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Radio Interference (Really?!) — Adventures With Both Creative & Excitable Individuals

Tales of mixing for English guitar maestro Robert Fripp, tape-based effects in live shows, and a promoter who just doesn't get it.

Case in point (this happened on another show in the same venue): I’d spent the summer on a brutal tour of Ontario (the province is bigger than a big chunk of Europe, but with far fewer people who didn’t want to come and see the dog of a government-sponsored show we were flogging).

At one point in the waning days of that tour, in the far northwestern part of the province, I’d bought myself a pair of burgundy, high-top Chuck Taylors (Converse sneakers).

The promoter’s right hand person was the lighting tech on this tour and he was a big fan of those sneakers. Very early on in the day, just after load-in, I was standing on the stage when this guy happened by, looked at my feet, noticed that I wasn’t wearing the Chuck Taylors, and said, “Nice shoes, but I like the high-tops better. Where are the high-tops?”

The promoter, who was just a few feet away. overheard this and just… well, exploded. “You forgot the high tops?!” he yelled, and then “Where are the high tops?! Can we send someone in a van to go get them?!” I replied that the high tops were in my car, but that since we were talking about a pair of shoes, I didn’t really see the need to send someone to go get them. “Oh” he said, much relieved, “I thought we were talking about some kind of light!”

Golden Oldies

But I digress. As I walked back into the venue, I mulled over the news flash that there was radio coming out of the PA. The company that I was working for was pretty together for the times, the systems were well grounded and so on, so I thought that it was kind of far-fetched that the system, which had been dead quiet all day, would suddenly start experiencing radio interference.

It dawned on me that it was more likely coming from the guitar rig than the PA. So as I entered the hall, I saw Fripp’s road manager on stage setting up water glasses, etc. and I asked him if perhaps there was some form of radio emanating from the guitar rig? “Oh yes, that was us,” he answered. “There’s nothing wrong with the PA. In any case it’s only a certain combination of pedals (Fripp also had an extensive pedal board), and Robert knows exactly which ones they are, so don’t worry about it.”

I thanked him, and as I walked away to deliver this happy news to the promoter, he added, as an afterthought, “But don’t be surprised if he uses it during the show!”

Sure enough, a few minutes into the main potion of the second show, Fripp begins triggering the pedal board and out comes… an oldies radio show. It went something like: “…remember when you had to promise to cut the grass and wash the car before dad would let you have the old Studebaker to take Peggy Sue to the dance on Friday night?” followed immediately by “da-da-da-da, da-da-da-da, da-dada-da-dada, shaboom, shaboom…”

Besides coming straight out of the PA, it was also being recorded into the Frippertronics loop, so for the rest of the show it would pop up again every few minutes, each time a little further back in the mix than the previous pass. A nice effect, and certainly one that I was glad that I’d found out about during the intermission.

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