|<< Chapter 10||
Progressive Ears Presents
ROBERT FRIPP - FROM CRIMSON KING TO CRAFTY MASTER
by Eric Tamm
|Chapter 12 >>|
Chapter Eleven: Guitar Craft in the World
The worse the conditions of life the more productive the work, always provided you remember the work.
Guitar Craft Literature
I hope that the previous chapter has conveyed the sense that Guitar Craft is not a belief system, but an experience - not a doctrine but a practice, not an abstract philosophy but a certain situation or set of conditions. In spite of this, Guitar Craft has spawned a number of publications in which Fripp has set forth some of the experience's fundamental principles. In addition to the handsomely produced "Guitar Craft Monograph" series, printed in dignified dark brown ink on durable matte-finish paper, there is the column Fripp has been running in Guitar Player magazine since 1989. (The monographs are available by mail through Guitar Craft Services, Rt. 1, Box 276-M, Charles Town, WV 25414.)
The GC pamphlets and monographs bear no indication of authorship, and the ideas certainly grew out of an evolving context in which many students and teachers were involved. Nevertheless the writing style in many passages is distinctively Fripp's. While it seems quite impossible to condense Fripp's already dense language - particularly as one often has the sense that his form of expression is equally as important as the ideas themselves - I offer here a brief selective survey of the Guitar Craft literature.
The two-and-a-half-page "Introduction to Guitar Craft: GC Phamphlet I" covers much of the basic material presented at the beginning of the previous chapter, and goes on to outline seven Levels of involvement in Guitar Craft. As one Crafty put it to me, in general higher Levels represent higher degrees of commitment to the work, and have in principle little to do with sheer instrumental technique: the Level Seven Crafty is not necessarily the best guitar player, but is the most committed. The seminars themselves are arranged by Levels, and acceptance to higher-level seminars is directly contingent upon Fripp's approval.
The seminar I attended, Guitar Craft (USA) XII, was a Level One, and to such seminars almost anyone can be admitted, provided space is available. In terms of work with the guitar, Level One emphasizes basic playing techniques - relaxation, posture, left and right-hand methods. At Level Two serious work in learning the GC repertoire begins - a repertoire whose foundation is the "Guitar Craft Themes." Students work in groups and often contribute new pieces to the growing repertoire. Level Two seminars sometimes focus on special themes such as music theory.
Level Three courses are generally longer - a month or more - and it is here that "Kitchen Craft" and "House Craft" may be introduced. In the "GC Phamplet I," in connection with Level Three it is asked, "Can we apply the quality of our relationship with the guitar to the mundane activities of our life, like cleaning the bathroom and preparing food?" Fripp's efforts to instill in his students proper homemaking practices may appear comical at first glance, until one considers that this is indeed a whole approach to living, an approach in which the sublime merges imperceptibly with the mundane, in which art and everyday life, play and work, are not rigidly separated. Gurdjieff once put it like this: "There is a thousand times more value even in polishing the floor as it should be done than in writing twenty-five books."
At Level Three the going can get rough. Fripp sends out periodic epistles to Crafties on the Guitar Craft mailing list, and in his letter of December 16, 1987, he wrote, "What do we do when we can't do anything, have no interest in music, never want to see a guitar again, have no energy for anything at all? Well, we do nothing, but while we are not doing anything we practice for eight hours a day. At this point something becomes possible, and Level Three deals with getting to this uncomfortable point."
Level Four involves a year's commitment to the musical life. At Level Five "the student becomes apprenticed to Guitar Craft, and a commitment is taken to live one's life according to the spirit of this particular way of craft." Levels Six and Seven are only vaguely defined in the "GC Phamplet I," but appear to involve increased personal initiative and performance in the world. At Level Seven, "We speak with our own voice."
In late 1986 Fripp, with the intention of setting up a more or less permanent center for Guitar Craft in England, purchased Red Lion House in Cranborne, Dorset. Here guitarists could stay and practice for lengthy periods of time, paying a portion of the house's expenses and contributing to its maintenance. For some two and a half years, Red Lion House served as a sort of ashram for Crafty Guitarists, and Fripp had long-term plans for remodeling the facilities to make them ideally suited to Guitar Craft's purposes. Red Lion House was the center of gravity for residential Crafties, and between his many trips abroad, Fripp lived with his wife eight miles up the road.
