Volume 18 • Issue 25 | November 4 - 10, 2005

Robert Fripp’s “Soundscapes” are now playing at the Winter Garden, sans Fripp.

Making a lot of noise with one guitar

By Jason Gross

Firmly pegged as one of rock’s finest string-benders, guitarist Robert Fripp has been the common thread and guiding light of art-rock chameleons King Crimson since 1969. In the past thirty years, he’s also taken a variety of fascinating solo turns.

Though Crimson has been an on-and-off concern over the years, Fripp’s guitar has provided a steady compass. He creates one of the most unique and compelling sounds you’re likely to hear out of that instrument, one that manages to be sinister and flowing, both melodic and searing at the same time. And while other guitarists make their mark leaping around the stage, Fripp has always been content to play seated.

Tiring of the rock grind, in the mid 70s Fripp ended Crimson and took a hiatus from music. When he returned a few years later, he not only embraced the burgeoning New Wave scene (playing with Blondie and the Talking Heads) but he also created a fascinating technique he called “Frippertronics” based on the design ideas of gadfly producer/musician Brian Eno. By looping his guitar through two tape machines, Fripp could, in effect, execute duets with himself. With this method, his playing expanded to include dreamy waves of sound over which he would manage to wildly yet calmly improvise, performing a series of solo concerts as such.

Even after he revived Crimson in the early ‘80s, it was obvious that Frippertronics was something that would remain in his musical palette. The new Crimson included passages of sweeping ambience that were definitely influenced by Fripp’s tape experiments. He returned to the idea of looping sounds in the mid 90s when he embarked on another set of solo concerts (and subsequent live albums). The two big differences for these “Soundscapes” shows were that he was now using digital delay units and that the tone of music had changed to what Crimson biographer Sid Smith calls “nightmarish string/choral sounds.” Fripp proudly declared that this new technique was “the best way I know of making a lot of noise with one guitar.” As before, his solo musings crept into Crimson’s repertoire, sometimes as sonic preludes to their shows.

In 1998 and 2000, Fripp performed Soundscapes at New York’s World Financial Center. The large, open Winter Garden provided a wondrous setting, filled with palm trees as well as speakers situated under many of the seats for a true surround-sound experience. (Fripp himself called this arrangement “quietly spectacular.”) The music itself was anything but sedate as he improvised, creating an alternately eerie, vibrant, calming atmosphere. Technology has allowed him to achieve an even more dynamic sound than his looping technique.

For 2005, Fripp assembled tapes of his 1998 shows and, according to WFC music series curator and WNYC host John Schaefer, he “edited them, post-produced them, and sculpted them into an hour-plus listening experience.” So while you will miss the experience of seeing the maestro himself performing, you will get a recreation of the magical music he produced in the same space a few years ago.

Performances run from noon to 2:00 PM, November 4, 5, 6, 7, & 9 at the World Financial Center’s Winter Garden, 220 Vesey Street. For more information, visit www.worldfinancialcenter.com.


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