Fripp interview text
Date: Tue, 03 Jan 1995 19:48:36 -0400 (EDT)
From: JPRICE at TrentU dot ca
Subject: Fripp interview text
OK, here it is. The interview takes place in a Toronto hotel room the day
after a Frippretronics concert in town during the "Exposure" non-tour. I
don't know the dates as I was touring rather extensively myself at the time
and I was not in town for the show(s). Perhaps some other subscriber can
help fill in this information. It's not quite as long as I thought it would
be, but as my first excursion into transcription, I've discovered it to be
a fairly time-consuming activity. Hence the delay. Enjoy.
Robert Fripp: All right. Well, leave your technology where it is for
the moment and lets get on with it.
Ron Gaskin: Great!
RF: All right, what can I do for you?
RG: Well... since...
RF: Do you want to get it going?
RG: I think that we are rolling right here, right now...
RG: I think I'm getting levels...
RF: In terms of smelly cheese permeating the essence of your cassette
RF: I've found it very interesting, actually, that in supermarkets,
ladies will take pains to make sure that what they naturally sense
as being incompatable, they'll insulate them in some way in the
bag, so you won't have cheese put next to bathroom clenser for
example. They'll first of all stick it in some kind of bag which
they sense will in some way keep the essence of the two from
mingling. I find that quite intrigueing. They wouldn't have cheese
right next to bathroom cleaner.
RG: Excellent. OK, let's start off talking about audio verite. This
(indicates cassette machine) is basically audio verite, is it not? What is audio verite?
RF: Well, if you assume this is, then you assume, explicitly, I would
have thought, that you know. So you tell me what you understand
by audio verite if you believe this to be so.
RG: Well, obviously I'm driving at the production of The Roches and
what I would like to get to is how you actually went about
production and labeled it as audio verite. Obviously it was a
RF: Yes, well there's two senses to audio verite. The first is that
it's a commitment to discover whatever the essence of the artists
might be and try and express it on record. And this is done in the
second sense of the term by, as far as possible, not interfering
with the performance by equalization, limiting and so on. So in
the second sense, yes, this is audio verite, though with a whole
battery of technology which has failed, conceived to validate the
main premis of the second aspect of audio verite, that too much
technology gets in the way. All that one needs is a small and
appropriate level of technology. I could do it on a far smaller
and simpler machine than that and probaby get better sound.
RG: Than this one?
RF: Yeah. In fact, most of the voices on "Exposure" were recorded on
my small pocket Sony cassette machine.
RG: I find that the quality of this is quite interesting just because
of the space of it. It's intriguing. As you had mentioned, it's
not necessary to go high tech.
RF: I sense those clicks are going to pick up.
RG: It's on it's most sensitive setting. We'll hear the hallway as
RF: Good. All right. Incorporating enviornmentally generated sound.
Good. So on from audio verite.
RG: How long was the project with The Roches? Was that just a couple
of days in the studio or was that over an extended period?
RF: It was over about two months. We would work four or five days a
week for generally five hour sessions. We would stop for a week
or so in between. It was mainly October and November of 1978.
RG: How did it come about?
RF: Originally, I'd been in..., I visited The Kitchen Arts and Video
Center in Soho and John Rockwell was there, the critic from The
New York Times. He introduced himself and I said... would he
recommend anyone I should go and see? And he said, "Go and see
The Roches." So I went to see The Roches at The Bottom
Line not long aftrewards, they were there a few days later. Fell
in love immediately, remarkably impressed. Since they were
obviously so talented and seemed to be fairly innocent, I sensed
that they were good canidates for being ripped, so I made one or
two phone calls to make sure their affairs were being taken care
of, which they were, and expressed interest in producing them
should this arise. The Roches, for their part, felt that they
needn't look for a producer, that when the producer came along,
he would look for them. So eventually, I was interviewed by them
for the job. They really gave me a grueling two hours, in which
they said nothing. They simply said nothing.
RG: Just drilling you with questions?
RF: No, they said nothing. They just sat there and said nothing.
RG: What did you say?
