Uncut FEBRUARY 2022 - by Jon Dale


Into the "liminal zone" with a boxset of ambient soundscapes - one for each week of the year.

When Robert Fripp's Music For Quiet Moments started to appear with relatively little fanfare in May 2020, as a series of weekly uploads to YouTube and streaming services, their overall effect was one of balm. Moving through the digital ether, Fripp's ambient soundscapes slowly drifted their way through a collective psychological environment grappling with the uncertainty of pandemic times. The series unfolded over a year, fifty-two weekly entries, each offering another aspect of an ever-changing same: Fripp performing live in various contexts, quietly testing out the possibilities afforded to him by music that drops the pretence of narrative and lets itself just be.

He has, of course, been exploring this terrain for some time now, going way back to the early 1970s, when a series of encounters with glam polymath Brian Eno led to two albums, (No Pussyfooting) and Evening Star, where Fripp's guitar wove a web within Eno's tape-delay systems. Decades later, Eno would marvel at Fripp's seemingly preternatural grasp of the nuances of the system: "It's very easy to get stuck in a kind of drone rut, but he was clever enough to shift out of one mode to another." These experiences inspired Fripp to develop Frippertronics, a method that hotwired two reel-to-reel tape decks, so they were able to function as a realtime looping system.

Frippertronics became part of Fripp's extended rig, making its first appearance on record on his 1979 solo album Exposure; he'd subsequently explore the modified terrain offered by this process across his 1980s solo albums and beyond. In the 1990s, digital technology afforded Fripp the chance to update Frippertronics and build a more mutable and expansive kit, now known as Soundscaping. Since then, the soundscape has become a fundamental part of Fripp's musical armoury: leading away from the tough, abstruse complexity of King Crimson, the soundscapes are remarkably pliant and sensual. Their capacity to evoke an 'eternal now', though, always somehow connects Fripp back to the source, those early looping performances and recordings with Eno.

Most recently, the soundscapes have been used to establish mood at King Crimson shows: Fripp describes them as "play-on music, to set up a sonic liminal zone as members of the audience come in from the outside world, the liminal zone before the performance begins. The soundscapes describe and define the liminal zone." Their reflective melancholy and sutured stasis are something Fripp finds particularly useful for calling the audience into the collective experience: for him, soundscaping "defines a sacred space where something may happen".

It's no surprise, then, that he's also performed the soundscapes on tours of churches in the UK and Estonia: there's something very powerful about the meditative possibilities in soundscaping, a capacity to capture manifold emotional resonance, drawn from the air of the everyday. If they risk being alienating in certain contexts - and Fripp has talked about the "antipathy" the performances have sometimes received, the way audiences have reacted negatively to the soundscapes as they've unfolded in real time and space - they seem particularly perfect for spaces of worship and mourning. And much like Eno's Music For Airports, what could, on first encounter, appear to be pure process, an abstract navigation of the parameters of a set of conditions, opens up during intensive listening as something, at times, profoundly moving. It's a classic unanswered, perhaps unanswerable, question: how can the 'unemotional' in process be so emotional in outcome?

That's not to say that Fripp is 'removed' from the soundscapes, in particular these Quiet Moments - he's spoken previously of them being both "deeply personal, yet utterly impersonal". That seeming paradox is at the crux of the fifty-two performances in this boxset, all but one of which are drawn from performances that took place between 2004 and 2009, either as dedicated soundscape and churchscape shows, or as part of a larger lineup (with Porcupine Tree or his G3 with Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, for example). What's particularly surprising about hearing these Quiet Moments collected in an eight-disc box, though, is their consistency, both in quality and in tone.

The soundscapes tend toward permutation: Fripp tends to locate a clutch of tones and let them sigh across the stereo spectrum, adding detail and detour as best fits the moment. Echoing the earlier comment from Eno, while there are drones in abundance here, Fripp never gets stuck in the one spot: as a tonal bed, drones function to gather the listener's energies, but it's in the details, the pirouetting guitar figures that dot the landscape of the three-part A Move Inside from Asheville, for example, that the magic and deep concentration of the soundscapes becomes apparent. While they often map broadly similar terrain, Fripp is careful to give each soundscape its own space; liminal they may be, but there is something distinctive in each of these quiescent miniatures.

Indeed, if part two of A Move Inside feels like classic soundscaping - a music-box ballerina dusting glitter through the air - the third part is altogether more hesitant and shadier, stealthily encroaching into our listening orbit, testing the water, before one of Fripp's classic sounds - a plastic ray-gun buzz, the guitar singing as though it's conducting pure electricity - guides the piece in another direction entirely. In moments like this, and similar driftworks, like the 2007 Pastorale from Mendoza, or Time Stands Still from Udine in 2006, Music For Quiet Moments touches something profound in both its questing tenor and its intimacy, and while the music works well enough as ambience, it's certainly sturdy enough for prolonged focus and immersion.

