Bobby Go Loop-de-Loop, Terry Go Loop-de-Li
Cream, July 1980
God Save the Queen/Under Heavy Manners
1-2-3-4. 1-2-3-4. 1-2-3-4. 1-2-3- Ommmm.
The repetition of a musical phrase does strange things to the human mind and body. You know what happens when your favorite songs head into the chorus or main riff; you tap your foot harder or get up and dance or sing along or get so “into it” that you knock over your beer mug and generally make an ass out of yourself. But repetition of a pattern which gradually changes over an extended period of time can have the opposite effect, calming you down and relaxing you, Strange, right?
Now Fripp is aware of the way both kinds of repetition work. King Crimson’s early classic, “21st Century Schizoid Man,” was constructed around one of the heaviest riffs ever devised and as early as 1972, Fripp and Eno were working with tape loops, recording their duo LP’s, No Pussyfooting and Evening Star, and evolving the technique that Robert now calls “Frippertronics,” and features on his new album. Without going into all the details, the technique involves re-cording sounds on a single tape loop going through two Revox tape machines; controlled properly, the patterns generated can sound very pleasing.
As you might have figured from the album’s dual title, Fripp presents his music here in two different contexts. Side one was originally to be called Discotronics; funky bass and drum parts were overdubbed onto loops generated in live performances. “Under Heavy Manners” also features uncredited contributions by head Talker David Byrne, applying some radical vocal phrasing to Fripp’s shopping list of “isms.” It’s as interesting as the following “The Zero Of The Signified” is dull. True, you can dance to it but big deal, you can dance to a lot of things, from eggbeaters to washing machines (if you think pogoing to the Ramones at 78 r.p.m. is the ultimate, try getting down to a spin cycle).
Side A consists of pure Frippertronics and works a lot better. Blending together brief melodic fragments with his own patented fuzztone drones, he comes up with a music that is both technological and mechanical on one hand, yet individualistic and personal on the other. I’ll admit that I prefer his collaborations with Eno because of the richer mixture of sounds but there’s definitely something to be said for this singular approach. Actually, this album would probably have had a lot more impact on me had it not coincided with the latest release by a real master of this sort of thing.
That man is Terry Riley. Back in the 60’s, Riley was a musical pioneer, drawing from the Western classical tradition, jazz improvisers like John Coltrane, and Eastern sources to create long, drawn-out works based on repeated, over-lapping melodies. He wasn’t alone in the field—working along similar lines were La Monte Young, Philip Glass and Steve Reich—but Riley was the most influential of the bunch, partly because his music had a lighter, more attractive air to it and partly because his records, In C and Rainbow In Curved Air, were released on Columbia, making them widely available. And I mean influential in the rock sphere as well as elsewhere; his mark is felt in the work of Eno, Cluster, and the sequencer-dependent electronic bands as well as mainstreamers like The Who – Townshend’s intro to “Baba O’Riley” is a direct nod to the man.
Shri Camel is Riley’s first American release in over ten years and is somewhat more Eastern-tinged than his earlier work, hardly a surprising development since he’s spend much of the past decade studying Indian ragas. It’s also one of the few records of recent years that has totally amazed me. On a technical level, I don’t understand at all how he can get so many sounds out of his modified organ at the same time, even with the digital delay units hooks up.
But on a more subjective level, this music simply gets me high; it’s buoyant, shifting textures bring out feelings of wonder and joy that rock hasn’t been able to inspire in me in a long time. My favorite rock ‘n’ roll at the moment — Jam, Clash, Lydia Lunch — is tough stuff, music that acknowledges the difficult choices that each of us has to make to keep ourselves together as Western Civilization goes through another cycle of (probably violent) change. Shri Camel floats above it all, a shining cloud dispensing hope that somehow all the contradictions can be solved and we can all eventually live in…
Harmony? I dunno. This repetition stuff can make you think weird thoughts. Whew.
Found this clipping in my files after a move. I was already a fan of Robert Fripp, reading this Terry Riley review (and the one in the NY Times) got me interested in Terry and microtones.