In spite of the occasional ne'er-do-well Crafty who could not be motivated to pull his own weight in the operation of the house, Fripp was proud of the cordial and courteous relations his students established with the village community, which in turn was supportive and encouraging. It developed, however, that Red Lion House's next-door-neighbor was opposed to the establishment of a music school on the premises; and that in fact such use of the house was technically against local planning regulations. Rather than push for a special permit, Fripp decided that Red Lion house had served its purpose, and put it up for sale; the last team of Crafties left in July 198¹ and the house passed into new ownership.
Fripp, increasingly busy with his work of presenting Guitar Craft to the public and offering short seminars all over the world, wrote in the September 29, 1988 Guitar Craft Newsletter, "If Crafties wish to work together in an extended sense, do something about it: it is not my responsibility to provide a home for Crafties." In short, in the wake of Red Lion House's demise, he urged his students to take the initiative for themselves.
If in practical terms Guitar Craft is constructed on seven Levels, in the abstract Fripp postulates four categories of musician: the apprentice, the craftsman, the master, and the genius. Part One of The Act of Music, published in early 1988, contains such pithy characterizations as:
The apprentice acquires skill.Part One of The Act of Music outlines the interrelationships of the triad music-musician-audience; Part Two adds the music industry, and complications multiply. Personally, I get less out of Fripp's convoluted efforts to construct a consistent Systematics of Music than from the many thought-provoking asides that dot the argument. For instance: "The genius and the creative audience are the parents to new music. The new music may only be heard once, in the flying leap of the improviser; it may be iconic, where the record of the event is no mere record, but where the recording of the event is the event that it purports to be: Sergeant Pepper. The transmission by symbols of one great creative leap may enable the recreative musician and the creative audience to return in innocence to an earlier moment of the same conception: Mozart, Beethoven, Bach, Bartok."
The Art of Craft, published in late 1988, addresses more practical issues than The Act of Music, beginning with a lengthy discussion of the nature of practicing music. The four categories of musician again make their appearance:
The apprentice practices the craft of craft.In connection with practice, Fripp discusses the different functions of attention, the inseparability of the practice of music from the rest of the musician's life, the requirements of a bona fide way of craft, and the benefits of efficient practice habits. The guitarist's left hand and right hand are examined in detail, and a list of seven primary and seven secondary exercises is offered. Fripp offers interesting insights into a number of topics relevant to any practicing musician: vocabulary, repertoire, speed, time, accuracy, facility, economy of effort, relaxation, tone, presence, persistence, stamina, endurance, commitment, attention, divided attention, and memory.
Finally, the role of the teacher is considered. "The first thing a teacher learns," writes Fripp, "is the impossibility of teaching." In a nutshell, Fripp's philosophy of teaching puts the emphasis on the objective existence of craft itself, which the teacher has learned through practice and suffering and which he or she hopes to convey to the student. A successful teacher-student relationship hinges on both teacher and student getting themselves (their egos) out of the way as much as possible, and willingly adopting archetypal roles:
The role of the teacher is one of acceptance. The aspiring apprentice embodies the quality of affirmation: I seek music, help me ... The teacher is mother to the craft, and its emergence in the world; the apprentice, perhaps strangely, is father. Each play a role so that a pattern may unfold, and this unfolding pattern is part of a creative act: teacher and student are parents to their craft. The child is a craftsmanship which gives body to the craft itself. The craftsman learns that this is a child which has chosen its parents.Some of Fripp's observations concerning the teacher-student relationship seem to be autobiographical, reflecting his experience in Guitar Craft: "The apprentice, at first, sees the teacher as an Ideal Being, probably perfect." At some point, the student experiences disillusionment, casts the Ideal Being down from the pedestal, and finds in its place "the Imperfect Being, a hypocrite mouthing profound notions, making bold claims and failing in their life, thought and feelings to match any of them. The teacher is released from the humiliation of perfection to the humiliation of imperfection. The alert student, seeing the teacher as an apprentice-teacher, sees an apprentice, the same as them, with the same struggle, and then a deeper relationship is possible."
