A quiet Sunday, sort-of. I’m not doing much, but there is plenty of energy in the air, courtesy of my copy of Sylvian/Fripp’s Damage live album. It’s about ten years since the album was released; the actual date wasn’t given, but the liner notes say December 1993. That was the final stages of the Road to Graceland tour, and I have good reason to believe it was from the Royal Albert Hall on December 16.
I was at that concert, late due to a badly-sprained ankle from earlier in the week. I missed part of Michael Brook’s amazing opening set: one guy, a bit of sequencer, digital delays, and the Infinite Guitar* he designed and built. Filling the Royal Albert Hall with music was a tall order, but he managed it with no trouble at all. (I was rather pleased to hear one of Brook’s solo pieces, Ultramarine from Cobalt Blue, on the soundtrack to the film Heat.) He was even playing for free, since he was also the “glue” of the main Sylvian/Fripp band, with long-time Fripp collaborator Trey Gunn on bass, and “new boy” Pat Mastelotto, who is still working with Fripp today, in King Crimson.
Mastelotto’s introduction into this community is the stuff of (minor) legend in the music community. Mastelotto had pop success in the 80’s, in the band Mr. Mister, but had been doing session work with the likes of XTC and The Rembrandts since the Misters broke up. (When The Rembrandts re-recorded “I’ll Be There For You” as a single, after Friends took off, that’s Pat on the drums, but he’s not on the short version used on the show.) Sylvian & Fripp had to audition for a new live drummer, since the drummer on the studio album The First Day, Jerry Marotta, couldn’t or wouldn’t tour, possibly due to his Peter Gabriel commitments. Pat heard they were auditioning, from a friend of a friend, got Trey Gunn’s number, badgered Trey into getting him an audition slot, cashed in his frequent flyer miles, crashed on a friend’s sofa in London, then headed out to Real World studios.
Robert Fripp was conducting the auditions himself, which would be enough to put anyone off, the way Pat describes it. At one point he seemed to walk out, but then turned up behind Pat, critiquing his technique. Still, it worked out well, and Pat arrived back in Austin TX to find his wife jumping up and down after the phone message from Robert. He’s still working with Fripp today, but has clearly stamped his musical authority on King Crimson and related projects. He’s also got various projects on the go, including BPM&M, which remixed various KC and related session material and released it as the groundbreaking XtraKcts & AtrifaKcts.
* The general idea behind the Infinite Guitar, if not the exact implementation, was since commercialized as the now-defunct Sustainiac, and can now be found as the Fernandes Sustainer. A circuit in the guitar amplifies the signal from a normal pickup and feeds the energy back in to the strings, via a separate pickup. The result is “infinite sustain”, but it needs skilful control if it’s to be used musically. The most famous recorded example of this is U2’s With Or Without You, the high keening sustain in the verses. This used the second of only two Infinite Guitars built by Michael Brook, a Canadian guitarist and sound engineer who’s worked with everyone from the B-52’s to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan (in one of Peter Gabriel’s Real World projects). It’s more common to see a handheld string energizer, the E-Bow, today, but Reeves Gabrels was the most famous user of the Fernandes Sustainer as David Bowie’s main collaborator throughout the 90’s.