King Crimson: Red
   An Analysis by Andrew Keeling

Part I

'Red' is an instrumental piece scored for electric guitar (multi-tracked X3), bass guitar and drums. It is one of the more muscular pieces of Robert Fripp's, in particular the deployment of open strings and heavily attacked and syncopated bass and drums underlines this aspect. It also illustrates the composer's interest in musical techniques which are not necessarily found in the field of rock music.

The piece is cast in five main sections:

  1. introduction - a series of ascending Octatonic scales played in octaves by two guitars, and supported by large open chords in guitar 3, with the bass and drums;
  2. a 'refrain' section 'on' E;
  3. middle section of repeated dyads in the electric guitar with syncopated octaves in the guitar and bass;
  4. recapitulation of section 2 ('refrain-like material';
  5. recapitulation of section 1 (the ascending Octatonic scales).

The piece may be thought of as a series of relationships closely connected with the opening/ascending scales. These are Octatonic type 'a' scales, which alternate tones with semitones:

D#-E#-F#-G#-A-B-C-D (bars 1-2);

B-C#-D-E-F-G-Ab-Bb (bars 5-6);

Included within this above collection of pitches is a series of tritone intervals, D# (Eb)-A in particular, which is taken into the large-scale harmonic framework of 'Red'. For example, the D#(Eb)-A motive is included within the second 7/8 sub-section when the bass guitar alternates A natural (over two bars) with it's tritonic opposite D#/Eb. The rising minor third chords, heard in the first section, are also found in the first Octatonic collection found above. (I will deal with the localised features of the piece in the ongoing analysis of the piece).

There is also a dichotomy between the pitch G# (raised third in the E major areas of the piece) and G natural, found in the ninth bar of the refrain-like second section. G natural is used as an approximate axis of symmetry during the central section of repeated guitar dyads and guitar/bass octaves. The pitches E natural, G natural and G# (Ab) are found in the second collection written above. Tonality and modality are foiled by the Octatonic passages in the piece, in a similar way to Stravinsky's 'The Firebird Suite' where the demonic (daemonic) elements are heightened by Octatonicism.

Part II

'Red' is, essentially, 'on' E rather than 'in' E. The tonality, more of a modality, is offset by the inclusion of tritones, especially A#/Bb. The piece is framed by the ascending Octatonic scales, which are also defined by George Russell in 'The Lydian Chromatic Concept' as 'auxilliary diminished scales', and are responsible for much of what we hear in 'Red'.

Section 1. Introduction:

There are three ascending phrases which launch the ear into the piece. The first of these begins on D# and rises to a high B natural. Guitars 1 & 2 play the octatonic scale in octaves, leaving guitar 3 to provide syncopted, harmonic underlay with the bass. Guitar 3's function is to not only to be paired with the bass, but to provide the piece with chords and rhythm, supplying an 'edge' to the music. Two bars of 5/8 are followed by a bar of 6/8 before slipping into a bar of 4/4 'on' E.

Phrase one: guitars 1&2 D#-E# (guitar 3 B [major]); guitars 1&2 F#-G# (guitar 3 D [major]); A-B (F [major]); C-D (Ab [major]); E-F#-G-A-B (C [major]); B ( E 5ths chord).
Phrase two: B-C# (G [major); D-E (Bb [major]); F-G (Db [major]); Ab-Bb (Fb [major]); B-C# (G [major]) D-E-F# (Bb [major]); D ( D 5ths).
Phrase three, as phrase one except the phrase ends on Bb (tritone from E) over an open E chord in guitar 3.

The chords which underpin present a huge cycle of 3rds.
Phrase one: B-D-F-Ab (outlining a diminished aggregate)C-E (if we include the previous Ab in the last two an augmented aggregate clarifies [Ab-C-E]).
Phrase two: G-Bb-Db-Fb-G-Bb-D.
Phrase three: D (picked up from the previous phrase)-F-Ab-C-E.

