It was always worth checking out Allans sales. Although determinedly mainstream and totally in thrall to the hits of the day, the music shop occasionally ordered—and got stuck with—oddities, outliers and obscurities. These ended up in the SALE bins, usually at excellent prices. I loved those sales; you could take a punt of three or four unknown artists, grab a pair of sought-after titles (that hadn’t sold) and still have change from twenty dollars. Excellent value for a penurious student.
Ringing guitar tones that don’t sound like guitar. Nor like any six-string solos you’ve ever heard before. Echoing like reflected sonic beams from a parallel universe, these are strange and slightly disturbing vibrations
One Allans sale I met a uni acquaintance trawling through the bins. She seemed very focussed in her browsing, but paused long enough to disclose her secret strategy. Order something you want, she said, but never pick it up. They dump uncollected orders into the discount bins. It seemed a risky strategy to me. Good luck, I said. I left her flipping feverishly.
Odd vibrato pulses, jumping around a darkened stave like fireflies. Notes like blocks piled higgledy piggledy, teetering on wayward harmonics
Not all the LPs were mark-downs. Some were record company deletions, identified by a bullet hole somewhere on the sleeve.
When it was an unfamiliar album by a recognised artist, I was more likely to take the chance. Such as a Robert Fripp album with two front covers. How odd.
On listening to the record, not so weird, this split personality cover.
An album of two sides.
An album with a hole on the top left corner.
An album with a postcard and a sheet of liner notes in small type.
Morse code pings and bleeps, gastrointestinal growlings, subdued flurries of repeated notes, beaming in from stars suspended over the Mariana Trench.
An album with a manifesto.
Frippertronics is defined as that musical experience resulting at the interstice of Robert Fripp and a small, mobile and appropriate level of technology viz, his guitar, Frippelboard and two Revoxes*
Having released Red—arguably the most satisfying and consistent King Crimson album—in 1974, Robert Fripp promptly disbanded the highly successful progressive rock outfit due to dissatisfaction with the ‘rock’ experience, and, one suspects, a deep aversion to mainstream success. In his own words…
In 1974 I left King Crimson for a number of reasons; on a professional level this was largely a result of the decreasing possibility for any real contact between audience and performers. This seemed to me to be caused by three main factors: firstly, the escalation in the size of rock events; secondly, the general acceptance of rock music as spectator sport; thirdly, the vampiric relationship between audience and performer*
So just to labour the point: Robert Fripp identified the plateau of progressive rock in 1974.
There are discrete pieces on the instrumental Frippertronics side, but they are like scenes from an epic movie, glimpses into the cosmic glacier, future memories of unborn cyborgs.
Creepy and lovely in equal measure.
The opening of the second side is a shock. Holy fuck! What’s this funk-reggae-drum machine groove with someone who sounds very much like David Byrne bleating about hearing trumpets?
Discotronics is defined as that musical experience resulting at the interstice of Frippertronics and disco*
“Under heavy manners” ends with Byrne’s enigmatic cry, “I am resplendent in divergence” and that sounds like a manifesto too.
“The zero of the signified” has a disco beat (proper drums this time), bubbling bass, and the hypnotic loops. It also has—and this is important, kids—fast-picked arpeggios pealing and repeating like silver wavelets on a purple beach. Echoes of Philip Glass, of Terry Riley; a kind of ambient progressive rock minimalism with a dance floor beat.
Such is Robert Fripp’s wonderful, confounding, 1980 break-away LP, God Save The Queen / Under Heavy Manners… building on his work with Brian Eno**, fracturing the legacy of King Crimson, challenging listeners to enter a new progressive realm.
Whatever would Mr Fripp do next?
* Fripp quotes from the liner notes for God Save The Queen / Under Heavy Manners [Polydor Records, 1980]
** In particular, No Pussyfooting (1973) and Evening Star (1975).
Section 1 of The Path to Discipline