‘1999 (Soundscapes – Live In Argentina)’ is a selection of recordings documenting Robert Fripp’s return to active service (after an 11 year gap) of performing live, improvisational, sonically challenging yet ultimately rewarding instrumental pieces that evolve and build over the construction of initial loops. This technique of Fripp’s that had been used and documented on earlier live performances (and releases) went by the name of ‘Frippertronics’. From this release onwards, they would use the new description of ‘Soundscapes’, acknowledging the advance in the sonic capabilities that the new technical set up these pieces were structured with would afford.
When I say sonically challenging, I mean it. Over the next few years and beyond, a steady series of ‘soundscapes’ releases would appear, some are gentler and contemplative mood, some foreboding, unsettling, bleak, some veering off into digital signal processing dial twiddling randomness. ‘1999’ (both the album as a whole and title track in particular) started off in an abrasive and dark a manner as any of those to follow – pieces may begin in an almost silent, minimal fashion but gradually build and loop into a towering aural embodiment of turmoil brought to life.
The CD was released in late 1994 and for me was a regular listen for late night headphones-on ear-pummelling during a fairly bleak period – it was a cathartic listen and would often help to lift and release a bleak mood, oddly enough. Challenging but rewarding, if you can get there.
The opening two tracks, ‘1999’ and ‘2000’ in particular start very quietly and very slowly build into looming, black towers of noise – its all coming from Fripp’s guitar, but it’s rarely recognisable as guitar. Fripp himself describes it in the sleeve notes to the subsequent ‘soundscapes’ release as a “kind of whirring, bleeping and droning”. ‘2001’ and the closing ‘2002’ are equally dark natured but lean a little more to the kind of elegiac soundscapes to come on subsequent releases. ‘Interlude’ is a piece that bears little relation to the rest of this album’s material and I’ve never cared for it.
The subsequent ‘soundscapes’ series would have their own very distinct visual language for their cover designs, starting with the following release, ‘A Blessing of Tears – 1995 Soundscapes Volume Two – Live In California’ in 1995, which was the first to feature a beautiful cover painting by John Miller. ‘1999 (Soundscapes – Live In Argentina)’ has come in a rather basic and, to my taste anyway, rather unattractive cover design. So, my interest was piqued by the discovery in the booklet notes to the Discipline Global Mobile sampler compilation CD ‘Sometimes God Hides: The Young Person’s Guide To Discipline’ (which I had received free with a purchase from DGM mail order) of plans for a double CD re-issue of the album in a new sleeve design that would match the series…
‘Sometimes God Hides: The Young Person’s Guide To Discipline’ UK CD (Discipline Global Mobile DGMSAM1, 1996)
Tucked away in the booklet is the following brief trailer for a planned re-mastered edition of the album (which even gives it’s intended catalogue number, DGM9701), expanded to two CDs, with additional material (presumably from the June 1994 soundscapes tour of Argentina, though this is not explicitly stated) and with an all new cover design to match with the soundscapes series.
The sampler album itself contains ‘2006’, a shorter piece that sonically fits in with the style of e.g. ‘2001’/‘2002’ – as to what the remaining extra tracks would have been, I don’t know, since the re-mastered and expanded release did not come to be. 1997’s ‘The Gates Of Paradise’ soundscapes album contained ‘The Outer Darkness’ and ‘In Fear and Trembling of the Lord’, both of which are noted with details of the live performances they were from, the 9th June 1994 show in Buenos Aires, so notionally they might have been on there – but equally might not. The catalogue number for the planned two CD version was instead re-used for the ‘November Suite: Soundscapes – Live at Green Park Station 1996’ album and as far as I know (but with the caveat that I am no expert on Fripp and his soundscapes series), the expanded edition has not seen any form of digital release and, sadly, the album in any form is now long out of print.
Although not directly relevant to today’s focus, the sampler also contains another otherwise unavailable Robert Fripp soundscapes track, ‘Sampling II’. This is billed as being from ‘Soundbites’ (DGM9507) – and ‘Soundbites’ had been mentioned on the previous Volumes 1 (‘A Blessing of Tears’) and 2 (‘Radiophonics’) of the ‘1995 Soundscapes Live’ CDs as the forthcoming Volume 3 release in the series. Even curioser – Volume 3 became ‘That Which Passes – 1995 Soundscapes Live Volume 3’ – but it’s sleevenotes refer to there seemingly being a fourth volume: “Soundbites CD plus limited edition Collectors Box: The fourth volume in the 1995 Soundscapes series, Soundbites, is available exclusively from Discipline Mail Order at the above address, and comes with a limited edition collectors’ box to house all four CDs.” For whatever reason, no fourth volume would appear in this form, though a collectors’ box to house the three existing releases volumes would become available.