RF: Well, I talked. I said... I tried to explain my background
generally, in terms of how I approach work, generally outside the
conventional wisdom of the industry, and that I would record them
as they were, substantially without alteration or addition. That
was the first evening that we spent together.
RG: Very refreshing music.
RF: One man said to me... let me see... it was in Canada...he
interviewed me... I think it was maybe in Edmonton, he said how
much he disliked the Roches album and how angry certain people
were that I'd been involved in it at all.
RG: Did he give you a particular reason?
RF: He didn't like it. He thought it was just... not very good.
Lacking in talent. What was the word... he thought it was ...
comic in a sense and I said, " You mean in the same way that
Charlie Chaplin was a comedian?"
RG: Well, maybe he has difficulty digesting something that is light
and bright and energetic all at once.
RF: Whatever. Yes.
RG: Could you give the same basic rundown about why you left the music
industry in 1974 as you did at the concert last night?
RF: If you'ld like me to.
RF: All right. Frippertronics is defined as that musical experience
which results at the (intersection) of Robert Fripp and a small
and appropriate level of technology which is my Les Paul, the
Fripple board, the Fripp pedal board of fuzz, wah-wah and volume
pedals and two Revoxes. And it's my attempt to promote human
contact in the performance situation. And when I left King
Crimson in September 1974 there were a number of reasons. On a
professional level a lot of it had to do with my feeling of
frustration of not being able to make good contact with the
audiences and I sense this was from three main reasons. The first
was the scale of the event, that even in a situation of some three
thousand people, the situation is simply too large to make any
real contact, and my feeling on this is expressed in the phrase,
"Some relationships are governed by size." And in response to the
criticism, "Oh, but there are people who would like to come and
see you who can't get in." I respond presumably therefore on one's
wedding night all the bridegroom's old boyfriends should come
along too since it would keep more people happy. So the
proposition is that some relationships are governed by size. And
the second reason is to do with difficulties members of an
audience to feel in any way we can be involved. How can we
participate? And of course we don't expect that we should have to.
We paid our money, we wish to be entertained. We don't expect
going along with having to accept responsibility for our ears and
make the act of attention and listen. And the third reason is this
vampiric relationship between audience and performer where we
humor the performers very worst pretentions and conceits in
return for vicariously enjoying that paritcularly strange
lifestyle for ourselves (garbled) and we expect certain things in
return for tolerating these strange proceedings.
RG: Is anonymity one of these things?
RF: I would say photography, autography, a whole battery of personal
techniques and if we can, steal the sound from the air on small
cassette machines hidden 'round our persons. There are a battery
of other, more insidious personal techniques as well.
RG: Are you opposed to people bootlegging...
RG: ...your performances?
RF: Yes. People who turn up to Frippertronics concerts need only bring
They need have responsibility to nothing else but their ears. If
they're not prepared to get involved in the spirit of what is
trying to be created there, they really shouldn't come, and I
don't say that in any callous way at all. If the idea is to come
along to take photographs, this is not the idea of amusic concert.
This is a peculiar custom that one should listen to music through
the lense of a camera and I don't like being put in a situation
where the sound, the atmosphere is being punctured by theft . I
understand that on the subject of bootlegging there is this notion
that it's preserving music which is perhaps of some value to other
people and all those other vague notions. When I recieve the
traditional proportion of royalties which a record makes from all
the different bootlegs and notice that the ... whoever wrote the
music is getting their proportion as well, I shall perhaps look on
bootlegging, the... if you like...the so-called public-spirited
bootlegging, in a different way. Were I a bootlegger, I would
deduct a portion of the royalties for the artist and the writer
and send them off anonymously. That's what I should do. I know
of no one yet who does that so my suspicions of bootleggers and
their motives remain. In fact I've just obtained the address of
a man who, against all my requests, bootlegged the Kitchen concert
in New York and I'm considering exactly what to do. You see, the
traditional approach is that three very large burly men go around
and inflict a considerable amount of muscular and organic damage
upon the body of the person who's bootlegged this and destroy a
lot of material objects. That's not my approach. But I don't like
having the idea of working through the traditional dinosaur
structure of copyright law and so on but I sense that I may have
to do it because in a situation where normal requests from one
human being to another in a very straightforeward way, where this
isn't met by a decent and honorable response, one is violated and
that situation simply can't go on. And it's such a pity that a
very, very small proportion of people have led, for example, to
increased security at airports throughout the world which make
traveling now, for me, personally, almost intolerableand in terms
of performance situations the point is that within two and a half
years, we shall all be frisked when we go to a rock 'n' roll
RG: That's already the case here in Toronto.
