MUSIC / ROBERT FRIPP : Pioneering Progressive Rock Guitar Guru Returns
There’s more than one way to skin a cat and play the electric guitar.
An enlightened amateur can bash away at the instrument and, with a little help from the right electronic gadgets, work up a good sonic froth. Rock guitar allows for raw expression, for cathartic mayhem, for the venting of ya-yas.
Then there is the sit-up-straight school of the arch Brit Robert Fripp, whose various incarnations of the group King Crimson over the past 20 years have--depending on whom you talk to--set high standards for intelligence or pretentiousness.
The pioneering progressive rock guitar idol emphasizes precision within abandon. He tends to knit intricate, finely-executed webs of notes, and then layer long floating tones on top. It’s all very prim and improper.
Fittingly, Fripp entitled the landmark 1980 King Crimson album “Discipline,” on which his “disciplined” guitar work contrasted with guitarist Adrian Belew’s more untamed noise-making.
And when Fripp appears at the Anaconda Theater on Tuesday--his first appearance in the area in a decade--it will be with the Robert Fripp String Quintet. Not a frivolous name, that. But you can be sure they won’t be playing Schubert.
For much of the ‘80s, Fripp disappeared from general view, going, as he told Musician magazine, “into retreat, to allow the future to present itself.” What he did was to launch a very personalized guitar training program called GuitarCraft.
Disciples, of which there have been many, flocked to his seminars in various locales--including Southern California. There in the Fripp GuitarCraft compounds, students received practical technical education mixed liberally with a philosophical program rooted in Gurdjieff and other non-Western sources.
Despite his cult status and his refusal to play into the hands of the commercial music world, Fripp remains one of the most important rock guitar stylists around.
Fripp, hair neatly cropped and peering intensely through spectacles, was sitting up very straight when he was interviewed at the Salvation Army camp in Calabasas, where his GuitarCraft seminar was under way.
Since that time, Fripp has been creeping out of his hermitage. He released “Kneeling at the Shrine,” an album with his offbeat rock band Sunday All Over the World, featuring his vocalist wife, Toyah.
He released “Show of Hands” by the League of Crafty Guitarists, a gathering of Fripp’s guitarist proteges. There was also a four-CD set of live King Crimson material from the ‘70s. Now, Fripp is preparing to unveil the newest lineup of King Crimson on a forthcoming album by ethereal pop singer David Sylvian. And, he is touring with the string quintet.
He is officially back in the face of anyone interested.
It’s obvious that Fripp spends more time thinking about things than the average rock god. He thinks about the fine points in the music as well as the long arc of his own life in music.
He said: “I felt for a period of time that the proper place for my work was in the marketplace. Then when that particular period came to its end, what next? Well, GuitarCraft and my wife. Well, GuitarCraft has come to its end, so what next?
“For me, it’s quite right that it should be a return to public life.”
In the past, Fripp has lurked on the fringes of a “public life,” playing for King Crimson devotees, collaborating with Brian Eno, and making appearances on albums by David Bowie, Daryl Hall and others.
How can he accommodate his semi-ascetic life with the whirlwind world of sex and rock ‘n’ roll? “To use sexual energy in any creative act is almost inevitable, if not necessary,” Fripp offered, “because creative energy and sexual energy are very close.
“I have no objection to the use of sexual energy within rock music, but there are healthy ways of using it and ways which aren’t so. For example, narcissism-strutting oafish youths in overly tight Spandex pants.”
Which is not to say that Fripp dislikes the current wave of heavy metal guitar heroes, despite their obvious differences from his own aesthetic.
“If I was a young character--and I was in my first group when I was 14--I would be in leather and Spandex and burning my way through the double-handed (guitar) runs, and having a great time. At the moment, it seems to be one of the few forums available to the young guitar player where you have an opportunity to improvise. It’s a remarkable thing.”
But unlike more straightforward musical language of most rock music, Fripp’s music is often based on odd meters, creating rolling, polyrhythmic beds that suggest a rock branch of minimalism.
Of his polyrhythmic tendency, Fripp says, “In African culture or Balinese culture, our approach would be strange. Polyrhythms are only peculiar to a culture which is utterly based on 4/4.
“My cultural base is European. With Bartok, for example, you’d say, ‘Well, he’s polymetered up the wazoo.’ But his music is all taken from folk songs.
“If one looks at folk music around the world, from our vantage point, it’s complex. But from the vantage point of the people doing it, that’s what you do. It’s not complex unless you think about it. It’s rather like riding a bicycle.”
In the 25 years of his active duty, Fripp has created a series of fairly unique musical situations and organisms. And while Fripp can be an imposing presence by himself, in his mind, it’s the situation that matters:
“If I’m in a group, whether it’s Sunday All Over the World or King Crimson or the League of Crafties or the League of Gentlemen, or if I’m contributing to someone’s record, I’m not listening to what the guitarist is doing. I’m listening to the entire piece.
“However, I think it’s true to say that many of the musicians I’ve worked with only concern themselves with themselves. It’s a terrible thing to say, but I could cite case and chapter and bring out examples, live records, studio recordings et cetera, which would demonstrate the point.”
Fripp continued: “My concern is always the overall, and the relationship between the parts and the whole. The part reflects the whole and the whole the part, and so on. My concern is not establishing a construct for myself to demonstrate flying fingers.”
* WHERE AND WHEN
Robert Fripp String Quintet, Tuesday at the Anaconda Theater, 935 Embarcadero Del Mar, Isla Vista. Information: 685-3112.