Robert Fripp

Robert Fripp's Diary

Tuesday 07 September 1999

Chop Em Out Mastering Trinity

09.14 Chop Em Out Mastering, Trinity Mews, Cambridge Gardens off Ladbroke Grove.

"In The Wake Of Poseidon", the sequel to "ITCOTCK", is mostly re-vibrated. Simon Heyworth, hero of Chop Em Out, is a specialist in the transfer of analogue masters to the digital domain. David Singleton delivered the tapes yesterday morning from World Central before setting off to another adventure in the middle of the afternoon.

Currently, Simon & I are de-hissing noise-spots during critical transitions. Every choice, every decision to favour one particular strategy from several possible alternatives, predicates a value judgement. No decision is taken in a vacuum, separate from causes and effects. So each choice we take is a statement of who and what we are, and the values which govern & direct our living. The values of the basement are different to the values of the ground floor, and so on up to the roof garden. What choices are Simon & Robert taking?

"With some of the electronics of the 1970s the noise floor is greater than the tape, around -60 or -65" says Simon. Today, with smart noise reduction, even if we remove all the tape hiss, there is a residual noise which came from the recording equipment. Vinyl surface noise obscured this noise floor (as well as most of the tape hiss). Even "pristine vinyl" was relatively noisy and I don't believe, in any case, there is "pristine vinyl". Which one comment alone opens the door to endless and irreconcilable debate between audiophiles. In the corner of this studio is a £4,000 turntable. Audiophiles who played vinyl on this little sucker would trumpet the superior qualities of vinyl. And, at that point, they'd have a strong argument. But still irreconciliable.

"We have become intolerant of noise" says Simon. Modern mastering makes available a continuum of more>less noise-free reproduction. Absolute ground zero is digital black. With this form of "silence" the only hiss / noise audients at home will hear is the noise of their own system & the movement of blood. For me, digital black sounds unnatural on an analogue recording. My ear accomodates a standard continuum of hiss and (mostly) samples noise out by accepting it as omnipresent. One of the standard techniques, in assembling master mixes for 1970s albums, was to cut in "recorded silence" between the mixes, in preference to virgin tape. This maintained a steady noise floor. Otherwise, the noise-drop was noticeable & interrupted listening. Savage digital noise reduction removes more than hiss & noise: it also claims harmonics which impacts timbre. So, we are adopting a pragmatic middle way: noise reduction, not noise removal.

The Definitive Edition remastering of 10 years ago is unacceptable by current standards. I'm aware that a proportion of enthusiasts at the time preferred the original transfers to CD, straight from the tape masters. These comments I've born in mind until now. This is another opportunity, using a different generation of digital technology, to satisfy audiophile concerns (although audiophile concerns are incapable of satisfaction). Two technological areas, where improvement is massive, are A>D conversion & digital editing. Analogue to digital conversion in 1989 didn't quite transfer the "silk" of the music; and early digital editing couldn't handle much more than one or two generations of transfer before digital "edge" hardened up the sound.

"Peace is the love of a foe as a friend" sings Greg, quoting Peter, with a substantially reduced noise-to-signal ratio. To be reminded of this principle of Christian & Buddhist living is as appropriate now, as ever.

We have had difficulty obtaining early generation master tapes, many of which have disappeared with different licensees over 25-30 years. Downstairs in Chop Em Out is a pile of alternative masters for each album. One "Poseidon" master had nothing at all on one side, and a distant fluttering on the other. This got de-magged somewhere along the way here. Master tapes used to be wrapped in aluminim foil for travelling, and on subway trains the courier was not to sit above a carriage with a motor (which generates a magnetic field). Office Business:

Three complaints I've investigated:

1. A Canadian who was nasty to Amy in LA for adding a postage surcharge to a Canadian Club order. Our ill-mannered customer hadn't read the postage information. I suggested that a customer who was unkind to Amy was not a customer DGM needed.

2. A money order was sent, and arrived, separate from its e-mail order. The money order waited until the customer, e-order & analogue money order were eventually reconnected by DGM. This leads us to the conclusion that an e-order should be accompanied by credit card information, rather than payment by a separate postal transaction.

3. An American manager who wondered where his money transfer from DGM had gone. Answer: his bank in the States had made a mistake. His one legitimate criticism - prompt processing of e-mail - has been accepted, adopted and is being addressed.

Of the four complaints / issues raised from these three correspondents, one is properly DGM's responsibility. David's time, my time, and the time of other staff within DGM, has been spent researching & dealing with these complaints. If our three correspondents had initially put the time into checking the situations at their ends, DGM's time would have been available to our creative future. And promptly responding to e-mail.

