Robert Fripp

Robert Fripp's Diary

Thursday 06 March 2003

Hotel Designer.


We continue to pull astonishing errors from pieces where no sane person could find them. Like, playing entire sections a semitone lower than intended, and then beginning it again afterwards! And this was not one of mine. I was well able to find my own.

Strange but true: I saw my first string break, and put the guitar aside for John Sinks to replace the string, picking up the spare Fernandes. John returned, speedily, and I took the guitar back. No string had broken, although I had seen it snap.

A very warm and generous audience, a significant proportion of whom probably came from Jersey.


Lobby of Hotel Designer.

Snow. Snow. It is snowing in New York. I have set up down here for a different set of environmental impressions, to assist my editing of the Sanctuary Press Conference. Techno-driven sonics of an indeterminate nature act as in-house for a fashionable hotel. I sit a latte & open the file edit 1 --


Yippee! I have spoken to Little Willcox! Editing now continues --


Pat has lent me his mobile Ethernet connector. The hotel is a hot spot & has two connectors for Mac, and both are en-Crimmed.

At last I am able to get online and send off the Diary & waiting e-letters. I am not opening the large body of incoming e-letters because many will be expecting my close personal attention after shows, the tickets for which will be provided free by the band. This will have to wait until after the current batch of performances. Sadly, I know there are also e-letters from chums.

Now, after using most of my free time for the past 4 days, editing the Sanctuary Press Conference is done. The editing is light. It attempts to address redundancies, small grammatical errors & clarify in print what a small gesture might make obvious in a personal context.

RF Press Conference with European Journalists
Sanctuary Board Room,
Olympia, London.

Wednesday 5th. February, 2003.

RF: So firstly, many thanks for coming all this way, particularly on such an exceptionally cold morning.

I'm aware that some professionals' interest in King Crimson is mainly professional, and I have no difficulties with that. The professional level of the questions are more-or-less allowed for in the first hour. If anyone has questions which are more personal, or of deeper interest, then the second session is provided for that. If anyone really has burning questions, then the third session is allowed for that. It's not strictly that everyone has to go at quarter-to-the-hour, it's not like that at all. If we're on a roll then I'm happy to keep rolling.

For my personal interest, I have no need to do interviews. I don't look on interviews as promotion. There have been times in my life where, perhaps because of the arrogance of youth, if on the occasional moments where I felt I had something to say of value, then these were opportunities to say that. That has now moved to, shall we say, post-maturity. Within the professional context however, it seems to me that if interviews are looked on as a promotional tool, then the value of dialogue and multi-logue is somewhat negated.

I've just returned from Spain, where I've been in a house in Los Molinos, a retreat centre for a monastic order, in a house that suits about 30 or 40 people. In fact, we had 84 guitarists in the house for a Guitar Craft course. The questions of people who, addressing the realities of our life - whatever we understand by "realities" - are very generally mundane and straight-forward and shared by all of us. But the concerns of a young person, and how they might reach music when their background is not necessarily the most supportive for doing that, these are questions which have more flavour for me than the courteous professional exchange of professionals doing a piece of work. And I'm one of those professionals here at the table. So, with this said, if anyone has professional questions then I'm happy to answer them.

But I lie, actually. I'm not happy to answer them at all - I would rather invite questions which are burning, or on fire. Most of the information that you have available is more than adequate for your purposes. So, are there any questions which firstly, only Robert is likely to be able to answer? And secondly, questions that have value for you personally?

Q: The Power Of Life, sorry, The Power To Believe, do you mean that as belief in one's personal abilities or in something more transcendental?

RF: Well that would probably be a question for Adrian the lyricist.

Q: But he's not here --

RF: That's true, but he did do his promotional tour in Europe.

Q: Did he?

RF: With Adrian, this comes from a song he wrote when he met his wife. This is my understanding and simply drawn from listening to the words. I'll put it in a more general way.

Anyone that might read newspapers, or go to work over a period of 20 or 30 years, and for those of us who act within a commercial culture, even before we turn on satellite news from around the world - a reasonable person might despair. If all that is open to us is the information on offer, then life is too hard. So, perhaps a reasonable response is simply to give up. There's nothing we can do.

In terms of the EP Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With, the Japanese title of the EP is Shoganai, which in Japan has a very, very different resonance. A French translation might be c'est la vie. An English approach would be that's life. But neither of these quite have the flavour of the Japanese, which is more or less along the lines of two atomic bombs have gone off -- that's life! Well, it's a bit more than that's life! It's shoganai.

