How to play Frippertronics (2): into action

In my last post I described how I approach Frippertronics and ambient looping in general. I also talked about the equipment I use. But how do you approach it in a performance? Even if the performance is just for your own enjoyment? Over and over I’ve seen friends try the equipment and very quickly create the sonic equivalent of mud – a thick and unappealing mess. How do you avoid that?

In this video I build a short Frippertronics loop, using only one guitar sound. That means I’m emulating the original Frippertronics from the late 70s and early 80s. In the next video I’ll show my own development of it, Waveforms, but for now I’m firmly in ‘copy and try to get it right’ mode.

There’s not a lot to look at. If you’re lucky there may be paint drying somewhere – go watch that! But the beauty of this music is when less is more, and when you’re listening to what’s playing before you feed in the next note. So you’ll see me sitting doing nothing a lot.

A few points about what how I do this:

  • As I described before, I have two pedals looping independently of each other. One decays and fades, the other doesn’t.  I start by feeding two notes into both of them. Because they’re independent, they go out of sync quite quickly, creating a feeling of waves and floating right from the beginning.
  • I then listen for a bit before adding more. When Fripp plays he tends to set a lot more going at the beginning, but he has a better ear for what’s working and strategies to deal with unintended stuff. Plus he loves the ‘pointed stick’ created by something unintentional that keeps coming back at you. I’m less skilled, so more cautious.
  • I leave only a few notes looping on the Jam Man (the non-decaying loop) to allow space to focus on the more transient stuff.
  • I feed in a maximum of two consecutive notes at a time. I never play chords.
  • I give attention to the whole range, from the bottom of the fretboard to the top. Too many notes in the same octave tend to sound muddy.
  • A figure of two notes, maybe a tone, or a third apart, give a nice movement to the piece when they loop.
  • Back to being cautious. The only aspect of this where I think I’ve improved over the years is in stopping to listen before I play. Often I’ll kick the decaying loop off ‘record’ to try out a note or figure before kicking it back on to commit it. Call me chicken. At around 4:17 you’ll see where I was glad of that.
  • After building a loop Fripp would solo over that. I do sometimes but not for public consumption!

I’ve never really articulated my approach to this, it’s just something that’s developed as a result of hearing this type of music in the 80s and really REALLY wanting to play it. If you love it as much as I do, then I hope this article will inspire you to give it a try.

In the next post I’ll demonstrate my Waveforms approach, using the same equipment but not trying to sound like Fripp.

Related:

And if you don’t want to play it on guitar – play it on my site with my Waveforms Soundtoy!

More on Waveforms – my soundscapes approach

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