INTERVIEWS, REVIEWS & RELATED ARTICLES
"Craft is what enables you to be successful
when you're not inspired." - Brian Eno
Rock Et Folk JULY 1975 - by Paul Alessandrini
FRIPP & ENO: TEA FOR TWO
What had these people come to seek on May 28 dressed up, as for all major events, in their camp and decadent clothes? Especially those members of the Bowie fan-club, who wanted feathers, make-up and well-rehearsed poses? And not forgetting the others, faithful to the Crimson King, who doubtlessly expected a new supergroup from the Fripp/Eno union? For all these people it turned out to be an evening of charades. As a spectacle, they only had moving pictures on a screen and two blue lights which picked out the shadows of our two "traitors". For it was indeed a case of trickery. Some people went so far as to talk of treachery. In the supermarket of illusion and mythology that makes up the rock scene, changes of image and direction, and experiments, cannot really be tolerated. Above and beyond everything else, you must conform to the identity-card that every spectator/fan carries in his head with deep conviction. Therefore, to upset this comforting feeling is to expose yourself to anger.
Choosing to overturn the accepted positions, to shuffle the cards - in short in choosing to please themselves - Fripp and Eno delivered a great shock to those who blindly expected something else. And this isn't the least of the lessons learned that night: the incredible conformism of the audience and, more shockingly serious, that of the "rock-critic-groupies". The glitter and decadence were once again out, set back a little further in the "kitsch" drawer, but there is still the mirage of outrage, without ever seeing that it is all a question of masks.
Robert Fripp seemed especially overjoyed by this situation. If the blow had been bitter, he felt pressed to admit only that those people who felt it, wanted to do so. So there! For Eno, it was either astonishment or annoyance. Had he not shown, ever since the beginning of his career, the proof of the multiplicity of his musical tastes and desires? And why was a musician refused the right to experiment, to try out different and contradictory ensembles? And then, all things considered, Eno confused with Roxy is no more than a little mental theatre for the pop generation. Nothing to do with a reality continually confused with the desire to play, and once again with masks, which Eno calls "Oblique Strategies" (the system of cards and messages created with Peter Schmidt).
In short, the Fripp and Eno tour did not enjoy the success that such an association had the right to expect, because quite simply those who were there had come for something else. And those who would have liked this music did not know that they would hear it played by these two musicians. As can be seen, it was instead the perfect example of being out of touch, of a bad interpretation and quite simply, the result of a lack of information. It must be said, as Fripp and Eno will admit in the following interview, that their record company, Island, did not look favourably on this experiment which they believed would result in the destruction of the respective images of Fripp/Crimson and Eno/Roxy. But that was exactly Fripp and Eno's aim: to cast off once and for all this mythic millstone image.
Meanwhile, on this infamous Wednesday evening, while the "insulted" left the Olympia furious or with heads lowered, backstage Fripp and Eno were satisfied. Fripp felt pleased, displaying his strange smile and his eternal and slightly stilted politeness behind small glasses, with few gestures and words. Eno also shared this satisfaction but seemed by turns embarrassed, surprised or hurt by the blockade of a dozen or so girls and boys in front of the dressing-room - people who had expected to see him on stage in feathers and disguised and who, for the last time perhaps, wanted to make certain that Eno was indeed as they wanted him to be.
And all these beautiful people waited to touch and hug this man who had refused, by choosing to stay in the shade, to show himself on stage. The tragicomedy continued, a story at its logical denouement even if this ending had not been expected.
And yet what Fripp and Eno produced that evening, even as they signed themselves in to that world too quickly defined as repetitive music, was without doubt one of the most satisfying experiences that electronic music has been known how to produce. If Eno was the man with the machines, officiating in a tight area of tape-machines, echo-chambers and other instruments to torture the sound, Fripp was as usual sitting on a stool, drawing sounds from his guitar, which was treated not only by his foot-operated pedals but also by Eno's mini-synthesizer. The result was in contrast to the experiments of the German groups: here no will to be carried away by the sounds, to maintain a spacey atmosphere, but indeed the contrary, to break it up with incandescent bursts of guitar, the harsh overamplified cries which are the ideal expression of what electronic music should be when visited by rock. A long, "heavy" cry is repeated at regular intervals via hypnotic loops, violent, tender and lyrical all at the same time. A Crimson-esque phrase set in its incantation, a sharp impression upset by the film images which occupy center stage. Waves of coloured lava, violently superimposed, which seem to glide endlessly then, second time around, a violent plunge into a countryside of fire, horses moving from red to yellow, an explosion of forms and movement, an accelerated rhythm, images always similar but constantly being renewed. Here, too, it was a long way from the mystic light-shows and hippy bubbles, a long way from the cheap futurism of certain German groups.