Q: It's fate?

RF: Well, that's another expression. But if two bombs went off down the road from me, I think I might say a bit more than that's fate! In Japan shoganai is a wonderfully multivalent word which covers just about every circumstance: from someone I love has just been crushed on the subway to there is no hope whatsoever. It can be a very powerfully emotive word in Japan. You have a sense of hopelessness and despair - a reasonable person might despair.

On the other hand, hope is unreasonable. And love is greater than this.

So here you have the balance: life is hopeless, there is hope. How to hold these two in balance in a very strange world? For me, this is the thinking behind the album and the EP which leads up to it. Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With is very nicely in 11/8 which fits the music and Adrian's particularly upbeat American take on that's life! that's fate! and c'est la vie.

Q: To what extent are you involved with the content or the ideas of an album like this?

RF: I don't write the words. At a press conference the band did in Los Angeles two weeks ago, Adrian was asked to explain the words of Eyes Wide Open, which he did. And I told him, "you're wrong, it's not to do with that at all!" So, Adrian is responsible for the words.

In terms of how one shapes and directs, shall we say, creative projects is a far more interesting and subtle situation. For example, if you sit in a room with three other men for three weeks and hold an idea, by the end of that period at least someone else in the room will be thinking and acting on the idea you have held firmly, even if you have said or played nothing. But this is now into an interesting and subtle area. So if you ask me what is the nature of your creative input to the album and the EP? I'd say I'm the guitarist and shrug my right shoulder in a distinctively French fashion.

Q: In your new album I can see you are one of the most motivated musicians of your generation. Do you still want to do new music, new things?

RF: Thank you for this generous assessment and characterisation. I'm not sure it's one which I would accept for myself. If you ask what I would like for myself, it would be to have a quieter life.

Q: You were talking earlier about despairing, hopelessness and stuff, but in the album would there also be some angriness there, in something like Level Five and some other one's and I wander if that's true, where it comes from -- in reaction to what?

RF: No, I don't myself feel anger in that. What I would see is a way of recognising the remorselessness of events once set in motion. Anything we do generates repercussions. Anything we do intentionally, the repercussions will be at a level that we can handle; we can deal with them. If we act carelessly, the repercussions proliferate and our lives will become more complex with unnecessary issues. If, however, we act in a way that we know is fundamentally not right, then the repercussions may overwhelm us. So Level Five is one way of dealing with the seemingly remorseless progression of events that follow any action. And it may not be necessarily our personal actions, although that's part of it.

This is obviously one particular approach, and if that were all that there were in life, then life would really be hopeless. Redemption is the theological term for how repercussions on a large scale are dealt with. Also on a small scale.

Q: Are you referring to any particular personal event, for example?

RF: You can say that Level Five deals with the remorseless progression of circumstance and repercussions on a general basis. Would there be personal situations in there? Yes, I believe there would be. Would there be larger and impersonal situations? Yes. But this is one of the beauties of music: it's wonderfully wide.

Q: You're often described as a gentle and quiet man and yet you play a kind of music which is very heavy, often ferocious, often very loud. Do you see a paradox in that, or where does that come from?

RF: Ideas escape those who nominally seem to be responsible for them, if the ideas have any value.

So am I a quiet, private man? Well, fairly obviously. Is there anything exciting about me? Nothing whatsoever, as you yourself can judge from this table. There is nothing exciting about me. One of the most exciting things for me is I'm going to see my wife this evening. I mean, front page, FRIPP VISITS WIFE. My Wife is currently in Canterbury. She's on tour with Calamity Jane and we had a wonderful weekend there.

When I returned from Madrid last Saturday - because of the snow I was sent to Gatwick instead of Heathrow - I drove home and did a little shopping. Then I unpacked and went down to my local pub, thirty yards from where I live. I bought a pint of cider, sat in a little corner, a little nook by the fireplace, and drunk it all on my own. And I was so happy. And then my wife came home and I was happier still. This is excitement.


Q: Talking about balance, when I was listening to the record, it sounds like a typical King Crimson record to me. If I listen to the details, it becomes a totally different record, a totally new record and there's such a nice balance of these two extremes, of these two aspects of King Crimson.

RF: I agree.

Q: Was this on purpose?

RF: It wasn't an accident. The quick answer is yes, the form is most important. For me the form is critically important.

