Elephant Talk

And now, a post about … music. Where to start? How about Elephant Talk by King Crimson. Why not.

I could watch — and have watched — this video dozens of times. Sure, it’s “prog”, at least that’s how it gets labelled. But that term, with its negative connotations of bombast, fantasy-lit lyrics and 20-minute solos (not that I have anything against any of those things), just doesn’t do this justice. To be honest, I don’t know what this is. It probably needs a genre of its own. It has elements of rock and roll, world music, electronica. It has an anything-goes unhinged ethos, but at the same time is mathematically precise.

I watch this video over and over and keep finding something new. The song begins with some crazy sound coming from some crazy instrument you may never have seen before. It’s called a Chapman Stick, played by Tony Levin. There is no bass guitar in the song. That line playing on that instrument over and over would be enough for me all on its own.

Then there’s the drummer: Bill Bruford, one of my favourites of all time; played with Yes, Genesis, his own fusion band Bruford, and now plays jazz. Here he’s playing a kit made up of rototoms and octobans, with no ride cymbal. The repetitive rudiments on the roto-toms/octobans combine with the Stick to produce an almost African feel.

But it’s the guitarists that are even more original – and complete opposites, almost comic foils for each other. First is Robert Fripp (he founded King Crimson in 1968), stage left, with his skinny tie, sensible dark suit and pocket protector (OK not really but he might as well have one) and perfect technique, playing repetitive lines with the precision of a sequencer. If you’ve followed this guy you’ll know he is usually pretty dour and serious, but here he is so pig-in-shit happy about what’s going on around him that he actually smiles – twice!

Adrian Belew (Bowie, Zappa, Talking Heads, Nine Inch Nails) is in the big hot-pink suit. He’s a drummer first and a guitarist second, but his guitar playing has to be some of the most bizarre and creative ever seen. He plays above the nut. He taps frantic messes of wrong notes out on the fretboard. He specialises in animal sounds (yes, that’s what I said) and makes his own Heath Robinson-style effects devices to do so. Here he has a mysterious silver box attached his mike stand with which he makes elephant sounds. As you do.

After a couple of verses, Fripp and Belew trade solos. Fripp plays his guitar through a synth. Have you ever heard a guitar sound like that? No, you haven’t. Belew counters with whammy-bar madness and, of course, elephant sounds.

Add to all of this Adrian Belew’s Talking Heads-like vocals and lyrics which work through an alphabet of synonyms of “talk”, ending on ‘E’ for Elephant Talk, and my musical nerd-bliss is complete.

Hope you like it! Thanks for listening 🙂

WANT MORE? Check out Robert Fripp’s “Frippertronics”:

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