David Singleton

David Singleton's Diary

Monday 09 August 2021

Talking Stick Ballroom Scottsdale

The Strange Tale of the Disappearing Guitar Solo
At the Royal Packages on this tour, I have been playing a small excerpt from my favourite CD on the forthcoming Exposure Boxed Set – a Frippertronics performance at Washington Square Church. At his Frippertronics performances, Robert Fripp would build up a loop, using his delay system with two Revox tape machines. Having done this, he would often rewind the tape and play a solo over the top. We have recordings of all the loops, as Robert kept the tapes that he used to created them. But the solos only exist on bootlegs. One rare exception being Washington square Church, where the solos were also recorded.
Which leads me to the grand moment in Scottsdale where, with a large build-up and imaginary drum rolls, I play an example of one of these solos. To be greeted by…the sound of a Frippertronics without a solo…
The Royal Package had been moved from the main stage into a side room, and so the music was not played through the main PA for the concert but a separate small PA supplied by the venue. The house sound engineer, hiding off stage, had played the track on my laptop when I had asked him, the Frippertronics had begun, we all waited for the glorious moment when the guitar solo would come in. We waited. And we waited. It never arrived. The Frippertronics continued. But no guitar solo.
One slightly embarrassed public speaker had to hastily disappear behind the curtain to see if the engineer had somehow played the wrong music file. But no – he was indeed playing “Washington Square Church 1” – the specially prepared music file with the solo. I pulled out the lead to listen to the file on my laptop speakers. There was the solo. Plug it back into the PA with the assembled audience. The solo had mysteriously disappeared.
My speech which was intended to sing the praises of Robert’s guitar playing was then forced to become slightly more erudite, as I briefly explained the intricacies of “phase”, and how a guitar solo, or anything else that is in the centre of a stereo recording, can mysteriously disappear. If you reverse the polarity or wiring on one side of a stereo recording, so that one side is “plus” and the side is “minus”, then anything in the middle is cancelled out and disappears. A useful trick if you want to create karaoke versions of a song and remove the vocal. Not so useful if the venue have supplied a badly set-up PA system, and you are playing :”the solo that isn’t there” to a crowd of bemused people “ (or the solo that is there, you just can’t hear it – which isn’t very helpful).