In effect, we have been asked / expected to spend our time to save the time of our correspondents. This is unreasonable and onerous.

Responses to ET:

1. The influence of Velvet Underground on Fripp / KC.

I am not aware of any musical influence. I hope I'm influenced / affected / touched by all and everything which I've experienced. But significant influence? I don't think so. If anything, the Crimson ethos of the working player (often with exceptional executant capacities) is very different to what I know of the VU. This Crimson ethos is almost exactly diametrically opposite Robert Christgau's notion of Crimson as "art school wankers".

2. The influence of Frank Zappa.

I'm not aware of any musical influence on myself. I am not very familiar with Frank but I hear stories from players who have worked with him, or have seen him (Eddie Jobson, Adrian Belew, Bill Bruford). To some extent, these stories may have had influence, but I don't believe significantly so. Influence on KC? This is a question best put to Adrian.

14.31 "Cirkus" begins our mastering of "Lizard". Mel the Outstanding, now on alto sax, solos over the Mantovani interlude. Now the guitarist spits acoustic running lines from a large Martin, then available for purchase. I believe it was also considered by Al Stewart but eventually bought by Hank Marvin. I've never found a Martin where the 3rd string (G) tuned at the 9th.fret to open 1st. (E) played in tune in the lower positions, and this was one of them. Where were you in 1970, Buzz Feiten?

Gordon Haskell is struggling heroically to be a singer in a context where such endeavour is a functional impossibility: an accompaniment which declines to accompany & lyrics sufficient to set the psyches of strong men flapping. No wonder Gordon prefers Motown to Crimson as an example of good songwriting. Gordon was out of place in Crimson, and has suffered distress for nearly 30 years as a result of his (relatively minor) involvement. A condition of one of Gord's recent West Coast performances was that he sing "Cadence And Cascade".

"Poseidon" mainly cleared up outstanding musical business from the 1969 Crim. The notable exception is "The Letters" from "Islands" which re-addressed "Drop In" (with a significant improvement in lyrical content). Themes from "Cirkus" were re-addressed on "Dinosaur".

We are testing two masters, one from the Island Records (1970) period & one copied for Polydor 7 years later. The first has a brittle top which needs to be taken out. The second is muddier & would need a good quantity of fairy dust.

15.21 We have chosen to use the 1970 master & deal with the edge.

16.44 "Each afternoon we train baboons to sing" sings Gordon from "Indoor Games". I find the first side of "Lizard" almost unlistenable and am looking forward to "Bolero" on side two. There are lots of ideas, mostly not settling with each other. The impartiality of my listening is tested by memories of the recording process & the decline in my working relationship with Peter. "Lizard" was a middle-of-the-middle undertaking but it got the Crimson venture to the other side of The Great Divide - the Mel, Boz & Ian group. Which lead, in turn, to the Larks' Crimson.

18.53 Neil Warnock, Super Agent, & Richard Chadwick, Honest Manager, have just left. The meeting focused on 2 areas: King Crimson live performance next year and DGM Live. Neil has been offered 3 shows in Poland which would underwrite a larger European tour, including several festivals. The difficulty is this: the 3 venues are utterly unsuitable.

In Europe, particularly the East where Crimson is a "legendary & historic" outfit, we are offered theatre tours. The view from the stage is of a seated, mature audience, almost completely male, honouring the European concert tradition. The venues are too large, with poor acoustics, little contact with the audience is possible, ticket prices are high, audience expectation of an "historic" performance overwhelming. Some past Crimsons have been able to go into the concert tradition and make it work, but where it suited the music.

The Double Duo is not aimed at being a concert act. Its repertoire is probably (best guess available) going to be mainly new, with only 3 or 4 pieces from 1994. In smaller & club venues, where the Crimson juice is focussed on a mobile, innocent audience, the lack of traditional repertoire isn't a concern for me. We can deliver in a concentrated environment. My concern is presenting new repertoire, and a new formation, to audiences who haven't seen us before, believe they are going to get Crim's golden oldies, & pay through the nose for the privilege. In the US there is enough available discussion for audiences to know Crim is not in the nostalgia market.

My other suggestion is that the Double Duo travel the caravan route of a package tour. If the audience doesn't like Crimson, fine - there's a pile more groups to enjoy.

19.02 Our psyches druibbling, perverted by Cirkus & Lizard, Simon & Robert are fleeing for today.