Fripp Interview, part 2

Date: Mon, 5 Oct 92 12:07:35 BST
From: Toby Howard <toby at cs dot man dot ac dot uk>
Subject: Fripp Interview, part 2
Robert Fripp, interviewed by Dave Mandl

[[[ Interview conducted on February 5, 1991 - originally appeared in Reflex
magazine). PLEASE DON'T re-post this interview onto the net, or anywhere
else, electronic or other. Thanks for your cooperation.
    -- Toby ]]]


DM: What do you think of the idea of "World Music"? Is the term becoming
meaningless? The world is becoming so much smaller, and parts of the world
that were seen as "exotic" in the past seem much closer now--it seems that
there was more of a distinction before (like the separation between rock
and non-rock that I suggested before). Do you think this is all changing

RF: I first heard what we call World Music around 1975-76. Now, in my
subsequent listening, part of what I would call World Music would be Thomas
Tallis, sixteenth century England. Which to me is not far removed from
Japanese classical Koto playing. Since I'm the character that I am, with
very broad interests in music, I welcome the term "World Music" because a
greater diversity of sound and formal approaches of music becomes available
to the ordinary person. So, in 1972 you didn't have access to that palette.
Now you do. Now, Javanese and Balinese gamelan are not strange stuff. My
concern is that the formal contribution of America, which is in rock and
jazz, is not somehow being revitalized. Something is perhaps missing in
terms of our body of music, so we have to--not quite steal--to me it
indicates there's a poverty in our own culture. Well, that's fair enough,

DM: So you think it's a good thing?

RF: By and large, yes.

DM: Just a natural cycle. Things are drying up here, so we'll just look
elsewhere for new ideas, inspiration?

RF: Yes. If your own music isn't setting you on fire, you tend to look
elsewhere. And I would suggest one practical reason why this might be: In
1968 and 1978, the record industry was _the_ growth industry above all
others. And the common cultural musical product available to listeners in
America is governed and decided by a very small number of people--it's
called "format." It's like Hollywood movies, it's like American television.

DM: And radio.

RF: Sure. I would suggest that if you wanted emotional fulfillment or life,
some kind of experience, you're not going to get it as readily available;
you have to go look. You're going to find it in rock clubs, you're going to
find it in jazz clubs. You're not going to find it on radio, television, or
on records very easily. So the obvious thing is you look somewhere else.
You don't look to your own cultural product. So for me, that would be a
large explanation for the interest in so-called World Music. What you then
get, and I think this is what you're suggesting, World Music becomes
something which is merchandised and packaged, and restricted in the same
way. But, at least now you do have a whole body of music which is available
and artists travelling internationally--the WOMAD festival in England was a
very new thing in its day. So by and large, I think its a good thing.

DM: So you think that in general, people will always get itchy and look for
new things, new places to find new inspiration and ideas.

RF: I think how it goes it this: Music tends to move in seven-year cycles.
'56: Presley, rock 'n' roll; '63: Beatles; '70: progressive, psychedelic;
'77: punk/new wave; '84: on one hand, New Music, on the other, World Music;
1991: something is going to happen, we don't know. But there is a need for
something new, which as a musician I have a sense that something is about
to emerge. I can only trust my musician's bones.

DM: Any idea what it might be?

RF: No idea, other than: when it appears, it will be quite new, and we'll
say "Where did that come from," and then, immediately as it's appeared,
we'll say, "Well, that was obvious, it had to happen like that." There'll
be this sense of inevitability. Before the Beatles, in England, as a young
musician playing covers of Cliff Richards and The Shadows, you knew it had
run out of steam, but we didn't know what was going to happen next. Then,
one year later, there were The Beatles. How could that not have happened?
"She Loves You": it _had_ to be like this. So I think people that listen
require a nourishment from their music. After a period of time, it runs
out, and they begin to look for more nourishment, whether it's within their
own culture or coming from somewhere else.

DM: Without even realizing it. It just happens.

RF: Yeah. You don't think, Let me consult another culture for musical
satisfaction. And there'll always be characters who lead the way: Allen
Fried with rock 'n' roll, Andy Dunkley was a DJ in London at the end of the
sixties who'd always say: "You should listen to this. You should listen to
this." And you have these characters whose antennae [tune in] to the
currents, and there'll be a character in New York who says later this year,
"We should be listening to this."

DM: Which of those revolutions you mentioned was the most exciting to you?

RF: They're all exciting. In England, when I first heard--I was ten--Elvis
Presley and Scotty Moore, Little Richard--Jerry Lee Lewis! I couldn't
believe it! [Lets out a scream] And at ten and eleven I'm not going to
articulate what it was.

DM: It's probably still hard.

RF: Then, when the Beatles appeared--[screams again]--it was the same. And
then when I was part of that particular movement--[scream]--it was alive.
And then when I came to live in New York in 1977, and there was punk and
new wave, it was alive! So, it's always that sense of, one has come to life
with this music. It's always that feeling of being alive.

