Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Robert Fripp 2: Frippertronics

Once finally released, Exposure returned Robert Fripp to the music industry, kind of, and he sought to find his way through it on his own terms. His Frippertronic experiments of improvising over prerecorded loops saw him performing in small, non-standard venues, from record stores to pizza parlors, with the audience up close. This was how he chose to compose, and while making an album out of them wouldn’t be easy, he managed to get two.
The first was given the unwieldy title God Save The Queen/Under Heavy Manners, which suggested they were condensed from what could have been two separate albums. Each half of the title referred to a different side of the record or tape, each built on Frippertronics. The first (called “Side A”) offers three performances of increasing lengths, bleeping, and intensity, all sounding very much like No Pussyfooting but without any Eno input. The other (called “Side One”) adds a rhythm section, including Eno and Talking Heads favorite Busta Jones, to the loops, which was Fripp’s idea of “discotronics”. “Under Heavy Manners” begins much like the rest of the track until overdubbed band kicks in, and a pseudonymed David Byrne bleats a raspy vocal. After coming to a halt, Fripp instructs the proceedings to “continue,” and “The Zero Of The Signified” presents a more relentless beat, which eventually fades for the Frippertronics to dominate as they too fade.

A year later, Let The Power Fall presented another full album of Frippertronics from the same 1979 performances that begat the previous set; this time there was no added rhythm section. Three longer pieces alternate with three shorter ones, all similar in structure but differing in intensity. From time to time a melody emerges, and they can be quite lovely, but they come and go, as is the fleeting nature of the music.
These albums are interesting for filling in the blanks between ‘70s Crimson and ‘80s Crimson, but they are not easy listening. Fripp has always preferred live performance to a static media format to express himself musically, so these pieces may well have been more exciting for those who witnessed them take shape out of seemingly nowhere. In fact, 2022’s Exposures box set collected further hours’ worth of Fripp performances from this period, with lengthy soloing over the loops, on five CDs, and even more on Blu-ray, so the selections that made up these two albums had to have stood out somehow.
When some of his back catalog was first prepared for CD in the mid-‘80s, Fripp couldn’t help “revising” (his term) some of the music. 1985’s God Save The King compilation augmented the Under Heavy Manners half with music from 1981’s dance-oriented The League of Gentlemen. The “title track” was a rejigged “The Zero Of The Signified” with a new, more furious solo overdubbed throughout. This track, along with the previously unreleased jam “Music On Hold”, was included as a bonus on the first-ever CD reissue of Queen/Manners, following their inclusion in Exposures. Meanwhile, Let The Power Fall got a “Definitive Edition” CD release in 1989 alongside other King Crimson albums; its reissue in the wake of Exposures sported extras consisting of a single edit and two alternate mixes, all of the “1984” track.
As technology evolved, so did Fripp’s approach to Frippertronics. By the ‘90s they had evolved into “soundscapes”, and resulted in a series of self-published CDs and downloads. Possibly their widest exposure came during 2020’s Covid lockdown, when a weekly “Music For Quiet Moments” was plucked from the archives and distributed via YouTube and streaming sites, eventually collected as a box set. Now numbering in the dozens, Fripp’s soundscapes will not be explored in this forum.

Robert Fripp God Save The Queen/Under Heavy Manners (1980)—2
2022 reissue: same as 1980, plus 2 extra tracks
Robert Fripp Let The Power Fall (1981)—2
2022 reissue: same as 1981, plus 3 extra tracks

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