When the album arrived from Nashville in England at the end of July (2002), it wasn't a King Crimson record. It was an Adrian, Robert, Pat and Trey record, engineered by Machine. And it was a good album and it's 90% of what you hear now. But it wasn't King Crimson. It was the remaining 10% which was added in the main by David Singleton, my partner at DGM and in ToneProbe, who was editing and mastering. We had late nights, late nights - editing, compiling and mastering and then mastering again. And while we were doing this, the late night sessions in DGM SoundWorld were interspersed with telephone calls to the Sanctuary lawyer doing the deal.

So the form as it is now was not an accident, nor was it a given.

Q: So what were those ten percent that changed from that normal King Crimson record to what there is now?

RF: If you looked at this building from the outside, it would be a building. If you came inside and there was no furniture and decorations, you'd say it's a building. Once the building is built, what goes on inside, like furniture and what you have on the wall, is relatively less but it does determine that this is the Sanctuary building, as opposed to a building. The final 10% is that.

Q: So is David Singleton a member of King Crimson?

RF: Are you a member of King Crimson, David?

DS: No, I am not.

RF: David is not a member of King Crimson. However, what I will say for David - he has actually heard more of recorded King Crimson music, archives and albums, than any man on earth including me. David, for example, spent four months editing, listening, editing and compiling the live tapes from 1969 that went into the four volumes of Epitaph. That was hard. And that was only 1969. Wait 'til we hit 1971, 1972, 1973, 1974 and then onwards --

David is my business partner at DGM. We have a 50/50 relationship. No 51/49. If we don't agree on something, it doesn't happen.

Q: When you said that King Crimson was more a way of doing things than just a band, do you refer just to the style or a way of thinking?

RF: And the way of feeling and the way of acting.

If you look at one small aspect of how we live our life, you'll find that generally another small aspect of how we live our life is actually the same. You look at a third small thing, and how we behave in life, it will have the same imprint as the first two. And then perhaps we might come to the conclusion that all the small things of our life are actually our life.

In Guitar Craft what we say is how you hold the pick is how you live your life. So, that's how you hold the guitar pick (demonstrates). Of the maybe 1300 or 1400 people that have come into Guitar Craft, there are maybe two other hands that have yet approximated to this (demonstrates the right hand position of readiness). Generally when people come in, their wrists are like this (demonstrates a position of collapse). There, if I presented you with that wrist, or with this (demonstrates a wrist with tension) would you respond to that as a difference in attitude, for example? Here is a young man's wrist holding his pick and about to hit a string on this guitar (demonstrates an aggressive wrist position, locked in tension), and I go like that (releasing the tension in the wrist) I am asking him to release his world-view, how he thinks of his life, how he believes the world to be, and how he responds to living in the world.

So the question of simply moving a balance in his hand, his wrist and his thumb, to hold a pick, is actually taking on the whole of his life. And it is awful. It's awful because of all the fixity, all the energy which is locked into the assumptions and the patterns -- wrist after wrist. But, it's real.

Q: Unfortunately my English is not good enough to translate a Dutch word which comes to mind, which is not threatening. In German you say, uwiegens, I don't know which the English impression is, but what do you want to say with the cover? Is the relation with the cover of the album with the music? Because the cover has something threatening.

RF: It's ominous.

Q: Yes, ominous, that's the word.

RF: The piece of art was painted by Pam Crook. She is a personal friend my Wife met on a professional project, making a film of an English woman artist in the early nineteenth century called Rolinda Sharples. Rolinda was erased from history. She was a woman, you see. And she was an artist, so that really didn't count as proper. So the programme was about how you have a leading woman artist, in early Victorian England, simply disappear from history. This is where we met Pam.

She painted this (Fin de Siecle) in 1999, which was two years ahead of The Event and has a strangely prophetic character. In terms of the issues under discussion on the album, if you want to put it like that, there is a relevance. The artwork spoke to me. I mentioned this to Pam when she came for dinner recently. Resonances which are out there in potential, and haven't yet happened - artists' antennae pick up on what they are. It doesn't mean necessarily that this has to happen, but it means there is a tendency towards this. So the painting is prophetic, ominous and eerie.

Q: Eerie, that's another nice word, but is there a connection with the music in your opinion?

RF: Yes.

Q: The threatening feel, the ominous feel it has, the music has it sometimes as well I think.

RF: Sometimes yes. Sometimes it's addressing repercussions that may be in potential, or maybe actions that have already been taken. It fits with the album and the EP overall. The EP also has artwork by Pam, with different covers in America and Japan. In Japan the artwork is more tuned to Shoganai, in America it's more tuned to Happy To What You Have To Be Happy With.

