letter from Robert
Date: 13 Aug 97 06:12:41 EDT
From: Discipline Global Mobile
Subject: letter from Robert
DGM World Central,
PO Box 1533,
Wiltshire, SP5 5ER.
(44)1722 781042: fax
August 12th. 1997.
Several recent posters have asked the question: "What is happening
with Possible Productions"?
First, the generality; secondly, the specific; thirdly, the generality;
fourthly, the specific. And then something else.
History recap: Possible Productions (a name coined by Robert) was
originally set up by Mark Perry in California during 1993 to release
Discipline Global Mobile records. PP became a succesful mail order shop,
largely because of Mark's heroic labours with the support of Cheryl, his
Mark's Possible Productions company, although nominally
representing DGM as a record company, never in fact developed to the point
that it actually did so. Possible Productions was responsible for mail
order sales, and placing the distribution in stores, of DGM
records. Possible Productions belonged to Mark and was not technically
connected, other than in name, with either myself or the formally
constituted UK company of Possible Productions.
As Mark's operation developed it seemed to me that PP in California
was not actually a record company. So, we separated out DGM from PP and
became independent of Mark in August 1996, with an office manager for DGM
who had worked with Mark at PP and who had been involved in Guitar Craft,
and various other projects with me, over a period of 12 years. When DGM
planned to release its own limited mail order (with "Epitaph" Volumes 3 &
4) Mark chose to withdraw from his operation, and we took over the mail
order business in mid-March 1997.
On March 10th., 1997, at 09.05 Pacific time, David Singleton and I
terminated by telephone the DGM office manager's employment, after a total
of six months and two weeks. This followed our increasing concerns
regarding developments within that office. Five hours later our former
office manager withdrew $30,000 of the company's money (which we later
recovered). The following morning he returned to the office and removed
company documents, cheque books and records of transactions. On the
afternoon of 27th. March we received at the PP / DGM office in Los Angeles
a hand-delivered package from the former manager's attorney containing
company cheque books, receipts for purchases, and two document
files. However, the former manager continued to withold DGM electronic
mail, and the passwords which enabled us to access that mail. (The DGM
e-mail accounts had been set up in the manager's own name, contrary to our
Currently, there are internal and EDD audits underway in Los
Angeles of the PP operation and it would be inappropriate for me to
presently comment on our current and likely future relationship with the
So, when DGM / PP took on mail order, our office manager left with
company documents, cheque books, money and e-mail access. We were unable to
access our e-mail for several weeks.
Hugh flew out from DGM World Central in Wiltshire to Los Angeles in
mid-March to pick up the pieces and assess the damage. The direction of
DGM, the record company, returned to us in England. PP in California
retuned and returned to the same model of one-stop mail order shopping
which Mark had developed. Jeff, who had worked with Mark Perry, became an
instant and continuing Hero, in charge of mail order. Amy joined the office
in June as manager. It took several weeks to deal with the backlog of
orders, both postal and locked into our inaccessible e-mail. Jeff and Amy
proudly announced that as of 7th. July they had moved PP order-processing
onto a same-day basis.
Both Jeff and Amy are commitment workers rather than career
employees. Jeff is a himself a collector, and has made valuable
suggestions for future approaches and strategies at PP, and Amy left a safe
and promising corporate background to join us at a time of great
My personal and professional apologies to anyone who suffered
frustrations, difficulties and delays with their orders during this
transitional time. Doubtless, we lost the loyalty of some of our
audience. But at least they now have information and may better judge to
what degree any delays or lost orders were the result of our own
carelessness, or an arbitrary capriciousness within the company.
Now, to the specific.
In ET 400, Date: 24 Jul 1997, Mike Spindloe of The Vinyl Exchange in
Saskatoon, Canada, has some comments:
From: vinylex at the dot link dot ca (Mike Spindloe)
Subject: mail order ethics
MS: I hate to have to waste my time and newsletter bandwidth with the
following negative comments about Possible Productions' mail-order service ...
RF: And then does so.
MS: ... but I think you'll see why:
RF: Or not, depending upon one's perspective.
MS: First, a bit of persepctive: I own a small independent used/new
record/CD store in Saskatoon, which for the geographically challenged is in
the middle of nowhere, Canada. I have also run Pawn Hearts, the newsletter/
archive/mail order service specialising in the works of Peter Hammill and
Van der Graaf Generator, for about 10 years, so I've had a chance to form
some reasoned opinions about both buying and selling recordings through the
RF: Peter Hammill is well known for pioneering independent releases and
mail order since the mid 1970s.
