Radiophonics: 1995 Soundscapes, Vol. 1

background music CDs > Radiophonics: 1995 Soundscapes, Vol. 1

Edition: Audio CD
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 Experimental Ambient
 Prog-Rock/Art Rock
 Popular Music
 Robert Fripp

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1. Radiophonic I
2. Radiophonic II
3. Buenos Aires Suite: I. Atmosphere
4. Buenos Aires Suite: II. Elegy
5. Buenos Aires Suite: III. Streets
6. Buenos Aires Suite: IV. Sky

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Customer reviews:

Robert Fripp's "Radiophonics".

1995's "Radiophonics" is only one of the many volumes in guitarist Robert Fripp's ongoing 'Soundscapes' releases. Recorded live in Buenos Aires, Argentina, "Radiophonics" finds Fripp stretching his soundscapes into lengthy dissonant explorations which are sometimes beautiful, sometimes frightening but always musically intriuging.
A good majority of this album is quite difficult to listen as it consists mostly of dissonant chord clusters and moments of almost psychedelic effects with sounds that pan rapidly between the speakers. However, when listened to with a different set of ears and an open mindset, "Radiophonics" can turn into an amazing journey of otherworldly sounds.
The opening two "Radiophonic" pieces are similar to each other and consist of random scales coupled with low rumbling tones. The final minutes of the second "Radiophonic" piece are a wild excursion into weirdness with use of rapid panning. The panning effect is most effective when heard on headphones.
The remainder of the disc consists of the half-hour long "Buenos Aires Suite" which consists of four movements. "Atmosphere" once again provides an unsettling mood and tension with its dark chords and dissonant note runs. The mood settles into brief calmness with the second movement "Elegy" which is similar to the peacefulness captured on Fripp's "Blessing of Tears" disc. The weirdness returns with "Streets" which is another showcase of wild stereo panning used to greater effect here than on "Radiophonic II". The peacefulness returns with the closing movement "Sky" which ends the album on an airy lighthearted note.
Granted, the "Radiophonics" CD won't be for everybody. Out of all the Soundscapes CD's Robert Fripp has released so far, "Radiophonics" is probably the most experimental and harsh of them all. Aside from this, it is still a powerful album that shows off Fripp's relentless gift for musical exploration. Because of this, "Radiophonics" definitely gets five stars.

Harsh and dissonant

"Radiophonics" is probably both the most difficult and least enjoyable of Robert Fripp's solo soundscapes releases. Performed by Fripp unaccompanied on guitar, with processing and looping, soundscapes are, for Fripp, a means of improvisational expression. This release, recorded live in Argentina in 1995, actually presents two suites, the "Radiophonics" portion and the "Buenos Aires Suite". I'll address each separately.

"Radiophonics" is merciless improvisations. The music is dissonant, edgy, and disjoint. It has the feel of whirling metal and an almost Doppler Effect implication behind it. While it can be engaging at times, it is difficult for music of this aggressive form without strong cohesiveness to sustain interest, and in fact I find this portion of the release nearly unlistenable.

The "Buenos Aires Suite" is somewhat improved, but there is still this sort of edge to the music that makes it lack the delicateness that often makes the soundscapes worth listening to-- admittedly, the first half of the suite, "Atmosphere" and "Elegy (for Mothers and Children)", which are one improv split in two tracks, is really pretty, if a bit dark, but the remainder of the suite has too much panning and whirring sounds to be able to maintain my interest.

This is really the weakest soundscape entry-- two stars because there's some interesting material, but avoid this one unless you really love this stuff. Check out "A Blessing of Tears" for an introduction to the form.

Mea Culpa

A looooong while back I wrote a two-star review for this batch of white noise, complaining how difficult a listen it was. Well, mea culpa - it's still a difficult listen, but with a different perspective I'm giving almost four stars now (rounded off because we're still limited to mere integers). How come? I rated it before for the wrong reasons. One of Fripp's most common sayings is "expectation is a prison," and I slagged Radiophonics largely because I'd wanted it to be something different. It takes some adjustment for anyone to accept the sound of Soundscapes on its own terms; Robert loops and repeats layers of hazy tones and synth noises, gradually building more and more layers of ether as the older ones fade away (it's almost a shock to hear the recognizable sound of a guitar when "Sky" kicks in near the end). It's atmosphere without melody. It sounds aimless and unstructured, even for ambient music. At times it is harsh and almost physically irritating. And incidentally, it's all improvised live with no overdubs. I wonder what his audiences in Argentina must have thought of this stuff.

Part of my initial problem came not only because these tracks aren't easily accessible or recognizably musical, but also because they don't serve as easy-to-ignore background music or aural wallpaper like most other ambient work. It's not anything that sticks in your head, or that you can hum along to - and even if you tried, the result would sound vastly different from the Soundscape itself. It's like listening to three different Brian Eno albums all at once, where they don't seem to match up. And it does occasionally dive headfirst into unlistenable chaos, as on "Streets" and the last few minutes of "Radiophonic II." During those sections Robert stirs the hazy clouds into a full-fledged tornado, whipping past each other and crazily panning between the left and right channels in a cacophonous frenzy. It's like being sucked into some bizarre vortex where your brain is bombarded with too much information to handle. But thankfully that's only a small fraction of the disc.

Though Radiophonics is an extraordinary listening experience (not to mention different from anything else I've heard, even in the ambient realm), it's still humbled by the sheer perfection of its successor A Blessing of Tears. If you're still curious about how this kind of music has been described on this page - Michael Lopez's review below is particularly eloquent - then you'll be well served by ABoT or November Suite (if you can still find it). This disc isn't the best introduction, but those already familiar with Robert's 'Scapes will discover a whole new world of sound; occasonally jarring, sometimes difficult, but inexplicably fascinating all the same.

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