Interview with Robert Fripp in Live! Music Review

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An interview with Robert Fripp conducted by Lindsay Planer (mkelly at river dot netrover dot com), a music journalist based in Toronto, Ontario. The interview was for "Live! Music Review" magazine, Oct/Nov 1998 issue.

Lindsay Planer talks to Robert Fripp

Robert Fripp is certainly no stranger to the art of bootlegging. Wearing the hat of both a Crim-head, as well as, a boot devotee, one often considered the benefits of getting the goods from within Fripps's own tape vaults- which have acquired Zanadu-like mythical proportions. The litigation that Fripp suffered through, for the better part of a decade, has made him wiser. In addition, the passion which Fripp has held at the very core of his entire career as a self-proclaimed "working musician," has remained undimmed by experiences that would have bested some bands [read: The Beatles]. Fripp's decision to create the Discipline Global Mobile Collectors' Club was made only a few weeks prior to this interview - which took place in Fripp's Hotel suite in Montreal on July 10, 1998. As most occurrences in life, this day fell between two important anniversaries for Fripp and King Crimson. The first occurred on the previous evening - the final ProjKCt Two performance [note: ProjKCt Two is the second fractalization of members within King Crimson. Details below.] In addition, the following day would mark the 14th anniversary of the final live performance of the '80s version of Crim. Might I also recommend an article penned by Fripp, titled "Bootlegs, Royalties and the Moment," - which appeared in "Musician" magazine [Nov. '79] and is often quoted when debating the bootleg issue.

LP: What were the responses from former and current band members of KC to the idea that you were now going to spend concerted time and effort on the Discipline Collector's Club?

RF: Adrian [Belew], immediately offered to make materials available. Trey [Gunn] is considering various possibilities as well. Tony[Levin], I just ran the idea past, last week. I have yet to speak to either Pat [Mastelotto] or Bill [Bruford] and present them with my current plans for Crimson. In terms of former or earlier members, I think the principle has been generally accepted that archive material is being made available, and generally that's been supported. I mentioned the Collector's Club to John Wetton because he was about to release his own [archive material]. I suggested that he might be interested in the Discipline Collector's Club. So, by in large, the response so far has been favorable. I doubt that the musicians are as excited as some of the enthusiasts. In the life of a musician, this was [just] a day in their life. [Now] they live in the present day.

LP: Will the Discipline Collector's Club be different from releases such as Epitaph or Absent Lovers?

RF: Yes.

LP: So you will continue both simultaneously?

RF: There are three divisions in Discipline Global Mobile. The 1st is access to the mainstream, popular culture, if you like. Not mass culture, but popular culture. That means in practice that we can put records in record shops. But given that most record shops, particularly high street stores [i.e. Tower and HMV] aren't interested in Discipline's lesser known artists like Matt Seattle, for example. He's just reconnected and reviving the boarder pipe tradition which has been lost for almost 250 years. It's very important musically, but some of the higher priced stores like Virgin Megastore on Oxford Street in London don't stock it. So, the first division means we can put records in shops. However, if you put records in shops that don't sell they get sent back damaged and with a bill. Therefore, on the 2nd level, we have mail order. The more specialized record shops we can and do supply. But for a public, a listening community with open ears, and seeking music with open ears (to mix a metaphor) Discipline's mail order is available on that level and is quite successful in both Europe and America. On the 3rd level, you have items that an informed, supportive, general audience may or may not actually be particularly interested in. Such as a classic archive performance where the sound is not particularly good, but is indicative of a particular stage in the process of a band's life. Or, a number of performances in a tour - possibly every night of a tour. The Detroit audience would, perhaps, be more interested in hearing that show which they attended, than a Chicago audience would be. Plus, you also have the opportunity, on this third level, of presenting snapshots of process. This may manifest as rehearsal tapes, various takes of the same piece throughout a tour, one piece played seven times in a period of eight days in order to see how much it's moved. Or, perhaps interviews with the musicians. So, one assumes a more limited number of people who are interested. To make sense it needs to be 1,000 in both America and Europe.

LP: Combined?

RF: No, separately. Which means you can press up limited runs in each place and make it feasible. On the strength of our current support and feedback, that would seem to be feasible.

LP: Did the 'open arms' response to your four-disc "Epitaph" release surprise you? Or, did you feel as if that was the response from your audience?

