Guitar Circle Of Italy Meeting with Robert Fripp

Tuesday 19 – Wednesday 20, September 2006

Convento, Montefiascone, Italy


A report by Alessandro Bruno.

1.5 days with Robert.

A group of 4 people arrived on Sunday the 17th in the evening in order to have all Monday the 18th to prepare the house; I left to the airport and came back with Robert at around 11:00 in the night. We ate something and went to bed to be ready to begin the following morning with the sitting.

Centro di Spiritualità S. Lucia Filippini – Montefiascone 19/09/2006

The house fits very well into the category of GC facility, and it’s structured very much like S. Cugat: it may host up to 30/35 people at the most, it has kitchen, dining room and 2 more rooms at ground level, R. room one level up, class rooms one more level up, dormitory one more level up; simple, clean and it has all we need. Next door there is a convent of nuns, which is up and running, and on top of the dormitories there’s a beautiful little Chapel, also up and running.

We decided to use a classroom at 2nd floor for the Sitting, but choose a room next to the dining room at the ground level for the guitar Circles, because of the impossible reverberation of the classrooms upstairs.

The list of participants:

Robert Fripp (instructor)
Alessandro Bruno (Registrar – IC/TTA)
Alessandro Papa (KC – IC/TTA)
Filippo Guerini (HM – IC/TTA)
Stefano Simioni (IC/TTA)
Adriano Clera (IC/TTA)
Roberto Deiana (IC/TTA)
Aldo Garuti (IC/TTA)
Attilio Songia (IC)
Paolo Marcon (Guest IC)
Massimo D’Avanzo (Guest TTA)
Anna Cefalo (Guest TTA)
Mattia Clera (Guest TTA)
M. Loredana Sarnataro (Guest IC)
Massimo Di Giacomo (Guest IC)
AAD Roberto Duse (IC/TTA)

So, together with the core people (Italian Circle – Tuning The Air AAD – committed) we invited Attilio (who chickened out from TTA but always been an IC member), Paolo (who manifested his wish to come in S.Cugat), Massimo, Anna and Mattia (who are at the moment part of the TTA lineup), Loredana and Massimo (brand new people who attended 2 Introduction courses in Kiel and S. Cugat but at their first with the IC).

The schedule:

06:45 Rise
07:15 Sitting
08:00 Breakfast
09:15 Inaugural meeting
10:00 Meeting with guitars
11:00 Small group practice
12:00 Meeting with guitars
13:00 Lunch
14:30 Personal/small groups practice
16:00 Tea time
17:00 Personal meetings with R.
18:30 Quiet time/Presentation of the Practice of Doing Nothing
19:30 Dinner
21:30 Meeting with guitars

The Introductions meeting was pretty smooth, R. said that he came because I asked him to come and he does what I ask him to do. Then suggested to pick up the instruments and come back straight away.

Circulation any note of our choice: we have 11 NST tuned Ovations plus a 12 string without strap tuned I don’t know how played with a round pick, a Celtic harp, and a grand stick; but so far so good. Then R. asked us to do the same but following a rhythm in 5 playing on bits 1 and 4; here some of the faces begun to lose the easiness of few minutes before, the struggle-as-part-of the-game made its entrance, and a gap begun to appear between people with different level of experience/competence which few hours later would stick out as a main obstacle. The 3 players who played different instruments (Harp, stick and 12 string) were sitting next to each other and R. asked them to circulate playing on 1,4, and 6 of a bar of 7, while we were doing our fives; Massimo (12 string) had to leave to prepare lunch, Paolo was next in the circle so he became the new member of the trio. After a while he made us change to 7 and the trio to 5, then the instruction was to go back and forth (once the note went from the first to the last player it would go back instead of beginning again with the first). He left asking the new trio to prepare something to play for lunch and saying: “I leave you having fun with this”.

The trio went to the next room and, after a short break; I led the rest of the circle practicing the 5 and the 7.