Another way might be to regard the introduction as a long dominant prolongation, beginning/prolonging the B (V) and ending on E (I). Also, if the rock element is removed by providing the music with an imaginary 'jazz' approach - by allowing the Octatonic melodic line to 'swing' and transforming the power chords into major seventh types - we would have an archetypal jazz ending. I have often felt that King Crimson Mk II was a step away from the jazz-influenced Mk I. It would seem on the surface that Mk III dispenses with the jazz element almost entirely, although I suspect this remains in the substructures of some of the pieces although now submerged in harder-edged rock, combined with the Stravinsky and Bartok influences. Sometimes this jazz element can be felt, although distantly.

Part III

Section 2:

This is refrain-like in nature, and finds guitars 1 & 2 playing a melodic statement in thirds. Guitar 2 is emphasised: Bb-Ab-Bb-Ab-Bb-Ab-Bb-Ab-Bb-Cb-Bb-Ab-E natural. These pitches are derived from the second of the Octatonic scales of the opening section. Guitar 1 harmonises this a major third higher: D-C-D-C-D-C-D-C-D-Eb-D-C-G#. Aurally, what develops, is a sound-world which is Augmented in character. (I have spelt the guitar line as flats to retain the major thirds, resuming the # notation with the final interval making an E major chord).

Essentially the music at this point of the ritornello/refrain is whole-tone, with passing-notes, underlined by the augmented triads created by the two guitars with the root pitch, E, in the bass and guitar 3. It gives the impression of 'still movement', the rhythmic momentum being decreased by the static harmonic properties. The opening of Liszt's 'Faust Symphony' includes a similar collection of pitches, but in this context may illustrate Fripp's interest in Debussy's music.

This is repeated. The point of this is to note that the Bb is a tritone (Lydian 4th) away from the E, and part of the Octatonic collection. The two bar phrase is repeated further, but this time transposed up a tone into F# over two bars. It returns to E X1, then is transposed to G X2, before returning to E X1.

There is a change of metre from 4/4 to 7/8 for the next subsection, with the guitar 2 extending the original melodic motive: Fb-Db-Eb-Db-Fb-Eb. Guitar 1 plays in rhythmic unison, again in thirds, accompanied in the bass (and drums) with rapid Bb semi-quavers. The purpose of this section seems to be to provide the music with further momentum. The music finally comes to ground on E, with the guitar 2 playing oscillating semi-tones G#-A-G#; G#..D#-E-D#, which is a Fripp musical finger-print. High resonant triads in a distant guitar 1, E/B/D#, are spaced widely at the top of the texture, providing a wide space between treble and bass in which to place the third guitar open chords and the oscillating semi-tones. This is repeated.

A subsection of B suspensions follows, giving the music a feeling of arrival at the dominant, although Fripp purposely avoids actually stating B major, or B7, chords. The suspensions give a feeling of non-resolution, which is picked-up at the very end of the piece (i.e. the final E major is off-set by the high A#/Bb tritone). These suspended chords are underpinned by the bass guitar pitches: B-D-C. These pitches are related to the bass part of the central section (Section 3), and are re-ordered motivically.

Section 2 is then repeated with modifications: the first eight bars of Section 2 are repeated, except this time the abrupt 'modulation'(really a shift), is omitted leading immediately to a repeat of the 7/8 section. The suspension section then descends in the bass rather ascending using B-A-F#-E. This material includes the descending tone of the 'refrain', as well as outlining a descent from B (V) to E (I). A variant of the 7/8 section follows, thinned and played more softly, the bass playing opposing tritones A (over two bars), and Eb (over two bars), with the guitars playing parallel dyads. This material derives from the following Octatonic collection: A-Bb-C-Db-Eb-E-F#-G. The purpose of this ascent is to prepare the ear for the dramatic central section.

Part IV

Section 3. The central section:

Bridge passage: the ear is led onto the centre of the structure by a bridge passage of three bars of 5/8, with repeated D/Bb dyads over a sustained G in the bass/guitar 3. This connects the previous section 2 to the central section, the kernel of the piece. A chord of G minor is set up in the process, which is a minor 3rd away from the 'E' centre of Section 2. Minor 3rds have always been an important interval in the piece, and the harmonic shift brings the interval sharply into focus, by presenting it as a structural event rather than as a localised phenomenon.

