17 May 02004

Authorial archiving

One more perspective on my current pre-occupation with cultural collections and how we learn from them… Robert Fripp's diary entries for 7th and 14th May 02004 chart his current work on what appears to be a multi-volume archive: The 21st Century Guide to King Crimson; Crimson being Fripp's on-again/off-again band for the last 35 years.

Amidst his notes on the scope of the project and associated web site, I like Fripp's characteristically sanguine yet fatalistic assessment: "Commitment: Likely to be 1-2 days a week on an ongoing basis. Riches, Fame, Wealth: Unlikely for anyone." (See my earlier posting about Fripp's lessons of running artist-focused businesses.) This is different kind of undertaking from Tom Phillips' collection of postcards, but it's kind of fun to compare them.

Phillips has fun categorising his material — his "delightful drudgery of sorting" — and is pleased to acknowledge the potential for alternative eccentric and illuminating paths through the material. The material itself mostly originates from before he was born (1937), and this distance affords him some equanimity on how it is received.

Fripp meanwhile is co-author and de facto guardian of the material he works with. He feels some debt to the actuality (his word) of how he remembers the different incarnations of Crimson (e.g. as "a powerful rock band that also improvised" rather than "an improvising band that could also rock out"), and he will organise the running order of tracks in the new collection to honour that memory.

Importantly the medium of Fripp's collection is time-based (music), while Phillips' collection works in space (image). Space is easier for the user to reorganise; inherently less authoritative. (Yes, I know listeners can re-sequence running orders on CD or MP3 players, but very few do this consistently and regularly, whereas most people wander round an exhibition or flick through a catalogue book.)

Faced with the anarchic potential of hyperlinks on the web, Fripp opts for the deterministic yardstick of chronological order: "The site will be date-centric. Performances will be archived to particular dates & cross-referenced & linked to diaries, photos, press cuttings, fan reviews & other arisings for that date."

Altogether Fripp's approach seems more directive where Phillips is playful. As someone interested in learning from cultural collections, you may miss the 'democratising' impulse of Phillips that encourages possible associations and serendipitous connections. But conversely, you gain by virtue of the collection itself bearing the same authorial stamp as the objects which it comprises. The collection is a kind of meta-object, the director's cut.

Fripp has long been a compulsive archivist. In the days before our every breath was digitally preserved and I was still a young person, I remember buying A Young Person's Guide to King Crimson, with which Fripp included a dense (12", 7pt font) 18 page booklet of key diary entries for Crimson's 01969-74 period.

I share with Fripp a predilection for obsessively precise recall of dates and anniversaries (what is this site if not a date-centric archive of my own?). I like Phillips' interest in chance connections between disparate points, so it satisfies me to observe a connection between Fripp and Phillips in the latter's design of the cover of King Crimson's Starless and Bible Black, and that most of this posting was written on 16th May, the date of Fripp's 58th birthday and 18th wedding anniversary. Many happy returns!

Posted by David Jennings in section(s) Cultural Calendar, Curatorial, Ideas and Essays on 17 May 02004 | TrackBack
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