R. comes back at 12:00 and took it from where he left it, so more rhythmic circulations: the gap I mentioned before got deeper…

At lunch the trio performed a piece I believe it came from a Paolo idea, some obvious mistake but they got a big applause.

Massimo asked R. how is it that many musicians without any kind of training and/or discipline maybe even leading a dissipating life, are actually sometimes very good players; R said that any talent must be cultivated otherwise it’ll fade out in time, he saw in his career many brilliant musicians going into deep crisis when around their forties; he personally was not gifted at all and had to get close to good players and work hard, that’s why his specialty is helping people with no talent. He then announced that he’d offer personal meetings beginning after tea and put a sheet of paper to sign up; everybody did.

After lunch, since we’ve been exhorted to keep working both individually and in small groups, I offered Loredana and Massimo Di Giacomo (who, being beginner looked more “clueless” than the rest of us) a session to look at the mystery of playing odd tempos keeping the pulse with the foot, from few different angles; I left this meeting with the feeling that something was achieved, at least in terms of understanding. In the meanwhile Adriano and Filippo were working with the rest of the circle. At teatime R. gave us back the paper with the time slots for the meetings, and also announced that during the quiet time he’d offer few introductory words about the Practice of Doing Nothing for the beginners. I made myself available as translator for the personal meetings. While R. was receiving his clients, Massimo, Adriano, Alessandro, Filippo and myself met to rehearse a piece to play at dinner: “Cutting Branches…”. 2 people preparing dinner and the rest practicing circulating and thraking.

The guided relaxation was vivid and powerful as usual in these situations. I’ve been translating.

When we came down for dinner we found it was 20 minutes delayed because of some problems with the oven. When dinner was served the quintet came in to play “Cutting”; the piece came out gentle and fluid, maybe a bit too shy… The trio performed again after us: still some mistakes but quite better than the one at lunch.

R. asked for comments/observations about the day’s work; Anna said that, when R. at the beginning of the work in the circle invited us to bring part of our attention to the right hand, she felt “a breeze” on the palm of her hand. Mattia said that during the guided sitting he felt some sort of pain in the eyes and experienced the body as heavier than usual. R. commented to Anna that yes, the “breeze” is an example of what we refer to as “being alive”; to Mattia that many things and experiences are held in the eyes, and yes, our body has weight. He then spoke about how in time we learn that what it’s uncomfortable sitting on the floor is our body, the animal we inhabit, so does it respond to our request of being still for half an hour? Can we convince it to do what we ask for? Then in time we’ll find that our body may accept to be still but our mind is leading a constant inner conversation which never stops, and it’ll never stop as long as we’re alive, but we’ll learn that it’s like a tape, and we don’t necessarily have to listen to it. Then the feelings, and how all these elements are linked together and have an influence on each other…

He asked me about the piece we performed and I said it was a song played by the Penguin Café Orchestra but originally an African tune; he said he enjoyed it (he met Simon Jeffes at the Bottom Line in NY during a Soundscapes tour), but our faces! He said we looked as if we were waiting for an enema. And the trio afterwards looked as if they just had one…

Then, when he asked us what did we wish for the rest of the day, Alessandro asked if he had a piece or an exercise to pass us, as a gift specifically for the Italian Circle; R asked what the rest of us would do if he would work just with IC. We set it up having an inner circle with 7 seats and an outer circle with 5 (Anna, Massimo, Mattia, Loredana and Massimo).

We did some more rhythmic circulation (like inner circle in 5, outer in 7 and vice versa), but soon after he asked if we had familiarity with the C symmetrical scale: silence; ok, what about F natural minor? Beginning with Big Al on the low F on the C string, circulating going up the scale: just few steps and it collapsed. Mmmm, let’s see G Maj. Then: it lasted a bit longer but died inevitably. Even the last resource, C Maj. demonstrated our poor, almost non-existent fret board knowledge! I felt beaten, frustrated, uncomfortable; in a word, personally responsible for that situation.