RF: Well, the one response that everyone can do is simply... do not
buy bootlegs... Do not buy bootlegs.
RG: You've obviously been in contact with some of your material which
has been bootlegged.
RG: Has any of it stood up to you as being at all relevant on a
historical basis or any of the other reasonings that are attached?
RF: As I say I can see that in some context this notion of ...there is
worth in a parrallel organization for the distribution of sound,
distribution of music which doesn't carry with it the expectation
of so-called official preformance but I will not accept this
popular notion of bootlegging as being music for the people and
so on, with the bootlegger making very considerable profit for his
labor and absolutely none of it being returned to the artist or
writer. That... when that situation is reached there will be a
more genuine parallell organization for alternative music, which,
in principal, I have no objection to, provided it is equitable.
The so-called excuses of bootleggers simply don't meet up to this
requirement. As I say, I would be an honorable bootlegger. I know,
theoretically, how to do it, and if it ever came to it, I would,
but with the provision that it would be an equitable distribution
of income. Alternatively, it would be a question of giving away at
RG: I wanted to ask you if you consider Frippertronics to be a form of
Muzak, or to use Eno's term, ambient music?
RF: A lot of Frippertronics is ambient within Eno's definition of the
term, that it's music as ignorable as it is listenable. There are
two categories of Frippertronics, pure and applied. Applied is
where it's used as an alternative to traditional orchestration,
instrumentation, arrangement and so on and pure Frippertronics is
where Frippertronics stands up as music in it's own right. Some of
this is ambient and some of it has an imperative, a demand to be
heard, that one must listen to it in order to catch the sense of
it. So some of it is and some of it isn't.
RG: What have you found to be the most exciting response? You were
speaking earlier about wanting to do the Frippertronics
performances in order to make contact with the audiences. What's
the most exciting response that you get from an audience?
RF: The most exciting response is where there's no excitement. That
excitement is a cheap state of the release of tension, that a
qualitative experience does not involve excitement, that it
involves something quite different. It involves a sense of still,
a sense of calm, a sense which is tangible but quite intangible
and it's very difficult to express rationally. And probably this
(Knock at door. Maid arrives to clean the room. RF refuses in
deference to the interview.)
RG: I guess I should rephrase my question. What is the most positive
feedback to you personally in giving your individualized
RF: There was one particular night which stands out remarkably which
was the Saturday night at The Washington Ethical Society and there
were about 450 people there and something happened. There is this
idea that music is capable of opening a door to a completely
different kind of perception or energy. Blake(?) expressed it by
saying, "Music can come from a place more real than life itself"
and on this one night it did and it was remarkable. There was
such a presence in the building which didn't go away when the
show finished. It remained with me and I went back to the hotel
and I didn't know whether to eat my bag of Dr. Braun's Corn and
Sesame Chips since I had no time to eat lunch or dinner for
several days, the schedule was so hectic. I didn't know whether to
do that or watch Vincent Price and Diana Rigg on "Theatre of
Blood" and I decided I would simply sit down quietly with myself
and I did. After sitting down for ten minutes this remarkable
presence... (RF snaps fingers)... like that, left. You know this
expression of Blake, "He who catches joys that flies, learns to
live in eternity's sunrise." It was like that. Remarkable. And for
me it was a validation that music really can enable us to touch ...
a certatn something which is, I think, probably always with us if
we did but know it. One would simply write a poem... I think a
line from the poem I would write about this would be to say that
"Music is the cup that holds the wine of silence."
