Perfect Sound Forever
original Crimsons today
from left: Fripp, Giles, Lake, McDonald- photo by Matthew Martens

'When you know what you're doing, you don't know what you're doing'

Q: Is there an abbreviated version of the story about your former manager other than the lengthy version that appears in Epitath?

FRIPP: THAT's the abbreviated one! That's the one that could stand up in a libel court and I wouldn't even have to twitch. The release of Epitath couldn't be held up by an injunction. If you think that a faint aroma, you should see the documents and get into the real stuff. The original relationship with E.G. Management established new standards in terms of relations between musicians and management. As my relationship ended, the artist served the manager. In the original construct, E.G. Records and E.G. Music the publishing house acted as a means of defence for the artist and a major. For example, King Crimson produced a record for E.G. Productions. The copyrights were owned 70-30 between the artists and the manager. This is released through E.G. Records who has a licensing deal in England with Island and Atlantic Records in America. If for any reason, there was a breakdown in relationship then Island or Atlantic would sue E.G. Records, not King Crimson who were free to record in some other fashion then rather than get mired down.

Reading in MUSICIAN about Metallica's out-of-court settlement, they, after selling 30-40 million records, GET TO OWN THE MASTERS THEMSELVES? Wow, what a novelty that might be! With Discipline Moblie Globile, the artists own the copyrights. David Geffen sold Geffen Records for 450 million dollars. Did he make a record? Alright then, the people who did make records- how much of the 450 million did they get? Is there something in this equation that doesn't quite convince? So the original relationship between Crimson and E.G. Management set up was of a quality and participation (where) there was equity between the artist and the managers and the record company and the publisher which protected them from outside predators. In the end, E.G. Mangement, in my argued presentation, controlled its assets so as to guarantee the supply of product for their publishing and record companies which owned the copyright.

The way that they (E.G. Management) represented their work to Crimson was as follows: they would do their work so they could protect my interests and also so that they could protect their copyrights, by law if necessary around the world. As advice given to anyone by an artist, this is inaccurate. As a piece of advice given to an artist by a manager, it becomes very suspect since it's not true. Particularly since the manager gains to materially benefit from that piece of advice. David Entoven wrote me a letter in 1991, apologizing for his involvement in this. I was very gratious with David and I accepted. Mister Alder on the other hand said 'what have we done? We have nothing to hide.' He suggested that his clients were renouned for their probity in said business practices, like giving the artists inaccurate advice to make over to the manager's companies the artists' property.

Q: As a young, tone-deaf player, with not much sense of rhythm...

FRIPP: I had NO sense of rhythm. Playing a note you can't hear in time and you don't know where it is. That's not talent!

Q: What did you do to get out of that?

FRIPP: I began with my hands and I moved from my hands, gradually up to my arms and my shoulders and then down the spine and torso, to my hips and then down my legs to my feet. At that point, is there something I missed? Ah, yes! From the back of the neck upwards. But I began with my hips.

Q: Do you feel like you started with your head or your heart?

FRIPP: When you try to find the beginning, it has this mysterious capacity that it moves backwards in time. Where you think you begin is actually some time after the beginning. So you move back and you (say) 'ah, that was the beginning.' Then you realize 'no, it wasn't. THAT was the beginning.' And then... So then you move backwards. You say 'do you have a beginning' and I say 'YES, I do.' On the other hand, I have one beginning from which I'm certain but before that, I'm not. But of that I am.

Q: Did you study scales or chords? How did you find your technique or were you following a traditional path?

FRIPP: Could both of those answers be true?

Q: Yes. Everyone learns differently. How did you begin?

FRIPP: I began with "My Bonnie Lies Over the Ocean." (singing) 'My bon-nie lies o-ver the o-cean.' Musically however, it didn't move me. This was part of realizing that music publishers who were selling instruction manuals to young players maybe didn't have the young players' best interests at heart. Maybe they would be happy to sell them the catalog rather than providing them practice materials that actually supported their learning. But then I moved on to "Spic and Spanish" which I played at Verwood Memorial Hall when I was 13. With that particular piece, I had only learned it the week before and it was set up on a music stand and I was reading while playing. However, I hadn't yet become familiar with blind shifting as I am now. A certain point there... (singing) 'dum dee dee dum dum dum dum' and a key change. 'Oh dear, only one fret away.' The members of the audience (heard a) sudden shift in tonality in the European tonal harmonics...

From there, I moved onto my second guitar teacher, Don Strike, who was my first PROPER guitar teacher. His musical background was really the banjo playing of the '20s and '30s. So I learned a few hot licks like "You're Nobody's Sweetheart Now." By then, I was about 14 and my guitar interest had been raised by Scotty Moore and Chuck Berry. But somehow in my guitar playing, I never got anywhere near Scotty Moore or Chuck Berry.