He then changed subject and presented the pattern in 6/8 on a minor pentatonic scale introduced in S. Cugat, with its several combinations/variations, showing many possibilities of making something interesting out of a simple phrase (speed-doubling, offsetting, reversing, cutting off the last note, syncopating, and more): amazing stuff!

When he left I took it on and introduced the fast arpeggios (first in triplets, then in 16th notes) made with the notes of the pentatonic phrase, on top of the slow bass line; I split the circle in 3 small groups (one with Adriano, one with Filippo, one with myself) to work it out, then around midnight we met back all together and play it along for a while; then we called it a night.

Centro di Spiritualità S. Lucia Filippini – Montefiascone 20/09/2006

The schedule:

06:45 Rise
07:15 Sitting
08:00 Breakfast
09:15 Meeting with guitars
10:30 Personal meetings with R.
12:30 Meeting with guitars
13:00 Lunch

At breakfast R. told me that he managed to see the upper floor and the Chapel, I think he shares with me a very good feeling about the place.

The morning guitar circle work begun with the circle split in 2 halves, both circulating back and forth, once in 5 then in 7, one against the other. Part of the gap (in terms of this specific work) was filled up with yesterday’s work and something felt possible.

He then introduced the thraking with the magic chords and added the bar in 11; so we had 5, 7, and 11; all compatible and with a common quality: Vitality.

He left to keep going with the personal meetings while we split in 4 small groups for some deeper work on 5 against 7 against 11. Then I assisted one person for translation and I even managed to get together with Filippo, Alessandro and Massimo to review our new arrangement of Tango Apasionado to play it for lunch.

At 12:00 I had my personal meeting without guitar: I expressed all my frustrations, doubts, but also my hopes and wishes; I’ve the clear sense, as usual, that he deeply understand all my things sometimes even before I express them… He said that with one more full day something would have become possible.

I went down and joined the circle for some more thraking: half of us would play 7 bars of 11 and the other half 11 bars of 7, we all would stop on the first bit of the next bar: it worked! Then the first half would play 7 bars of 11 followed by 11 bars of 7, while the others would do the opposite, everybody stopping on the first bit of the next bat: it still worked!! This would have been absolutely out of reach no more than 24 hours before, something was becoming available.

R. came in and took it further: in the end we were all playing a pattern made of a bar of 5 (1 and 4), a bar of 7 (1,4, and 6), and a bar of 11 (1,4,7, and 9), one after the other in sequence.

At lunch the same group that played Cutting the night before, but without Adriano who was in the kitchen, performed Tango Apasionado (with applause), followed by the duo Da-Anaan (Anna & Massimo) that played Danny Boy (they got the Silence).

During the meal Stefano asked if the early morning is the best time for the Sitting and why. R. said that it is part of the beginning of the day which actually begins when our feet touch the floor; here we mark with intention and definition our beginning, then there’s the ablution which normally is a shower or bath, but a basin might be the only thing we have (in the desert is conventionally used the sand), anyway it’s an act of cleansing which prepare us for the actual exercise; then some more physical preparation which can take the form of Yoga, Tai Chi, or stretching exercises; then finally we sit still and relaxed for half an hour. Ideally this should happen before the world gets up and go to work: just before the sun comes out.

Silence came to visit for the first time in a consistent way; I was really hoping this would happen.

I asked R. what’s the element (or elements) which determine or set the standard of a group. He said that the centre of gravity is in the middle between the highest and the lowest, but tending towards the lowest for the law of gravity; that’s why it happens that experienced musicians play surprisingly simple mistakes and less experienced musicians play surprisingly things they wouldn’t normally be able to play. He added that in a professional context when you walk on stage you get into a war zone and therefore no weaknesses allowed; in fact you’d have so many different concerns that there’s no room for the concern about your playing… He then said that there are few places where we can play at our level: homes for the elderly (they’re too week to protest), hospitals (they’re sick and won’t cause harm), prisons (they won’t be able to come out), and asylums (here they might decide to keep us for a while, though).

Few minutes later he pronounced the formula and declared that this short project was completed.

In half an hour he was ready by the door and we drove to the airport.