And it's a shame that the majority of the audience didn't know how to see in these long moments of music all the violence that they contained, this almost unbearable lyricism and this perfection in the distribution and allocation of sounds. It was enough to persuade yourself that you knew how to appreciate the collages that Eno had to offer - like one of those porn videos bought from a shop along the freeways: weak scenario and forced dialogue. In the same way, during the interval, Eno allowed the tape-loops to continue running, leaving the audience to face the difficult realisation that music can make itself. Some found this intolerable - at the end of the concert there was no clear-cut ending, just the tape-recorders spewing out their unchanging memories.
It was here that there were cries of trickery: "You realize that they weren't playing. Everything was recorded and we were hearing tapes." Which quickly became a value judgement, a final condemnation: it was "Horrible". You suddenly realise the incredible "ignorance" of this audience, ready to go into a frenzy when faced with the electronic tomfoolery of an Emerson or a Rick Wakeman, grand masters of the bluff, and who here cry "sabotage" because there was no illusion of man working with machines and therefore no spectacle. Again it's a shame that those people who listen to Riley, Steve Reich or Philip Glass didn't know that the posters bearing the names Fripp and Eno were declaring a music close to that of the pioneers of underground music. A shame, too, that those who let themselves go to the spacey sounds of the German groups were absent. They would have heard what electronic rock music could be: not an invitation to trip and to excess, but - plunged into heavy metal - an electric furnace of sounds which is (in this case) tempered - thankfully - by the use of harmonic tape-loops.
It took a long time for the hall to empty. Many were still waiting for that which had not occurred, the birth of a supergroup, the meeting beyond the opposite worlds of Crimson and Roxy. All of which was swept away by the serene objection of the two accomplices, happy with the set that they had just played - conspirators in the mystification of an audience that deserved just that.
One sunny afternoon in Paris, while the Place de L'Opera as elsewhere resounded to the cries of Leeds Utd supporters, Fripp and Eno chatted, drawing up a balance-sheet of this strange tour which had started in Spain and ended in the capital.
R&F: What happened after the break-up of King Crimson?
Fripp: I retired, and the most interesting thing that has happened since then, is that I have become a guitar teacher. I founded a system known as "guitar mechanics" which has nothing to do with classical playing.
R&F: I read in the English press that you appeared on stage with Lou Reed.
Fripp: Here's what really happened. The group supporting Lou Reed wanted me to produce their next album. So they bought me a plane-ticket to Toronto to see them play live. When they'd finished, I stayed to watch Lou Reed, just a few minutes in the wings. Alice Cooper was also backstage, drinking beer, and later he joined Lou Reed on stage. There were a lot of people and the only time I was onstage was watching from behind the amps. During this trip to America, my first as a tourist, I heard some interesting groups. I was also very surprised to see the number of groups that said that I'd influenced them to some degree. But the only group I really liked was Robin Trower's. A very good group, the only one with a definite feel and a belief in what they do. Most of the rest are in the business, and hopeless. With Robin Trower, it was the first time for ages that I felt I was hearing something new.
Fripp: And of course us, Fripp and Eno! With almost every other group, you know what they're going to do, and ultimately it's boring. We don't know what we're going to play onstage in advance. It's an experiment.
Eno: In St. Etienne, we were booed. The audience made so much noise, we couldn't play any more. If we'd been booed while we were doing something good... but no. We were having problems with our equipment, everything was going from bad to worse, and eventually the audience was right to whistle. Of course, it's a stupid reaction to boo and whistle at a group onstage, but I understand why they did it.
R&F: They were expecting a musical cross between Roxy and Crimson perhaps.
Fripp: Yes, and that's exactly what we wanted to avoid.
R&F: That is however what the Paris audience were expecting.
Eno: Oh dear.
Fripp: In fact, maybe it's a good thing. It gives them an opportunity to disagree with people they like. The only town where the audience seemed to like and understand what we were doing was Bordeaux.
Eno: While we were playing, the audience stayed quiet, so quiet we thought something was wrong. We didn't understand. And then we realized it was because they liked our music. In Spain we were a great success, in Madrid but especially in Barcelona.
R&F: Is it improvised music?
Eno: The music is half improvised, half pre-composed. That is to say that we already have music recorded on tape and Robert can play against this backdrop of sound. A large part of what we do is conceived on the spur of the moment. We have a device which means that what Robert plays can be repeated indefinitely, as with Terry Riley.
Fripp: Nowadays I have no plan or wish to play in a band again. What I'm doing with Eno is completely different. In fact there is a fundamental resemblance between him and me, even if we do come across in two extremely different manners. We both find it difficult to be part of a group of musicians. Captain Eno is a solitary musician, and I've always claimed that I'm not a musician, and that's why we get on well. What is important now is that Fripp and Eno are considered to be a new form of musical organization and that the groups are something from the past. But we've had terrible problems putting this thing together, because the management didn't want this line-up. They did everything to prevent it working.
