Robert Fripp | 3.4.06

He went through three different loop sequences, each an entirely different motif, before saying a word. Or for that matter, before anyone knew to clap.


Blueberry Hill, St. Louis

Robert Fripp is one of the great innovators of the electric guitar, tracing all the way back to his work with King Crimson in the heyday of progressive rock, and this night’s show—in the 300-person capacity Duck Room—was an amazingly intimate and revealing setting in which to experience his creativity firsthand. Combining experimental playing with rhetoric, Fripp’s performance turned out to be a quite humorous Q&A session.

Fripp began with a long, slow note of a cello string section emanating only from the back surround sound speakers. Playing a custom Les Paul equipped with a digital pickup, Fripp was able to produce any sound a keyboard could, while keeping a separate signal solely for the electric guitar sound. He would then take a real-time recorder and create a musical phrase that would repeat in a loop. After building an ongoing harmony, he would layer new melodies and instrument sounds on top with additional loops and long delays. To this spectrum of undulating and intertwining notes, he would improvise with the “natural” sound of the electric guitar. The result mimicked the fractal patterns constantly changing on the projector screen behind him.

The crowd began to sway; any time you undertake a long look at a lava lamp, you should really have a chair handy. This is how I imagine Fripp’s approach to making his art: Picture a rectangular reflecting pool with a single, slow repetitive drip in one corner. You watch the pattern of light and shadow on the bottom of the pool as the ripples caused by the drip bounce off the sides, only to intersect with the newly created ripples. This is the point where Fripp would add another drop—but probably add food dye, too, and another light source. The cinematic approach taken for his ongoing soundscapes project would seemingly make him a perfect candidate for resident composer of the National Geographic or Discovery channels. He went through three different loop sequences, each an entirely different motif, before saying a word. Or for that matter, before anyone knew to clap.

He then displayed his wit and charm by opening up a Riverfront Times and letting the audience know what else they might have spent their hard earned money on tonight. After noting the low price of a steak dinner at the east side strip clubs, Fripp took a moment to read out the quality relationship advice. Once the laughs settled, he opened the floor to questions, but set out several criteria for the quality of the questions. Apparently people from Missouri still need to been shown what he meant, as the first two geniuses offered, “What question do you hate to hear most?” and “Has anyone ever asked you to play some Skynyrd?” Fripp then pointed out that, as with everything in this world, there are set costs based on how important a service is to you, so a democratically agreed sum of money was decided upon, and audience members had to deliver that sum to the stage in order to get an answer. The same held true for any requests to play old King Crimson tunes.

More reasonable questions brought his point to the surface. When asked about reunion tours and his business roles and responsibilities, he spoke of the difficulty and energy required. There is an unending series of tasks involved in the creativity and management and performance at a world-class level, but it is the energy required by the fans that becomes too demanding at times. He coined the term “consumer rights” to describe the sense of entitlement that some fans feel toward him or anybody else who has achieved a certain level of fame.

All in all, it was a very interesting evening exploring the nature of music as art, the relationship between art and finance, and the intensity with which it can touch people’s lives.

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