Robert Fripp
December 4, 2010
World Financial Center – Winter Garden
New York

The Final Soundscapes

When I found out Robert Fripp was playing a free show at the World Financial Center, performing his trademark Frippertronics soundscapes, my response was brief and immediate. “I am so there.”

Being a guitar player who embraces improvisational music, and the use of technology to enhance and extend the creative vision, it’s no surprise Robert Fripp would be an idol of mine. Fripp takes this to another level entirely, using science and sound to create layered musical landscapes that build upon and cascade over one another. His style is unique, his technique an art and his audiences a witness to one of a kind, instantaneous creations. What’s truly amazing is he was doing it in 1979 using reel to reel tapes to record the loops.

Thirty years later, Fripp took the stage in the Winter Garden at WFC on Saturday evening, slightly older and grayer, and with the technology just a bit updated. His personality and wardrobe somewhat subdued, Fripp strode quietly across the stage, making three simple bows before lifting his guitar from its stand, kissing it gently and slinging it over his shoulder.

Then he meditated. For what seemed like minutes, he sat in silence, as if entering a trance. In the distance, children could be heard laughing. Then more silence. Then a loud shriek.

And then sound from the guitar. Beautiful sound. Like a violin. Then a cello. Fripp creates layer upon layer, until the sound is a wall. Then he draws upon it. The feeling is dark, somber. But airy.

Beside him sits a tower of gear. Throughout his creation, Fripp presses buttons repeatedly like some automaton. With the atrium decorated around him in glowing holiday lights, he is reminiscent of a Christmas window, leaning in, turning a knob, sitting back, playing a riff. Repeat. The sound fills the hall like snow in a globe.

The variety of tones Fripp elicits from his instrument is amazing. He takes the listener through movements, distinguished not always by melody or chord changes in so much as tonal shifts. The compositions build until reaching a peak then all of a sudden, silence. Everything fades away, and the piece changes. As if he is telling a story.

At one point, the notes ring like bells. At another pure distortion rings from his guitar. Then he’s playing licks in a vintage jazz tone (the tonalities he achieves are in part, imho, a testament to the Gibson Les Paul he’s playing). And while he’s getting these fantastic tones out of his instrument, he’s also busy staring intently at the control panel of his rig, punching the controls as if piloting a space craft. On cue, epic tones from outer space emerge. The man is a scientist of sound.

If I had to make one criticism of Fripp’s performance, it might be that the pieces, while certainly compelling, never really seem to resolve. They build to peaks, but remain continually flowing, until they either fade away or simply cease. This could cause some listeners to lose interest after the initial wow of the technique and craftsmanship has subsided.

For me, it was an incredibly powerful show. When the last note faded away, Fripp slid his guitar pick under the strings, stood up, removed the guitar, gave three more bows and was gone. Not a word spoken. Not a word needed. Fripp has been quoted as saying this may be the final time he performs his soundscapes. I sincerely hope that is not the case.

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Fripp out:

and from 1979, Frippertronics: