For anyone possessing a device beginning with “i” – DGM has today released three Travis and Fripp Apps, built by Peter Chilvers, featuring improvisations and multiple layers that will randomize in glorious ways to create a unique performance every time you listen.
Anyone who has been reading my diaries will know that I am something of a “broken record” in my passion to liberate music from the single “frozen recording” into something more fresh and exciting. Not computer-generated music, which holds limited appeal for me, but recordings no longer frozen into a single artefact. Until the 1870s when recording techniques were first developed, a piece of music was naturally different every time you heard it. But this has changed to the extent that many of us now think of a piece of music in terms of a particular unchanging recorded performance (many of which, of course, I love and cherish). Perhaps there is a parallel in the world of photography – at first we could appreciate a scene only by being there in person with all its changing nuances. And then photography captured a single moment – wonderfully in many cases – in the same way that the best recordings capture a moment that we endlessly revisit. But photography has since also developed moving pictures. Not a single moment, but multiple ones. What might be the equivalent in recorded music?
I first wrestled with this problem in 1993, with the release of “Tantalizing Eyes”, a vinyl record that could randomize between four performances. There was a telephone that rang during the track – sometimes it would be answered, sometimes not. Sometimes you would get one guitar solo, sometimes another. There is no single defining version of that track. It is a living combination of all the above. Just as a movie cannot be reduced to a single still image.
There have been other, clumsy efforts along the way – such as the “Eyes Wide Open” DVD which randomized between a number of improvisations, so that with each viewing you would not know what the band will play.
This is not for everyone, or for all music. Just as still photography has an enduring place (just look at Tony Levin’s photos). I am a huge fan of the well-made recording. But just imagine if you did not have choose between a number of different, but equally good, guitar solos (my problem in 1993). Or vocal takes. Or drum parts. They could be subtly combined so that you captured an extended present moment. Perhaps think animated GIF, not a full movie. Here’s to dreaming! In the meantime, anyone listening to the Travis & Fripp Apps will be hearing something that no-one has heard before or will ever hear again.