The third monograph is the poster-sized sheet of Aphorisms, laid out neatly in alphabetical order and suitable for framing - or at least taping up on the refrigerator. If the musical repertoire of Guitar Craft is its Psalms and the first two monographs its Pentateuch, then the Aphorisms are its Proverbs. Some of the "Aphorisms" first appeared in other Fripp interviews or articles; others appeared new to me when the poster was first published in late 1988. The Aphorisms bear some surface similarity to Brian Eno's I Ching-like deck of oracle cards, the Oblique Strategies; but overall they are more declamatory, didactic, and ethical in tone than Eno's poetically elliptical tidbits. And in some ways they recall the down-to-earth, commonsense humor of the likes of Benjamin Franklin's Poor Richard's Almanac - "Early to bed, and early to rise, makes a man healthy and wealthy and wise."
Some of Fripp's words of wisdom have in fact a financial slant: "You'll never get rich by hard work; but, you'll never get rich without it"; "The musician is as rich as the music they give away"; "Greed is a poor composer"; "Intentional poverty is fine. Unintentional poverty is wretched." Some have to do with spiritual etiquette: "Act with courtesy / Otherwise, be polite / But always be kind"; "Suffer cheerfully"; "Suffering of quality is never apparent to others"; "A mistake is always forgivable, rarely excusable and never acceptable."
Several aphorisms have to do with art and creativity: "Artistry acts with the assumption of innocence within the field of experience"; "Creative work is serious play." Many of the sayings are quirky and paradoxical: "How we hold our pick is how we organize our life"; "If we don't know where we're going, we'll probably get there"; "If where we are going is how we get there, we are already where we are going."
This brief selection of the total 137 Aphorisms gives some indication of their overall tenor: advice, consolation, exhortation, and crafty folk wisdom for the practicing musician in his or her day-to-day labors.
I'm not sure how much sense the Guitar Craft literature would have made to me had I not attended a seminar first. Without the context of my experience described in the preceding chapter, I might have been more inclined to write off the prose monographs as pedantic, impenetrable, and dense, and the Aphorisms as alternately quaint and cliché, profound and smug. As it is, I tend to see the literature as one small part of the total Guitar Craft situation Fripp has painstakingly constructed for the education of his students. Reader responses in Guitar Player's "Letters to the Editor" section to Fripp's recent column - which he has used largely as a platform for the dispensing of Guitar Craft lore - have ranged from enthusiastic and enchanted to exasperated and uncomprehending; I suppose this may sum up reactions to his work - literary, musical, pedagogical, music-industrial, as a whole.
In an effort to understand what Guitar Craft has meant to different individuals, I have informally interviewed numerous Crafties by phone, most of whom I initially met at GC XII in 1986. A couple of Fripp's students, upon my telling them I was writing this book without Fripp's approval, refused to talk to me at all, apparently abiding by their perception of their teacher's wish not to give Guitar Craft any unauthorized exposure or publicity. On the other hand, several Crafties seemed distinctly relieved upon learning that my project would not bear the official Guitar Craft imprimatur: they were happy to let down their guard, open up, and speak of issues that concerned them. Most interviewees were open and forthcoming about their experience, and talked freely about what they feel are Guitar Craft's benefits and shortcomings. Almost all say that attending one or more seminars has had a major influence on their music.
One Crafty who attended GC XII and a Level Two seminar later in 1986 spoke of "learning to see yourself the way others see you ... learning to accept yourself, especially those parts you'd rather not look at." At one point, he felt that the Guitar Craft style had gotten "a little too much in my eardrums," and felt a need to step back, to distance himself from the scene. But he left open the question of whether he would go back to a seminar in the future. Primarily a bass player, this Crafty's own musical path has taken him in the direction of electronic music and MIDI.
Woody Hamilton of the Columbus, Ohio, area probably represents a fair number of Crafties who continue to work with GC principles while holding back from a long-term commitment to the organization and its life-style. Hamilton, whom I met at GC XII, and who has been back for subsequent Level Twos at Claymont, calls Guitar Craft "extraordinarily valuable, mind-boggling - a profound experience - what it's like to approach something full-blast." Hamilton had played guitar for eighteen years prior to his first seminar in 1986, and, like me, tasted what it was like to start over again from scratch. He is part of a loose collection of Crafties in the Columbus area who meet every couple of weeks to play together, compose, improvise, and practice the repertoire. Hamilton says Guitar Craft has made him a "crusader for technique" with his own guitar students, and that he now has a better feeling for starting students properly from the beginning: how to hold the pick, how to hold the guitar, how to sit and relax, and so on. He doesn't declare himself a teacher of Guitar Craft, but rather teaches with the old standard tuning, in traditional forms, blues, rock and roll. He plans to return to seminars at least once every year and a half.
