INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
All About Jazz MAY 12, 2012 - by John Kelman
ROBERT FRIPP / ANDREW KEELING / DAVID SINGLETON: THE WINE OF SILENCE
It's strange how things sometimes come around full circle... well, almost. After helping to define symphonic prog with King Crimson and the seminal In The Court Of The Crimson King - mellotrons screaming instead of a real orchestras swirling - the rigours of the road, and keeping a band together, caused co-founder/guitarist Robert Fripp to desert such problems entirely by 1975. He began touring with fellow sonic explorer Brian Eno in support of their groundbreakers No Pussyfooting and Evening Star, where Fripp's spontaneous improvisations were looped between two Revox tape recorders to create an approach to real-time layering and two-person orchestration called Frippertronics.
Citing a preference for the "small, intelligent, mobile unit," Fripp continued on with solo Frippertronics tours, but soon found himself back in the world of rock when Crimson reformed in 1980 (happily, for most Crimheads) for Discipline. But as the emergence of digital technology and sampling morphed Frippertronics into Soundscapes, Fripp never deserted the concept of one man, one guitar and a whack of technology creating a true real-time orchestra-like entity on solo efforts including Love Cannot Bear and At The End Of Time.
But a strange thing happened along the way. Early on in the evolution of Soundscapes, Fripp and longtime recording/mixing engineer and occasional co-producer David Singleton realised that, while Fripp's remarkable work was orchestral in nature, it wasn't truly orchestral in scope; it was still one man, one guitar and a whack of technology. Enter Andrew Keeling a few years later, a longtime Crimhead who also happened to be an accomplished classical composer and orchestrator, along with Gert-Jan Blom of the Metropole Orkest, the Dutch orchestra which, despite being threatened with extinction by a near-sighted political party in recent times, remains the world's most far-reaching classical orchestra, collaborating with everyone from drummer Terry Bozzio to guitarists Mike Keneally and, most un-coincidentally, Crimson alum Adrian Belew. The idea? To take Fripp's Soundscapes, which were improvisations that became, through looping and other devices, de facto compositions, and score them for a "real" orchestra.
The Wine of Silence isn't the first time experiments in tape or digital looping have been scored and interpreted by classical musicians - that honor goes, amongst others, to American chamber ensemble Bang On A Can, which took Eno's seminal ambient recording, Ambient 1: Music For Airports, and scored it for cello, clarinet, keyboards, guitar, piano, percussion and bass on Brian Eno: Music For Airports (Live). Still, this is the first time a project of this scope has been undertaken. Keeling did more, however, than shape and score the music - much of its source material culled from The Gates of Paradise and That Which Passes, as well as unreleased Soundscapes including performances by Fripp at the World Trade Center in New York City - for the near-sixty-piece Metropole and, on two tracks (Requiescat and Miserere), the twenty-eight-piece New Music Choir. Instead, for what was being called Orchscapes, Keeling added his own compositional input to the process, lending additional form to Fripp's work that began drawing, with its slow-moving repetition and lush textures, comparisons to the Tintinnabulum of celebrated Estonian composer Arvo Pärt and the similarly gentle movement of Gavin Bryars.
But that wasn't enough. With the results of Keeling's work with Metropole, as Singleton indicates in his liner note contribution to The Wine of Silence, "it seemed the journey was complete. And yet, YET, Robert [Fripp] and I both felt something was missing from these recordings. They languished unloved in the studio. As is so often the case with orchestral recordings, they failed to capture the wonderful, all enveloping, visceral sensation of a live orchestra." And so, just as the guitarist treats his improvisations as raw materials to be expanded, via the technology of Soundscaping, into broader, sonically encompassing pieces, Fripp collaborated with Singleton, using these "finished" pieces as grist for a new Soundscaping application. The pair created a new context, where orchestral segments - or portions thereof, given the multi-track nature of the recordings - were positioned and sometimes looped in, out, around and across a far larger soundstage.
The result is something Fripp might never have envisaged when he helped form Crimson in 1969, but is the ultimate and inevitable consequence of decades' worth of progress stemming from that singular moment. The Wine of Silence is an uncanny coalescence and recontextualisation of everything Fripp has done from the very beginning. If nothing else, The Wine of Silence clarifies the absolute relevance of Fripp's ability to build in-the-moment compositional constructs as grist for even further interpretation, as well as the art of Soundscaping itself, an innovative process that can now be seen as inspiration for Norwegian artists including guitarist Eivind Aarset and, in particular, the work of live sampler Jan Bang, whose Live Remix concept is an alternate world view and contemporary extrapolation of Soundscapes' core fundamentals.
Pie Jesu may bookend the disc, but while the two versions share a similarly floating harmonic stasis they're not simply two versions of the same piece. The opening version is a sonic invitation that, over the course of eight minutes, builds just as Fripp's Soundscapes do - gradually unfolding as individual components are introduced from the ether to shape slow, pointillistic counterpoint - while the nearly ten-minute closer acts as an evocative coda that builds to its own inevitable climax, only to come full circle as layers are gradually removed, reducing down to a single sustained note as the piece, and the album, fades to black.
Like Fripp's solo work, the painful beauty of The Wine of Silence isn't without moments of tension and release, even as Keeling's writing creates an ebb-and-flow of swirling strings on Midnight Blue, while Black Light is more dramatic still, its second half building to a series of climactic peaks. Miserere Mei and Requiescat are more complex still, incorporating more of Metropole's woodwinds and horns as well as the New Music Choir, evoking surface comparisons to microtonal composer Györygy Ligeti - in particular Requiescat, whose long-form development suggests a similarly pointillistic approach as Pie Jesu, revealing its grander beauty when absorbed as a whole, rather than a discrete series of developing and interlocking segments.
In many ways nearly twenty years in the making, The Wine of Silence continues to assert Fripp's keen ear for innovatively combining technological advancement with a more personal musical vision. In collaboration with Keeling and Singleton, he's proven the continued relevance of his work on an album that stands alone in his discography, yet is the logical and inevitable consequence of a lifetime's work.
Tracks: Pie Jesu / Midnight Blue / Black Light / Miserere Mei / Requiescat / Pie Jesu
Personnel: Robert Fripp - composer, producer; Andrew Keeling - arranger, co-composer (4, 5); David Singleton - producer, co-composer (3-5); Metropole Orkest, conducted by Jan Stulen; New Music Choir (4, 5)