On October 5th, 1979, King Crimson leader and sometime Brian Eno collaborator Robert Fripp made a demonstration performance of his “Frippertonics” system of live instrument looping on NBC’s late-night music series The Midnight Special. The song he performed was “The New World,” which would eventually appear on the 1986 LP Robert Fripp and the League of Crafty Guitarists: Live. Amusingly and somewhat puzzlingly, the tv.com entry for the broadcast misidentifies the song as “musical experiment (possibly titled ‘God Save the Queen’),” citing a slightly later song which sounds absolutely nothing like “The New World.”
Frippertronics was a form of tape delay, not terribly complicated to set up but which could lead to richly layered and complex results, wherein two reel-to-reel machines recorded and played back loops of live guitar back and forth between one another. The length of the delay was dependent on the distance between the two tape machines, and the system created much longer echoes and decays than were possible with electronic delay units at the time, though Electro Harmonix made a valiant effort. (If you click on that link, you’ll notice that the ad’s small print actually calls the unit a “Fripp-in-the-Box!” I hope they at least gave him a free one.) Fripp explained the system in this truly fantastic interview—seriously, read the whole thing if you have some time—with the Canadian journalist Ron Gaskin, published just a couple of months before the Midnight Special appearance:
RG: Could you simply explain the process of Frippertronics?
RF: Yes. I record on the left machine, the guitar is recorded on the left machine, the signal passes along the tape to the right machine where it’s played back to the left machine and recorded a second time.
RF: The signal recorded the second time passes along the tape to the right machine where it’s played back a second time and recorded a third.
RG: And at what point is it released into the room?
RF: Oh, straightaway. Unless, what I could do if I wanted to be crafty, would be to build up a chord which no one could hear and then turn the chord on, but, in fact, that doesn’t happen. I’ve only done that, I think, on a couple of occasions. You hear it happening.
Lovely, was that not? I love Fripp’s commendation of the show’s bravery for having him on to experiment for broadcast. While the four-minute duration was generous by television standards, that was less than half of the piece as it was eventually released. Here’s the version from on the League of Crafty Guitarists’ album, with a nice slideshow that even purloins some of the Midnight Special footage.
Previous Frippery on Dangerous Minds
Legendary Fripp & Eno concert from 1975 will finally see official release
Heavenly Noise: Robert Fripp gently deconstructs ‘Silent Night’