RF: I felt it was a tremendous piece of work. David Singleton's [Fripp's recording engineer] work and restorations were quite heroic. Because the original audio sources were, for the most part, so appalling - we didn't believe it would be possible for the 3rd and 4th volumes to be of any releaseable standard. This is in contrast to the performances used for the subsequent releases - "The Night Watch," and "Absent Lovers," - which can hold their own. With the "Great Deceiver," [box set] the license period with Virgin is now expired. It's reverted back to Discipline and we're currently looking at whether simply to reprint and re-release the package. Or to re-mix it, or to re-release it in some form. Box-sets are not easily displayed in record shops. So what we are doing, is looking at putting together and publishing the King Crimson scrap book. So you'll have a lot of the actual written and visual material available in the scrap book. Which would incorporate much of the material ready in sleeve notes but in a more convenient form which would enable us then to release the box-sets in a smaller more convenient audio format.

LP: Would you do the same with your "Frame By Frame" box?

RF: "Frame by Frame," is with Virgin. The rights to the studio albums were sold by EG to Virgin and that's the litigation which came to an end last September.

LP: In your favor?

RF: The quick answer is everyone loses, EG loses, Virgin loses, BMG loses, King Crimson and Fripp lose, as well as the audience - everyone loses. The question is how to turn the same disadvantage to your advantage. This is where the life of the working musician or anyone becomes interesting, because, normal day-to-day lives are filled with so much grief, spoiling, waste, conditions unsuitable for a human being - if you like - that if this were all that life provided we would give up. So, the question is how to turn this around. For me, I would not have gone into constructing a record company unless it had been completely necessary.

One of the advantages that has come out of the seven years of litigation and dispute is quite apart from my continuing education as a working musician. I have had to recreate the second half of my professional life with the commitment and energy which informed the first half. I would not have considered this possible. A young man of 21, setting off to conquer the world, has a particular energy - not only sheer physical energy - but also being unaware of the obstacles that one will encounter. This enables you to ride, if you will, through at least a proportion of them.

LP: Ignorance is bliss?

RF: Not quite that. More like an uninformed innocence. When you become older, your innocence has to be recreated in every moment. So, unless it is, you become only a professional. For me, the life of a professional musician holds very little interest. The difficulty in working with professional musicians is they know what they are doing. Subsequently, they do what they know. This means that the unknowable, in other words, the creative life becomes out of one's grasp. But, see, it is only at that point that my life becomes of interest.

LP: That would be where the FraKCtals become involved and integrated.

RF: Yes, precisely.

LP: OK, before we discuss the fraKCtal-ization of KC, let's conclude our discussion about the Discipline Collector's Club releases and the impetus behind it.

RF: Yes, lets. Allow me to distinguish the differences between mail-order releases vs. "The Night Watch," and "Absent Lovers," [which are available in most stores] and discs that will be available via the Discipline Collector's Club. Many releases will only become available through membership in the club. These wouldn't even go through the normal mail-order situation. Depending on how the club evolves, a few releases may have feedback indicating ' hey, this should go further.' In which case, conceivably, we'd re-work it, perhaps, to a shop or mail-order standard. Not all the club releases will or can be up to that standard. Because, for example, with "Epitaph," four full months work was put into reviving those tapes. You can't put four months work into a 'Club Only' release. So, some of the club releases might act as sort of test runs for future releases, if the club membership thinks they are valuable. In that sense, the Discipline Collector's Club will be a form of pre-release. However, again, this depends entirely on how the club evolves, you see.

LP: What is your timeline for the release of discs in the Club?

RF: On October 1st, 1998, the first disc will be available. The performance will very probably be ProjKCt One in London. There are four shows all recorded and we have rough mixes, which, are not pristine mixes, but they are very good.

LP: As good as "B'Boom," sonically?

RF: No, the sound is probably better. What we will do for 1st and 2nd division releases is have a one disc version. An abridged version. But there is a value to sitting through all four days and actually hearing when it goes up and when it goes down. Just going through the process is valuable. But, for that you really do need enthusiasts. So possibly the first Discipline Collector's Club choice for the month, will be maybe the 1st and 4th nights - with maybe the 2nd and 3rd nights as options. We might have bi-monthly releases that we, as in a book club think every member will be interested in. Or, you can write to us to say, 'no, we don't want this one.' Then, we will have optional releases that might not appeal to every member, such as obscure Frippertronics performances from '79, or Giles, Giles and Fripp sessions. I have the masters of all of this stuff =85 it's just waiting. Another possibility are live recordings from all of the early '70s versions of the band. We have the eight-track masters of a heavily bootlegged show at Point Studios, as well.