MS: Back around March, I emailed PossProd (PP henceforth) asking if it
would be possible to purchase six copies of the 4CD version of "Epitaph"
for resale at some sort of a wholesale discount. I was aware that it was
not their intention to sell the complete set to retailers and made note of
that in my initial email and at least two subsequent ones, but decided to
make the request anyway ...
RF: So although Mike knew that it was not the intention of PP to sell
complete sets to retailers, he wanted us sell complete sets to a retailer.
Somehow, I sense that trouble is about to follow.
MS: ...since I had a few customers who preferred to deal with me rather
than Canada Post/Customs...
RF: An alternative would have been for Mike's customers to have dealt with
PP directly and become PP customers.
MS: ... which seem to specialize in making it as difficult and expensive as
possible to buy anything from the U.S., a holdover from the days when our $ was
worth more, and things could actually be got cheaply from the U.S..
RF: Any international border is a pain to a mail order company, and the
Canadian border is a stinker. The European Union has revolutionised trading on
MS: Anyway, two months passed and I received a series of non-answers to
my query from PP...
RF: Sometimes a non-answer is an answer, especially when the answer is
MS: ... among which was a form letter describing their new
releases and better yet, a suggestion that I should order the box from
Cargo, whom they weren't even selling the 4CD version to anyway!
RF: I agree: that's an impressively dopey suggestion and I'd like to know
who made it.
MS: (BTW, Cargo was WHOLESALING the 2CD version to Canadian retailers for
$37CDN/$27US approx, ie more than the retail cost by mail from PP before
RF: You mean, PP prices are reasonable?
For the information of record purchasers, DGM, along with other
record companies, is not allowed to set the store price of their
albums. This is under consumer-oriented legislation which prohibits Resale
Price Maintenance. So, for example, it is possible for Tower Records to
undercut sales by the company which supplies them.
This may help explain the trading position to the recent ET poster
who found the KC video cheaper in Tower than by mail order from PP. But the
poster didn't follow through his thinking: in attributing the PP pricing
policy to my undeniable and acknowledged greed, he failed to think this
through - why not attribute generosity and charitable impulses to Tower
Records? Surely this is as reasonable a conclusion?
Mark Perry, in accepting orders for the complete KC / RF catalogue
(i.e. through Virgin) didn't claim to be the cheapest supplier in the
marketplace. He aimed to provide one-stop shopping for Crim-enthusiasts,
should they wish. We have continued to follow Mark's lead.
MS: <Shipping> ...(which is the next issue).
RF: And not just for you.
MS: And I ordered the KC Japan video from Cargo in January and I'm still
waiting, which gives you an idea what THEIR service is like.
RF: Even worse than PP? Wow.
Actually, PP have themselves had difficulties dealing with Cargo
from the Mark Perry days.
MS: Eventually I relinquished the idea of a discount and ordered the 6
copies anyway, since I was as anxious to hear it as my customers.
RF: Good for you - a commitment music shop. But maybe this would have been
the best approach from the beginning?
MS: Two MONTHS later (long after I started reading "Epitaph" reviews in
ET), they finally arrived with the predictable customs hassles and posted
to the wrong address.
RF: Canadian Customs are beyond our control, but apologies for the wrong
address. At one time we had part-time help to clear the backlog but when
the assistant, upon being reproved for mis-spelling a customer's name on a
posting label, replied "It's only mail order" we felt the assistant's
future was waiting for them outside PP's mail order department.
I asked PP in Los Angeles to comment. Jeff the Hero sent me the
" Mr. Spindloe's e-mail date: May 23rd.
Printed out: May 26th.
Input into the PP system: June 13th.
Mailed out of LA: June 18th.
If it took two months for Mr. Spindloe to receive his order, that
would mean the US / Canadian mail took another five weeks."
MS: Adding the final insult to injury, however, was the postage
charge:$37.85US, based on 15% of the cost of the order plus registration
(which I didn't ask for).
RF: I asked Jeff in Los Angeles to comment. He writes:
"Our order-form states all orders outside the US are sent that way
unless the customer mails us, or faxes us a signed request not to register
their mail. There are too many lost international packages for us to just
trust the mail."
MS: Actual amount of postage on the box: $12.22, less than 1/3 of the
amount charged. Now, I can understand a reasonable charge for handling and
packing, but as someone noted in a recent ET, that's a lot of handling! My
own standard procedure over the years has been to round up the postage to
the nearest dollar to cover the cost of a record mailer or padded envelope,
and I'm well aware that some places charge a little more than this (or
RF: Jeff's comment:
"The two people who have complained about our shipping charges (that I
know of) were both record dealers looking to resale."