There was a King Crimson competition for someone to put a balloon in the mouth of the person watching the television on the artwork to the American EP. Can you remember the exact words, David?

DS: This King Crimson video sucks.

RF: Good! This King Crimson video sucks - which is wonderful! King Crimson videos are appalling. They are awful. They are wretched things. So we don't do them anymore. There you go, much easier.

Q: You were touring with TOOL?

RF: Yes.

Q: Do you have interest in contemporary rock bands and in any way have they influenced your work in the new album?

RF: The quick answer is yes. I'm interested in the work of other musicians. I personally prefer to see them live, and that makes it more difficult because unless one's resident in a city centre where there's a lot going on. One tends to miss a lot of it. But I was nevertheless listening to TOOL records in the basement in Nashville, where I work with Adrian Belew, while writing the music for The ConstruKction Of Light.

Am I influenced by the people I hear? I hope so. And the people I meet? Yes, I hope so too. I hope I register everything. The direct causal relationships are sometimes a little difficult to trace. For example, I might be more influenced by how a guitarist puts on their guitar, than how they play it or what they play. Now how to actually trace that is the difficult thing. For example, I once asked John McLaughlin (I flew to Paris to interview John when I was a contributing editor to Musician magazine) and asked him what was his interest in Sri Chinmoy. John said I wanted to see how he poured a cup of tea. Now, I understood exactly what John said. At least I believe I do. So sometimes I'm more interested in seeing how the guitarist puts on the guitar than what they actually play.

With regards to TOOL -- actually TOOL do happen to be a favourite band of mine, but I don't generally comment on who I like because it leaves out everyone else, and the suggestion might then be that doesn't Robert like them as well. So, I make no further comment on that other than TOOL are wonderful characters. Adam asked me do you hear the King Crimson influence in TOOL? and I said "no, not at all". TOOL are more comfortable being TOOL than King Crimson is comfortable being King Crimson. It's in the nature of the band (KC) I'm afraid.

Q: Yeah, why's that?

RF: It's in the nature of the band.

Q: What do you mean, you don't feel comfortable within the band?

RF: NO! Or rather YES, I feel uncomfortable. I always have. It's an awfully uncomfortable band to be in. Awfully uncomfortable. Why? Because it doesn't stand still.

Q: Sorry?

RF: It doesn't stand still. Crimson always continues to reinvent its wheel.

Now if you go home, one of the good things about being home is your comfortable chair is there in your study, where you sit to read. With your lamp, there. Your music, there. Your books, there. It's comfortable. If you go home and your chair isn't there, your books aren't there, your study is moved and your music has been turned off -- it's not comfortable.

Q: Yes but it is challenging.

RF: Right. But when I go home I would like to be able to have a moment sitting in my study -- So, at home, one has one's own particular dynamisms to keep oneself sharp. To put it another way, one's pointed stick.

So yes, King Crimson is always challenging, and challenging is antithetical to comfort. So the answer is, King Crimson is always an uncomfortable place to be.

Q: Is that the reason that you are going to form The 21st Century Schizoid Band?

RF: I haven't formed it.

Q: I read so.

RF: No. No, I haven't formed the band. I know the people, at least I know some of them. I've spoken to some of them and some of them even are friends of mine. I support them personally and professionally, but I have no formal involvement or relationship with them.

Q: I see. So what is that band?

RF: It was formed initially by Michael Giles, the drummer in the first King Crimson, who I think wanted to play --

Q: Good reason.

RF: -- and he put the band together with Ian McDonald. Obviously saxes, flute and I believe keyboards. Mel Collins, saxes from 1970-72. Jakko, guitarist and singer, his son-in-law, well known for his work in Level 42. And Peter Giles, the bass player from Giles, Giles & Fripp, and who played on In The Wake Of Poseidon. And they went out and they did some work. I bought tickets to see them but David and I spent a long, late, sleepless night on Dartmoor, mastering The Power To Believe, so I didn't get to see them. With regret.

Q: Would you like to collaborate with them?

RF: I have been formally invited to play with them at any time, which I've acknowledged gratefully, but currently that's not music which addresses my main concern or interest. That shouldn't in any way be taken as critical, because it's not: it's just not where my musical interest currently lies.