LP: Is that the show that you deride the sponsor of the broadcast, live on the air? It was Coke or Pepsi?

RF: (laughs) I believe that I may have made comments to that effect.

LP: Your views on bootleg recordings and unauthorized material becoming available has been widely documented. Would it be a fair statement to say that you are against practically every aspect of their existence?

RF: Yes, that would be accurate.

LP: However, couldn't you consider these unauthorized recordings a barometer by which your most receptive audience is measured?

RF: [long pause] Once again, it is a question of turning a seeming disadvantage to one's advantage. Generally, my views on bootlegging are not appreciated. At least the views on the commentary that I see. The act of bootlegging actually changes the performance. This is in a very subtle area. Someone at the back of a packed club or theater might say 'well, Fripp can't see what I am doing. How can my actions change anything?' The answer is that the atmosphere is altered. On several occasions in my life, as a working musician - I can think of two instantly - one was in Buenos Aires in the autumn of '94 - Crimson were playing on stage. Everything was fine and then suddenly the music died on the inside. It just died!

Of course the sound was continuing and the performance was continuing just on the inside, the music had died. I later learned of a situation that had happened in the front-of-house [read: audience] beyond the so-called walls that I could not have possibly seen. I'm just giving this as an example. Plus, in many other small, but subtle and significant ways - over a period of 37 years plus of climbing into the back of vans and setting off for gigs. [long pause] I've found the heart of the act of music is a very subtle and finely balanced affair. How the audience think, feel, and their general behavior radically alters the performance. Now, on a professional level everything goes on. The audience get up and cheer. The musicians acknowledge the audience, three encores (chuckle), they get paid and go home. However, that isn't where value occurs. And anything that prevents all spoils, the potential within a performance is, for me, appalling. The continued undermining of the event by small but subtle and significant actions like recording or photography, even without flash, undermines the performance and can be experienced. You don't always know what is going on. But you know something's going on. So, in terms of 'social barometers' -- I guess -- graffiti is one indication -- Bill Bruford and I were driving in Canada, I think in 1973 or 4, and we looked and saw graffiti. Bill said words to the effect of 'graffiti is a good social barometer.' I agree. Another good social barometer is pornography. Both indicate a certain something in society. Interestingly, both graffiti and pornography began roughly at the same time. As I understand it they both began in the early '70s. Both would be an expression of freedom, nominally, but terribly off course. Funny, "Emmanuelle," which was one of the first so-called acceptable soft-core films stole music from "Larks Tongues In Aspic." Which became a nice out-of-court settlement (laughs). So, in terms of various forms of behavior which are less than we might aspire to =85 they do provide indications of society or culture. They provide a barometer, but it doesn't mean that the conduct is, in itself, either acceptable or desirable.

LP: Now, let's move forward to the '80s version of KC.

RF: Because of the degree of expectation that comes with the reinvention, reincarnation or whatever, of Crimson, I was quite loathe of the idea of reformation under the guise of King Crimson - if you want to put it that way. So, the working name of the group became Discipline. Our 1st rehearsals were conducted at Bill Bruford's house, near Gilford. I was staying in a pub nearby and driving the four miles to Bill's. I was driving over this country lane, and going up the hill I became aware, on my left, of the presence of King Crimson. I liken it to the exercise of sitting in a room, with your eyes closed and with several friends. Each of these friends, in turn, walks out of the room and comes in again. With your eyes closed, you have to feel and sense which of your friends have left - because of the particular quality and identity the individuality of that person coming and going. Which is another way of saying, if King Crimson appears, I know who it is. I was aware of the presence of King Crimson to my left and up. So, to put it simply, King Crimson had availed itself to this band - if the band wished to accept that. The final decision to accept the name was - after being agreed upon by only Bill, Adrian and myself - Tony Levin climbed into the VW bus in Paris to set off. We had just performed some shows as Discipline, with 'ex-King Crimson' in large letters underneath (chuckles), and we mentioned it to him and he said 'Fine, never liked the name Discipline anyway.' So that was that.

LP: What were your initial sonic and visual impressions of Tony and Ade?