Texture: the many instances of tritone opposites are mainly nullified during this central section. Here two main musical elements are presented as accompaniment and melody:

  1. repeated dyads guitars 1 & 2;
  2. rhythmically syncopated octave/unison pitches played in the bass and doubled by guitar 3 (with subtle use of volume pedal?). This is presented in 4/4.
The texture sounds menacing and quasi-symphonic, even more so with the omission of the drums, and has something of the flavour of the Russian symphonic tradition: Prokofiev but, more particularly, Shostakovich.

Motives: the bass part includes the pitches G-E-F/Bb-A-F which illustrates Fripp's methods of re-ordering pitches and using quasi-symmetrical cells. Here a falling minor 3rd (G-E) is followed by a rising semitone (E-F), followed in the mirroring motive (see above) by a falling semitone and falling major 3rd. Many of the motives in the central section follow on by using these cells, but not exclusively: sometimes the intervals are expanded into 4ths and 5ths, and the semitones into major 2nds. In terms of the pitch re-ordering it seems that the composer has taken the bass pitches of the section of suspended chords found in Section 2 (see Part 3 of this analysis), and forged a unity between the music of that section with the music of the central section. For example, the B/D/C heard in the bass part underpinning the B suspended chords of Section 2 are, during the central section, are transformed by transposition and in terms of the direction in which they are played. B/D/C (of Section 2) becomes G/E/F in Section 3. The rising minor 3rd/falling tone has become a falling minor 3rd/rising semitone. As in earlier pieces, such as 'Sailor's Tale', much is made from a minimum of musical materials in a closely connected web of motivic and harmonic relationships.

Structure, interval and harmony: there are two distinct halves to the central section. The first begins in G minor and closes with a sustained B minor triad (D, D, F#) with an E root note. The second half repeats some of the first half, but then varies it by the addition of alternative pitches. It also sounds different from the first half, because the guitar dyads are now presented as D/F as opposed to the previous D/Bb, although the 'tertian' harmony (i.e. modulation by pivot pitches) is retained. The use of this technique allows for smooth transitions from one dyad to the next, and is a technique common to most Western classical, and jazz, musics. There is a particularly striking example of this found in bars 20-21 of the central section where a Db (major) is respelt as a C# (minor). There is also some play between major and minor 3rds. This is worked out at a microcosmic level in bar 18 of the section in question, with the pitches G natural and G sharp, as well as being included within the 'container' of the motivic mirrorings. The section comes to rest on a sustained F# / D over a C natural root note. V7d chords, such as this, are found particularly in jazz-rock pieces, but there seems to be no allusion to that genre in 'Red'. I feel that there is a closer affinity with the techniques found in some Eastern European contemporary classical music by using substitute tonal centres (especially Bartok: see Erno Lendvai - The Workshop of Bartok and Kodaly), which suggests Fripp is more than likely conversant with this music, as well as Stravinsky's rhythmic techniques.

Rhythm: the rhythmic dimension is also closely-knit. During the introduction (Section 1) the opening 5/8 bars (dotted crotchet followed by a crotchet) is transformed and expanded by additive-rhythmic techniques, in the central section, into a dotted crotchet/ dotted crotchet/ crotchet. The 7/8 section is also derived from the opening: there are two instances of dotted quavers followed by semiquavers followed by a quaver and a crotchet. The rhythmic properties of this bar is, in other words, re-shaped and expanded source material. This is a technique particularly favoured by the French composer, Olivier Messiaen. (See Olivier Messiaen: Technique de mon langage musical. Paris, 1944.) It has also been well documented that Messiaen was particularly influenced by the rhythmic dimension of Stravinsky's music.

Part V

Section 4. Recapitulation of section 2:

This occurs at the point of the Golden Section. There are 143 bars in 'Red', and the exact point of Golden Section should be in bar 88. However, the point of recapitulation in 'Red' is at bar 90. For the sake of argument, this must be considered as more or less exact, for a listener can hardly fail to feel it as an important event which includes a certain 'rightness'. Composers such as Schubert, Bartok and Shostakovich have employed these structural procedures for the positioning of important musical landmarks. Perhaps the finest examples of the technique are to be found in the first movement of Bartok's Fourth String Quartet and Shostakovich's Eighth String Quartet. The material of Section 4 repeats Section 2, with slight modifications. Section 5 goes on to repeat the material of Section 1, this time as a coda, with the Octatonic scales ascending to a high A#/Bb. A# is the leading note to the 'dominant', B, and Bb is the tritonal opposite to the key/modal centre, E.

