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Reviewed by:
  • Prints. Snapshots, Postcards, Messages and Miniatures 1987-2001
  • Stefaan Van Ryssen
Prints. Snapshots, Postcards, Messages and Miniatures 1987-2001 by Fred Frith. ReR Megacorp, Thornton Heath, U.K., 2002.

Fred Frith has always been a millipedic musician, and this record testifies to the point. It shows some of the thousand skills he masters, the main one being, of course, improvisation.

Six of the songs, as the CD insert notes,

were recorded for a WDR radio production by Alexander Schumacher. The aim of the program was to explore the nature of improvisation. I was supposed to create pieces spontaneously, using my choices from a long list of sampled fragments which I heard only after arriving in the studio. The texts were derived from whatever was in the newspaper on the day of the recording. All these songs were composed and constructed directly onto tape without preparation.

The result has a certain immediacy and urgency. The songs are constructed over some simple bass lines mixed with the sample, with the addition of guitars and keyboards and finally a voice. Simple elements do not make a simple dish, however. "Stones," for example, reinvents the waltz, limping as if hit in the leg by a bullet, and not inappropriately the accompanying text is about the Palestinian Independence Celebrations in Hebron, 1997. "I want it to be over" is a frightening song on a text from the International Herald Tribune, repeating over and over a phrase from an interview with Bill Clinton about Monica Lewinsky. Frith uses samples of broken glass and an Escher-loop for this miniature drama. As improvisation goes, this is top class. The interactions between the samples and the instruments are subtle and never obvious. What starts as a banal song suddenly turns into a universal message (Reduce me), and what appears to be mere camp at first hearing is a sarcastic comment on manipulation and mass hysteria (Levity).

The other songs include a remake of Serge Gainsbourg's "The Ballad of Melody Nelson," dark, morose, mysterious, criminal, vintage Gainsbourg with an ironical twist because of the funny accent in the French lyrics.

One needs to listen carefully to these seemingly simple tracks, but they will reveal themselves after a while, leaving the listener not with insight into the nature of the process of improvisation, but with awe at what a master improviser can do in real time. [End Page 77]

Stefaan Van Ryssen
Hogeschool Gent, Jan Delvinlaan 115, 9000 Gent, Belgium. E-mail: <>.


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