I'd need a lot more time but it really began for me when I was 20, 21. (That's) when the music and the guitar playing came together and I began to find my own personal dialect. Part of it is giving yourself permission to actually speak with your own voice. Part of this is an assumed arrogance which can be terrorfying. 'I'M GONNA PLAY MY OWN MUSIC!' 'Yes, my son...'

Q: Why did Crimson use the mellotron so much in in its work? The band kind of popularized it, didn't it?

FRIPP: I own six of them, five of which belong to King Crimson. I have two of the original double-manual mellotrons and two mellotrons from the '72/'74 Crimson. The Moody Blues also used mellotrons. I think Crimson used it in more abberant forms than previous users. By the time that Crimson ceased using them in September '74, you didn't have viable synthesizers. There was an impressionistic possibility from strings and flutes and brass that you couldn't get from a guitar, though you now can. The supposed mellotron use on Thrak is Adrian on my guitar synthesizer with some mellotron use as a homeopathic link from the past.

There is a version of "I Talk to the Wind" from the Chesterfield Jazz Club (not on Epitath) which was a 'bad hair night' for the mellotron. If it was a 'bad hair night' for the mellotron, which doesn't care anyway, it was AWFUL for the musician who had to play it. We had to make a decision- do we include this or not? Finally, we said no. Just to show how out of tune a mellotron can go while a musician is using it is not a reason to make it available throughout the world. At this point in the song, you can hear Greg Lake thinking 'do I pitch with the mellotron or the bass?' About a minute later, Greg has made up his mind- 'I'll go with the bass because it's closer to me.' However for the next two minutes, you can continue to hear Ian thinking 'shall I sing with the mellotron or with Greg while continuing to fine tune the pitch of the mellotron as the song begins?' This is 35-minutes into the gig, doing things we hadn't done at other gigs, just burning. Then our confidence is completely undermined. Their movement forward is brought to a halt by this AWFUL out of tune mellotron and the show never actually recovers from it, especially when the mellotron is used in any piece.

DAVID: There was another show where the mellotron was a semi-tone out of tune and this chord comes out that was delayed into the P.A.- the reason it went out of tune was because of the voltage so that if they played a loud chord, the mellotron went flat. Ian had to try to retune it as everyone else got quiet.

FRIPP: This we discovered particularly in Amercia, particularly working at the Boston Tea Party. In England, you work on 240 (volts) which is more reliable than the United States with 110 and much more than Sicily which is at 85. We were playing "In The Court of the Crimson King" and you heard D from the band and the tuned instruments, D flat from the mellotron strings and the voices horribly in between. We finally bought a voltage stabilizer after all of this.

Q: Since the first Crimson line-ups, there haven't been acoustic guitars used. Was that a conscious decision or just what the music dictated?

FRIPP: Could it be both of those? What music since that period has demanded the use of an acoustic guitar?

Q: I don't know.


Q: What music has demanded the exclusion of an acoustic guitar?

FRIPP: Just about everything we've played. However there is an exception to this which is on the coda of Three Of A Perfect Pair where you will hear me playing acoustic guitar.

Q: When you were going through the archive material and tweaking it, when do you decide to stop working on it?

DAVID: When the release date's arrived. About midnight of that day. You start with something that is obviously unlistenable and you hear a fault and say 'there is an obvious fault and I can improve it.' The next day, you hear the next fault and work on that. I listen to it now and hear faults and these are faults I can improve.

FRIPP: Because of the way that Discipline operates, we will be doing second editions where we improve them and even change the music on them. One thing that is waiting for us is to do a re-mastering of the entire King Crimson catalog. Digital technology is so much further than the Definitive Version(s) of '89 where the original audio buffs complained that the audio on the vinyl is better than the CD. The next Definitive edition will be markedly better than the last release.

Q: With the re-mastering process, is it tough to resist the temptation to re-mix as well?

FRIPP: It's very easy to re-mix. It's very easy to take the decision not to re-mix because the amount of work in that... I've tried it. I've tried remixing In the Court of the Crimson King in 1975. You had problems like someone stole the original track of "Schizoid Man." It's not possible to remix that. There are others like Lark's Tongue that I thought I could and I still believe that I could. But the amount of work involved in it is OVERWHELMING. So, improve the mastering format and leave it at that.

Q: Why did you leave off the orchestra at the end of Islands?

FRIPP: I left Tony Arnold the job of putting that on the master and he forgot to. He didn't wait a minute before the orchesetral wind-up came so I only discovered that when it was re-released.

Q: Why does the guitar on "Matte Kudasai" sound different on the original and the remix?

