Someone once wrote that AMM’s records were as alike or unalike as trees. My brother, while I am fairly certain he’s never listened to or read about AMM, wrote me the following last month about some Robert Fripp bootlegs I sent him: “This work is mathematical, but it is the same math that dictates the growth of tree branches.” It’s like that guy from Ash Ra Tempel says: “We are all one.” Go figure.
I choose this music to write about because while my brother equates Frippertronics with the growth of tree branches, to me this stuff seems reminiscent of snow and today, by god, it’s snowing. Tree branches, snowflakes, fingerprints: same shit. And so it is with Frippertronics. Or really, so it is with any music based on this lovely tape system. Eno developed the idea initially. I don’t exactly remember the input/output scenario (if you care you can check the back of Discreet Music; I’m not moving this cat from my lap just yet), but the basic idea is that a sound is fed into some tape machines, it loops, and with each loop it fades a bit. New sounds are added on top, they interact, they die. On and on. Etc. Discreet Music is little more than a loop that Eno was making for Fripp to play over. He liked the way it sounded and slowed it down to half-speed. Pressed it onto a record. Glory be.
And so Fripp and Eno set about using their talents to make beautiful music with this system. Eno would run tapes and Fripp would play into them. Eno would process them, Fripp would solo over them. Simple and elegant. The pair made two untouchable LPs, No Pussyfooting, and Evening Star. A double LP bootleg of a live show from Paris, Air Structures, also exists. I have heard these records hundreds upon hundreds of times, and they never get old. The simplest music reveals the most interesting details.
Later in the 70s Fripp would revisit this territory, creating what he called Frippertronics, a compact solo version of the material with Eno. He toured with a couple of tape machines, set up loops on the spot, and played over them. Or with them. Or around them. He made a record and a half of just loops, Let the Power Fall being the full-length and God Save the Queen being the half (the other side, Under Heavy Manners, as an attempt at “Discotronics,” where Fripp’s ethereal loops were set to the thump of an unrelenting beat and David Byrne of all people hollered over everything). If memory serves (I’m still not moving this cat to walk over to the record shelf), that accounts for 9 pieces of music. There’s another bootleg around, a double LP called Pleasure in Pieces. Again, innumerable listens, not a moment’s boredom. A friend recently gave me CDR copies of four additional Frippertronics shows from ’79, which I in turn copied for my brother. Same deal. I play them over and over.
And these records sound so special to me when it’s snowing. I love to just line them all up and play them one after the other. It makes perfect sense to me. This music, this simple music. It heightens the senses. It does what all great art should do: it opens the eyes, it puts us in touch with the drift and pulse of life over time. The fact that no two snowflakes are alike is so miraculous and magnificent that it hurts just to know that it’s true. And this music, this simple music, hurts in the same way. It’s so beautiful that the passage of time, the drifting away of these gorgeous moments, takes on a strange sadness, a weary-eyed and all-encompassing melancholy that one imagines must be reserved for the gods.
Jeremy Reed writes of Gerard Manly Hopkins: “It is not hard to imagine the poet approaching the sparkle of quartz with the inquisitiveness of a magpie—crouching down, distinguishing the refraction of light rays, finding correlative metaphors in quartz chips, lifting the glass into his eye the way a magpie compelled by curiosity might retrieve it for his nest.” And this music does this for me, I am down on my knees smelling the silent snow and holding it in my fingers until they are numb and red. I am exhilarated by the sheer scope of my surroundings, the very great and the very small become one, the stars and the branches singing the same song, another reminder that we are each of us here but for a moment, a pebble dropped in a pond, a snowflake melting on a hand….
1/21/12 Easthampton, MA __________________________________________
Matt Krefting is a writer, musician, and Jerry Lee Lewis enthusiast living in Easthampton, MA. He is a member of the long-running combo Son of Earth, was the bass player in The Believers, and plays with Idea Fire Company, Dead Girl’s Party, Sunburned Hand of the Man, and others. His recent music has focused on solo tape pieces. He has been published on Glass Eye Books, in The Wire, and of his own accord. He keeps interesting photographs and videos at krefting.tumblr.com.