Eno: They didn't understand at all what we want to do. They think no one will buy what we're doing. They still haven't assimilated the Tangerine Dream/ Kraftwerk phenomenon. They see it as something monstrous that breaks the rules... a "thing" that will last only a year. They haven't understood that people listen to music differently, with a lot more attention. They still think that an audience can only concentrate for six minutes before thinking such things as "Which girl shall I take home after the show?" They're not intelligent enough to listen to this music in depth and work out what's good and what's bad. Even the people at Virgin, who had success with Tangerine Dream, are incapable of seeing the difference. They record some very good stuff, and also some very bad. They'll take anything, as long as you call it avant-garde.
Fripp: Island didn't want to release our record at first.
Eno: No! They think it will ruin our careers, that it's too complicated and that no one will want to know.
R&F: Perhaps they're right.
Eno: Perhaps, in a certain sense. Personally I wanted to do some very different things, not always to be trapped in the same style.
Fripp: What is mad is to go from one to the other at one bound. There is such a difference between Crimson's solid and successful organization and this current level, that of a musical experience.
R&F: Do you expect to continue this onstage experiment?
Fripp: No! For me, I've decided to retire completely from the musical stage. I now want to retire for a year, starting in September. I haven't decided if I will play live again after that.
R&F: Will you record an album?
Fripp: It's possible, but I have no definite plans on this front. Playing with Eno has completely transformed me. I had to do something with him. There is no sort of pressure on me. I don't have to play or make a record. If that does happen, it will be completely naturally, at that time when I feel the need.
(At this point in time, an NME article by Henry Cow's Fred Frith on the techniques of rock's great guitarists was brought up.)
Fripp: Really? What did he say?
Eno: It was a very good study. It presented you as an 'academic' musician. He said that all your force comes from your technique, comparing you to people like Lou Reed for example, who suffer from a lack of technique. Fripp: In fact, I'm in the process of setting up a new technique, which explains the way I play more than my technique of composition by itself, which is beyond me, even if technically I can do what I want.
(Tea interval - Fripp brings out his own personalized tea-bag: "This little bag was given to me by my lady; she embroidered the heart inside.")
R&F: When Tangerine Dream played Reims Cathedral, there were five thousand people. So, music such as what you are playing, can draw crowds. It seems more a problem of information.
Eno: Exactly. We don't have the right audience, that is, the one that corresponds to our music. Perhaps the next time I play France, it will be for an experiment that will be different again. Audiences should get used to the fact that musicians do things that correspond to their personalities and not necessarily always the same music. For me, what Robert does on stage corresponds exactly to what he is. It doesn't need a great imaginative effort to see that it's still the same person who is expressing himself.
R&F: How do you share out the work on stage?
Eno: It's usually Robert who plays. I'm usually busy with the tapes.
R&F: You treat the sound?
Eno: Not exactly. Well, I treat it to some degree. I work with several Revoxes and for example, it's sometimes as if there are fifty guitars playing at the same time, more or less out of phase, depending on the sound I want.
R&F: You also use a light show and films
Eno: What we tried to get were pictures that exactly correspond to the music, that is very repetitive, without surprises, the same thing which turns and comes back, and which one can watch for hours. It follows very exactly the flow of our music. What above all we wanted to avoid was the psychedelic side of light shows in general.
Fripp: It's done by the guy who did King Crimson's lights. He has a very keen sensibility which reacts to the music with bursts of light. We wanted very little light onstage to show up the light show.
R&F: Would you like to record an album of music you've played on this tour?
Fripp: Yes, we could do it and maybe we will.
Eno: But not everything has been recorded exactly the way we played it. I have all the tapes I use on stage and we could use those by reworking them in the studio.
R&F: Why is King Crimson dead?
Fripp: What happened to King Crimson is what happens to all groups that reach the point where you have to give greater importance to quantity than quality... do more and more things, play ever louder, have more and more roadies, etc. We became more and more prisoners of the cycle. For me, heavy metal should not only exist on the physical level. It must also come from the spirit, not only the muscle. It is also very difficult to play with musicians who are only kept going by alcohol, and who fall down dead drunk at the end of concerts.
A wave of Eno's hand, and the duo are gone. You know the rest. Fripp and Eno (or rather the audience) were at the wrong meeting. King Fripp and Captain Eno are already far away, one near his lady in his cottage, the other preparing his next "single", a new side to be discovered and even more confusion to be expected. Card-shuffling is perhaps the best way to describe this new rock avant-garde.