Exposures exposed

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This colossal collection turned up yesterday. I’m still working my way through its contents: 25 CDs, 3 DVDs and 4 blu-rays; the CDs all run for at least 70 minutes each so these alone provide about 30 hours of music. The box covers three phases of Robert Fripp’s “Drive to 1981”: his debut solo album, Exposure; his Frippertronics guitar recordings, both live and in the studio; and his short-lived New-Wave dance band The League Of Gentleman. All cult stuff in this house, obviously, you don’t buy 32 discs on a whim.

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The original vinyl. Looks like I’ll have to hold on to my LoG album (see below).

Exposure is present here in multiple versions which might seem like overkill but it’s an unusual album that was compromised from the outset by record company interference. Fripp’s original intention in 1977 was for it to be released simultaneously with two connected albums, the others being Peter Gabriel II and Sacred Songs by Daryl Hall; songs from Exposure appear in different versions on the other albums, Gabriel and Hall both sing on Exposure, and Fripp produces all three works. The problem with this ambitious scheme is that Daryl Hall was subject to greater commercial pressure from his record company than were Fripp or Gabriel; RCA not only shelved the “uncommercial” Sacred Songs for three years but they also refused to let Hall sing on all the songs Fripp had planned with him for Exposure. Record company refusals also put a stop to a planned version of I Feel Love which would have been sung by Debbie Harry. In order to rescue the album several of the Hall songs were redone with new lyrics and new performances by Terre Roche and Peter Hammill, all of which has led to the contents of the album being fluid enough to sustain the various mixes which Fripp calls “Editions”. On this new set you get early drafts with extended mixes of the Frippertronic sequences, all the alternate takes including Daryl Hall’s original vocals, and a new “Fourth Edition” mixed by Steven Wilson which was much better than I expected. Wilson has had a parallel career in recent years remixing many well-known albums from the 1970s, not always to their benefit. I’ve been listening to this album for over 40 years yet the new mix contains things I’d never heard before, as well as being heavier and punchier than it’s sounded in the past.

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Frippertronics explained.

But the real highlight for me here is all the Frippertronics material. I’ve always liked this period of Fripp’s career which was essentially a guitar-driven equivalent of Brian Eno’s ambient music, developing the process begun on the (No Pussyfooting) and Evening Star albums. Or it was in its “pure” form… “Applied Frippertronics” was the term given to the familiar Revox-looped guitar tones when used as a backing for disco-inspired instrumentals, and even a rather plodding and eccentric song, Under Heavy Manners, sung by David Byrne. In addition to copious recordings of pure Frippertronics there are also more of the applied variety in this set than I ever expected to hear.

There’s no point attempting a proper review of all this material, I’ll leave that to others. But there are a few surprising omissions worth noting. The original release of the self-titled League Of Gentleman album was framed by about 6 minutes of tape collage, Indiscreet I, II & III, made from Fripp’s recordings of friends and colleagues. These vanished from the cut-down CD release of the album in 1985, and they haven’t returned here. Also absent are similar taped moments that were mixed into the original versions of Cognitive Dissonance, HG Wells and Trap plus three shorter tracks, Pareto Optimum I, Pareto Optimum II and Ochre, all of which were tape-loop pieces with an organ as the instrument. I bought the League Of Gentleman album when it was released so it feels incomplete without the shorter musical pieces and the “indiscretions”. The omission of the latter is thrown into further relief by the proximity of Exposure which contains similar taped voices (Brian Eno, Fripp’s mother, the ubiquitous JG Bennett) scattered between the songs, yet all of these have been present in every release of the album. Worst of all, since it’s always been a favourite song, is the absence of Danielle Dax’s vocal from the new mix of Minor Man. The original sounds like this.

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Another omission is this list of principles which appeared on the back of the Let The Power Fall album and also on a postcard inside the album. It’s not really essential to appreciation of the music but it was a statement of Fripp’s philosophy in the late 1970s, and his concern with being a “small, mobile, intelligent unit” working in opposition to those he termed “dinosaurs”, ie: the big record companies like RCA who were often working against the best interests of their artists. The booklet inside the Exposures box reproduces all the artwork from the original albums plus the artist photos that appeared as postcards with some of the releases but not this item. Even if Fripp no longer agrees with its sentiments it would at least seem historically relevant.

I think I’m done now with the big DGM boxes, and yet… If there was another one collecting all the studio and live recordings that Fripp recorded with David Sylvian in the 1990s I’d be tempted. The First Day album is one I like more than most of the King Crimson music from the same period, and the pair happened to play a version of Exposure (the song) on their tour. There’s at least one high-quality bootleg from that tour in existence, plus odd tracks that only appeared on EPs, so who knows what else might be in the archives. How about it, Mr Fripp?

Further reading/viewing:
Exposure promo video
Exposures contents list
The Exposure pages at Elephant Talk
Robert Fripp interviewed in Synapse magazine, 1979 [PDF]

Weekend links 419

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Cover art by Leo & Diane Dillon, 1975.

Art is not supposed to be easier! There are a lot of things in life that are supposed to be easier. Ridding the world of heart attacks, making the roads smoother, making old people more comfortable in the winter, but not Art. Art should always be tough. Art should demand something of you. Art should involve foot-pounds of energy being expended. It’s not supposed to be easier, and those who want it easier should not be artists. They should be out selling public relations copy.