Steve Patterson, the (now) forty-five-year-old psychologist who was the oldest participant of GC XII, returned to Claymont for several seminars and was an active member of the New York GC performance ensemble, Chapter Two, which put on concerts on their own (that is, without Fripp). Like a growing number of Crafties, he has taken up the Chapman stick, an instrument which seems ideally suited for the Guitar Craft style. Although he has remained in touch with many Crafties, Patterson does not practice the official repertoire or use the new tuning. He describes his contact with Guitar Craft as very positive and educational, saying that the sense of a spiritual, emotional connection has been most important for him, the sense of a community sharing a common aim. In spite of this, he has decided against a long-term pledge to Guitar Craft that would significantly alter his priorities in terms of his life's other obligations. It is somehow reassuring to hear Patterson, a trained psychologist, speak of the enormously beneficial influence Guitar Craft has had over so many people's lives, and of the fact that there have been few if any real casualties.
Not that everyone's reports on Guitar Craft are uniformly glowing. Over its five-year existence, Guitar Craft has evolved away from its innocent beginnings fraught with the joy of discovery, and some Crafties tell this evolutionary tale with a sense of regret, even some bitterness. Guitar Craft XII, as described in the previous chapter, was near the beginning, when a certain intimate atmosphere prevailed that, by some accounts, has since been lost. The focussed repertoire practice tends to lack the dynamism, intensity, and group discovery that characterized Guitar Craft in its early stages. When a hundred and twenty guitarists show up for a Claymont seminar (as was the case in a Level Two weekend course in October 1989), Fripp is unable to devote the kind of personal attention to each musician that I and others found so special and valuable. Fripp - and any person, after all, has only so much time and energy - seems to have become increasingly devoted to the training and needs of students at Levels Three and above.
In talking to Crafties, one issue that tends to come up is money. Guitar Craft seminars are expensive, and one guitarist I interviewed told ruefully of his reaction to the (voluntary) requirement of kitchen duty at Claymont: "I wasn't going to pay a hundred dollars a day to wash dishes." Another spoke with incredulity of his impression that the members of the League of Crafty Guitarists (see below) were not only not paid for their musical services, but had to pay Guitar Craft for the privilege to perform. (Tony Geballe, who has taken part in many LCG tours, had a somewhat different perspective on this issue. He pointed out that the tours take a lot of money to mount, and assured me that no one was sitting back behind the scenes getting rich. The U.S. tour beginning in July 1990 was a Level Six project for which the participants were not charged any fee. But they didn't make any money either. As Tony put it, essentially they "donate their time" to the tour out of a belief that the music is important and must be heard - plus, the experience of performing has its own rewards.)
One slightly disgruntled Crafty I interviewed said that "Guitar Craft has become a monster to a certain extent." He complained that Fripp is no longer present at all the seminars. "A hierarchy has developed," he said, with the upper-level students Fripp uses as assistant teachers "putting on airs" and lording it over the beginners. The ten or so highly committed Crafties who "go to almost all the seminars" are fabulous guitarists, but tend to lack Fripp's unusually developed teaching skills and powers of communication. Another Crafty criticized what he perceived as a growing "elitism" among Guitar Craft's inner circle: "I sort of gagged on it - Fripp's assistants looking at you with Fripp stares." He called the hierarchical organization "a destructive element, Guitar Craft's shadow side that's not really recognized." Nevertheless, both of these somewhat disillusioned Crafties plan to attend more seminars themselves - mostly, they say, for the individual instruction they are still able to receive from Robert, which they value highly.
Tony Geballe, whose wide-ranging interests include Turkish music, went to the third Guitar Craft Seminar, in 1985. Fripp subsequently called him up and invited him to return as an assistant teacher. Tony spoke with me candidly about his long experience with Guitar Craft, for several years he was an almost constant fixture at GC seminars; he stayed at Red Lion House on and off and performed on most of the tours. A couple of his pieces are featured on Get Crafty. He has supported himself by teaching, performance, and recording, and recently recorded an album with Toyah Wilcox and Trey Gunn, which was due to be released around September 1990.
