I recorded the track above to demonstrate Frippertronics. In keeping with the performance guidelines I allowed flaws, mistakes and possibly unwanted sonic densities to build up in favor of emotion and spontaneity. In the original design of Frippertronics, the session would be recorded on a master tape from the first machine, then the recycled delay from the second machine would return and slightly decay. Because of the technical flaws of the early reel to reel tape machines (Revoxes) a certain amount of wow and flutter was built up. I was able to reproduce this flaw with a delay in my Digitech RP500. One last thing before I get into the meat of the article I want to point out is that performing Frippertronics and/or Soundscapes has offered me a rewarding meditative experience for decades. I highly recommend it for those who play guitar and meditate.
Frippertronics (a term coined by poet Joanna Walton) is a specific tape looping technique used by Robert Fripp, guitarist of Progressive Rock band King Crimson long before the advent of delay units. It consists of an analogue delay system utilizing two side-by-side reel-to-reel tape recorders. the tape travels from the supply reel of the first machine to the take-up reel of the second, allowing sound recorded by the first machine to be played back on the second machine. The audio of the second machine is then routed back to the first, causing the delayed signal to repeat, while new audio is mixed in with it. The length of the delay (usually three to five seconds) is controlled by the distance between the two machines, and the number of repeats is controlled by the volume on the second machine. This enabled the player to create layer upon layer of sound in real time which added a chaos factor to the performance. The result is a mesmerizing ambient drone; an aural depiction of an artist continually layering paint.
Robert Fripp first used this technique on his collaboration with Brian Eno in 1973 on the album ‘No Pussyfooting’ and later on ‘Evening Star’ released in 1975, also with Eno. During the session, Fripp played guitar over Eno’s loops, which were either selected for looping or bypassed, allowing Fripp to add to the established loop or solo over what was essentially a backing track.
“the Muses were supposedly that level of intelligence responsible for the direction of certain artistic currents or whatever; in a sense there was a Muse present – there was a considerable presence in that room.” – Robert Fripp
“I was soloing over the Frippertronic loop and I heard the next note and played it and heard the next note and played it, and I was weeping as I was playing because something was beginning to move.” – Robert Fripp
In what he called “Pure Frippertronics”, Fripp created the loops in real time with no additional editing. Included was the method of rewinding the recorded tape, to be played back while Fripp would improvise a guitar solo on top of it. Fripp used this type of Frippertronics to perform live solo concerts in small, informal venues. It allowed him to be what he referred to as a “small, mobile, intelligent unit”, as opposed to being part of a massive rock concert touring company. Only one and a half albums of Pure Frippertronics were produced: Side A of an album with two names ‘God Save the Queen/Under Heavy Manners’ in 1980 and ‘Let The Power Fall’ in 1981. He also used Frippertronics in a more conventional way on albums by Peter Gabriel, David Bowie, Daryl Hall, and The Roches. This he referred to as “Applied Frippertronics”.