Pitchfork JANUARY 9, 2009 - by Brian Howe


Brian Eno, Roxy Music's art-schooled keyboard and tech wizard, and Robert Fripp, King Crimson's mostly self-taught guitarist, convened in Eno's home studio in 1972. Both were conceptually inclined: Eno called himself a "non-musician," while Fripp claimed to be tone-deaf and rhythmically impaired when he began playing. Both of them would go on to reinvent their chosen tools - Eno the studio, Fripp the guitar (he would eventually devise his own standard tuning and picking techniques) - to suit their unique talents and visions. The two LP-length collaborations they recorded in the '70s, now remastered and reissued by DGM, laid the groundwork for each musician's most iconic works.

One technique is central to both records: the use of two Revox reel-to-reel tape recorders as a primitive looping system, wherein sounds recorded to the first deck resurfaced unpredictably when the tape passed through the second deck. Eno and Fripp didn't pioneer this technique; Terry Riley, among others, had used it before. But Eno would master it in his Ambient albums, where it became an end unto itself, not a background. As Eno refined the technique for the studio, Fripp refined it for the stage in his "Frippertronic" performances, which prefigured the use of looping pedals among arty rock bands today. Even in these two early works - 1973's No Pussyfooting and 1975's Evening Star - we can begin to track the process's rapid evolution.

On No Pussyfooting (the parentheses that originally enclosed the title are dropped on the reissue), we hear Eno and Fripp discovering the process - it was the very first thing they recorded together in this vein. The album bursts with a sense of spontaneity. The Heavenly Music Corporation sequence is raw and rambunctious, resolving in long deep waves of aggression, with Fripp's molten, fluent guitar leads putting his rock prowess on display. The effervescent Swastika Girls strikes a contrast. In fact, The Heavenly Music Corporation and Swastika Girls seem designed as opposites - the former gooey, deep, and broadly rolling, the latter effervescent, high, and cramped with wiry spirals. Of course, these tracks lack the sophistication of Eno's later ambient work, where pristine clarity became his focus. Clutter and impulsiveness haunt the margins, especially on Swastika Girls, and Fripp's leads seem to stand somewhat apart from Eno's manipulations on Heavenly. But whatever Pussyfooting lacks in subtlety, it compensates for with sheer mojo.

Evening Star demonstrates how quickly Eno and Fripp evolved - it's confidently serene where No Pussyfooting was brashly assertive, and bears a closer resemblance to the 2004 Eno/Fripp collaboration The Equatorial Stars. Fripp's guitar is less often recognizable as such; we frequently hear what resembles clouds of bowed strings drifting through each other. When it is recognizable, as on the title track, the guitar phrases seem deeply interwoven with the surrounding sounds rather than roaring over them. The album opens with a quartet of naturalistically themed pieces, evoking water, wind, and sky, before delving down with a six-track sequence called An Index Of Metals. Not only did Eno and Fripp hone their technique on Evening Star, they erected a thematic architecture, which was absent from No Pussyfooting and would be crucial to Eno's subsequent work.

The only disappointing thing about these reissues is the bonus content. There's none on Evening Star, and No Pussyfooting comes with a second disc of reversed and half-speed mixes. There's an historical precedent for this: Miscuing a tape, John Peel played tracks from No Pussyfooting backwards on his radio show (and it says a lot about this kind of music that only Eno noticed the error), while the slowed-down versions recreate the experience of playing the album, which was originally released on vinyl, at the wrong speed. That's cool, but would have made more sense on a commercial release in 1975. Now that listeners who want to hear music at different speeds can create the effect themselves in a matter of seconds, the bonus disc seems anachronistic.

In his review of The Equatorial Stars, Dominique Leone correctly downplayed the idea that anything was invented on these albums. As previously mentioned, the technique that informed them predated Eno and Fripp. And while Eno made great strides in building a theory of ambient music, the basic challenge - to make music that took an evasive stance toward form and content - wasn't new; many modernist composers had already been approaching it in a variety of ways. But art always evolves that way, with old ideas recombining into new forms, embodied in but not created by specific individuals. Eno and Fripp invented something more tangible than an abstract cultural movement here: They invented themselves, and a way of thinking about music that was not so much novel as perfectly of the moment, alive to its unique technological and conceptual possibilities. They irrevocably altered the course of art music in the process.