First published on LiveJournal - 26/10/09
So... you're a long-time visitor to Robert Fripp's DGM LIVE website and you've accumulated a hard-drive full of all those King Crimson-related HOT TICKLES - those little sound bites of half-finished KCrimtracks and 'works in progress'?
If you're a REAL enthusiast, you will also have purchased a number of other tantalizing bits and bobs from ADRIAN BELEW's 'Dust' collection, or the musical 'stems' from those artists who make available select tracks for 'remix' purposes - Byrne & Eno, Peter Gabriel's Real World stable, Steven Wilson, Trey Gunn, Markus Reuter and Tuner are all examples off the top of my head...
At some point, you found yourself thinking “What if..?”
What if, with the aid of my musical sequencing software of choice, I put that half-finished guitar part, soundscape or Frippertronics piece over that other totally unrelated drums-and-bass tracking session? What would it sound like? Sometimes it doesn't work at all - the tempos or the tunings might be completely incompatible and all you end up with is a discordant racket. Sometimes, even the discord sounds at least musically intriguing. Sometimes, the choices made don't produce results as interesting as you think they're going to be. But sometimes there are moments of synchronicity when everything sounds RIGHT, when you believe that the parts were just made for each other.
This is a technique that I have explored for many years with my own music and when remixing music for others. I guess that's just how my head works. I get off on asymmetrical rhythms. If you want a remix where everything is neatly cut and fitted to a 4:4 click track, then sorry, I'm not your man! I like surprises and chance. My attempts to produce 'normal' 'commercial' remixes usually result in music that sounds boring to me. And probably to others.
JOHN CAGE was an influential example of someone who explored CHANCE in music. He would get groups of musicians to play different compositions in different parts of the room simultaneously. He would also 'compose' music whose chance outcome was determined by the throwing of dice (hence 'aleatory' or ALEATORIC MUSIC).
FRANK ZAPPA called his own technique XENOC[H]RONY (strange synchronisation - literally “foreign time” from the Greek). This idea, which he explored from the time of “SHEIK YERBOUTI” (1978-79) onwards, made full use of the technology offered by the multi-track recording studio. Instrumental passages from completely different performances (bass from one song, drums from another, guitar from another) could be re-combined in different combinations to create new compositions.
He would use this technique a lot on “JOE'S GARAGE”. When the time came to include a guitar solo, rather than record a new one in the studio, he would select a ready-made one from his vast archive of live performances, and drop it over the pre-existing studio rhythm tracks. The studio engineers came to call this the AMPEX GUITAR (Ampex being a tape recorder manufacturer).
Many of Zappa's albums combined live and studio material in this way. It is not difficult to spot similar examples in the more exploratory music of those who have passed through the ranks of Zappa's bands - STEVE VAI and ADRIAN BELEW in particular.
I have called my King Crimson-related explorations KCOLLISIONS (or is it kCOLLISIONS? Or KcOLLISIONS? I'm never quite sure how these 'KC'-inserted titles should work best!). As I said, it doesn't ALWAYS come off. Sometimes, the results are immediately discarded. Others are only partially successful - Kcollision #11 (“The Devil's Celebration”) laid a Frippertronic track over the tracking sessions for “The Devil's Triangle” aka “Mars”. The root notes for both tracks were the same, but the key changes in the Mellotron parts sometimes snagged a bit! But there is nevertheless an interesting tension created. Kcollision # 21 (“1,988 Sailors” - you can probably work out the sources for yourselves!) had similar faults. However, Kcollision # 4 (“Easter Uprising”) was a marriage made in heaven! Fripp's “Easter Sunday” (from “Love Cannot Bear”) nestled over the drums and bass parts from the “Lizard” sessions as if was meant to belong there.
More recent successes have been Kcollision #24 (“Brain Waiting”), in which Bill Bruford's Simmons workout for “Waiting Man” meshes remarkably well with Marco Minnemann's drum parts from an ongoing Trey Gunn work, and Kcollision #31 (“Dervish Cakes”) where a David Cross/Robert Fripp ambient piece is laid over the drums/bass parts from Markus Reuter & Ian Boddy's “Dervish”.
This technique has also provided a solution to that burning question, “What happens if I play both sides of a LOL COXHILL solo record at the same time?” Answer: well, in the case of 1981's “The Dunois Solos”, you get a nineteen minute recording of Lol Coxhill duetting with himself, with surprisingly little atonality involved and more than a few moments of synchronicity. But I digress.
The downside to all this exploration, of course, is that it is FOR MY EARS ONLY. I realise that I am, of course, playing with copyrighted material and I haven't sought permission from anyone at DGM*, or any of the other artists/labels involved, to make any of it public. Nor do I have any intention of doing so, through this blog or via any other means. It's just a bit of fun. The music belongs to someone else, my input as the "arranger" is merely in the choice of material. I'm sure other musicians will find their own ways of exploring these techniques. In Zappa's day, it required access to an expensive studio facility. Nowadays, anyone with a home computer can have a go!
[* I would be only too pleased to send DGM a couple of discs-full, if they are interested in hearing what I've been up to!]