RG: Whence came the passages on "Exposure" which you said you recorded
on a small Sony machine, Bennett's statements?
RF: No, Bennett's statements came from a series of cassettes, mainly
taken from cosmological and psychological lectures Bennett gave at
Sherborne House, the school I went to in England, the
International Academy for Continuous Education. The passages I
recorded were Eno in the falafel restaurant. Eno introduces the
record and it's Eno finishing talking about the hoax. I recorded
my mother at the beginning of "Disengage", since it's a song about
internalized parental archtypes and since many schools of
personality formation attribute considerable importance to toilet
training, I interviewed my mother on the subject of my toilet
training and included that at the beginning of the song. And also
the argument next door on "NY3" which is a real-life argument next
door when I was living in Hell's Kitchen in New York.
RG: Very intense passage,that.
RF: Oh, terrifying. Terrifying. You should have heard the rest of it.
I recorded about ten minutes and you only heard odd phrases. But
some of the things they were saying to each other... And bear in
mind that I had ten minutes.There had been an
hour-and-a-half before I started recording of equal virulence.
They kept that up for an hour-and-a-half without any abatement.
Terrifying...terrifying. The nuclear family in New York City. The
RG: Who'se voice is the passage, "I could easily spend the rest of my
life with you"?
RF: A woman who could not easily spend the rest of her life with me.
She, at the time of the recording, had just left me to live with
another man. Bennett pops up on "Exposure", "It is impossible to
achieve the aim without suffering." and "If you have an unpleasant
nature and dislike people, it is no obstacle to work." These are
both taken from the First Inaugural Address to Sherbourne House,
which is included in it's complete form at the end of "I May Not
Have Had Enough of Me, But I've Had Enough of You". The (RF makes
a loud hissing sound). It's put up some six-and-a-half thousand
octaves, condensed to three-and-a-half seconds from it's original
RG: Are you living Bennett's philosophies that you learned?
RF: I try. You can judge an idea by it's efficacy in promoting change,
so any idea, however seemingly high or cosmological or whatever...
if it's, if you like, true, we will be able to find some simple
down-to-earth way of incorporating it in our practical
day-to-day living, and if we can't, then the idea isn't true. Any
seemingly complex idea has, at it's base, a very simple
proposition but we have to work awfully hard to go through the
process of aquiring all the information to examine the complex
idea before throwing it all away and coming back and understanding
it in a simple way.
RG: "It's impossible to achieve the aim..."
RF: "...without suffering." But the point is much suffering is
unnecessary. Greed, for example. All the suffering involved with
greed. It's wholly unnecessary. I'm greedy. If I could give up
being greedy, I would have a lot more energy to suffer in a...
in a more appropriate way.
RG: In what realm do you find you're greedy?
RF: I want everything. That's all. I want everything. I want to live
in New York and Paris and the country and London... and a small
apartment, modern; a large Georgian mansion with antique furniture
and gardeners to keep the lawn impeccably tidy. But I don't wish
to have to go out and work hard to pay for this. Instead I shall
muse and ramble among the trees, that is, when I'm not sitting on
the boulevard cafe in Paris, eyeing and winking at very attractive
Parisian women walking by. But then, I don't need a sexual life,
do I, because I'm spending all my time practicing guitar. Oh, how
it will be nice to be such a tremendous star and have all these
women throwing money and gifts at me but then that would intrude
on me, because, really, I'm so happy in my Georgian mansion or
even my small cottage in Dorset, and so on.
RG: When you were studying for three years at...
RF: Well, it was a year to wind up my affairs, a year to be there and
a year to recover.
RG: So it was the central year that you were actually there.
RF: Yes. It was a ten month intensive course. We left the premises one
day every three
weeks. That was a day off.
RG: Were you actively persuing your guitar at that time?
RG: Not at all?
RF: Very, very marginally. There would be a concert every two or three
weeks, month or so, and occasionally, on three occasions,
actually, I got up and played duets with an art teacher, Don Tate.
RG: On which instrument was Don Tate?