In 1997 when David and I were working on Epitaph, the live 1969 music, I felt I would like to play this. I felt hot to this repertoire from a certain period, which is entirely valid in the conservatory tradition. You address the repertoire from a particular period and no-one considers that in some way you're flunking your musical responsibilities or being dishonest. So I mentioned the idea to Michael Giles, drummer from 1969, John Wetton, bass player and singer from '72-74, of putting together a quartet for three weeks. One week's rehearsals, one week playing in clubs in America, one week in Japan, looking at the repertoire of King Crimson from 1969 - 1974. Any music which attracted our passion, we'd play.

The advantage was, this was not King Crimson. So it wasn't a reformation. It wasn't a big commercial venture. It was playing a particular repertoire of interest. I mentioned this to Ian McDonald and Ian was very much against. Ian was at that time specifically focused on reforming the original King Crimson. This has been suggested to me since 1977 and is not something which attracts my interest. So Ian said no, Michael and John said yes, and at that point the overall answer was no. So King Crimson moved towards The ProjeKcts and, in terms of the repertoire, it waited until The 21st Century Schizoid Band.

Q: In the intro of Facts Of Life there is a sense of waiting, like there is something which is about to happen. How important is the sense of waiting and the mystery and so on?

RF: For mystery I'd substitute the word ambiguity. Something which is definite-definite has little information present. Something which is ambiguous is far more open. It's information rich. And waiting is part of life.

Q: You are the only Englishman in the band.

RF: I noticed that too. It's why I rely particularly on David.

Q: That's what I was going to ask you.

Q: Why it's got to be a British thing -- ?

RF: No, it's Anglo-American. Anglo-American is a very, very good relationship.

As we all know, the English have nothing whatsoever to do with continental Europe. David has a house in France, may I say, and I have myself been traveling to continental Europe since the age of eleven, when I fell in love with Paris -- and well, that's another story. I'm not myself antithetical to continental Europe, neither is David. In fact many English people are moving to continental Europe to regain a sense of a certain kind of England which once they knew.

There is a sensibility that England has that is simply explained by saying, well actually, it's English. For a wider approach to that I recommend anyone who's interested might look at Peter Ackroyd's new book The Origins of Albion - The Origins Of The English Imagination. This is a very well-informed, non-academic but persuasive and informative view of what it means to be English over a 2000-odd year period.

So part of King Crimson is English, but it can't be wholly English because there are limitations to being in England, like -- well you might as well give up because nothing is possible. Or, you've got a really good idea? It'll fail. Or you're successful? How dare you! So there are limitations on being English and Englishmen, young Englishmen and maybe even young Englishwomen. But I speak of my generation of musicians, which were totally male. When they went to America, instead of having to defend what they did, they actually met people who rather liked it and encouraged them in it. And this was such a novelty in their lives they decided they might stay there.

However, you then run into the other thing. Americans are very good at getting the show on the road. The content of the show, however, is not always their speciality. You have situations in England, therefore, where England is shambolic, amateurish, unprofessional, with eccentrics and oddballs who come up with strange ideas. They take these strange ideas to America, Americans say that's a great strange idea, and they put the show on the road. So there's a very good combination. If you spend too long in America you become, in my view, too concerned with putting the show on the road. If you stay in England for too long you realize it's hopeless, and anyway the little success you had was a crime.

Q: You mentioned King Crimson as a separate being -- ?

RF: It is. Yes, it is.

Q: How is that, how does it work and what's it like?

RF: A number of questions there, would you like to choose one of them please?

Q: Um, what is it?

RF: Well you have a number of definitions on that. One is, it's a way of doing things, and also thinking about things and how you feel about things and so on. It's a particular world-view. It's a particular strategy for engaging in and with the world, from one point of view

From another point of view, as a strategy it obviously has to be embodied, to take place in the actual world. And the body of King Crimson has changed somewhat over the years. So for me the particular formations of King Crimson are in effect incarnations. The spirit returns, the body may be different, but the spirit returns.

Q: And has there always been a sense of this spirit from the start of King Crimson?

RF: The quick answer is yes. It has an otherness about it. And even as a young man I was never silly enough to confuse King Crimson with what I personally did. And to do so would be to utterly miss the contributions of all the other people anyway, which is profoundly insulting, even were I that egotistical. The musicians in King Crimson, by and large, have all been better players than I am. What I bring to bear is something else.

My work as a guitar player is generally better highlighted in the work of other people, notably Bowie and Eno, who come to me not for my ideas or thinking or way of doing things - all of which they're very capable of bringing to their own concerns - but they come to me as a guitar player. I happen to be a good guitar player, but King Crimson is not the best context for me to be a guitar player. As a guitarist, I do my best work with others.

Q: Jo