If anything feels like the 'heart' of Music For Quiet Moments, it's the various elegies that Fripp has dotted throughout the collection. These draw from many performances - from Rome, Hannover, Nashville, and Paris - and are particularly elegant and moving. The Rome performance, from June 20, 2006, is split across two discs - one excerpt nestles among several other pieces and is remarkable for its lambent flicker, a child's clutch of notes held together, quietly, patiently, cradled by Fripp as though they're one step away from fragmenting and falling away. Three more excerpts appear on the following disc, in order, and they begin in a similar vein, but move into deep lung-bursts of cello-like drone, and a lovely, denuded spot of playing, during Elegy Pt 2, where Fripp sounds almost like 'Venusian blues' guitarist Loren Connors woven through an Echoplex.

The forty-five-minute Elegy from Paris - performed on September 22, 2015 and existing outside the timeline of most of the other soundscapes - is a tour de force, and completely warrants being isolated on its own disc. The piece's shifting ground, its movement in and out of earshot, its tessellation of tonality, recalls the sacred sadness of Estonian composer Arvo Part; a lovingly melancholy embrace, the Paris Elegy repeatedly retreats into near silence, as if to renew its reserves, or to find its meditative centre, from which it radiates anew every time. Like much of Music For Quiet Moments, the Paris Elegy is all about transformation, about unlocking the immense within the intimate. And at the core of all this music, fundamental to both its existence and its dissemination, is empathy and care, and a kind of everyday, yet profound, wonderment.

Extras: 6/10 - 8CD box of four mini gatefold sleeves and booklet with artwork for each piece.


Your approach to the Soundscapes has changed over time, in their technology, but also in their intent.

The intent was always there, in an implicit form. The implicit became more explicit. The last thing you want to do if you're working in rock'n'roll is to say, "Hey folks, this is a sacred event!" [laughs] You want to say, "Come on in and have lots of fun," and when people touch with music, they have their own experience and form their own judgement. Let's invite people in and see where we go. But at age seventy-five here now, with these Quiet Moments coming out, we can have a more adult conversation.

How do you feel the Soundscapes differ from your other music?

I would say a brief distinction in terms of music with King Crimson and my other various rock'n'roll chums over the years, generally the notion is that music is here [points at self], and it moves outward, and that is the intent. With Soundscapes, and particularly Quiet Moments, the movement is inside. One conventional approach would be to say Quiet Moments are devotional music. That's a conventional way of explaining it. Another way of saying it is that they are often meditations which take place with my guitar around my neck and too much equipment that I'm plugged into. Taking this into the normal professional working domain, as mediated by commerce, has historically been complex and not always a supportive environment.

Can you tell me about the experience of the Churchscapes and what happens with Soundscapes when they meet particular spaces? There's something in these pieces that asks questions of the spaces they're performed within.

Within the church, the audience is being invited into a communion and the music is an act of worship. In a church, that's fine. If you go into an arts centre, the assumption is that the performance is art; this is a work of art. In churches, in our culture and our present times, certainly in the UK, they are being made available alternative use as art spaces, as people aren't going along to the church very much as an act of worship. It's a place where people come together, but the intent is slightly different.

How would you explain that difference?

If Robert goes on stage and the assumption is he's presenting as 'sonic artwork', the nature of the defined engagement is other than if we were being invited to be part of an act of worship, and fundamentally performing music for me is always an act of worship. But never ever let us use these words if we're strapping on and going on stage with a rock band! Because immediately it's, "Who is this guy blowing it out of his shorts?" The words get in the way of the experience. The direct experience is ours. We can describe our engagement with that however we like; what is valuable is the nature of the experience.

Listening to the boxset, I found myself thinking of the Quiet Moments as places themselves, but also as places of meeting.

When a lot of these quiet moments were being recorded the response from the audiences was not always supportive. In other words, I'm surprised that listening to them, the music them has its own intrinsic presence. Which, if 1 remember the context in which the music appeared, Ihave no idea how the music struggled to come into the world despite the performer, who was struggling against the overwhelming antipathy of a large part of the audience... With Quiet Moments, the year of Covid - the situation changed. People necessarily had to take a step back, maybe having a little more time to listen, and somehow Quiet Moments seemed to hit a sympathetic resonance in such a way that maybe it wouldn't even have had otherwise. But this is David Singleton's wonderful idea: Music For Quiet Moments for fifty-two weeks, and unfolding one week at a time enabled people to engage should they wish to do so.

This is certainly the sense that I had; they seemed to five analogously well within people's worlds, which is a lovely thing.

