"The Heavenly Music Corporation" was a secret friend who flattered my wishes both to vibrate to the universe's pulse in some post-human sense, through the exclusion of banal seductions of language or melody, and to align with esoteric art, made by freaks from a pop-art future, beyond the ken of my teachers or family. Truthfully, I was using it as a white-noise generator. . . .
Crazy guy, that Lethem. Frippertronics gets him started on transhumanism. But no matter: instead of Lethem's wacky ideas on universal fibrillation, I'd like, rather, to focus here on his suggestion that Fripp & Eno's 18-minute piece, and the front-side of their two-song album, works best as a white noise machine.
Earlier in his essay (which he called "The Beards," and which ends his short but dense book), Lethem reveals that upon first purchasing (No Pussyfooting), he quickly decided that he loved "The Heavenly Music Corporation" and that he hated "Swastika Girls," the album's flipside. While "Corporation" was soothing to him, he found the B-side "compulsive, boiling" and intimidating.
Thing is, the two tracks don't sound that different to me. I happen to prefer "Swastika Girls" 'cause Fripp gets really smokin' with the guitar towards the end of that one, but really, there's not all that much to differentiate the two in my mind. Allmusic, as it turns out, is with Lethem on the Side One Good, Side Two Bad critique, calling "Swastika Girls" "disconnected" and lacking "form and structure," as if THMC wasn't itself sprawling.
I don't get the dialectic. If you like one, you should like the other, seems to me. Their approaches are similar, the textures are spittin' images.
I think, though, that Lethem and AMG both have their issues with the second track for the same reasons I like it: because of Fripp's burning solos that become pre-eminent there at the end. Hardly white noise, you know?
White noise implies static implies ambience with these people is the problem. Wikipedia quotes someone as saying that (No Pussyfooting) is a proto-ambient classic, and far be it from me to quarrel with an expert or even established opinion, but "The Heavenly Music Corporation" is a bunch of things. It's cerebral, it's dreamy, it's gadgetry-fetish, it's positively Godelian in its recursiveness, it's cloudlike, it's brain soup, it's kinky because of Eno's naked lady playing cards on the cover. But it is NOT ambient.
Lethem tells the story of how once he fell in love with the first side he would listen to the thing through headphones each evening as he fell asleep. Man, the mere mention of such a thing reverberated intensely with me. For it reminded me of the habit I had during my high school years of, once I had returned stoned to the bejeesus belt from a night of partying, listening to head tapes I'd made special for the occasion(s), full of if not Fripp and Eno, spacy Yes tracks and King Crimson and ELP and Pink Floyd and Vangelis and all the rest, proggy food for my dizzied and expanded head. Later in his essay, Lethem desribes listening to a part of Floyd's "Shine on You Crazy Diamond," and he says that in his stoned condition he "felt able to place each of the notes in a precise place in the air before [his] eyes, to watch them flicker and vanish like embers."
Yes, yes, absolutely yes. That's why they pay the man, to get the things in his books so right. But the place where he gets it wrong for me, with the headphones and with the songs, is when he tells how the music would lull him to sleep, stoned or not. My stoned teenaged self never, ever fell asleep, not while the music was still playing, not while it was still moving, not while my brain could still follow the notes as they ran their crazy chase over the hills and far away and then back again, as they surveyed the ample spaces inside my besotted skull where a lost chord, or a savage lick, or a wonderous synthesizer part that goes whoosh could throw down a blanket and have picnic.
"The Heavenly Music Corporation" is not white noise, it's not static. As my concert-jersey wearing, pimply, pot-smoking, virginal, teenaged alter-ego could have very quickly told you, Fripp's guitar playing during "Corporation" is absolutely kinetic, the licks and the guitar lines anchor themselves to you and then dance freely about and perform pirouettes around all the objects in nearby space. Eno's concept of ambience occurs only when you are free to turn your attention elsewhere, be it towards sleep, or dinner or your pet cat or anything else. Not only does Fripp's playing demand your attention, but through the magic of Eno's tape recorders, its replicant twins and first cousins are just as insistent.
Rarely has an album cover revealed so much truth about the music contained within. On the cover, Mssrs. Fripp and Eno sit in a room lined with mirrors, and Eno at the least stares forward as the reflections recede into infinity. Can you imagine falling asleep in such a room? There's way too much visual stimulus as the mirrors reflect each other, each photon rebirthed ten or twenty times, to allow the misplacement of your attention, or of your consciousness. The music is that way, as well. If the burning sodium light of Fripp's playing, the way he makes his Les Paul sing, and then divebomb, is not enough to transfix you, Eno's modified Revox A77 tape recorders are sure to have you agog at their myriad gorgeous reflections.
Robert Fripp and Brian Eno - (No Pussyfooting) - 1 - The Heavenly Music Corporation.mp3
160 kbps mp3, up for 6 weeks (Right click and save as target; bear with it, it's larger than most)
File under: Mirror Music