Admirers on the Street

A celebration of King Crimson's landmark album Larks' Tongues in Aspic originally released 23 March 1973.

Listening Notes

Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part One

"What if Hendrix was playing Bartok?" This is how Robert Fripp summarized his fundamental musical aim of the period. This first piece gets as close to that as we’re likely to see. A truly collaborative piece that came together throughout rehearsals and via play-ins on the road. Each member’s talents are given room to shine and stand-out here.

One of the most inventive and dynamic opening pieces on any rock album anywhere begins with Jamie Muir picking out a simple, child-like melody on an African thumb piano. Soon other percussion joins in, glass bottles, chimes, a xylophone. A whining violin enters and leaves. The thumb piano disappears into a rain shower of sound. On the other side of this shower a foreboding staccato violin pumps out Stravinsky-esque accented chords and a menacing guitar sustain comes sweeping in.

Before the listener knows what’s happened a wall of power chords, bass, drums, guitar attacks with two heavy volleys interspersed with manic drumming and bicycle horns. 

The piece takes off with an impossibly fast demented arpeggio line from Fripp on guitar and joined in a kind of odd dance by Bruford’s drumming and Wetton’s bass line. All the while Muir’s percussion thrashes in between. The piece transitions to a Bruford/Wetton groove with Fripp’s right hand slashing faster and faster at his guitar.

It finally collapses and Cross’s violin emerges from the dust of this first seven minutes of rock into a beautiful solo and duet with Muir on autoharp.

A grand pause is broken by the staccato chords recurring from Fripp’s guitar. Barely audible panicked voices are heard underneath the rising lines of Cross’s violin. The piece ascends to a final punch followed by an ominous coda dominated by Wetton’s wide bass and Cross’s baleful violin.

Book of Saturday

The cacophany, thunder, and chaos of Larks’ Tongues Part One gives way to one of the most achingly beautiful ballads in 70s rock. The Crimson ballad is a tradition which had started with I Talk to the Wind. Crimson music has always been a study in contrasts, shifting dynamics, and moods. It attacks you and pounds you one second, and caresses you the next.

Here Fripp’s delicate guitar melody accompanies Wetton’s smoky vocal.  The first lyric penned for King Crimson by someone other than Peter Sinfield. This Richard Palmer-James poem wonderfully delivers the Crimson world from Sinfield’s archaic medieval imagery, imbuing the album with a sense of romance, and modern-world mystery.

The song is suitably restrained with a wonderful violin solo and bits of backwards guitar and mellotron flute.

A beautiful, timeless little tune that wouldn’t be out of place alongside the songs from Fripp’s favorite album of the period, Joni Mitchell’s Blue. The track clearly differentiates Crimson from acts like the Mahavishnu Orchestra who could go toe-to-toe with Crimson in terms of instrumentals tour-de-force, but lacked the range to attempt something as delicate as Book of Saturday.

Exiles

The mid-point of the album begins with the distorted sounds of Muir’s trombone, an effected violin, and bowed cymbals. This surfaces into Fripp’s Mantra theme from the mellotron’s cello setting.

Cross introduces the main pastoral theme on violin, a melody that the violinist developed in early rehearsals. Fripp’s acoustic guitar and a subdued rhythm section (something that would become a rarity with this outfit) introduce the first verse of a lyric filled with longing, separation, and resigned peace.

Like Book of Saturday, Exiles imagery marks a significant departure from previous Crimson with its focus on evoking a raw emotion rather than emphasizing layers of arcane imagery. There’s also a maturation of perspective. No longer is the subject matter of the songs devoted to the observations of very young men. These are the lyrics for people who have lost their naiveté, but still long for innocence. 

Fripp’s acoustic guitar work, always inventive, and never given over to pointless strumming does not disappoint here, setting the perfect tone.

The delicacy of the piece is further established with a contribution from Cross on flute and Wetton on piano. And a gorgeous and muted electric solo from Fripp takes Exiles to its serene conclusion.

Easy Money

The second side of the album begins with a piece that in its recorded state is much more tame than the aggressive live monster it would become. Opening with the sounds of the band members clomping their fists into buckets of mud, the song tells the tale of an empty life dedicated to the pursuit of riches, with more than a few passing references to vapid musical celebrity and the lecherous-ness of artist management.

After the first two verses the band descends into an atmospheric space. A simple trio of Fripp, Bruford, and Wetton is underpinned by Cross on mellotron. Muir dances around adding percussive color (xylophone, baking sheet crashes, whistles, guffaws, etc.). The instrumental section moves through some rise and fall, constantly teasing the rise out of the atmospherics. Bruford begins to hit things faster and faster. Fripp’s playing becomes more frenetic.

