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<2017.3>: Aesthetica. The Record as Notation. King Crimson understood with Nelson Goodman. 15.544 Zeichen. online 30. 11. 2017 .html


Any concert review of King Crimson should begin with a discussion of the line-up with which the band performed. So
one may ask concerning the set list: By whom and how is "Cirkus including Entry of the Chameleons" from Lizard of 1970 played today?

On November 30, 2016 the line-up was: Robert Fripp (guitars, mellotron), Jakko Jakszyk (voice, guitars), Tony Levin (bass guitars, voice), Mel Collins (saxophones, flute), Pat Mastelotto (drums), Gavin Harrison (drums) and Jeremy Stacey (drums, mellotron).

In contrast, when Lizard was recorded, the line-up consisted of: Robert Fripp (Guitars, mellotron), Gordon Haskell (voice, bass guitar), Andy McCulloch (drums), Mel Collins (saxophones, flute), Pete Sinfield (VCS3 synthesizer), Keith Tippett (pianos) and Mark Charig (cornet).

Both of the times the piece was played by seven musicians. But what a difference! In 2016 Fripp limits himself to playing the mellotron and unfortunately leaves the guitar, no more acoustic, to Jakszyk who also sings. Levin plays bass guitar. Perhaps the piece was included to the sets of the tour because of Collins who is with the band again since a long time. Of the three drummers here there are exactly two too many, it seems to me. Stacey, since 2016 also responsible for one mellotron, could have played it instead of Fripp. One of the two drummers could have made use of a VCS3. In consequence Fripp could have been free for playing the acoustic guitar and its wonderful solo. But unplugged today? Since the encoding of the band to heavy metal since Red 1974 - no more! Remains the third drummer - instead of him a second wind player would have been of use for the cornet even if the entrance of the cornet was restricted to some few bars. Played as it actually was, "Cirkus" seemed tame even if played well, disadvantageously posited between the wilder and harder "Pictures of A City", a "Schizoid Man" derivate, and the melancholic singing of "Dawn Song" presented by Jakszyk in an expressive way following "Cirkus". "Dawn Song" replaced "The Letters" as programmed according to the set list (see https://tonylevin.com/road-diaries/king-crimson-2016-tour-pt2/vienna-shows, pertinent photograph of the list now removed, 30. 11. 2017). To say it in passing, during the whole tour "Dawn Song" was deprived of its motivic continuation in "Last Skirmish", the intermediate part in "The Battle Of Glass Tears" which belongs to the "Lizard" suite of the B-side of Lizard.

"Cirkus", the first number of the A-side of Lizard (1970), is now 47 years old (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-Typxim9mY8). Back then the mellotron's rasping melody in chorus form meant for King Crimson using a mellotron melody for the first time and not only an accompanying symphonic mellotron providing string texture. The mellotron melody sets in after some bars of a child-like pianistically supported rather damp singing as 'located' in the back. The melody is almost shockingly loud right after an unusual upbeat given by the three tones of the bass drum, the snare drum and the hi-hat. This is uncanny, violent, disquieting, even disturbing, like a huge circus elephant which intervenes snorting in the turmoil of the circus artists by means of its snout. Is this the anticipated antidote of a lark tongue in "Larks’ Tongues in Aspic"? "Cirkus" in ⁴/₄ measure is rich of syncopation, triplets, sextuplets; it swings in a way that accomodates jazz musician Keith Tippett (piano) or even came from him, and Collins's jazz horn. However, not only was "Cirkus" a jazz rock experiment. It was dedicated to psychedelia together with surreal lyrics that borders to non-sense and is assisted by light, elastic drumming with a higher tuned snare drum and a higher and longer sounding cymbal usual at the time.

And still. You could sense the spirit of "Cirkus" on this November 30 of 2016. Those who had the record's piece in the ears, could project their musical memories to the music performed. They found their cost repaid. Lost were the ones who know King Crimson with its music from 1973 and "21st Century Schizoid Man". Nonethelss, in front of a helpless audience the band played itself into a wobbling course that met just the musical nerve. Anyway, Pat Mastelotto seemed to like that one of the very few in the concert hall - me! - went along bodily despite a de facto being chained to the chairs of the row. Folks! This is still dance music. It is not chamber music for listening even though the fine suits of the gentlemen on stage did suggest that.

All in all, King Crimson's interpretation of "Cirkus" 2016 remained below the level of the composition. That was no surprise. Problems of interpretation exist in rock music from the beginning. This is because recordings of what figures today as progressive rock particularly used the electric possibilities of microphone takes and its artificially electronic procedures broadly. May one thing or the other have been notated back then or at least argued in some sort of discourse among the musicians, most of the music was certainly rehearsed with spontaneous and oral agreement. Also, the production often proceeded including editing of single, distinct tracks. Ultimately the producers, following the example of George Martin and Brian Wilson, fulfilled an essential role. Fripp and Sinfield produced themselves, Sinfield, who would soon produce music like that of Roxy Music. In this way ultimate formations of composition emerged in the studio without being made a fuss about it. One could say, an exuberant post production impressed not only the final seal to the music. And imposed hardest specifications to subsequent performers.

