Musician JANUARY 1981 - by Robert Fripp


The future unit of musical organization must be small, mobile and intelligent. If you want political change, go into music.

There was a popular idea in the 1960s that rock music could change the world. This evaporated along with hippies, kaftans and beads during the 1970s as it became increasingly apparent that rock music could also underwrite the conventional wisdom of the music industry. It is my conviction in 1980 that rock can, in fact, change the world, but as part of an overall action and not in any way which we might expect. The "new world" may well be the "old world" but with a subtle difference involving not much more than a change in perception.

Is it reasonable to suggest that a qualitative shift in the world can be made possible by the quality of music? "Any communication process, once initiated and maintained, leads to the genesis of social structure - whether or not such structure is anticipated or deemed desirable" (Klaus Krippendorf). "The 'style of life' is today one of the most positive forms of revolutionary action" (Jacques Ellul, writing in 1948).

Jean Renoir grew to doubt whether the cinema could prevent war. My feeling is that through music an alternative structure can be built on the inside, regardless of outer forms of politicalization. Handel, Bach. Mozart, Verdi and many more lesser figures in music, quite apart from Shakespeare, became adept at working in (for us) very difficult political and economic conditions, quite apart from rigid conventions and musical taste. Surely the most surprising point is how much inspired work had prosaic origins. By creating an industry structure which facilitates the growth of musicians as human beings they become more productive in a real way and acquire a measure of independence, independence defined as the capacity to work with others. Larger changes in social and political organization inevitably follow from this: "The new technologies will be in the image of the system that brings them forth, and they will reinforce the system" (Schumacher).

The industry reflects values which have become concretized in its structure and which, when taken overall, restrict the possibilities for creative work (as defined in the preceding issue). For creative musicians to function within the music industry their actions must inevitably be political, since in order to work the creative musician will necessarily try to change the industry, simply so they'll be able to express themselves essentially. As T.S. Elliot wrote of the poet: "Being incapable of altering his wares to suit a prevailing taste... he naturally desires a state of society in which they may become popular, and in which his own talents will be put to the best use." And then: "He is accordingly vitally interested in the use of poetry." There are three aspects to this:

1. Changing the structure of the industry.
2. Changing the value system which gives rise to the structure.
3. Reciprocating with and influencing other forms of industry beside the musical, and in a wider context than the market place.

Taking these in more detail:

1. Changing the structure of the industry. Organization in large units brings about authoritarian control. The authoritarian personality is fixed and unresponsive to change. Therefore, the kind of personality drawn to a large organization will be exactly the kind of person who will kill it in a time of change by failing to adapt.

The replacement of large scale industry by an alternative is vital. Because of inertia in the system, traditional industry will not collapse immediately, and in the transitional period it should be persuaded by argument, example and cooperation to increasingly divert resources under its control to a second-level tier of industry while this is still possible. My personal sense of timetable is that this second level of operation should be established by the end of 1981, consolidated by the end of 1984 and fully functional by 1987, while the years 1987 to 1990 will be characterized by the honorable burial of dinosaurs with all rites pertinent to their station.

As I have written elsewhere (on a record label, actually) the future unit of organization is the small, mobile and intelligent unit, wherein intelligence is defined as the capacity to perceive rightness, mobility the capacity to act on that perception, and small the necessary condition for that action in a contracting world. The function of the small, mobile and intelligent unit in the 1980s is to drop in and form an intra-culture rather than, as in the 1960s, to drop out and create a sub-culture (although I doubt if it is possible to remain outside a social process in any real way).

Earlier this year I attended Zigzag magazine's party, having been invited to play Sister Morphine with Marianne Faithful, who couldn't make the show because she was busy at Shepperton, and The Lord's Prayer with Siouxsie & The Banshees, but Siouxsie had laryngitis. A solo singer accompanying himself on guitar was performing a piece reflecting his recent contretemps with the Special Patrol Group. His song made frequent reference to the words: "Kill! Kill! Kill! the S.P.G.!", declaimed with considerable enthusiasm. It seemed to me that he was trying to establish the principle that to kill whomsoever one sees as a non-congruent element of the larger social system is permissible. If this principle were to be accepted by the social organism no doubt the SPG would also embrace it: in which case the singer would be at a considerable disadvantage when settlement came between the two sub-systems. Several points were raised by this:

i) The elimination of either of the two parties would be, at the least, an inefficient use of resources;

ii) Force breeds an (at least) equal reaction and on a practical level is therefore ineffective, ethical considerations aside;

iii) Impartiality is a higher level of operation and therefore an inherently more stable state than prejudice. Can one work with people one personally dislikes, or whose values seem contradictory and offensive, in the service of a common aim? A subtle problem I found on the recent League Of Gentlemen tour was that one rarely deals with big, nasty, horrible villains who are obviously the baddies (although I met some!) but often with pleasant people who are one's friends and with whom one has worked for several years, but who have different aims and aspirations.

2. Changing the value system which gives rise to the structure. An appropriately sized unit of organization may not have a "better" ethical system: one can be a small bread-head as well as a large bread-head. But greed, which is neither mobile nor intelligent, is becoming unrealistic and impracticable.

3. Reciprocating with and influencing other forms of industry beside the musical, and in a wider context than the market place.

An idea is a piece of quality information: it contains energy and can have a life of its own. This idea might be a musical idea. Music is a high-order language system: i.e. it is a meta-language. The function of a meta-language is to express solutions to problems posed in a lower-order language system.

If one accepts that music is a high-order language system, it follows that music can be negentropic and problemsolving. the function of the musician in this sense, then, is to convey high-quality information. This does not have to be complicated. John Heilpern. travelling with the Peter Brooks troupe in North Africa, came across some remarkable players: the Peulh. "The Peulh music showed us that a universal language might be as simple as one note repeated many, many times. But you must discover the right note first." To discover this note most musicians require a discipline to reduce "noise," or superfluous notes, and increase "signal," the essential music. To be open to ideas, i.e. to be able to use the energy of musical "information," in a playing situation is the aim of all improvisation: this is active performance. A mime in ancient Greece named Memphis was said by Athenaeus to convey in a brief dance faultlessly the whole essence of Pythagorean doctrine, although Memphis did not necessarily understand it.

If one were interested in political change one would not enter political life, one would go into music. Since the first aim of any system is to perpetuate itself, the professional politician would tend to perpetuate rather than solve political problems, the self-interest of the professional musician, on the other hand, lies in perpetuating music... to be continued