Typical of the late Harlan Ellison to describe his vocation in terms of difficulty and struggle even when his prolific output made writing seem effortless. When my colleagues at Savoy Books published a Savoy issue of New Worlds magazine in 1979 one of the features they ran was an introduction by Michael Moorcock to an Ellison story collection. (They also published two books of Ellison’s around this time.) A copy of the magazine was duly sent to the subject of the essay since Ellison always liked to keep track of his print appearances. The back page of that particular issue is blank but for a few words in bold type from singer PJ Proby: “I am an artist; and should be exempt from shit.” Ellison cut this slogan from the magazine then glued it to his typewriter, no doubt transferring it to later models since it was still visible in the 2008 Ellison documentary, Dreams With Sharp Teeth.

My first encounter with Ellison’s work was also my first encounter with what became labelled the new wave of science fiction, via a reprint of I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream in a book in the school library. I was only about 12 or 13 at the time, and found Ellison’s story so shocking and disturbing that it overpowered everything else in the collection. The only other story that made an equivalent impression at the time was The Colour Out of Space by HP Lovecraft, so it’s perhaps fitting that Ellison gave my work a favourable mention in his introduction to the huge Centipede Press collection of Lovecraft artwork, A Lovecraft Retrospective: Artists Inspired by HP Lovecraft. I still haven’t got over that one. After the initial encounter, the Ellison-edited Dangerous Visions and Again, Dangerous Visions were just as important for me as the paperback reprints of stories from the Moorcock-edited New Worlds: a handful of books that showed science fiction to be a literary form of limitless possibilities, as opposed to the stereotype of space adventure and future technology. The Ellison and Moorcock anthologies led me to William Burroughs, James Joyce and all points beyond; they also soured for me the preoccupation with space adventure and future technology which persists today.

My final connection with Ellison replayed his compliment in a small way, when editor Jill Roberts and I took extra care with the typesetting of Jeffty is Five for The Very Best of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Volume 2. Ellison was the only author I’ve encountered in the digital age whose corrections were still handwritten comments on printed sheets; these had to be faxed to San Francisco then scanned and emailed to me (to this day I still don’t know why the oft-reprinted story required so many adjustments). It was awkward but amusingly so, a benign taste of a legendary bloody-mindedness and insistence on precision.

• “Laughing about an acid trip with members of Can and opening up about some of the ‘scars’ left from his association with Brian Eno and David Byrne’s My Life In the Bush of Ghosts, [Jon] Hassell is candid in a way that comes naturally to those who’ve lived life on their own terms.”

• Drone Metal Mysticism: Erik Davis talks with music scholar and ethnographer Owen Coggins about amplifier worship, sonic pilgrimage, “as if” listening, metal humour, and his new book Mysticism, Ritual and Religion in Drone Metal.

Psychedelic Prophets: The Letters of Aldous Huxley and Humphry Osmond; “Letters between the men who coined the term ‘psychedelic’ and opened doors to a different way of thinking about human consciousness.”

Artaud 1937 Apocalypse: Letters from Ireland by Antonin Artaud; translated and edited by Stephen Barber.

• “I thought female sexuality was an OK thing?” says writer and porn performer, Stoya.

• “How did a major label manage to lose a John Coltrane record?” asks Ted Gioia.

• Welcome to the dollhouse: Alex Denney on a century of cinematic cutaways.

• The trailer for Mandy, a new (and much-awaited) film by Panos Cosmatos.

• Rest in Anger, Harlan Ellison (1934–2018) by Nick Mamatas.

• Mix of the week: FACT Mix 659 by BD1982.

Emily Gosling on library music design.

Record Label Logos

The Deathbird Song (1997) by The Forbidden Dimension | Eidolons (2017) by Deathbird Stories | Deathbird (2017) by Tempos De Morte

Mea Culpa, a film by Bruce Conner

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More David Byrne. Artist Bruce Conner made two films in 1981 using pieces of music from Byrne & Eno’s My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts album: America Is Waiting and Mea Culpa. The latter is the more abstract of the two, with the drums and fragmented voices matched to dancing particles from science films. Watch it here.

Previously on { feuilleton }
The South Bank Show: Talking Heads
The Catherine Wheel by Twyla Tharp
Moonlight in Glory
My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts

The South Bank Show: Talking Heads

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Like many UK arts documentaries, The South Bank Show seldom repeated its films so you had to watch them when they were broadcast or you might never see them at all. This Talking Heads feature from 1979 is one that I missed, a great portrait of the band shortly after the release of their third album, Fear Of Music. Shots of the group performing songs from the first three albums are intercut with interviews and montages of American TV. You also get to see a very young-looking David Byrne writing (or attempting to write) some lyrics. The most revelatory aspect of the film now is the discussion of the ordinariness of both the band and their lyrics. In 1979 being resolutely mundane had become a radical position.

Ear to the Ground

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The name of percussionist David Van Tieghem won’t be familiar to most people, but if you’ve ever heard Eno & Byrne’s My Life In The Bush Of Ghosts, Speaking In Tongues by Talking Heads, any of Laurie Anderson’s early albums or Steve Reich’s Music For 18 Musicians then you’ve heard some of Van Tieghem’s session work.

For Ear to the Ground, a four-minute video piece by John Sanborn & Kit Fitzgerald, Van Tieghem leaves the recording studio to play the city streets of New York: pavements, fences, doorways, etc. This may be a typical product of the NYC art crowd of the late 1970s but it also seems prescient for the way it predicts the urban percussion/performance that would flourish a couple of years later in Europe, a micro-genre exemplified by Einstürzende Neubauten, 23 Skidoo, Test Department, the Bow Gamelan Ensemble and others. Watch Ear to the Ground at Ubuweb.