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Frippertronics with Keyboard, Circa 1980 (MP3)

The looping of musical segments that we take for granted today has many pre-digital precursors, key among them King Crimson founder Robert Fripp, whose homebrew Frippertonics instrument allowed him (and his listeners) to revel in the steady accrual, and dissolution, of layers of recorded sound.

The work Fripp did with that analog, tape-based tool, beginning in the 1970s, is almost entirely associated with the electric guitar. He’d use various techniques to limit the guitar’s attack — the pluck of a string or the strum of a chord — and thus let the guitar tone alone fill the recording, but it was nonetheless the guitar, his primary instrument, emitting the sound. After doing so, he’d then wail virtuosically atop the bed of ambient sound, but there was nothing any less virtuosic — only less showy — about the manner in which he layered those initial “background” pieces.

Up recently at the Fripp website, dgmlive.com, is a recording in which Fripp applies the looping to what is, reportedly, a Roland keyboard (MP3). It provides an opportunity to hear the tape loop in a different setting than usual — same sing-song effect, same harmonious sway, but different tonal flavor:

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Here’s a diagram of how Frippertronics functions:

Writes Alex Mundy, a dgmlive.com archivist, of the Roland track:

Found amidst a clutch of unmarked cassettes by the intrepid Mister Stormy, here we have Robert with his trusty Roland keyboard trying out some ideas. Although there’s no indication of a date or location here, what we can be sure of is that the chords and lines being deployed occupy the same luscious melodic richness as the gorgeous title track of Evening Star. Can’t you just hear a yearning guitar solo going over the top of this?

The entry puts the date at January 1, 1980, but Mundy’s note says there’s no certainty regarding when it was taped. The track is currently available for free download, but these free downloads are teasers for the site (“hot tickles” is the dgmlive.com term), after which they go behind a registration firewall. For future reference, here is the file’s permanent URL: dgmlive.com.

The above image is from Erik Tamm’s book Brian Eno: His Music and the Vertical Color of Sound (Da Capo Press, 1995), via an essay by Rob Doyle at brunel.ac.uk.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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