RF: The acoustic guitar. Two acoustic guitars. Peter Gabriel came to
the first, I think. First or second he came. He came on a
visitor's day with his wife and daughter.
RG: How did you arrive at the cycle of three; three albums, three
RF: Well, two is not long enough to do anything and four is too long
to be able to grasp. I can understand three years. I know what
three years is. I know how long it is. It gives me enough time to
achieve what it is I'm setting out to do without being so long
that it's too long for me to grasp. It has a sense of cohesion
which I can work with.
RG: Does that follow through in the idea of the trilogy, the drive
RF: Yes, three is the number at the moment, but as I say two is not
enough to do everything and four is too much. Three, the quality
of three... the characteristic of three is something that I'm
working with at the moment.
RG: Could you simply explain the process of Frippertronics?
RF: Yes. I record on the left machine, the guitar is recorded on the
left machine, the signal passes along the tape to the right
machine where it's played back to the left machine and recorded
a second time.
RF: The signal recorded the second time passes along the tape to the
right machine where it's played back a second time and recorded a
RG: And at what point is it released into the room?
RF: Oh, straightaway. Unless, what I could do if I wanted to be
crafty, would be to build up a chord which no one could hear and
then turn the chord on, but, in fact, that doesn't happen. I've
only done that, I think, on a couple of occasions. You hear it
RG: Did you consider the audience hard to work with last night
because of the size?
RF: The audience last night were remarkably good. To have 550 people
in that situation is risky. Very risky. It's about twice what I
would consider safe. They were a remarkable audience. There was
only one real problem with a drunk whose friend was so embarassed
that he carried him out. That no one said, "Why don't you piss
off." That the man who was with the drunk was simply so embarassed
he took him away. In fact, in one situation I was working a record
shop in... I think it was Albany, there were two men in front of
me that were brained. The expression, I believe, is space cadet.
These were space commanders. Oh dear. And every other note was a
revelation from the beyond and would invoke applause and
celebration ad so on. After 45 minutes of this, I said "I'm sorry,
I simply can't continue with this" and... they were nice lads.
Because someone is spaced or because they're drunk doesn't mean
they're a nasty person, it simply means they're not in a space
where they can listen. So these two space commanders said, "Would
you like us to go, man?", and I said, "I'm sorry, yes."
So they went. They were very nice about it. Such a pity that they
felt they had to turn up in this oblique fashion.
RG: How do you feel about drugs? Psychedelic drugs?
RF: I don't use them. I never have used them.
RG: Do you find that they interfere with appreciation? That instance
obviously was an interference with you personally and with the
rest of the audience and with the performance in general.
RF: The sense of what I'm trying to convey, something that is possible
with attention and with human beings interacting together, is far
better expressed without drugs. Far better.
RG: You have the same feeling about alcohol?
RF: Substantially, yes.
RG: I'm wondering if that's part of the motivation for this particular
series of performances being in non-traditional music situations
the way we've grown to know it now. You're not playing in bars
where people are...
RF: I have played in one or two. One of them was disasterous.
Disasterous. It involved a certain callousness on the part of the
management. It was actually... not nasty people but very, very
neurotic, and, I think, a little callous, too. They saw an
opportunity to clean up and cleaned up. Eighteen dollars to get
in. There were no tickets sold up in front so everyone can queue
and first come first served. Fine. Unless you have eighteen bucks.
And then it's six dollars to get in and six dollars for food and
six dollars for drink and there's eighty on sale. Guaranteed
seating. That's one situation I ran into. And after that I said
(RF audibly puts foot down), "No." M'buhe(sp?) (Phonetically,
it's M'BOO-HAY) Gardens in San Francisco was very good. They
stopped serving while I was performing. In a rock 'n' roll
situation one has to work to confound the expectations and
traditions of the rock 'n' roll enviornment. In... in... serious,
artistic performance situations, such as concert halls and so on,
I have to work to confound them in a different kind of way. In
rock 'n' roll situations it's a question of how can one... not
formalize exactly, but bring a sense of quiet, bodily quiet, to
the situation. How can one bring order into it. And in terms of
the art (venue), it's a question of how can one disorder that
tradition of sitting there passively thinking all is serious and
gritting one's teeth in an effort of devotion and so on. How can
one informalize that particular situation. And I turn up and do
what I can when I get there. There's no perscribed single means.