Charges for handling / postage have been an ongoing debate at PP /
DGM since the beginning, and different firms adopt different approaches. In
the US our current policy (under ongoing review) is 15% of the order. In
the UK we have a flat fee per order. Any policy aims to reduce the time
taken to compute the amount of postage, thus reducing costs, and aims at an
overall balance of fairness.
The Wine Society and Book Protectors (two UK mail order firms of
which I am a customer) both have different policies regarding their postage
/ handling charges.
For ET readers' interest, in the UK we probably lose on every
non-DGM title we sell, but maintain as full a catalogue as our customers
require. Once again, we have learnt from Mark Perry and "one-stop shopping"
for the Crim / related enthusiast.
MS: But a difference of $25 amounts to GOUGING (yes, I'm shouting)...
RF: It is a wisdom to be sure of your position before shouting. And a
greater wisdom not to shout.
MS: ... and I will not support these kinds of business practices any
further because they are simply unethical (notice how I resisted shouting
that last word).
RF: Congratulations on the eventual application of self restraint. But what
are "these kinds" of business practices? And how are they unethical?
MS: Interestingly enough, a recent catalogue from Wayside Music,
informed me that they would no longer be stocking DGM releases "due to a
number of factors, some of them showing the worst side of the record
RF: Not only is Mike interested, but also Robert. I would be grateful if
he, or anyone else, would inform me of Wayside Music's concerns.
It IS unethical, though, to publicly impute to DGM practices
"showing the worst side of the record business" without substantiating what
these are. Where a mistake has been made, I am happy to address the
mistake. MS: Of course I sent PP an email politely (I hope) expressing my
feelings about this issue. Three weeks later, I have not received any
RF: And now you have. Although the first response was probably more
MS: In the DGM newsletter one, dated January 1997, which I received
with my copies of "Epitaph," Mr. Fripp basically states that record stores
are ineffective ways to distribute product, because "high street" stores
don't cater to our specialised tastes and you'll have to (gasp) travel to
get to specialised shops.
RF: Like my visits to specialised bookstores, you mean?
MS: Well, Mr. Fripp, as you say a few paragraphs later, collectors do like
to collect, and I think it will be a sad day indeed when we all just sit at
home, glued to our all-powerful computer screens and just download
music. Certainly the music retail business is dominated by faceless
megastores these days, just like most everything else but there are still
many like myself who are in it because we love music first...
RF: My personal character is so flawed and consumed with avaricious intent
that there is no surprise to learn that DGM, KC, PP, GC and other bright Fripp
wheezes are carefully constructed schemes to prise open the innocent hands of
completists, collectors and connoisseurs, even students, and seize from their
opened palms a clasp of their hard-earned pay.
MS: ... and to denigrate our efforts is an insult...
RF: Mike suggests I denigrate the efforts of "many like (himself) who are
in it because (they) love music first". ET readers are aware from the many
postings of hard done-by innocents of Fripp's ingratitude, arbitrary
rudeness and other unsavoury personal characteristics, that I shall not
seek to defend the impoverishment of my nature. However, I went back to the
Newsletter and looked for any remark which might be construed as
denigrating or insulting to a specialist shop like Mike's, but without
success. He also overlooks that PP mail-order is itself a small,
specialised record shop.
Mike has misrepresented my position (which is not unusual, nor a matter
of surprise). But he has insulted PP staff on spurious grounds, which is
severely out of order.
MS: ... and to refuse to sell us product an injury.
RF: Several points:
1. We were bound by our exclusive distribution agreement with INDI to not
supply anyone other than INDI. Contractually, legally, and in good faith, we
were unable to supply Mike, or anyone else, wholesale. (This has now changed).
2. David Singleton and I took the decision to sell Epitaph Vols. 3 & 4 by
mail order only. The reason for this was that, at the time, it seemed to be
impossible to bring the sonic quality up to an acceptable standard for a full
3. As a single record shop Mike the The Vinyl Exchange vies for customers,
to a small degree, PP the Mail Order Shop. Where PP the MO Shop has
exclusive rights to mail-order certain DGM products we have a trading
advantage over Mike and The VE. Where Tower Records can afford to sell DGM
videos (and records) cheaper than PP they have the advantage over us. The
name for this phenomenon is "competition".
Back to Jeff, collector and PP West Coast Hero:
"The bottom line (I believe) is that we have a hot little title
(Epitaph Vols. 3 & 4) we are not selling wholesale."