Seal. Like the cake pan (art form cuisine) and the typewriter (art form literature) it is the notes that yield a fabric of tones provided by instruments more or less strictly tuned (art form music). This fabric of tones does not need to be typographically notated. Fripp and his knights could have been autodidact without ever having seen music notes (Nelson Goodman, Languages of Art, 1976 (1968), 127). They could have invented their sound world by themselves with the sounds performed. They could have found into their sound world. Yet as it happens: most of the instruments have been set in notated tuning in the course of the modern age. Accordingly the total acoustic event "Cirkus" may be translated to notes fixated in notation as an obliging convention.

In our culture the fabric of tones of "Cirkus" may be typographically notated as well as superimposed to the sung words of Pete Sinfield's lyrics which is


Night: her sable dome scattered with diamonds, ... ("Cirkus", first line)

in E minor and its harmonic possibilities, and in ⁴/₄ measure and its rhythmic possibilities. Furthermore an alternative take of the studio sessions (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OojQzGPIyA4) clearly shows that the band aimed at the certain 'result' into which may enter minute perceptual differences <that> can bear enormous weight.“ (Goodman, 108). Musicians and their audiences know this via their experience with musical performances. (117f.) From this take you can hear well that the result has been found by trial and error and that the singular instrumental 'voices' together with singer Gordon Haskell are more or less remote from the final result. It may also be supposed that in the opinion of the musicians and at the latest in the opinion of producers Fripp and Sinfield the version pressed on vinyl was taken as the relatively best version. It goes without saying that, for achieving this, one instrumental track or part of it could be replaced by the relatively best track yet not necessarily recorded at the latest. In view of the fact of pressing, the definitive production (master tape) of "Cirkus" assumes the function of a standard for all later performances.

Other, later 'interpretations' of "Cirkus" no matter by whom can meet with the recording version of the LP to a certain degree (live, August 1971 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YDpQf9hcrN8; Game Boy version from 2011 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=s3_A4fRHlD4). But, once again, the comparison even of only two takes as above shows that there is a core of composition that can be notated. And that applies, notwithstanding from ornamentation and the soli to be conceived more freely and not as definitive as by the musicians of Lizard. Just because of this difference of musical core and liberties, a score could be written for "Cirkus" according to the record including and marking all the existing blanks, holes, islands and the likes. (This score does not exist like for most of rock music.)











(record groove, magnified 1000 times, from: http://www.optics.rochester.edu/workgroups/cml/opt307/spr05/chris/)

According to Nelson Goodman a score is no study, sketch, scenario, script. Morevover it is a tool for the inalterable identification of a work whose identity is untouchable from performance to performance (Goodman, 127-130). The musical score realised in notation, lends the work its identity as it is the class of those performances that fulfill the one total sign that consists of all singular signs in the score. (210) However, with Goodman, this identy which applies to the score itself - „all scores for a given performance are coextensive (179) - is only tenable if the score is founded on a notational system which could be basically a different one than our own well introduced notation. This system disposes, even if only in the formation, of a latitude (141) for sign atoms like up-bow, note head, flag and so on. These basic elements can be combined if followed certain rules in thought and materially. They can be notated on paper or screen and may mean something certain for execution in each case.

For "Cirkus" such a system guarantees that the instrumental refrain-like main subject coming with the mellotron, B-G-B-G-B-G-B-G-B-G-B-G-B-e-B-G-B-G-B-G-B-e-B-G-E (a movement from B to E, diminished fifth, tritone, the devil in music), sounds equal with all future entries of the mellotron not only in the sequence of interval, but also in pitch. Added would be performance indications and articulation markings that show up with the mellotron only in electronic, modified sound mutations and are irrelevant with the VCS3. (The sound played with one of the many tapes of the mellotron changes, as is known, by frequent play of the tape.)

In any case the score - a notational schema in the sense of an authentic notation - is required to fulfill two conditions (Goodman, 131-141). First, the singular signs of the score - clef, staves, notes, interval signal, ties and so on - need to be graphically disjunct and function as abstraction class of marks written on the page. Secondly, these singular signs are finitely differentiated, which is to say that excluded are undecidable cases of signs not belonging to the notation. Fripp, Sinfield and the others may perhaps have employed all possible things as signs with and in "Cirkus". They could even have tested new notations. And yet those notations are therefore not a score though (Goodman, 140). Also the rebellion of some such new notation is no score, at least not in the sense as claimed by the square with lines and points in the score of the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra of John Cage from 1958 (Goodman, 140, 188f.) or in some measure the "C"-drawing for "Cirkus" on the front side of the LP cover displaying the ornamented letters of k i n g  C r i m s o n rendered so magnificently by Gini Barris.