Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Fripp & Eno (No Pussyfooting)

In early September 1972, Brian Eno, having just left Roxy Music and pondering a future in exploring sound for its own sake rather than as a basis as song, invited Robert Fripp, whose latest iteration of King Crimson had been a thoroughly mixed bag and had just dissolved, to his home studio to try out an experiment with two reel-to-reel tape decks that would create a continuous loop with Fripp's guitar augmented with the guitarist's clear and fluid soloing over the top.  The technique was later dubbed Frippertronics and Fripp created several albums and engaged in short tours performing that way in the late 1970s and early 1980s.  In the mid-1990s, he developed a digital version called Soundscapes that spawned more solo recordings, live performances and occasional inclusions of the format in the later lineups of King Crimson.

The experiment was done in one sitting and proved so inspiring that the two decided it was a finished work.  Fripp suggested that the 21-minute piece be called "The Transcendantal Music Corporation," a reflection of some his philosophical interests, but Eno thought the title too serious and opted for "The Heavenly Music Corporation," which is what stuck.

Considering where rock music was in late 1972, even though tape loops were pioneered by modern "classical" composers like Terry Riley and Steve Reich, both featured here previously, the result is astounding.  Eno established an ambient environment that allowed a masterful guitarist like Fripp to weave his crisp soloing through the tape loops and create a warm recording, where much ambient music is often considered mechanical and harsh.

This listener has become quite interested in ambient music over the years, beginning with the cruder efforts of Cabaret Voltaire, whose work, heavily influenced by Eno, in sound manipulation began in 1974, just after this record was released in September 1973.  The difference here is that, like Eno, the trio in CV (Kirk, Mallider and Watson) never claimed to be musicians, but Fripp is an estimable guitarist, playing complex and creative lines and runs without trying to overly impress with speed, volume, and effect.  Eno's supportive recording techniques maximize the guitarist's inventiveness in a way that separates this record from anything before or since.

Eno has more a presence, via a VCS3 synthesizer, used by King Crimson in its 1971-72 incarnation, as well as a digital sequencer and the Revox tape recorders that he modified, on the second track, "Swastika Girls," which was recorded at a professional studio, Command in London (where Crimson did much of its early recording.)  A swirling looping figure starts the piece and Fripp brings in his Gibson Les Paul in with a sort of chiming sound supplemented by a simple one-note bass-like background.  About 7 1/2 minutes in, Fripp comes in with more sweeping, but harsher, guitar figures that breaks up the repetitious, but hypnotic, foundation laid over that first portion.  Fripp's playing is fascinating as he sustains his notes, then bends them and opens up their sound in a series of variations.

"Swastika Girls", incidentally, got its name from a magazine article page Eno stumbled upon that had women in various stages of dress/undress with Nazi uniforms.  Eno taped the page to the mixing desk in the studio and the track had its name.

The record had a subtitle of (No Pussyfooting), with the brackets often omitted in later references, and this was a way for Fripp and Eno to remind themselves not to compromise with their experiments in the face of negative feedback from Eno's Island Records label, which was preparing to release his debut solo record Here Come the Warm Jets, which appeared in January 1974, and Fripp's new bandmates in the 1973-74 edition of King Crimson.

In 2008, Eno and Fripp supervised a reissue on Fripp's Discipline Global Mobile label that included a rarity:  in December 1973 the remarkable BBC DJ John Peel, who championed a vast array of experimental and unusual musicians and bands, played "The Heavenly Music Corporation" on his show, except that the reel was wound "tail out" instead of "front out."  Consequently, the piece was played reversed and when Eno called to alert Peel and his producer to the fact, the call was treated as a hoax.  So, there are reversed versions of both pieces. 

Moreover, a half-speed edition of "The Heavenly Music Corporation" was also issued because it was a practice of some people to listen to vinyl records on the 16 2/3 rpm setting on the turntable (half of the 33 1/3 standard, of course) and try to pick up on the technique and nuances in the music.  This provides a 42-minute version of the track, interesting and more ominous and foreboding (but in a good way) on its own.

The truth is:  this record was way ahead of its time or, perhaps, in its own time.  Years later, ambient music became, more or less, a sub-genre to some of electronic and techno, but it basically started here when it comes to the rock/pop dimensions of it.  Play most music from 1972-73 and see how dated the pieces might be and then try this one.  It just doesn't sound like that era, or any era for that matter. 

The magic of (No Pussyfooting) is its essential timelessness, at least for those who appreciate its approach to sound.  Two years later, in 1975, the duo created Evening Star, a refinement of the process begun on (No Pussyfooting) and another essential recording to be covered here at a future date.  Although Fripp guested on other Eno projects subsequently, the two did not reconvene for a follow-up until 2004's The Equatorial Stars, which is decidedly more ambient and less overtly guitar oriented than the earlier work.   Perhaps some day, the two will work together again and it is amazing to think that their collaboration began four decades ago this year.

Fripp & Eno (No Pussyfooting)  (2008 remaster, Discipline Global Mobile)

Disc 1:

1-5:  The Heavenly Music Corporation  20:52
6-7:  Swastika Girls  18:58
8-12:  The Heavenly Music Corporation (reversed)  20:52

Disc 2:

1-5:  The Heavenly Music Corporation (half-speed)  41:49
6-7:  Swastika Girls (reversed)  18:54

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