The band comes rushing out of the bridge for the final verse Bruford and Wetton hold down a groove with an electric piano comping on top of it to a groove that is almost funky.

Of all the pieces on the re-mastered version of the album, this is the one that has had the most punch restored by Steven Wilson’s re-mix.

The piece ends with Muir’s demonic laughing box toy cackling away as bolo whips and wind sounds emerge to signal the album’s finale.

The Talking Drum

An instrumental born out of studio and road improvisations, The Talking Drum opens with Muir’s hand drumming in a windy landscape. The overall piece takes on the form of a demonic Indian raga. Wetton establishes a steady line from the start supplying a dance-able groove for the rest of the players to move around.

Cross, Fripp, and Muir imbue the track with a sense of tribal Eastern music, evoking imagery of a turkish sufi dance, or a late-night fire dance.

Another piece that belies the monster it became in live performance, it’s notable that this track became one of the staples of Crimson live performance for the next three and a half decades, serving as a slowly building piece of wonderful, terrifying madness into Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part Two with the screeching of the tongues of the larks that never fails to set one’s hair on end.

It’s also worth noting that the piece typifies Crimson’s approach to musical fusion. Crimson always drew on wide, varied influences for its music from straight-up hard rock, jazz, classical, folk and Eastern music. But rarely took the approach of simply including an orchestra as a backing instrucment and calling it classical. Or playing jazz standards with a rock set-up and calling it fusion. The effort was always towards a musical sound that was more than the sum of its parts and honored its traditions by presenting something new.

Larks’ Tongues in Aspic, Part Two

With more than a passing nod to Bartok’s string quartets the album ends with a piece that is the strongest piece of work by Fripp to date as a composer.

LTiA II is an orchestral piece with each member of the band performing as a section of the orchestra. 

Along with Talking Drum, this is another piece that formed the staple of the band’s live set for the next three decades. It would grow and expand to accommodate a fantastic menagerie of organized noise and sound.

The main theme is introduced and revisited throughout the piece, building intensity with each passing. A middle bridge is reached with Fripp exchanging metal chords with Bruford and Wetton before making room for a jarring and discordant violin solo from Cross ahead of the final rise to the fantastic ending flourish.

 

The Band

King Crimson catapulted itself onto the music scene in the summer of 1969 with their debut album In the Court of the Crimson King. In the course of a few short months the band went from its first club dates around England, to dominating the London underground music scene with a standing gig at the Marquee, to opening for the Rolling Stones in front of an estimated 500,000 people at Hyde Park.

An American tour followed which gained the band an international following. The music from that first album mixed elements of rock, classical, folk, and jazz in a manner that was balanced, unique, thoughtful, challenging, and catchy.

Unfortunately, by the end of 1969 the rigors of life on the road had taken their toll on one-half of the performing band. Michael Giles, an exceptional drummer, and Ian McDonald the band’s strongest songwriter and a talented multi-instrumentalist decided to leave the group.

Thus began a three year period where guitarist Robert Fripp and lyricist Peter Sinfield desperately kept the group going with a revolving door of players and a failure to get a working band on the road until the end of 1971. Public interest waned. Each of the three albums following In the Court of the Crimson King interested the public and the press less and less.

By the spring of 1972 Fripp’s working relationship with Sinfield was over, and King Crimson as it had been completely dissolved.

Fripp spent the summer of 1972 pursuing production duties, developing a working relationship with Roxy Music’s Brian Eno, and feeling out other musicians to find possible chemistry in working together on a new project.

Fripp took an interest in the playing and personality of Jamie Muir, an avant-garde percussionist and performance artist working in the London free jazz scene with the likes of Derek Bailey. 

Fripp also made contact with two established musicians with whom he’d had previous discussions about working together. One was Yes’ drummer Bill Bruford who had just finished recording the recording of Yes’ landmark album Close to the Edge. Bruford was an established and respected musician with one of the hottest bands of the time. He had become disillusioned with the musical structure of Yes and was looking for something new.

John Wetton went to school with Fripp for a short period when they were younger. Wetton had established himself as an energetic and muscular bassist and back-up singer playing with the likes of Mogul Thrash and Family. Fripp had approached Wetton about joining Crimson a couple of years earlier, but Wetton stayed away from the group at a time it was undergoing upheaval.

Now, Crimson was starting with a clean slate and Wetton had an opportunity to step out as a player and as a front man in a band with an established name.