FRIPP: It's a different take. In the original version, there was no solo by me- it was Adrian Belew. We both felt something more was needed. He went back to America and I played a solo and it was released on Discipline. We both listened to it and it wasn't right. Although the version with Adrian doing the solo may not be 100% right, it was better than my attempt to do a solo. So on the Definitive Edition, we put the mix with Adrian doing the solo rather than me.

(a break in the action and then Fripp talks about the source of the Epitath recordings)

FRIPP: Some of the tapes are the original generations but we hunted through tapes in some instances and found the best generations we could find.

Q: You didn't pull in seperate elements though? You used the masters?

FRIPP: That's right.

(He asks one of the writers why his editor says unflattering things about him. The guy says that the editor doesn't like how Fripp behaves on stage- sitting still)

FRIPP: When a musician walks on stage for a public performance, everything you are is transparent. When you walk on stage, you cannot hide. Even the attempt at concealment is transparent. You know your limitations, your pomposity, arrogance and ignorance and display it for the public. But the musician realizes that is part of what is necessary to become a musician. What I don't understand is why trumpet your ignorance if you're the editor of a magazine? I don't pass comments on other musicians. On writers however...

Q: Other than "I Talk To The Wind" where there any other songs that you found weren't salvable?

DAVID: The shows are all complete except for "I Talk to the Wind" and "In The Court of the Crimson King" which followed it from Chesterfield. Everything else is complete and we used everything we could. There was a piece called "Trees" that was complete inaudible as if they played it in the building over there.

FRIPP: Crimson music which was more related to the European tonal harmonic tradition provided problems. The muscular music where it was more afro-American although filtered through Europe, it was less problematic.

Q: Could you talk about the time that you got your first guitar?

FRIPP: I went out shopping with my mother. Although all of my Christmas presents had already been purchased, for some reason, I wanted a guitar. We went out to the Bournemouth area to spend the day hunting for this. Finally at the end of the day, we went into a music shop to buy a 4 guinea guitar and they were all terrible. Plastic things where you pressed a button and a major chord came out. You push another button and you have a minor chord. What more do you need? Maybe wood... and strings too. We found a real guitar that was six guineas and it was being returned by this woman because she could afford a better guitar for her son. And there... was my guitar! It was a horrible bloody thing. It crippled my playing for at least ten years. You couldn't press a string above the seventh fret without pliers. The fret began to move after fifteen notes. I decided to give it to my cousin and he still has it. It was horrible! I had to develop muscularture to even press these strings down. And when I was really able to make a chord, you really didn't want to listen to it anyway.

Q: When the first Crimson album was done in '69, the vocabulary of the electric guitar was just being developed. Do you still feel or see the same creative promise of the electric guitar that you did in '69?

FRIPP: There's a number of ways into that. The quick answer in a general point of view is no. The quick answer from a personal point of view is yes. In 1969 or 1977, you chose one chord, hit it, picked another and then that was music. Nowadays, any of the guitar magazines in one month's issue have more information available to a young player than I did in any one year of my life or probably three years of my life when I began to play. You have performance standards which are enormous. In 1969, I used a Dorian node- hey, we're not even talking Lydian here! This was pretention that this young player of 22, 23 was using Dorian nodes. Who does he think he is? Nowadays, if any young player, say 21 to 23, turning up for work, if he didn't have levels of professional competence that included every key and chord you'd ever be asked to play, whammy bar technique, finger tapping, there's 12 other guitarists down the street waiting to take your chair or borrow your gig wig (for maturing heavy metal players). Hey, why go on stage bald and finger tap when you can have hair! Bill Forth, who's with me on the G3 tour, can spot a gig wig from a considerable distance.

Q: Since you're still doing a lot of archival work with Crimson, are you still moving forward with new projects for the latest line-up? Would you consider working with McDonald, Lake or Giles again?

FRIPP: The quick answer to that is I don't know. The long answer is 'do I envision the first King Crimson reforming and playing together ever playing again?' No, categorically. I am wonderfully happy to be in connection with all the guys together again. The Epitath play-back in London was an event, certainly. But to reform the original King Crimson, I'd have to say 'What is the aim or this? What is the intent?' If it's to have these guys together, that's fine- we can drink coffee and eat cake, we don't have to play. If the aim is to play that music again, there's other ways of playing it. For me, would those musicians play that music as well again? Probably not. Would they play it better? No. Would it be as fresh and powerful in this moment as it was then? No. Would I play with those musicians again in varying contexts? Yes, sure.

Q: Why would a reunion of the original band have to play the old material? The line-up could probably now produce something just as original and startling.

FRIPP: If I felt that were to be so, I'd be the first one to make the call. I think more 'what is it that I wish to do' more than 'why shouldn't I do that.' If I felt that was there in potential and waiting, I'd make the calls. So for me, it's not as cold or calculated as that. Very little in my life is arbitrary. I tend to take on particular challenges or pieces of work because they are resonating there. It's like it's there waiting to be played. It is SO uncomfortable when it's waiting there to be played and it hasn't been played. Something like maybe a mother in labor.

