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Frippertronics


Andre LaFosse contributes this fine article on Frippertronics, the system used by Robert Fripp in his pioneering forays into looping. Enjoy...


Frippertronics/Soundscaping


The process known as Frippertronics originated when Brian Eno demonstrated a tape-loop system (wherein a single reel of tape is actually physically joined together at the ends and then run continuously between the outermost reels of two adjacent decks, the first of which records incoming sound and the second of which plays it back) based around two reel-to-reel Revox decks to Robert Fripp. (According to the liner notes for Fripp's 1994 solo album 1999, a mechanical diagram of this process graces the cover of Brian Eno's Discreet Music.)

In a 1979 interview conducted by Ron Gaskin (which is, incidentally, one of the most illuminating and amusing Fripp interviews I've run across, and which is available on the Elephant Talk Web archive), Fripp describes the mechanics as follows:


RG: Could you simply explain the process of Frippertronics?

RF: Yes. I record on the left machine, the guitar is recorded on the left
machine, the signal passes along the tape to the right machine where it's
played back to the left machine and recorded a second time.

RG: OK.

RF: The signal recorded the second time passes along the tape to the right
machine where it's played back a second time and recorded a third.

RG: And at what point is it released into the room?

RF: Oh, straightaway. Unless, what I could do if I wanted to be crafty,
would be to build up a chord which no one could hear and then turn the
chord on, but, in fact, that doesn't happen. I've only done that, I think,
on a couple of occasions. You hear it happening.


The track "The Heavenly Music Corporation" from the Fripp/Eno album No Pussyfooting is, in fact, a document of the very first time Fripp was exposed to looping. Though the album was released in 1973, word has it that the actual recording took place in 1971 and was delayed for two years by Eno's record company, on the grounds that association with Fripp could be detrimental to the former's career. Fripp allegedly coined the term for his own use of the system chiefly because, as he put it in Eric Tamm's book, "it was a silly name."

(It should be noted that, to my knowledge, Eno was not in fact the first person to develop this type of tape loop system; though I am unsure as to exactly who can lay claim to the origination of the process, I am under the impression that Terry Riley and Steve Reich both did work with tape loops which preceeded the advent of Eno's work, albiet of a somewhat different mechanical and sonic nature).

The first recorded evidence of Frippertronics of which I am aware is the album Exposure, which was the first release by Fripp following the end of his mid-'70s retreat from the music scene (and holds the additional distinction of being one of the most thoroughly bizarre recordings I've ever run across). The Frippertronics effect is scattered throughout the record, and is probably most readilly identifiable in the piece "Water Music 1" which serves as a prelude to "Here Comes The Flood."

The "Exposure Non-Tour" which followed the release of the record consisted of a series of solo Frippertronics performances held in a variety of atypical venues, including pizza parlors and barber shops (the latter of which apparently served as the impetus for so-called "Barbertronics," wherin Frippertronics provided the soundtrack for hair-cutting).

Fripp's comments in the 1979 Gaskin interview go on to describe the unorthodox nature of the music, and the atypical expectations it placed on the audience; from a modern perspective, these are highly interesting and valuable insights, as they provide firsthand evidence of some of the first public performances of "ambient" music.

A document of solo Frippertronics performances was released in the '80s under the title Let The Power Fall. One detail of this recording of note is that the recordings on this album are not of the entire performances, but only of the portions of the music which were printed to the tape loop itself. Apparently Fripp would commonly solo over the loop in the background; this aspect of the performance, not being put into the loop, was subsequently not present on the final record.

Frippertronics was employed throughout Fripp's public work in the early '80s, after which he left the performance scene and formed the Guitar Craft network of clinics. Upon his return to the music industry in the early '90s, his use of looping became considerably more complex in both mechanics and result; a pair of T.C. Electronics digital delays replaced the Revox tape decks, and the use of MIDI guitar was far more prominent than it had been in the '80s. (Fripp eventually added other looping gear, including the Oberheim Echoplex Digital Pro, to his setup). Owing to the substantially different nature of the methodology and sound of this process, Fripp dubbed his '90s version of looping as Soundscaping.

Considerably more complex than Frippertronics, Soundscaping has provided the entirety of the music on the albums 1999, A Blessing Of Tears, Radiophonics, Soundbites, and The Gates Of Paradise, all of which are live direct-to-DAT solo performance recordings. It is also present on numerous other Fripp-related projects from the early '90s, including the work of King Crimson and other artists. The earliest versions of Soundscapes can likely be found the 1993 Sylvian/Fripp album The First Day, which is scattered with the technique and which features what appears to be a Soundscape solo piece in the form of "Bringing Down The Light."

[This is by no means an all-inclusive overview of Frippertronics, and I encourage anyone else to offer additions or corrections to the information I've presented here. I also encourage all interested readers to investigate the aforementioned 1979 interview in its entirety for more information on Frippertronics theory and philosophy.}

--Andre LaFosse

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