4. The problem began with Mike asking us to change our trading
policy, and break our trading agreement, in order that he might supply "a
few customers" of his own. We didn't do that, at least to Mike's
satisfaction. Then, he got pissy. Then, he got pissy in a public forum and
insulted PP staff, and misrepresented my published views. I am not
MS: The irony of using my computer to voice these complaints is not lost on
me, by the way! I could go on and bore you all even further, but I think the
salient points have been made.
RF: My response is not boredom and the salient points were, mostly, not
MS: Anyone have similar experiences?
RF: Quite a few.
MS: Or just want to flame me?
RF: I'd rather spit on your foot.
MS: Oh, by the way Robert: I do like "Epitaph" very much.
RF: Perhaps the anticipation helped?
MS: And it was a dream come true to see those KC shows in Vancouver and
Seattle in '96.
RF: I doubt that you have any idea of the grief it caused me to get there.
MS: So, uh, thanks!
I am surprised that Mike, a person upon whom irony is not lost,
does not point out the irony that Robert, the person primarily responsible
for his grief is, apparently, concerned with quality in one part of his
life (music) and so devoid of it, even unethical, in another (musical
supplies). But then, perhaps Fripp is inconsistent.
Back to Jeff:
"A Four CD set (with a booklet) for $35.00 (what we charge) is
unheard-of in the retail marketplace. That is generally the cost of a used
4 CD set. Any changes made to shipping fees will require a re-structuring
of our mail-order `item' prices in the catalog. There are so many other
issues connected to this that it would require a couple of hours
Thirdly, the generality.
There is a consistent thread present in (probably all) the complaints I
have read in ET, in fan / enthusiast letters directed to me, and in the more
brittle personal encounters of which only a small proportion have been detailed
in ET, but which remain etched upon my psyche.
This is the consistent thread: a particular something (Robert to jump
about onstage, sign autographs, welcome photography and recording, even supply
records wholesale) is wanted / expected / demanded. This is not met (despite
the clear right and entitlement to it / that on various grounds by the
frustrated fan / enthusiast / record retailer).
Then, a negative reaction.
Then, the negative reaction is blamed on RF / PP / whoever.
Then, the negativity is put out into the world.
Then, the negativity spreads as if by contagion.
What happens next is a subtle and important topic, particularly for
any ET readers actively involved in solving problems, disputes and various
politicking; and for those interested in the practical end of spiritual
studies. But ET is not the forum for a discussion of subtleties, or
possibly even a forum for discussion.
The first considerable freedom conferred by a craft training is freedom
from like and dislike; which doesn't imply that we stop liking the things we
like, or disliking the things we dislike, but that they no longer have such a
compelling hold over us and our behaviour. It takes the sincere student 12-14
years of continuing practice to have a taste of that freedom.
This is the view I adopt:
In other than a situation of deliberate provocation, I hold an
individual responsible for their reactions and responses. If I am
personally involved, I may or may not (depending on the conditions of time,
place and person) call them on their reaction / response and ask them to
Fourthly, the specific.
There was an interesting post from earlier this year (Charity
Upchurch?) commenting on de Saussure's dictum of the arbitrariness of
linguistic signs. I'm not sure de Saussure is totally correct. Another view
is that (at least some) contemporary forms of writing descending from
ancient ideograms (Charlotte Bach deals with the Chinese) still manage to
resonate with an echo of the intent and content placed in them by the
remarkable people who constructed those forms.
But, that's another story and, once again, probably not one for ET.
My own suggestion is that language conspires to convey the truth,
despite our attempts to bend it to our fashion and purposes. It is
instructive to apply this notion to the recent posting from Piotr
Zlotkowski, along with Mike the Vinyl Exchanger's, in ET 400.
"From: "Piotr Zlotkowski" <mczers at sgh dot waw dot pl>
Organization: Warsaw School of Economics
Date: Mon, 21 Jul 1997 12:00:10 EST
Subject: King Crimson versus ELP
(RF interjection: ELP and Crimson are not in opposition).
Alex Brugger <alex dot brugger at physik dot uni-erlangen dot de> writes on #396:
>KC are as fresh and powerful as they've always been
Well, I must disagree. I've seen KC's concert about a year ago in
Warsaw and even recorded the whole show (hey, Mr. Fripp, don't shoot
at me, the quality is really very poor - even worse than on the 3rd
volume of "Epitaph", so I'm not going to diffuse it) ...
(RF interjection II: Is this for real?).