Tony indicated that one aspect of Guitar Craft he finds attractive is that it is always changing: it is not a fixed set of principles or rules but rather resembles a growing organism adapting itself to changing circumstances. He remembered me from Guitar Craft XII and affirmed that nowadays Guitar Craft is very different, but was hard pressed to define exactly how. I asked him about the Levels, how does one go from one Level to another - is this something Fripp decides, is one sort of promoted at a certain point? Tony said that one's Level is determined by where one's center of gravity is, by one's commitment, by the kind of work one is undertaking. Furthermore, Level is something that is objectively apparent to those who know what to look for: it is something that can be recognized in a person. He said that all Levels can and do work together; on the current Level Six performance project are Crafties of different Levels, for instance Four, Six, and Nine. Nine? I thought there were only seven Levels. Well, Tony said, it recently became apparent that one of the Crafties was a Level Nine. Exactly how did it become apparent, I queried? "Well, if you can see it it's there. There's nothing mystical about it, but it's quite impossible to explain, like a quantum physicist trying to talk to a layman about his work. It's in their presence."
I asked Tony for his take on the Gurdjieff-Bennett-Fripp connection. He said that Guitar Craft was quite different from the Gurdjieff work. Isn't there, though, perhaps a certain family resemblance, I asked? Tony said, "Well, one of my teachers was Ralph Towner, and so I'm sure there's some sort of influence there that comes out in my own music. Fripp studied with Bennett, so sure, there's an influence." This made a lot of sense to me.
The League of Crafty Guitarists
Live Guitar Craft music has been heard by audiences under a variety of circumstances. Even Level One students have been thrust into public to display their craft, as at the Iron Rail gig described in the previous chapter. On other occasions Fripp has had students at particular seminars mount more formal concerts and make radio station appearances. In early 1987 Fripp took a six-week Level Three/Four group on a performance tour in Holland and Israel. Various local groups of Crafties, with names like the New York Chapter and the Potomac Working Group, have organized themselves and given performances without Fripp, sometimes with his blessing and sometimes without. Fripp has talked about Guitar Craft in terms of an image of "one guitarist in many bodies": at least in theory, wherever two or more Crafties are gathered in the name of that metaphysical guitarist, there is professional-quality music.
But the League of Crafty Guitarists proper is Guitar Craft's primary performance vehicle, and over the past few years Fripp and various incarnations of the LCG have toured extensively, particularly in the United States. As the League is envisioned as a visible presence of Guitar Craft in the world, Fripp is concerned to put his best foot forward, and only the most committed Crafties are admitted to this exclusive group. Guitar playing is only part of it; among other things, to become a performing member of the League of Crafty Guitarists you must be able to look Fripp in the eye and say you have not taken any kind of drugs during the past year.
In the Guitar Craft Newsletter of May 3, 1988, Fripp announced, "There will be a Special Project in California during the second half of January 1989. This will require a high level of performance skill. Should any Crafty be considering this, begin your preparation now." In time, a team coalesced, and, billed as Robert Fripp and the League of Crafty Guitarists, presented concerts in five cities from San Diego to San Francisco in the week of January 14-21.
The venue for the two sold-out appearances in San Francisco on January 15 was the Great American Music Hall - maximum occupancy 470 persons. A handwritten notice on the door read: "NO cameras or recording devices permitted at this performance. Persons found in possession of cameras or recorders - in use or not! - will be asked (then told) to leave. No refunds will be issued. Ya wanna tape - go to a Grateful Dead concert."
No longer an active Crafty (not that I ever really had been, save for my week at Claymont), I came as a member of the audience for the early show. I squeezed into a chair at a front-row table and contemplated the Music Hall's strange baroque architecture and the audience - mostly white males in their twenties and thirties, a few young women, lots of beards and intelligent-looking faces.
Fripp and company made a grand entrance, walking in single file from the door at the left of the stage to the back of the hall, then up the central aisle to the stage. Standing in neat semi-circular formation, the League suddenly looked at the audience, with exaggerated expressions of curiosity - as the audience looked back and giggled. This seemed to be a gesture in the direction of breaking down the barrier between audience and performers, or even reversing their roles entirely. Someone from the balcony yelled out, "Starless!" and Fripp threw a mock-peevish glance up in the offender's direction.