DM: You were one of the few people from the "progressive rock" or "art
rock" world who grabbed on to what was good in punk/new wave and used it,
did something with it. A lot of the others just fell by the wayside,
disappeared. You seem to have seen it pretty early on--

RF: It's a question of what nourishes you in music, what is alive. In terms
of eclecticism, musical form is secondary. The sense of being alive in that
creative moment is the primary experience. Now, as a guitarist working,
making the transition from 1969 and its formal aftermath, and 1977, there
was one formal characteristic which you had to learn in order to play that
music with those musicians, and it had to do with time and timing. Firstly,
where you place your note in relationship to the beat moved from just
behind the beat to exactly on top of the beat [imitates metronomic punk
beat]. That was to do with timing; the second part of it was the actual
tempo was faster. And unless you grasped that formal expression of how
music was reflecting that vitality in that period, you were not with that

DM: You've been producing records for as long as you've been playing on
them (though your production work has received less attention than your
work as a musician/composer). What do you think makes a good producer, or a
well-produced record?

RF: There's an American approach to production which is quite different
>from the European. In America, the producer is the ally and the extension
of the record company. The producer is the man who will guarantee the
record company that they will have this product to this budget regardless
of what the artist does. And if the artist is a problem, they'll make it
without them. The producer is more or less an expression of the record
company's intentions.

DM: And it will sound more or less within the parameters that the record
company wants?

RF: That's right. The European approach, certainly as far as I'm concerned,
is that the producer is the employee of the musician. Quite clear
distinction. My approach to production is: This is an album which reflects
the musician, and the producer should be invisible to all intents and

DM: A midwife.

RF: Yes. The producer enables this to happen, as far as possible. And to do
that is very hard. A good producer is as hard to find as a good performing
and recording artist, and I am not, let me say, putting myself in that
category. But to me it's quite clear that the record is not my record, as
producer. It's the musician's record. And some of the producers I've worked
with it's quite clear that the artist is the excuse for them to make
_their_ record. Quite clear.

DM: A lot of producers working with bands see the studio as their
instrument, and the roles are almost completely reversed: the final product
is theirs, and the musicians are helping them deliver it.

RF: But recording an album is a process, it's dynamic. You can't guarantee
the end result. If you _do_ guarantee the end result, it's going to be
dead. If you say "This is what's going to happen," the end is given.
There's no process. It is not creative. A creative event, by definition,
involves something new, so it's not going to be format, it's not going to
be playing by numbers. So, you may notice that I don't produce many
chart-breaking albums. The album should reflect the artist and mirror them,
mirror the music they're playing. The Keith Tippet/Andy Shepard album, I'm
very proud of my work on it, because you can't see or hear me. There's no
producer in the way, so the music is transparent. one hundred percent live
and improvised. They didn't talk, they didn't say "What key should we play

DM: How do you see your role in a situation like that? There are no
overdubs, very little processing, or Production with a capital "P."

RF: Quality of recording, enabling the process to keep moving,
discriminating and feedback, so if the musician says "Is this happening?"
you say yes or no. "Is that any good?" Yes or no. And then mixing. But
mixing it in such a way that the proportions and the geometry of the event
are mirrorred in the sound. And you can't draw that up on a graph, you
can't read that out on an oscilloscope, you have to use the seat of your
pants and your bones. If your back tingles, you know it's right. For me
mixing is a visceral event, and when a certain geometry and a certain
architecture in sound falls into place, there's a resonance which you know
is right.  When a group works together, a lot of the most effective
creative work is not functionally expressed. In other words, you have one
character sitting in the room, present in a certain kind of way, and they
may not be seeming to do very much. For example, the way Eno works. Eno may
not be doing very much. Good. A good producer will do as little as
possible. But it doesn't mean that the contribution is not as much as a
person who appears to be physically busy.

DM: Did you ever use the Oblique Strategies [oracle cards] when you worked
with Eno?

RF: Actually, no. When I worked with Eno and Bowie on _Heroes,_ they'd pull
out Oblique Strategies, but I can't remember actually using Oblique
Strategies in my work with Eno. It's quite possible that he pulled them out
or he had them going--

DM: unbeknownst to you--

RF: but I can't recall actually following Oblique Strategies. The
difference in approach is this: Eno doesn't have a background in musical
thinking. His background is in the fine arts. And his set of procedures is
different. His set of procedures is not as formally defined as a set of
procedures which a musician would use. Which is one reason why Eno is very
refreshing to work with. Musicians tend to know what they're doing, and
sometimes that's terrible. So Eno's approach would break up the
associations which a musician would use, and because I'm the character that
I am as a musician, I was very happy to work with that way of doing things.

DM: He wouldn't be inclined to say "Wait a minute, you can't play that
chord there . . . "

RF: I once said that to Eno, actually, on a chord which came out on _My
Life in the Bush of Ghosts._ And he was very distressed that I told him
"You can't use that chord." To my thinking, the chord was not a musical
chord, because I was thinking musically.. Eno had a different approach, not
governed by musical thinking; in his parameters, "I can play any notes I
like in this chord."

DM: Do you ever wish that you could shake some your pre-conceived ideas as
a trained musician? Do you ever feel that they restrict you from trying
things that "aren't right"?

RF: I'm torn between not knowing enough and knowing too much. So, I hope
that I know enough to be useful, and not enough to get in the way. But the
player in me, if an idea is getting in the way--not blossoming--the player
in me rejects it. Because if you're playing music which has a formal
satisfaction, there's an ease of playing, however difficult the music might
be, and the player in me recognizes that there's something wrong with the

[ END ]

Mike Stok