RF: Hmm ... Well, I first saw, heard and met Tony Levin in Toronto in September of 1976 during sessions for the 1st Peter Gabriel album. We got on quite well, and he invited me up to visit him in Woodstock, NY. I actually moved and lived in New York City in February of 1977. Then worked again with Tony on the subsequent Peter Gabriel tour during the spring of '77. In developing my friendship with him, he worked on my first solo album "Exposure." He was the 1st choice for Discipline/Crimson in '81. He initially decided not to join. He phoned me from Paris to say so. Adrian joined, then decided not to join, as well. [All this happened] about the same time. Then, in an instant, it fell together. It was interesting they both declined. But within a month we were in rehearsal.

LP: How did the Double-Trio incarnation of Crimson occur to you?

RF: For me, the '94 Crimson functioned as a bridge, a platform, and a springboard to the future. That poised in the middle it was looking both ways. As a bridge, platform and springboard, its' form was radical. But, the music which is waiting to be played has not been played yet. Frankly, it took about a year-and-a-half before we began to learn to play together. I mean, it is remarkably complex playing with five other musicians. And the idea of a double-trio, as such, was conceived in a flash as I was driving past the church in the Wiltshire village, where I live. In terms of exploring the double-trio format, single trios, quartets, and all the rest of the available material we haven't anywhere come near approaching. The most recent Crimson tour which came into America I hated. The only part which I actually enjoyed was the H.O.R.D.E. tour. The difficulty for me with the tour was that everybody knew what we were playing. The agents, our manager, the musicians, the road managers -- all knew what we were doing.

The difficulty with knowing what you are doing is that you tend to do it. It was only when we got to H.O.R.D.E. that were playing to audience members that really had no idea who and what we were. So, as Bill said: 'I looked up and saw two young men running from the front of the stage with their hands over their ears,' and this is the introduction to Crimson audiences which we remember. To be playing to the converted and the faithful - a gradually maturing people whose wives hate it and drag their husbands' out after forty minutes - has little appeal. I am more interested in innocent ears. Whether they be innocent because they never have heard the band. Or, whether they're innocent because it's the assumption of innocence within the context of experience. The two are quite different.

LP: So going back to '94, the band acted as a bridge, platform and springboard to where the band is now, in a state of FraKCtals.

RF: Precisely. However, for any form to remain as a vehicle for anything of value, then the inside has to continually be recreated, rediscovered and reinvented. And the difficulty working with professional musicians is, they do what they know and they do it very well. So, it becomes a question of continually shaking things up so they refuse to fix. Or, if they do fix, know how to unfix them. This is the current state of the band. I feel that probably my sense of what Crimson is =85 I'm not certain if everyone in the band shares it, let's say. I know Bill has some reservations about suggestions I've made to him. Nevertheless, the fraKCtalizing, from my point of view, is exciting and validates the idea. I was listening to the board mix of ProjeKCt two in Detroit. During the final 25 minutes, or so, I realized that what I was listening to was King Crimson. Probably the assumption that the whole informs the parts and the parts inform the whole. These ideas, which turn up both in science, philosophy and mysticism are fairly accepted nowadays. So, that would mean than any fractal of Crimson - if it is a genuine fractal of the band - is actually speaking on behalf of the band and re-informing the whole of that entity, right? So, on this occasion, here I was listening to King Crimson. At the beginning I was listening to projeKCt Two, and at the end I was listening to Crimson. From that experience, I thought 'well, this is King Crimson - a single trio.' If you look at the six men and the various configurations, you actually have a number of quartets. So, it would be entirely possible that you could have King Crimson, a quartet. Or, King Crimson, a quintet. Or, a double trio, or a single trio. Provided that it retains all the flavor of Crimson. This is not something that one could arbitrarily invent. I have a sense of Crimson's next work, but I have no idea how the others will accept the ideas.

LP: In a bast case scenario, what would you like for Crimson to take from being FraKCtalized?

RF: True. True. True. Truth is indivisible. Is this real? Is this right? Is this necessary?

Since this interview, the announcement has been made that the Discipline Collector's Club debut release will in fact be, King Crimson at the Marquee Club (circa 1969). To find out more information about membership into the Discipline Collector's Club and other items available from DGM check out their web site at or drop 'em a line @ DGM P.O. Box 5282, Beverly Hills, CA. 90209 or for European inquiries, DGM P.O. Box 1718, Salisbury, Wiltshire, SP5 5SW.