The music was mostly memorized, with portions of some pieces possibly improvised. The fifteen Level Six guitarists sat on their chairs with perfect poise and concentration, almost expressionless, occasionally looking around the hall with an air of slightly self-conscious bemusement. The League performed on amplified acoustic Ovations with built-in pickups.
What the League of Crafty Guitarists lacks in visible passion it makes up for in an awesomely understated display of discipline and technique. At the San Francisco concert the overall musical impression was one of a smoothly-functioning V-8 cruising along comfortably at ninety miles an hour, sometimes downshifting into low gear with a tremendous release of energy.
The music - a carefully planned sequence of full ensemble playing, duets, trios, quartets, and larger combinations - whether fast or slow, intricate or thrashing, was almost uniformly difficult, impressive, and peerlessly executed. The audience, almost throughout, seemed quiet, attentive, blown away, responding to almost every piece with thunderous applause. I racked my brain trying to figure out when I had heard a concert of anything similar. There is nothing like it - a virtuoso acoustic guitar orchestra playing all original material in styles that blend rock and minimalism, Bartok and blues, gamelan and extended tonalities. The only real negative criticism I could muster was to the effect that most of the pieces were on the allegro side, structurally static and non-developmental, somewhat at the expense of expressive shifts of dynamics and tempo. But even this seemed perhaps less a critique of who the League were than a concept of what I would fancy doing, compositionally, with such an extraordinary ensemble at my command.
After the first fifty-minute set, Fripp stood up and, in that smiling gentlemanly way of his, asked the audience if they had any questions about Guitar Craft "or what we do." Someone said, "Well - what exactly is it that you do?" Laughter.
Fripp eyed the questioner with feigned exasperation and said, "Where have you "been" for the past fifty minutes?" Gesturing gracefully to his ensemble, he added, "This is what we do."
Someone else asked how he would classify the music. "I wouldn't," he said, and, after a pause, "'Contemporary music for guitar ensemble,' but that doesn't really tell you much." In general, Fripp's manner of fielding audience questions resembled the way he interacted with students from the head table at Claymont: confident, cheerful, ironic, and witty - rather like an impish fount of wisdom.
The second set was considerably shorter than the first, and after six pieces - the final one a big loud polymetrical chordal thrasher - the League rose from their chairs to a standing ovation, took their bows, and filed neatly back out the way they had come in, following a beaming Fripp, who nodded to acknowledge the acclaim.
The League of Crafty Guitarists: Recordings
Fripp has always considered most of his music difficult if not impossible to record properly, and the problem of conveying the sense behind the sound is particularly sticky when it comes to the Guitar Craft repertoire. The ideal way to hear Guitar Craft music is live and unamplified; live and amplified - as at the concert just described - is second best; and on the home stereo a distant third.
Live and unamplified, the sound of the guitar orchestra evokes a feeling of immense depth and spaciousness: a circle or semi-circle of five, ten, fifteen, or twenty guitars playing concerted polyphony can be a marvel of acoustics, presenting a thrilling experience of translucent three-dimensional musical space. Quite aside from the philosophical issue of live versus canned music, there is simply no way that this music will sound the same coming out of loudspeakers, no matter how immaculate the mixing, no matter how sophisticated the playback and/or amplification equipment, no matter how well-engineered the recording. Live and unamplified, the sound of a fifteen-piece guitar ensemble is emanating from fifteen distinct points in space, animated by subtle acoustic harmonics and reverberations reinforcing each other and canceling each other out in a fantastically complex way that speakers cannot physically duplicate. In live, unamplified situations, the Guitar Craft sound surrounds the listener or participant with a tangible yet chaotic, turbulent yet oceanic expanse.
I felt this directly at the GC XII seminar in February 1986 as we sat around the circle in the ballroom and played. When the first Guitar Craft album came out a few months later, I was inevitably disappointed at the sound, which seemed to be completely lacking in depth. But Robert Fripp and the League of Crafty Guitarists - Live! is an affecting, impressive record nonetheless - the more so given the facts surrounding its recording. The "challenge" of GC XII, the reader will recall, was to present an evening of original music at the Iron Rail. Two months previously, Fripp had given the two-week GC IX group of seventeen guitarists a set of challenges: preparing music for a live radio broadcast, a recording session in the Claymont mansion ballroom (with a mobile twenty-four track studio parked outside), and three concerts at George Washington University.