The final piece of the puzzle was David Cross, a violinist, flautist, and keyboardist that Fripp saw playing in a rehearsal space with his band Waves. 

With the band assembled they began writing rehearsals in the early fall of 1972. A number of tracks which would end up on the album coalesced quickly, and a late fall tour of England was booked before plans to go into the studio in early ‘73.

Five players with very different musical backgrounds found themselves together in a short period of time with the common aim of creating something new and interesting which had never been heard before.

uncleheinerich:

King Crimson 1972

(via risingspiral)

March 23rd Private Listening Party Program

There will be two simultaneous seatings in separate theaters. The small theater will be a more casual environment. Light’s up. Conversation is  welcome.

The larger theater will be light’s down. Silence is encouraged to allow for more active listening.

The album play-through will last 46:30. 

Full Program

2:00pm — Arrival. Mingling.

2:30pm — Announcements.

3:00pm — Seating. Message from Sid Smith, King Crimson biographer.

3:15pm — Album playback begins.

4:30pm — Reception at Territorial Winery Tasting Room with cake and snacks provided. Wine available for purchase.

On Hearing Larks’ Tongues in Aspic Part I for the First Time

I have some nebulous childhood memory of the celestial image of moon embracing sun which graces the cover of Larks’ Tongues in Aspic. It was an album my father owned and it floated around the house throughout my childhood.

Sometimes it would be sitting in the family room. Other times it would be at the top of a stack of records near my father’s workbench in the basement.

I don’t recall ever hearing it before my freshman year of college. I’m sure it’s one of the albums that my father would play full blast when my mom went out on the weekends and he was left to watch the kids. A gleeful smile would spread across his face as his children scattered covering their ears. 

"Don’t you appreciate good music?" He would chide.

"This isn’t music!” We’d respond, chased from the room by crazy music and my father’s chuckles.

By my late teens my musical tastes had broadened. My ears were on a steady diet of jam bands, grunge, alternative rock, and some jazz. I had a basic appreciation of classical music based on my years in the high school orchestra feebly playing the viola. Soil for the seed, so to speak.

When I left for college my dad gave me a stack of CDs that were duplicates of ones he already owned. Some 70s rock/metal that he thought I might like. 

One of these albums was Larks’ Tongues in Aspic.

During my first semester at college I spent some time working my way through those albums. Sitting at my desk which had a dorm room all-in-one stereo resting on the top shelf, I would hover over my homework and play these albums in the background. 

The CD was one of the early pressings. A straight dub from some n-generation vinyl source, full of hiss and a muted mix. It was a release not approved by the band. And by comparison to the re-mastered versions available today it would sound like an echo of the actual recording.

Despite that, the album was still full of mystery, power, and delight.

I remember being stooped over a book of as the meditative opening captured my attention, and slowly gave way to a taught, ominous violin and creeping guitar before a punch of guitar, bass, drums pounded out of the speaker.

I didn’t move. I couldn’t move.

The theme repeated and then drove into a fast running guitar line of dizzying complexity that was like nothing I’d ever heard a guitarist do before. Joined in by an equally unrelenting bass line propelled by two drummers hitting all kinds of things only half of which I knew. There’s a snare in there, some toms, and… wood blocks… and other stuff, I remember thinking.

The piece drove forward with slashing guitar before collapsing into a violin solo empty in a glorious space.

It was probably around this point that I reached for the jewel case and began examining its notes for any hint as to what the hell may be going on.

The hair stood up on the back of my neck.

"What the hell IS this," I thought.

I didn’t move for the next 40 minutes.

To borrow a phrase from the guitarist: the top of my head was blown off. I sat there transfixed listening to the entire album start to finish. Something that I have done regularly ever since the fall of 1995.

Thus began a gluttonous period in my life where I began to gorge myself on everything Crim, initially the period 1972-1974 and then expanding outwards. I desperately wanted to learn everything I could about this album, the players, and where this music had come from.

Today I know a lot about the album and the players. But where this music came from and how it continues to hold such beauty, novelty, and power is an ongoing mystery. 

The formation of the group in 1972 included Jamie Muir, a won-derful, reflective and wise young nut and old egg who cheerfully bit on blood capsules while releasing chains whirled around his head and which had, a moment before, been flailing sheets of metal; then falling in an effusive and bloody fashion upon his drums to propel the group and his co-drummer Bill Bruford through the next piece of orchestrated mayhem.

Robert Fripp - Liner Notes from The Great Deceiver (1992)

Jamie Muir

Jamie Muir