One simply has to wing it.
RG: Do you find that one of the major barriers is overcoming that
pretense of, "Oh, well this is arty, this is gallery music"?
RF: Yes, that's one of the reasons why I'm playing in record shops,
pizza houses, canteens and all the rest of it. We have this notion
that art is something that should be locked up in museums and
made available to adults of consenting age, preferably in daylight
hours. That's the implication. So, presenting Frippertronics
in an informal, off-the-cuff situation, just human to human, is a
question of re-invigorating "Ah-rt"; an aphorism which popped up
from yesterday. Art is the capaity to re-experience one's
innocence. Ooh, that was a nice phrase.
RG: Do you feel that what you're doing now is rock 'n' roll?
RF: Some of it is finding that. Rock 'n' roll is characterized by an
energy which works from below the navel. Some Frippertronics has
that. Funny enough, it's generally only the women that recognize
it. 'Cause it's not often crass and straightforeward. (RF makes
loud drunken animal noises)
RG: More sensual?
RF: Well, it varies, doesn't it? But the point is that generally men
come up and say, "What a remarkably good idea that was, stacking
those fourths one on top of the other. Oh, remarkable. Remarkable
parallell modulation there. Yes, very good, very good." Women come
up and sort of, "Hmmm! Yes!" (warmly). I've had more propositions
from Frippertronics in three months, two months in America, than I
had in six years of rock 'n' roll with Crimson. Yeah, really
RG: So how does that affect you? How do you respond?
RF: Oh, generally go home and go to bed and pack my suitcase to be
getting up and in a fit state to go on the road the next day.
That's what I generally do. I see to business.
RG: Your transportation has been primarily by airplane?
RF: I'm afraid so.
RG: You haven't had an opportunity to take a leisurely train ride or...
RF: In this tour one doesn't do anything leisurely. I don't enjoy
travelling. It disturbs my body. My organism is physically
disturbed by travelling the extent that I do.
RG: Are you regularly indisposed as you mentioned in the Washington
performance whereby you would go a number of regular mealtimes
without food? That must affect you.
RF: If you had any idea of my schedule in the past two or three months
you would weep blood vicariously.
RG: Are you going to tour with Discotronics when that comes out?
RF: I doubt that I shall ever tour.
RG: After this?
RF: This is not a tour. It is in a sense but it's not in another
sense. There are certain implications in the word touring that
implies a certain... There is a conventional wisdom about touring.
In that sense I shall never tour again, I hope. I have no plans to
form a band and go out and play music to promote an album quite in
those terms. Darryl Hall and I have agreed to get togeather in an informal and
unofficial fashion to play rock 'n' roll in a group with Tony
Levin on bass and Jerry Marotta on drums, but it won't be an
official touring band. If it's official, we won't be alive to do
it. So it will be unofficial and informal. If it's formal, it will
be inflexilbe, so it will be informal.
RG: You consider this to be an informal... what you're doing right now
is an informal series of performances as opposed to a tour to
RF: Well, because it's such an organic tour, because it is a small,
mobile tour, it permits some intelligence to enter, and, because
it is intelligently constructed, and works on a number of
different levels simultaneously, (Phone rings. RF continues as he
moves to answer it.) it covers many things, many areas. (To phone)
Hello..... Yes I am.... Thank you. There's my next interview.
Does that answer your question?
RF: Today we only have four-and-three-quarter hours.
RG: You only have four-and-three-quarter hours?
RF: Of interviews.
RG: Can I ask one last question?
RG: What's next after the three years? Do you know?
RF: Well, yes. The first three year campaign, the Drive to 1981 ]
completes on September 11, 1981 and on the same day, the second
three year campaign begins. That's the Decline to 1984.
RG: What does that include?
RF: You said you had one more question.
RG: OK, you're right.