Of the eleven pieces on Live!, eight were recorded at the University concerts. One ("Crafty March") was a take from the sound check at the University. Another ("The Chords That Bind") was recorded in the mansion ballroom. "The New World" consists of solo Frippertronics recorded live, overlaid with a linear studio solo (the liner notes don't clarify exactly what this piece is doing on a Guitar Craft album). Eight of the pieces are by Fripp, two are by Fripp and the League, and one is by Andrew Essex, one of the Crafties.
Most of what I have already said about Guitar Craft music applies to Live!: it's relentlessly intellectual and rhythmically difficult, stimulating and challenging to the listener; its sources are Indonesian gamelan textures, Bartokian counterpoint, Stravinskian tonality and meter, and rock rhythms; it's predominantly polyphonic and linear, even the slow pieces; it's admirably executed for the most part. And it is almost literally unbelievable, a vivid testimony to the power of an idea (Guitar Craft) - that the intricate, precise, and altogether coherent and accomplished music on the album was whipped into shape in such a short space of time.
"Guitar Craft Themes I and II" (subtitled "Invocation" and "Aspiration") are the foundation of the entire repertoire: an introduction to the new tuning, the style of group playing, and the characteristic picking and fingering patterns in Fripp's method. Every Level One Crafty learns the "Themes"; they are the same pieces my seminar played in our final "concert" described in the previous chapter.
Live! was released with a "companion" album, Toyah and Fripp, Featuring the League of Crafty Guitarists - The Lady or the Tiger? The premise of the album consists of Toyah Wilcox reading, to the accompaniment of gentle modal music by Fripp alone (Side One) and by Fripp and the League of Crafty Guitarists (Side Two), a pair of allegorical stories by a certain Frank R. Stockton (1834-1902). Stockton, Fripp explains in the liner notes, was a wood engraver and writer who bought Claymont Court in 1899 and lived in the mansion until his death; the room on the second floor he made his study is the room Fripp uses for private guitar lessons at Guitar Craft seminars.
Stockton's stories, "The Lady or the Tiger?" and "The Discourager of Hesitancy," beguilingly recited by Wilcox, are metaphorical fairy tales set in a mythical kingdom, written in a studied, deliberately archaic, romantic style; little more can be said about them without depriving the reader of this book the opportunity to be drawn into their special paradoxical magic in as it were a virginal state. I shall thus refrain from further explication except to point out that unless you are exceptionally fond of fairy tales it is unlikely you will find yourself wanting to play through the album more than once or twice. The Guitar Craft music that accompanies "The Discourager of Hesitancy" was recorded in the mansion ballroom by GC IX, the same group that made Live! It is unclear whether the evocative music - a long piece titled "The Encourager of Precipitation" - was conceived with the intent of using it as the soundtrack to Wilcox's reading, or whether it was originally a long independent instrumental; it could easily stand on its own.
The third GC album, Get Crafty I, was recorded by Fripp and a twenty-six-member incarnation of the League of Crafty Guitarists in October, 1988, in Wessex. Some of the selections were taped at concerts, others during rehearsals. To the best of my knowledge, Get Crafty was never distributed to record stores, but exists solely as a cassette available by mail order through Guitar Craft Services. Which is too bad, because it is far and away the best of the three Guitar Craft recordings to date.
The album represents a quantitative if not quite a qualitative evolution within Guitar Craft in the three years that had elapsed since Live! The music on Get Crafty is much more difficult and complex, the playing of a uniformly polished and virtuosic character, as opposed to Live!'s occasional lapses. If Live! can be compared to the eight-year-old Mozart's valiant and inspired if somewhat raw and naive attempts at symphonic composition, then Get Crafty is Mozart in his early twenties, in total command of a sparkling idiom he has completely assimilated.
