarter of a million, then the record company will expect – I think reasonably – that you're going to support the record. So that means you must go out and do the interviews, tour and all the rest of it. And this puts a certain strain on the music, which the music may not bear. So, if I go to Arny's Shack and make a very good album for $10,000, it only sell 10,000 copies. It might sell more. Thanks purely the economics of it. The point is, I can make a record I wish to make on its own terms. It'll rise to the level to which it rises.
GP – Why did you choose the lineup of King Crimson?
RF -- I wanted the best performing live rock band in the world. I wanted the first division. I wanted the best. I was just coming out of The League Of Gentlemen, which was a wonderful little bopping band, but it was unprofessional.
GP – It had a very loose feel.
RF – Yes - which was fine. Except I don't like going on-stage with people that are drinking beer. It simply takes the edge off. I want to go on-stage with the commitment to play – not to drink beer and play, for example. I wanted higher standards. So I called the best. The intention was not to reform King Crimson. We had the band together, and while driving to rehearsal, I became aware that the identity of King Crimson was available to these musicians. Simply that. We worked in Europe under the name of Discipline, but it became fairly apparent that we were King Crimson, so we accepted the name.
GP – You even had a band with two full-time guitarists. Why this one?
RF – Well, I suppose the quick answer is that it was the right combination. It couldn't have been any two guitarists. Adrian was the man. To say that Adrian Belew is a guitarist is kind of not quite putting it right. To say that Bill Bruford is a drummer isn't quite putting it right. To say Tony Levin's a bass player isn't quite putting it right. That was the grouping of people, and I had specific musical ideas. A particular kind of spirit of the music was quite real for me, and at the same time, I couldn't really tell people what to play. But you find by working with musicians that there are different ways of techniques for coming up with the forms of organizing sound. For instance, if you concentrate very closely on a particular idea in an intense and sensitive atmosphere working with another musician, then within a fairly short period of time – it might be days, it might be a week, it might be a month – the other musician begins to play the idea you've been concentrating on. Now, there's no way to say, "Good if I'd shown you that you would have not played it, but now you've come up with it and you believe it's your own," so you simply say, "That's wonderful, great." And there are other psychological techniques -- to put oneself in the place of other musicians, and so on. But if you work together as a group, you develop a group mind. You're all plugged into each other, and something emerges. I had a very clear sense of what the band should sound like. And in 1981, the band sounded like that, although at the same time it was a product of everyone. But I was emanating how the band should sound, so that no words had to be said. After that, the other guys had ideas of what they wanted in the band, and for me it went off course, frankly because it became a group of individuals, rather than a band.
GP – When one person goes off to do a solo album, do you feel he is running out on the band or weakening it?
RF – I think it's wonderful; I have no objection with that. What I object to is the person trying to make a group's record his solo project, so that an individual's music purports to be the group's music. For example, a Robert Fripp solo album should be a Robert Fripp solo album, not Robert Fripp doing his solo in King Crimson. So, King Crimson's policy was always to encourage all its musicians to work with others as much as possible. The more you can be with someone else, the more you can be with yourself. There's no differentiation. I think it only enables one to grow. And if one has a bee in one's bonnet – on the pure and practical level – about a particular sound idea, then best to do it on your own, rather than impose it on the group.