Surround Review: King Crimson Page 2

Besides the surround mix, the Starless reissue includes a new stereo mix by Wilson and Fripp as well as the 2001 remaster of the original stereo mix. You also get two video tracks from a 1973 concert in New York’s Central Park, a half-dozen audio tracks from a Zurich show later that year, and 11 additional audio tracks from various sources. Among the latter are two pieces, “Dr. Diamond” and “Guts on My Side,” that didn’t turn up on any of the original Crimson albums, as well as a couple of radio spots. And the booklet has, of course, hyper-anal notes from Fripp’s diaries, together with a solid essay by Sid Smith that provides context and history. Overall, the package is admirably generous and downright overwhelming.

The knotty math-rock of Discipline spotlights the ghost-in-the-machine soul of Fripp’s most capable team of technicians — guitarist Adrian Belew and bassist Tony Levin complementing Fripp and Bruford — and it’s tailor-made for a vibrant, immersive surround experience. A good example is the steady-state midrange-bass march of the title track, which percolates evenly all around you, with a split-second alternating of guitar parts between front and rear providing texture and depth. It’s a total mind-melt.

The roaring middle and end sections of the somewhat unhinged “Indiscipline” are all pile-driving density and controlled noise pouring from the four corners. In “Thela Hun Ginjeet” — an anagram for “heat in the jungle” and a commentary on urban crime — the polyrhythms open up and breathe, attaining greater clarity in the much more vast soundstage provided by the multichannel arena. Listen to Levin’s Stick bass poking around like a water witcher.

This album is mainly remembered by those outside the circle of Crimson obsessives for “Elephant Talk,” the opening track, which got FM airplay and attention from New Wave brainiacs who were into the likes of Talking Heads and XTC. In the track’s surround mix, Belew’s vocals are mostly isolated in the center channel (with some echo in the rear). Check out his bellowing-elephant guitar at 1:38, which roars from front to rear, and imagine yourself among a herd of feisty pachyderms on an African plain. And as Belew recites his glossary of synonyms for the noun “talk,” the word “backtalk” pops up from the back (but of course). Beyond such novelties, the rapid-fire riffing and cross-cutting rhythms of interlaced parts from the four players on pieces like “Frame by Frame” are well served by the equal apportioning of those parts in the surround sound field, converging on the listener with devastating effect.

And, as before, there’s much more in this package, with the customary pair of new and old stereo versions joined by a set of rough early mixes in Fripp’s original running order, a few alternate mixes, and odds and sods like “The Terrifying Tale of Thela Hun Ginjeet” (amusing reminiscences from Fripp and Belew segueing into a live version from 1982). Plus three video tracks from The Old Grey Whistle Test.

As far as I’m concerned, the Wilson-led, Fripp-approved King Crimson surround mixes represent the state of the art in multichannel music. Now pardon me while I listen to “Thela Hun Ginjeet” again. Loud.