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Listening Report: Robert Fripp’s Exposures 32-Disc Boxed Set (Part 3, Live Frippertronics & More)

Mark Smotroff wraps up his deep dive into an academia-worthy artistic profile…

I could probably continue to write 20 additional reviews based on new discoveries and insights I’m still experiencing while exploring Robert Fripp’s breathtakingly massive and amazingly thoughtful Exposures boxed set.  

With this series of listening reports I hope I’ve at least given you, Dear Readers, a snapshot of what to expect and perhaps given some of you who have been on the fence about purchasing the set rational to — like me — leap off the board and dive into the rewarding waters of Frippertronics.  If you missed part 1, please click here and for part 2, click here.

Before I get into our last listening report of the series on the magnificent Washington Square Church concert recordings, I wanted to share some admittedly flowery, quasi-poetic language that came to me while listening to it. I got to to thinking about how I might explain what Frippertonics sounds like to a novice listener without using technical descriptions about guitars and loops ’n such.   

And then this paragraph came to me:

“Frippertronics sounds like clouds, floating, ebbing and tiding, merging dissipating, thundering and lightning, raining and revealing the sunshine within and around us… Would I be extreme if I said that perhaps Frippertonics is the sound of heaven? We can discuss that some other day…”

Colorful language aside, I felt there was something to these words, enough to include them here. I may continue massaging it over time, but I hope that for now it helps paint a picture of this distinctive and remarkable music.

And now, back to our regularly scheduled programming…

Available as part of the Exposures boxed set (including on CD, DVD and Blu-ray Disc) or as a standalone CD+DVD package (vinyl too!), the Washington Square Church concert is a special — and even unique — gem within the universe of all things Frippertronics. Freshly massaged, mixed and mastered from original tape sources by producer David Singleton, true to the buzz copy on the BurningShed website, this may well be “the finest example of Frippertronics in performance.”

What is so special about this?  

All of Fripp’s basic Frippertronic loops are thankfully in the archives. However, his solos over the loops weren’t always recorded save for this series of shows from 1981.  Unfortunately, they were not labeled properly so there was no clear way to figure out which solo went with which loop. DGM audio engineer Alex R. Mundy saved the day when he realized that the sound of the loops had been recorded at ultra low volume through the guitar pick-ups playing the solos. So by listening to non solo points at ear-bleed volume levels, he was able to identify and match up the solos to the particular loop. It was a painstaking process but the results allowed producer. David Singleton move ahead with mixing the audio of this final concert.

You can read about in the booklet in the Exposures boxed set as well as the individual Washington Square Church CD+DVD set. 

Once you are able to grokyes, grok — the incredible technical hurdles the producers over came to bring this concert recording to us (a process probably even more painstaking than what the Zappa Estate undertook to bring us the Roxy concert film performances, click here for my review on that), one needs to just sit back and prepare to be mesmerized by this arguable epitome of live Frippertronics. 

Fripp’s playing is on fire in these performances made between July & August 1981. We get to hear a particularly refined and inspired Frippertronics presentation that no doubt benefits from his four years of touring and recording in this mode.  Here, we also get to witness (aurally, at least) Fripp at something of a crossroads given that in a month or so he would be unleashing his new Discipline project on the musical universe (ie. the next King Crimson). So don’t be surprised when you hear him launching into some of that fast, repetitive machine-gun fast fretwork he teased on “The Zero Of The Signified” and which would blossom into full flower in later songs like “Frame By Frame” on the Discipline album.

The song titles on the Washington Square Church DVD Audio Disc and Blu-ray Disc versions are simply labeled “Washington Square” followed by a roman numeral from I-XI. The performances are all variations on classic Frippertronics themes but are particularly focused and powerful in this show. 

Interestingly, as the album’s producers were going through the loops and matching them to solos, they discovered an anomaly: Fripp had played over the same loop at two different concert venues— one  at Washington Square Church and another at Inroads. In a process akin to Frank Zappa’s “xenocrony” concept — where unrelated recordings are combined to reveal remarkable synergy which never existed before in reality — album producer David Singleton was able to combine both solos into the final track on the album, “Washington Square XI.” 

Mr. Singleton describes the process in the liner notes. The two solos deliver very different feelings, one with a sort of “Scary Monsters” (Bowie) vibe while the other features the rapid-fire typewriter-on-steroids “Frame By Frame” (King Crimson) sort of playing. Together, these solo appear as a bit of a virtual duet. Interestingly at the point where one fades out the other picks up  as if it was planned. It wasn’t, the segue just happened when the two performances were aligned in the multichannel recording software. 

Another wonderful and wondrous moment in the Exposures boxed set. There is so much more but I think after these three listening reports you now have some idea of what to expect. There is much visual joy to look forward to as well in the booklet and the fantastic reproductions of concert posters and other memorabilia from the period included in the set.  

Exposures is arguably the most complete and in-depth multi disc boxed set to date from the King Crimson universe, if not all music in general.  It is that good.  If you are a Fripp fan, you need this one…

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