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Columns > Patrick Buzby

Published: 2006/09/17
by Pat Buzby

Soundscapes

Back in 2002, I was introduced to the world of blogs when someone I knew a bit started keeping one. She had good visual sensibilities and listened to a lot of music, so I kept up with it for a while. After a while, though, I figured that my own life was involving enough without making time to keep up with someone elses, so I have stayed away from most blogs since then.
One exception to that involves Robert Fripp, a man who was made for the Internet decades before it arrived. His qualities include stellar musicianship and a finicky attitude towards the world, balanced out by a desire to share a lot about what he thinks, in a manner which reflects some interest in monetary gain but has a voracity that seems beyond that call of duty. As far back as the early 80s he was publishing diaries in magazines (in that case, day-by-day accounts of his 1980 band the League Of Gentlemen and the 1981 reawakening of King Crimson) and, with the advent of CD, he began putting enough old and new archival material out into the market to make the Dead look secretive in comparison. In November 2005 (ironically, right around the same time the Deads relationship to the Internet world took a dramatic turn for the worse with the archive.org incident), Fripp upped the internet ante with DGMLive, a download site housing both diaries and downloads of material from 1969 to days ago.
So far, I have only purchased two DGMLive downloads. However, one of them, a solo Fripp appearance from February of this year in Atlanta, has been an item which has stared at me from my pile of CDs for the last few months, urging me to get to know it more. This appearance falls into the category of Soundscapes, the solo performance method which Fripp introduced in the 90s as a digital update of Frippertronics, an Eno-influenced setup allowing Fripp to construct intricate tape-loop music patterns in real time. Considering that Soundscapes all comes from one guitar, the process is not quickly apparent to the unprepared listener, especially since digital technology lets Fripp hide more from the listener than the analog Frippertronics did. I saw one Soundscapes show in 1998, but, being unfamiliar with said process, I must admit that my memories of that night center on Fripps Q&A session more than the music.
After many listens, though, the Atlanta 2006 concert has started to hold fewer mysteries. One way to listen is simply to keep track of the assorted notes Fripp throws into the mix (for instance, F, Ab, Bb and Eb, in varied octaves) on Time Stands Still as they cycle through the stereo spectrum. Another is wait for the handful of moments where Fripp takes his guitar out of the reverb machine and puts some brief solo statements on top, in the gentle tone Crimson fans might remember from old ballads such as Exiles. Another is to notice how Fripp transitions between sections (in the brief tracks labeled as thresholds" or codas" on the website) by using common tones. (The Ab of Time Stands Still becomes a G#, now over an E bass rather than an F, in Queer Space Whole Tone.) Another is wait for the patterns to emerge, as if Fripp is achieving as one man what Phish, as four, did in their best 97 moments. (Fripps pedal dancing must be at least as intricate as Treys was from the mid-90s onward, and it becomes less surprising after listening to this set that Trey reportedly had an ambient radio show in college.)
Fripp himself inadvertently gives his listener another way of listening with his diaries. As with most of his tours, his accounts of this Soundscapes journey is primarily one of flawed hotel rooms, good and bad dealings with crew assistants and coffee shop employees and internet access struggles. Rarely is there the sense that he knows much about what went on musically at the shows. (Im reminded of videos of Frank Zappa picking up his guitar for a solo during his concerts, thrashing around for a few minutes, then putting it down to get on to the next thing and looking as if he had no idea what had just happened.) Its not the most romantic viewpoint, and perhaps says a bit about his role in this music involving knob-twiddling as much as playing, but, after having done a few tours myself, I know a bit about how vehicles and fellow travelers have as much to do with a tour as the one to four hours spent onstage.
Now that this Atlanta CD has a few fewer secrets than it did at first, I have filed it away. A next step may be to grab one or several more of the similar shows available at DGMLive. Or to step away and let Fripps life continue for a while without my observing it. Or to stick with this one and search for more logic in the patterns.

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