Yes! The right thing at the wrong time is wrong; the wrong thing at the right time is right. The right thing at the right time is beautiful! So, time, place, person and circumstance: maybe Quiet Moments arrived at the right time. Quiet Moments, I can put on in an evening and let them go. I can listen to them even for several hours. There's not much I can say that of. Certainly some work with Eno, yes, but there's not much else 1 can say that of.

The Exposure box is coming up soon, which is exciting. Can you tell us more about what to expect?

There's lots and lots of CDs in there, [laughs] Exposure was recorded in 1978 and 1979 and released in 1979. So, the boxset is taking a wide view of that year, including the early Frippertronics, through to the League Of Gentlemen. It's an expanded moment, essentially from 1977 to 1980. It forms a bridge between King Crimson completing its work in 1974 and beginning again in 1981. It looks at that period in between. I think there's something like twenty-eight CDs. And the scrapbook is superb.


CD ONE Pastorale (Mendoza 03/06/07) / GentleScape (Barcelona 24/07/09) / Time Stands Still (Pershore 02/06/06) / Requiem (Norwich 06/06/06) / Time Promenade(date and venue unknown) / Seascape (Lichtenvoorde 13/06/04) CD TWO At The End Of Time (Broad Chalke 14/01/06) / Evensong (Sutton 03/06/06) / Promenade (Newlyn 03/12/05) / Pastorale (Boston 06/11/07) / Skyscape (Chicago 12/10/05) / Seascape (12/10/05) / Horizon (Carrboro 21/02/06) / Time Procession (Carrboro 21/02/06) CD THREE Affirmation (Atlanta 25/02/06) / Aspiration (Atlanta 25/02/06) / Elegy (Rome 20/06/06) / End Of Time (Barcelona 25/07/09) / Evensong (Barcelona 29/07/09) / Pastorale (Madison l0/ll/07) / Paradise Regained (Oslo 20/06/04) CD FOUR Elegy Pt I (Rome 20/06/06) / Elegy Pt II (Rome 20/06/06) / Elegy Pt III (Rome 20/06/06) / Paradise Regained (Gothenburg 15/06/04) / Evensong (Haapsalu 24/08/06) / Pastorale (Mendoza 02/06/07) / Time Stands Still (Udine 24/06/06) / A Full Heart (Paris 13/10/09) CD FIVE Strong Quiet I (Brussels 14/10/09) / Strong Quiet II (Brussels 14/10/09) / A Move Inside I (Asheville 28/02/06) / A Move Inside II (Asheville 28/02/06) / A Move Inside III (Asheville 28/02/06) / Drifting Gently (Chattanooga 27/02/06) / Drifting Firmly (Chattanooga 27/02/06) CD SIX Time (Amsterdam 12/10/09) / Elegy Pt I (Hannover 15/10/09) / Elegy Pt II Hannover 15/10/09) / Doubt (Greenville 23/02/06) / Consolation (Milan 29/06/06) / Glisten (La Spezia 28/06/06) / Reflection (La Spezia 28/06/06) / Shimmer (La Spezia 28/06/06) CD SEVEN Elegy (Paris 22/09/15) CD EIGHT Elegy (Nashville 01/03/06) / Evocation (Nashville 01/03/06) / A Point In Time (Rome 21/06/07) / Time Calls (Charlotte 22/02/06) / Time Present (Buenos Aires 09/06/07) / Opening (Nashville 17/4/04) / Time And Tkne Again (Mendoza 2/6/07)


Three other staging posts on the Frippertronics/Soundscaping journey

FRIPP & ENO Live In Paris 28.05.1975 - While (No Pussyfooting) and Evening Star are great albums, Live In Paris offers listeners a direct way to encounter Fripp and Eno's collaboration at its most elemental. Performing to a screening of structural filmmaker Malcolm LeGrice's Berlin Horse, you can hear the musicians marvelling at the possibilities of the moment, stretching their limbs in the middle of their tape-loop dreaming. 8/10

ROBERT FRIPP Let The Power Fall - The first full album of pure Frippertronics, after the experiments on 1979's Exposure and 1980's God Save The Queen/Under Heavy Manners, with Let The Power Fall lets the strangely pliable, metallic buzz of his guitar loose inside a hall of mirrors; the end result isn't subtle exactly, but it does feel quietly delirious, Fripp dazed but never confused. 8/10

ROBERT FRIPP 1999 (Soundscapes Live In Argentina) - Recorded in June 1994, these soundscapes are what to play to anyone who thinks Fripp's explorations are just meditative ambience. 1999 alternates between playful and something altogether darker. Throughout, Fripp's control of the tools of the soundscapes is already masterful, and the music here is some of the most compelling in the soundscaping canon. 9/10