... and every time I listen to that tape, or recall the performance, I find
the music, particularly in the 2nd hour, incredibly boring and
incoherent. All these improvs, long and leading to nowhere, and passive
RF's behaviour (if he had only spat on the audience like Roger Waters I
would have been pleased) made me disappointed. Sometimes I wonder if it was
RF himself sitting between the two drum kits, or a dummy. The older pieces
like "Red", "Schizoid Man", "The Talking Drum" sounded well, but not
sensationally. To sum up: no deeper feelings. Listening to "The Great
Deceiver" and "Epitaph" sets I must state that formerly the group was
playing definitely far better. Those improvs from the seventies were
acceptable, as KC were using strictly rock instruments sounding
naturally. Nowadays, RF's and AB's guitars produce modern electronically
processed sounds I truly dislike.
Let's compare KC with the group that is playing only the old tunes and is
not experimenting. About a month ago I had an unquestionable pleasure to
watch ELP's concert in Katowice, Poland (on 22nd June). Unlike KC's show,
this one was really powerful, rousing, moving... and so on. They were
playing their greatest pieces like "Take A Pebble", "Bitches Crystal",
"Lucky Man", "From The Beginning", "Hoedown", "Tiger In A Spotlight",
excerpts from "Karn Evil 9" and "Tarkus", and many more. The only song I
was waiting for and didn't hear was "C'est la vie". Nevertheless, I
couldn't refrain from shedding my tears of emotion, and when the boys
struck up "The Great Gates Of Kiev" - I simply burst into tears. It was the
most wonderful concert I ever participated in. Carl Palmer was slashing his
drums with a speed of a machine gun; Emerson played jumping on and lying
under his organ, and plunging knives into the keyboard; and Greg Lake was
great, though he had lost his velvety voice. Well, I would exchange ten
KC's concerts for the ELP's one, because the latter was more powerful,
dynamic, exciting and... better!
Peter says, to me, more than I believe he intends.
I remember KC's visit to Warsaw well: the band's arrival, the
hotel, the auditorium (built by Stalin as a "gift to the Polish people"),
audience and performance.
1. I note that Peter came to take, and took.
2. I am saddened that Peter fails to make the connection between his
contribution to the performance, and his perception of the performance.
3. I am saddened that Peter fails to make the connection between his
contribution to the performance, and the outcome of the performance.
4. PZ: "hey, Mr. Fripp, don't shoot at me, the quality is really very
RF: "Hey, Peter, don't give me a hard time me for stealing your
sound system: the sound is really very naff."
5. I am happy that Peter has found in ELP a group to whom he can give his
allegiance, and that ELP have found in Peter an allegiant; and hope that this
relationship continues into the future.
6. It is unlikely that Peter need exchange even one KC concert for one of
ELP. This because, firstly, my knife throwing is unlikely to improve; secondly,
I doubt that I would ever spit on a Warsaw audience (although Peter's foot is a
fair target); thirdly, KC is not a group "that is playing only the old tunes
and is not experimenting"; fourthly, it seems eminently unfair that whereas an
audient can choose their performer, the performer is unable to choose their
I hope that language has conspired to convey the truth.
Several ET contributors have written regarding KC touring plans,
and the lack of recent live performance. They may find a large part of an
answer in the above.
As I hit the keys of this IBM Thinkpad the sounds of "Schizoid Man"
from the Amsterdam Concertgebouw smack my pearly auricles. Now "Book of
Saturday". "The Talking Drum" has also recently been tweaking the small
hairs of my inner ears. The improv into the "Talking Drum" riff is
intriguing. David Cross twists the tuning knob (a contradiction in terms)
on his mellotron over my own mellotron strings as Billy B. and JW, Bass
Beast of Terror, fall into time. Strong stuff for young men a long way
from home, and generation ago.
David Singleton and I are working shifts late and sooner to have
this little hummer biting the collective ear of Crimheads for the September
13th. DGM Playback in London. The title of the album is "The Night Watch"
and the artwork is upstairs, awaiting display. The official release date is
November but we intend to have it available for acquisition at the
Meanwhile, terror has erupted at The Concertgebouw. I would not
like to enter social interraction with the people playing this music, but
would like to have seen them playing.
David Singleton and I have gone back to the original 16-track tapes,
which were the basis for half of the "Starless and Bible Black" album. We have
discarded our original plan to release the BBC Radio broadcast, which was the
source of the extensive bootlegs of that concert, following an arrangement
between ourselves and Virgin.
Further Discipline Archive news, in response to ET enquiries
regarding the two KC videos from the 1980s: on Wednesday 9th. July, under
the terms of the EG Settlement (finalised 15th. May) we collected the King
Crimson video masters for "The Noise" (Frejus, 1982) and "Live In Japan"
(1984) from my solicitor Richard Bray. We are planning to release these on
mail order in time for Christmas.
Best wishes, Robert.
Guitar Craft aphorism: "There is no mistake save one - the failure to learn
from a mistake".