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Robert Fripp & Brian Eno - (No Pussyfooting)

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Artist: Robert Fripp & Brian Eno

Album: (No Pussyfooting)

Label: DGM

Review date: Oct. 28, 2008

By 1972, King Crimson’s Robert Fripp and Roxy Music’s Brian Eno had already become slightly disgruntled rock stars. Both were seeking new horizons for creative endeavor: Fripp starting on his path as an artisanal guitar craftsman with spiritual, transcendental leanings; Eno experimenting ever deeper with the technology of recording, and with sound itself as art. Eno’s tinkering with a two-tape-deck delay system eventually led to the perfect medium for something new – and at the time, decidedly futuristic – in rock. Art composers like Terry Riley and Pauline Oliveros had, within the decade past, arrived at similar tape delay systems as compositional and performance tools, but (No Pussyfooting), released in 1973, was the record that, in the pop world anyway, eventually launched a thousand loops.

Of the two side-long pieces on the original LP, “The Heavenly Music Company” has had the most influence. Recorded at Eno’s home studio, it carries the freshness and immediacy of new discoveries. Fripp’ s guitar notes, through their accretion and then gradual decay within the tape delay system, build into drones, chords and melodies – clusters of musical events. Eno’s shaping of the work’s arc comes by way of his choosing, in the moment, just what to input and when. At times, Fripp’s sometimes dramatic, almost always rhapsodic soloing is allowed to soar in all its dark, hollow, fuzz-toned glory, unfettered and un-looped over the sonic structure and subtle changes in density and mood. His closing glissandos and deep, dive–bomb bass notes are looped and gathered into a powerful, virtuosic ending during the final minutes. There is an alluring physicality to the medium of analog tape here, too. The overall sound is crunched and compressed when there’s a lot going down; a river of tape hiss flows into comprehension when things become more spacious and quiet. Simple physics reveals its effects, as well. The delay time itself is controlled by the actual physical distance between the two tape machines; the occasional accidental(?) jarring of a tape deck might add a wobble in pitch that is fated to repeat again and again.

The second piece, “Swastika Girls,” was created in a “real” recording studio, and has an altogether different feel. Here, Eno’s synth is heard along with Fripp’s guitar, and there’s a predominant shimmer of treble timbres, a predominant pulse and haze that is many ways closer to, say, Terry Riley’s “Poppy Nogood and the Phantom Band” than it is to the work on side one. That said, there’s also a definite foretaste of the portentous and unsettling textures and tonalities that Fripp and Eno would develop a bit later with “An Index of Metals.”

The bonus material on this two-disc edition is fascinating, too, touching on a quirk of pop music history. It turns out that this album was played backwards on its BBC Radio debut. The tape copy for broadcast was sent to the BBC loaded tail-out on the reel, causing confusion. A phone call to the BBC from Eno himself to correct the matter was, apparently, deemed a prank and thus ignored. Now, we too get to hear it that way. “The Heavenly Music Corporation” is utterly changed by the way the piece now begins at full force with the sliding complexity of its final cadences, then makes its way slowly toward the quieter, starker stacked drones of what was supposed to be the beginning.

Taken all together, the two original pieces and their anomalous versions offer some intriguing listening, along with a nice lesson in the way chance operations, human intent, technology, and the chaos that befalls art out in the world can combine to make things, at the very least, interesting.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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