Robert Fripp: The Crimson King

Six decades and counting, Robert Fripp is still a master craftsman serving the Court of the Crimson King.  Fripp co-founded King Crimson in the late 1960s, and with a few hiatus periods, the band, with different members, has played on.  Fripp and King Crimson are synonymous.

Fripp is one of the most influential musicians but one of the least known to mainstream fans.  Most of Fripp’s work is totally outside of commercial music trends, as he focuses on exploring beyond the boundaries of musical genres.

Most musicians want to sell a lot of records but Fripp seems focused on making a lot of records.  According to wikipedia, for the Robert Fripp discography, he has contributed to more than 1100 recordings in his career.  That is a staggering amount of work.

Early King Crimson was a head trip for progressive music fans.  Songs consisted of long musical adventures with eclectic lyrics, featuring jazz chords, flute interludes, with pounding drums and spacey mellotron strings. Besides Fripp, the other King Crimson constant is a changing lineup as well as shifting musical direction.  Fripp has sometimes had multiple drummers and bass players in the lineup at the same time.

Not content to repeat himself or settle into convention, Fripp grew more adventurous, both with King Crimson and his side projects.  Starting in the early 1970s, he was a frequent collaborator with ambient keyboardist Brian Eno (Roxy Music, U2, Talking Heads). Often labeled avant-garde, because no other label was handy, their work was closely associated with David Bowie’s Berlin period. For the novice, the sound can be brash and heavily electronically processed. Fripp and Eno also created spacey, computer crafted tonalities that each would use together, on solo projects and as underpinning atmospherics for other artists. Eno and Fripp were in demand producers who could add texture and color to more traditional rock tracks.

Fripp teamed up with guitarist Andy Summers of the Police, and formed various other guitar bands.

Fripp also produced an early album by Peter Gabriel (Exposure), who was searching for a new sound after leaving Genesis; and a Daryl Hall solo album (Sacred Songs), that barely got released by Hall’s the record company.  Hall’s album was the polar opposite of a smooth blue-eyed soul album of Hall & Oates tunes.

Fripp also produced a series of “Soundscape” live ambient albums, recorded around the world. One man, a guitar, various guitar effects and machines that could create a pastoral blending of sounds that imitate a band of musicians. These soundscapes shimmer and bend notes and chords into a dreamlike atmosphere of sound.  Imagine a one-man Tangerine Dream – that’s Fripp as a solo artist. The sounds coming from the tape machines and processors are like a slow dance of mournful synthesizers played backwards.  Surprisingly, these albums are both soothing and enlightening.  This technique of a wall of processed sound is referred to as “Frippertronics.”  Imagine Fripp in his musical laboratory mixing and creating sounds, building these expansive songs with layers of instrumentation run through digital processors to form the song Fripp has in is head.

You might be thinking, that sounds too weird for my tastes.  Granted, Fripp’s music is not for everyone.  I don’t believe he ever intended to feed the masses with music.  Instead, he has colored outside the lines and gone where other composer/artists have not.

Through the years, Robert Fripp has created a brand name and product line from King Crimson.  Is how to enter Frippworld and it is a bit foreboding for the casual fan.  There are longtime, devoted fans and disciples that go full Fripp.

“I’m a very difficult person to work with, because in King Crimson there was a founding statement to be honored, going back to ’69,” Fripp said in a recent interview. “And if what is available fails to meet what I see as a responsibility to the larger Crimson, then that gap has to be met by someone. And it would fall to me. So it’s not a comfortable place.”

“Music is the cup that holds the wine of silence.’’  Even though Fripp became a virtuoso on the guitar at an early age, he spent many years a student, but most of his life he’s been a teacher.

Fripp has always been the seeker, in search of the essence, whatever that may be. Even though he lived the life of the rocker and swam in that lifestyle, it never seem to fit or satisfy him.  Today, a dapper, styled and man who might be a retired university professor, he is still a seeker.

In recent years, Fripp has teamed with his sister Patricia to provide motivational and leadership speeches.  Developing your inner discipline is one of his themes.

“Music is a language in which we can express our struggle with what it is to be a human being,” he says. “Forty years ago there was a market economy. Today there is a market society. Today, everything, including ethics, has a price.”

Ever the seeker.

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