So how (to do this)? For example, with Crimson in '81, the music was there. I didn't know exactly how it would sound but it was there. Why? Because it FELT like that. It was a question of ranging the sonic materials played by those musicians. Then... that's it! But until then, acute discomfort at the least. Now, if you said 'do you feel like that about the members of the original King Crimson,' no. That's not a negative thing. I just don't feel a positive thing. If Ian said 'I'm making a record, would you like to come and play on it,' yes. Or 'I'd like to play with Mike again so he lives near by and we'll play together.' But that's just two musicians playing together. That's not the structure of an expectation that comes from it.

Working with King Crimson has become an increasingly uncomfortable and unsatifying event for me. Partly because of the nature of performance itself. 'Here is the RAISED PLATFORM on which the musicians sit. Here are we in the audience, played at, by them for which we have bought a ticket. Therefore, I have a right because I bought a ticket. I want them to play such-and-such. I want the guitarist to wave his arms. If he doesn't, I have been short-changed.' As a kind of performance mode, I find this appalling. Especially as a musician in King Crimson that goes to play in places he hadn't worked in before, like Eastern Europe last year, and coming into the tangible weight of expectation. It may be that the master musician can embrace music with this freshness as if for the first time.

You know Harold Becker's concept of 'art worlds'? My own notion is of 'music worlds' but it's somewhat different than Becker's. It's that there are different worlds of music in a sense in which musicians/audiences live and from which music emerges. For example, within the commercial culture, a trained professional musician knows how to make people jump on the seats and writes a jingle. It originates within the commercial world to serve a certain functional purpose within the rules of commerce. That is legitimate. BUT it cannot rise very much above that unless you happen to have Mozart or the modern equivalent writing the jingle, who uses that form of constraint in order to introduce something through the back door. If you accept that here is a musician that we recognize as a master like Casals or any man who can bring within the audible range music more real than life itself (Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, Charlie Parker), what is the audience equivalent who listens to the same quality?

Now what might we call this? In the commercial domain, you might call it the punter or the fan, which is not to insult a person who knows what they want and buys it. But what is the audience equivalent of the craftsman or craftswomen, the person who is able to play reliably on demand and with a certain level of competence? How many members of the audience can acutally hear what is being played? Some people are so defined in what they want and expect that they will not be able to hear or see beyond that point. Now, what is the audience equivalent of the master musician?

Q: It's a channel, a feedback process.

FRIPP: Yes, in the same way you can say that this musician is a journeyman, then you have a gigster, then you have the happy gigster, then this is a professional but we still haven't gotten to the genius yet. But what audience equivalent would there be for the master musician?

Q: It should be the critic?

FRIPP: This is interesting because the answer should be yes. A professional listener would be at the level of the professional musician. They hear what's going on but they might not understand it. They might KNOW what's going on as a professional musician who is playing the charts and knows what's going on but that doesn't mean they can make a judgment regarding it. You would have a connoisseur then. One aspect of the musician is the connoisseur in that they do understand their own processes. In other words, it confers the capacity to make a judgment. But in order to do that, you must be able to play music like Casals as if for the first time. This is the characteristic. There are others. And there are specific technical requirements necessary to enter that world and stay in it.

Q: But you really have to know your own process, like a master musician would.

FRIPP: Yes, and that familiarity. For each of these worlds have their own degree of self-realization. To be a professional musician and completely competent is a very big thing. To listen to someone play for 45 minutes whether you like it or not is a very big thing. But that will only buy you entrance into that world. If you like, you could go to the next world rather than that world visiting you, WHICH IT DOES AND THIS IS THE KEY TO IT! WHERE DOES IT COME FROM? HOW DO I KNOW THAT IT'S REAL? We couldn't go there but it came here.

(another break in the action- Fripp describes some serendipity from an exhausting event)

FRIPP: Four hours of playing at the Southbank in London, playing for maybe four hours a day and you walk off and play in. It's a challenge. It's a self-provided shock, which is part of the challenge of being a musician. And you will find that on the third day, which is a Saturday, four hours into a nine hours, I asked for a cappucino and I took a break. I asked 'what shall I play next?' Because after four hours, you will have played everything that you have ever known. The third day in, you have no idea what to play next. Someone said to play 'blue.' So then back to the next four hours and what happened then was that I played what I didn't know, through necessity. That is released on CD as "Sometimes God Hides" (from the 'Pie Jesu' single).

'I have a stranger relationship to this mythic beast called King Crimson than anyone else. None of the versions of Crimson replace the efforts of the other groups.'