'Signs & Symptoms' is a series of extracts from low-speed reel-to-reel
stereo tape recordings made in the summer of 1980 in Amsterdam by
Peter Mertens and Harold Schellinx, inspired by the recording technique
- more than by its results - known as 'Frippertronics' (called that
way by guitarist Robert Fripp in the context of a series of solo
concerts in the late seventees, early eighties): a delay/feedback
system using two reel-to-reel audio-tape machines.
Fripp himself had been introduced to 'Frippertronices' in the early
seventees by Brian Eno, who used it as a means to produce slowly
developing layers of sound to serve as a background for Fripp's
guitar playing on their 1973 duo album 'No
Eno used the set up again on his 1975 album 'Discreet
Music' - a schematic drawing included in the liner notes of
this record illustrates the working of the two tape machine feedback
loop - and on a second collaboration with Fripp, 'Evening
Star', also from 1975.
The use of magnetic tape to create delays, echoes and loops though
goes back at least as far as the time when reel-to-reel machines
became a common piece of studio-equipment, which was around 1950.
Some of the earlier users of prerecorded sounds in music, like Edgar
Varèse, worked with custom-cut (closed groove) gramophone
records and variable-speed turntables. So did Pierre Schaeffer when
he just started his quest for a musique concrète in the 1940s,
but he then soon switched to the far more flexible reel-to-reel
machines. Worth mentioning here is the morphophone,
a tape playback device built for Schaeffer by technician Francis
Poullin, which consisted in a collection of an erasing head, a recording
head and ten playback heads at adjustable distances set around a
turntable with a loop of magnetic audiotape, for which it was possible
to feed back the signal of a playback head into the recording head.
I guess it doesn't make a lot of sense to point out some one, or
even some group of individuals, as the 'originator(s)' of the idea
to 'echo' back and forth between recording and playback heads ...
it's pretty much something that came along with the machine.
The first known applications in music of the two machine 'Frippertronics'
set up originate in the San Francisco Tape Music Center, founded
in 1960 by Ramon Sender and Morton Subotnik, and during its first
seven years of existence directed by Pauline Oliveros. One of the
many 'avant garde' musicians who early on frequented the SFTMC was
Terry Riley, who used the 'Frippertronics' system - which he called
'Time Lag Accumulator' - in his music for Ken Dewey's play 'The
Gift' (1963). In 'Music for The Gift' Riley subjects recordings
of the Chet Baker Quartet playing Miles Davis's 'So What', live
for the French radio, to the process. ('Music for The Gift' is available
. You can listen
to parts of it at YouTube's ...)
Oliveros used the 'Frippertronics' technique for her 'I of IV'
(1966) (available on the CD 'Oliveros: Electronic Works').
Nevertheless, it was definitely due to Fripp and Eno's work that
the technique became popular, to a certain extent. Or let's
say: more widely known. And more widely used. Anyway. That's were
we got it from ...
At the time, the standard 'pro-quality' reel-to-reel tape recorder
was the Revox A77, and indeed Fripp and Eno 'Frippertronicced' on
But obviously any other couple of reel-to-reels - satisfying some
basic technical specifications - would do as well. On the photograph
Colin Robinson (of the Manchester, England based Big Block 454)
demonstrates a 'Frippertronic' set up using two Akai 4000DS machines.