Structure of the whole: I have already mentioned that the structure is symmetrical - 1. Introduction; 2. Refrain or ritornello; 3. Central; 4. Refrain; 5; Introduction as coda. Composers widely separated in time such as J.S. Bach, Messiaen, Stravinsky, Webern and John Tavener have employed symmetry as a means of conveying important religious symbols, of which the cross and tree seem to take precedence over others. Tavener's works, from the opera Therese onwards, include palindromes for the purpose of conveying icon-like symbols. The first movement of Webern's Concerto (op.24) displays structural symmetry, as well as harmonic symmetries. This is certainly the case in the Variations for piano (Op. 27). Stravinsky resorts to structural techniques such as palindromes in Canticum Sacrum.

J.S. Bach's 'Mass in B minor' is built in an arch-like shape, and based on a circular key-scheme in the manner of a mandala. The work has two harmonic poles: B minor and D major, the first key referring to human pain, and the second to glory and triumph. G major and G minor stand at the centre of the mandala referring to benediction, with E minor symbolising death. Both E and G bisect the horizontal axis of B and D. The Mass in B minor includes the 'ritornello' principle which I have referred to as 'refrains' in 'Red'. 'Red' also includes the centres of E and G. I am not suggesting that 'Red' is derived from the Mass or, even, that it lies within the Judeo-Christian tradition. However, the symmetrical structure of 'Red' (with G in the centre cutting across the E of the 'refrains') and it's interesting key scheme outlining an E minor triad (Section 1: B; 2: E; 3: G; 4: E; 5: B [-E]), whether consciously or unconsciously conceived (as Robert Fripp has said [E-mail to A.G.K. 2nd Feb, 2000]; '...unconscious processes are not...they are a deeper level of the ocean.') - and unlike asymmetrical structures which have implications for the pacing of musical materials - leads one to contemplate alternative meanings.

The psychological interplay within King Crimson at the time of the making of 'Red' may, perhaps, be a governing factor in the making of the music. The accompanying booklet, which includes many of Fripp's Journal entries from the time just prior to the studio recordings of 'Red', gives a possible insight into this. Symmetrical symbols, especially when concretised in an art-form, sometimes have the effect of creating a Temenos: a sacred 'centre' which mysteriously holds together the tension generated by the opposites in an uncertain situation. Mandalas are a symbol par-excellence of this. The complete structure of 'Red' also illustrates symmetry: 1) Red; 2) Fallen Angel; 3) One More Red Nightmare; 4)Providence; 5) Starless, with 'One More Red Nightmare' referring back to the title piece.

Like 'In the Court of the Crimson King', 'Red' gives one the feeling that no real resolution is possible. It is tantalising to think that shortly before it was made David Cross had left the group, and shortly after its making the group disbanded. Perhaps the title piece reflects the heat of the tensions through its mandala-like structure, but also goes further in representing the demise of the group? 'Red', in a sense, conveys the end of a cycle for King Crimson and stands as a book-end to the studio recordings between the five years from 1969-1974:


A further reason for connecting ITCOTCK to 'Red', and to reinforce the notion of a kind of fin-de-siecle, is the guest appearance of Ian McDonald, who left the group in December 1969. This the first appearance of McDonald on a King Crimson album since that time.

Both ITCOTCK and 'Red' include five pieces. My previous analysis of the former refers to the symbolism of the number 5 in numerological terms: it is the number of fire, strife, competition but, paradoxically, light. A connection could be made with Lucifer who is traditionally thought of as the bringer of light (consciousness) but, at the same time, as the bringer of darkness (unconsciousness).

'Red', as a complete work, includes similar paradoxes which continue to prove elusive but, nevertheless, resonate within us. I feel this is the function of 'great' music: not only to give us listening pleasure, but to take us on a multi-dimensional journey touching on the conscious and unconscious parts of our psyches. There can be no doubt that 'Red', as with the previous works by King Crimson, came from 'somewhere else' and leads us, as listeners, to 'somewhere else'.

(I hope to look at 'Red' as a complete work in due course.)

(All analyses of the music of King Crimson/Robert Fripp is copyrighted material: Andrew Keeling/Discipline Global Mobile, 1999/2000.)

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