INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Melody Maker NOVEMBER 4, 1972 - by Richard Williams
"THAT ONE COST £2.80 FOR THE TAPE..."
From out of an improvised King Crimson session comes... Fripp & Eno, a meeting of minds in a small studio, with some nudie playing cards...
Before King Crimson's recent appearance on the German Beat Club TV programme, percussionist Jamie Muir asked their roadies to go outside and collect a large sack of leaves. Then, during the set, while John Wetton was playing a quiet bass riff, Jamie took the sack, upended it, and spilled the contents over his kit. As someone said recently: Dada, we're all crazy now.
Jamie's kit in itself is enough to qualify the new Crimson for a place in the surrealistic stakes alongside Han Bennink, John Stevens and Frank Perry. It's like nothing you have ever seen before. He doesn't play it all the time, either. To say that Jamie is a "multi-" instrumentalist is to say that he can make music out of anything that comes to hand. There's his whirly-pipe, for instance: a length of rubber tube with a coil and a tremendous mouth-piece, which he blows and simultaneously whirls around his head.
Maniacal, certainly. After all, when Jamie was with the ill-fated and underrated magic band called Hurts, he once re-coaxed a drum solo at the Marquee by sitting on the edge of the stage and screaming at the audience, who fled. Believe this: if King Crimson can make their old fans listen to their new music, they'll have struck a giant blow for progress. If they succeed, it'll prove that audiences will invest in the avant-garde, and the wax will be used for utter inspired lunatics like Derek Bailey, Evan Parker, Cecil Taylor.
The major part of their German TV set was totally improvised, just like the first set on each of their three nights at Frankfurt's Zoom Club, which was their first-ever gig. Bob Fripp played me the TV tapes round at the good Captain Eno's flat in Maida Vale the other night, and it was impossible not to be impressed with the predacious unity they've already achieved, prior to their English tour.
Eno's studio is situated in a tiny room, not much bigger than a closet - it contains several tape recorders, an amp and speaker system, loads of leads and tape-snippings hanging over everything, some model aeroplanes and funny pictures, many reels of tape, and the Captain's collection of... uh, "connoisseur's" playing cards.
With practised ear, he manipulates Revox and Ferrographs to bring us the sound of King Crimson live in Bremen. Fripp's had a busy day, ending with he and violinist David Cross opting out of all the decision-making in the band, but he's filled with enthusiasm for the music.
The tape begins, and it's obvious that this Crimson is not for those of nervous disposition. The five musicians positively tear into each other, throwing ideas around like confetti, feeding and developing phrases with avid skill. At first, the rhythm section is what catches the ear. "They're the two most ferocious drummers I've ever worked with," says Fripp, as the combined efforts of Messrs Muir and Bruford threaten to ignite Eno's machinery on the spot. It's hard to tell who's playing what, except when Bill's laying down straight funk and Jamie's embroidering it with tinkling percussive effects, but their combined power is awesome.
"We're trying at the moment to play five over four," says Fripp, by way of metrical explanation. When it works, the strength of it almost tears the band apart."
Wetton's bass guitar, too, catches the ear: his very sound is bloodthirsty and cursing, and his inventiveness in a pointillist duet with Fripp's guitar is astonishing. "I call it the Crimson Lurch," says Fripp. "It catches you in the neck." Eno, too, is impressed. "I heard Family a while back, and I thought, 'That's my favourite bass sound.' When I heard these tunes, I was amazed to hear the same sound again. Then somebody told me it was the same guy."
Fripp's guitar and Mellotron are, right now, much as ever they were. Bob knows that he's got a long way to go as a soloist - there's no self-delusion here, and he's going to make it.
Cross is the youngest and least experienced Crimsonite, and at the moment it's showing a little. Lack of confidence comes through on violin and flute more than on most instruments, but the music on the tape attests to his protest.
"You see," says Fripp, "we're all counting on this being a long-term thing. We're planning to stay together for two or three years - and David is someone I know I'll want to be playing with in 1974. You just watch."
The major portion of the thirteen-minute TV set is the free improvisation titled Vista Of Operating Theatre Under Ark-Light, and it ends with a written composition, in comparatively recognisable Crimson vein, called Larks' Tongues In Aspic.
The tape really shows only one facet of the new band. Bob hasn't played us all the songs (ie, vocals), but there'll be plenty for fans to savour on the tour. "Don't judge us on the very first gig. It's improving by gargantuan leaps - and it'll never be bad, anyway, because at its worst this band is very professional. But the third night in Frankfurt... well, it really happened."
As the tape ends, Eno is already connecting another majestic treat. He pulls out a small spool, threads it through the Revox, and explains it's something he taped from a radio play, the voice of actress Judi Dench speaking a single phrase. He made eight tapes of it, at slightly differing speeds, and then re-recorded them together. They begin together, and then gradually shoot out of phase until the effect is like an aural hall of mirrors.
The phrase Miss Dench speaks is "You don't ask why", just that, but the multi-tracking turns its meaning a thousand different ways. This may sound like something from Pseud's Corner (or a John and Yoko test pressing), but it's utterly mesmerising: "youyou do-don't ah-ah-ah-ah don't a-ask whywhywhy don't ah-ask you-you-don't..."
For Eno, the highlight comes when the voices come back, for a split-second, into phase. He also insists on inflicting our ears with one of his "snake guitar" pieces overdubbed by himself through his own equipment. Initial worries give way to pleasure as his fuzzy rock'n'roll licks pour forth.
"That's my Sterling Morrison sound," he says with some satisfaction. Fripp grunts: "I've spent months trying to get that sound in the studio. How'd you do it?"
Eno explains, to Fripp's amazement, that he feeds the guitar straight through his tape machine - which, by all the laws of wattage, should explode under the strain. That they don't can be attributed more to luck than expertise. The evening's highlight, though, is on the next spool: twenty minutes of music recorded, in Eno's room, by himself and Fripp.
The theory and practice of the music were as follows: Fripp, on guitar, laid down a bass drone, modulating into different tonal areas twice over the length of the tape, which Eno subjected to various forms of echo and tape delay that I don't understand. And this produced a dense, shifting groundswell over which Fripp then improvised a top line - once again with electronic assistance.
The result is somewhat between Terry Riley's A Rainbow In Curved Air and John Martyn's longer guitar pieces - which is to say that it's utterly, magically riveting.
The listener is totally absorbed as the guitar wheels, spins, cries, bleeds, soars, turns back into itself, climaxes and dies away. It is, without doubt, a complete triumph.
Eno's theories on tape delay were published in book form on March 6 - and five days later, three thousand miles away, Terry Riley published his own theories in America. They were almost exactly the same. "What an example of creative confluence," chuckles the Captain. "Actually, shortly afterward I found out that John Cage had discovered the same things years ago. But he was a creep, and anyway he didn't know how to use it." What a joker.
This tape will, they hope, be used on Island's experimental HELP series with another piece they're recording soon. "It's my idea of how to make an album," Eno commented. "That one side took forty minutes' work and cost £2.80 for the tape."
"We're hoping," added Fripp, "to bring the album in, mastered and complete for £100." Contrast that with the five-figure sums Crimson's own albums have cost to make.
"Also we'd like to arrange some gigs in the future with both Roxy and Crimson, so that Eno and I can do a set together in the middle."