One aspect of Robert Fripp’s career that I’ve always felt has gone oddly overlooked is his intermittent ambient output (aside from his albums with Eno, which are more acknowledged), particularly his releases which he has labeled his Soundscapes, many of them recorded live. Here’s one of particularly high quality: The Gates of Paradise, a studio recording from 1998.
Ambient is a genre which always takes flak– it’s because there is a very fine line between good ambient and bad. Trying to quantify that difference is difficult. I think though, that’s Fripp’s Soundscapes series is an example of ambient music that would attract people who normally don’t have a very strong interest in the genre. Part of what makes Fripp’s ambient work so interesting is the fact that this genre appears to be more of a cursory interest for him, as most of what he does is really more along the lines of fusion-music that takes elements from jazz and rock.
The Gates of Paradise is divided into two extended pieces, “The Outer Darkness” and “The Gates of Paradise”. The album as a whole takes its listeners on a journey that begins with tenebrous spookiness and ends with bliss. The fact that Fripp’s Soundscapes albums go the route of seeking some kind of narrative says a lot about how his take on ambient music almost seems more dynamic than other ambient musicians. Fripp is going for something more imaginative than just meditation music– this is electronic music that, despite its gentle texture, is dramatic and evocative. You can see why someone like Steven Stapleton has professed admiration for Fripp, listening to this– The Gates of Paradise is the music of nightmares and dreams.
If any readers in Portland are interested in music like this from Fripp, head down to the Doug Fir tonight at 8pm to see his project with Bill Rieflin, Slow Music, an instrumental band featuring Fripp, Rieflin, Peter Buck, Fred Chalenor, Matt Chamberlain, and Hector Zazou. Here’s the Slow Music site. Happy listening.