Get Crafty also represents a maturing Guitar Craft in the sense that the sixteen pieces were written by a total of ten Crafty composers: Fripp, Tony Geballe, Ralph Gorga, Curt Golden, Trey Gunn, Steve Ball, Burt Lams, P. Walker, Spazzo Ray, and Juanita. In other words, by late 1988 the ongoing creation of the Guitar Craft repertoire had become a collective enterprise; although Fripp composed five of the tunes (more than any other individual), his students at this point were eminently capable of tapping into the creative source and producing from their own imagination music in certain immediately apparent respects equal to Fripp's own efforts in the genre.
Now this brings up some interesting issues. On the one hand, I find it hard to write about Get Crafty without lapsing into breathless superlatives - awesome, incredible, intense, sans pareil, fantastic, incomparable, musicians' music. On the other hand, viewing the music dispassionately (which I am honestly unable to do), one might comment that in spite of having ten different composers, Get Crafty sounds rather as though it came out of a single mind, a single fount of style and inspiration. A cynic might say that Fripp had finally succeeded in finding a way of cloning himself, growing experimental cultures of his musico-genetic code and devilishly standing back to observe the resulting mutations. A musicologist might point out that the greatest composition teachers (Bach, Schoenberg, Nadia Boulanger, Olivier Messiaen) have historically been those who have guided their students to their personal voices rather than imposing their own style upon them. In a paradoxical formulation, Fripp himself has said that in the early stages of King Crimson I? individual egotism - the urge for self-expression at the expense of a higher-level musical organism - was not a problem ... because he himself was "emanating" to the other members of the band what the music should sound like. Hmm.
There are a couple of pieces that strike me as being more individuated. Ball's "The Breathing Field" uses graded dynamic swells and contrasting textural planes to good effect; Lams and Walker's "Chiara" is a lovely, slow, almost achingly hesitant harmonic essay. Fripp's own compositions on Get Crafty stand well above those of his imitators - they have real shape, real contour, real inner motion and line as opposed to a mere illusion of motion produced by a lot of fast notes. The juxtaposed textures of "Intergalactic Boogie Express," the exploitation of opening resonance on "The Moving Force," and many other touches, show that Fripp is still (or was still in 1988) Guitar Craft's master composer.
But for the most part, the approach to rhythm, texture, harmony, and melody is interchangeable from piece to piece, with slight variations on the overriding stylistic theme. Why aren't there more slow and medium-tempo Guitar Craft compositions? Why so little true harmonic variety? Why so many dazzling ostinati and so little melodic lyricism? Why so few structural crescendi and diminuendi? So few real contrasts of mood and texture within individual pieces?
Complicated stuff, this. Even though one can point to the relative lack of compositional differentiation in an artifact like Get Crafty, there is something uncanny precisely about the way all the music seems to be flowing from a single group mind - a mind seemingly so much greater than the sum of its individual parts. And I suppose there is nothing inherently wrong with an artistic movement wherein unity of stylistic language is stressed at the expense of self-expression. When I was a graduate student we used to have a little game where someone would play obscure compositions by Mozart and Haydn and see if the others could guess which composer it was - the point being that the idioms of the Viennese masters were so very similar.
Rather than accuse Fripp of cultivating clones in Petri dishes, I am disposed to remind the reader that the whole Western concept of the composer as an individual Artist with a capital A is a phenomenon that dates back only roughly to Beethoven (1770-1827), successor to Haydn and Mozart in the classical tradition. It is probably safe to say that before Beethoven's time, the composer, though he may have enjoyed a certain privileged status on account of being affiliated with specific prestigious institutions of church or aristocracy, was inclined to view himself - and was apt to be viewed by the society he moved in - more as a craftsman than as a prophet, more a skilled worker than a genius.
And thus we come full circle to the idea of Guitar Craft as such. Across the horizon rises a new, or renewed concept of art: not individualistic but wholistic, not personally confessional art set apart from life on a podium but communally experienced craft which blends into life itself; not designated musicians entertaining designated audiences, but rather craftsmanlike musicians participating with fellow human beings in the universal drama of time, tone, music, rhythm; not the "me generation" but spaceship Earth.
New communities that embody such insights in their everyday activities, productivity, nurturing spirit, craft, and art - maybe Guitar Craft, for all its very human weaknesses, is one such community.
Six hundred years.
|<< Chapter 10||
Progressive Ears Presents
ROBERT FRIPP - FROM CRIMSON KING TO CRAFTY MASTER
by Eric Tamm
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