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learn: Failure to Fracture, Ep. 5

By Anthony Garone

An interview with the only guy I know who can play Fracture.

Episode 5: Alex Anthony Faide

Alex Anthony Faide is the only person on the internet who can actually play Fracture. Here’s an interview highlighting his learning history and insights.

Purchase King Crimson’s Fracture on iTunes 

Or, purchase the album on Robert Fripp’s website 

Video

Here is the video of our interview of Alex for this episode of Failure to Fracture.

What is Failure to Fracture?

Failure to Fracture is a video series I’ve put together about all the things that have stood in the way of my successfully playing the song Fracture by King Crimson despite years and years of study, practice, writing, and making videos.

Episode List

Interview Transcript

AG: This is Anthony with MakeWeirdMusic.com and today I am in Seattle, Washington with Alex Anthony Faide. Thank you so much for joining us today.

AF: Thank you, guys.

AG: So, Alex, I found out about you on YouTube looking for people who could play Fracture and you had the only video–and it probably is still the only video on the internet–of someone successfully playing Fracture so I thought it’d be cool if we could talk about that because I have a series about my failures in playing Fracture. I’d love to hear about some of the challenges you went through in trying to learn the piece. Mental, physical, musical… Go for it.

AF: Great to be here, Anthony. It is my pleasure. Yeah, it’s a long story in fact. Learning the notes took me about two weeks. I got involved in Guitar Craft  in ‘95 and prior to that I never heard that piece.

AG: Prior to 1995?

AF: Prior to Guitar Craft, I had never heard it. I will also add that prior to 1995, I’d never heard King Crimson before. It certainly rang a bell, but I wasn’t into that or prog rock. I had no idea. I liked more shoegaze stuff or heavy metal or whatever kicks ass. Also, old guitar music, like Django Reinhardt  or old American music like Duane Eddy , through my parents. They liked cowboy kind of music.

AG: Like Hank Williams  and Chet Atkins ?

AF: Not that obscure. That came later on from my own research. But they liked Elvis  a lot, Bill Haley , some blues or jazz. I came in contact with American roots music very early, as well as with tango and other stuff. Later on, I liked many bands, like Led Zeppelin , Beatles , Stones , AC/DC . That kind of stuff. Mainstream rock and roll from the 70s. But up until 1990-something, I had no clue who Robert Fripp  was or Guitar Craft or King Crimson or whatever.

A friend of mine back then invited me to a concert that happened in Buenos Aires in 1993 or 1994. It was the Robert Fripp String Quintet with the California Guitar Trio  and Trey Gunn  and Robert, of course. That blew my mind. I was like, “What is this? What kind of music is this? Wow!” It just blew me away from the first tones coming from the instruments and the boxes. The theater was packed. It was sort of a revelation, this shimmering sound. At that moment, I was into Cocteau Twins  and dream pop and ambient rock and slow dive. This must have been 1989, 1990, somewhere in there. I liked a lot of This Mortal Coil , 4AD , average bands…

So, I found some mesmerizing effect from the acoustic guitars these guys played. This harpsichord-like sound and then Fripp would do his soundscaping with Trey and all this dreamy ambient shimmering guitar music with arpeggios. That got me like, “Wow, this is really moving. I feel something.” At the end of that concert, there were some people with flyers about a Guitar Craft course happening the next year. I took one and read it, it seemed okay. That got me in. I applied for the course and got in but not really having an idea of the King Crimson stuff and the repertoire and the records and the different incarnations. I had no clue whatsoever about it. No idea.

So, first was the change of tuning, which wasn’t really a problem for me because I’ve always been out of tune, so changing it a bit wasn’t that bad. Soon I thought, “Oh, this is much better. I can play things and they sound kind of okay.” The old tuning, I played it already It was fine for me to switch. For my way of playing, I always tried to not sound like a guitar back in that day. Lots of distortion, fuzz, dropped strings. The new tuning wasn’t that much of a surprise for me. I felt immediately at home with it.

I had no clue we were using a different tuning back in the day. Some had said it, but I didn’t pay attention. Then I took a lesson with one of the instructors there prior to the course and he said, “Oh, you should tune differently.” “Why?” “Because it’s in 5th.” “Okay, well let’s do that and see what happens.” At first it was weird, but after a few minutes, it sounded nice. I liked it.

First course… there were all these King Crimson-heads and everyone knew everything about–

AG: Who was in the band–

AF: The genealogy of this group. I must admit, I didn’t have a clear idea of what “prog rock” was or what kind of rock came to be in the day in Britain. All these progressive rock–I knew about Yes  and Pink Floyd , but King Crimson was really obscure for me. I didn’t have a clue about it. So, in that context, I began to become familiar with some material and I found a few things that really blew my head off. One of those was Fracture, of course. Another one was Larks Tongues in Aspic, Pt. 1 and the other one, I think must have been Red. All instrumentals. The singing is fine. I like it. But I really like the instrumentals. They’re really intense.

So Fracture I came across probably during that year after my first course in Argentina. I thought, “Oh, this is cool.” I saw some people would play some similar patterns or exercises. I didn’t know what to call them. Maybe it’s a Guitar Craft piece, maybe just an exercise, who knows? I was asking and then it somehow happened that I began to learn and pick up the pieces because some older students knew some of it, but they’re in a new tuning, so it’s different. And the arpeggio part is extremely difficult to play in the 5ths because it’s super-stretchy. So, they sound similar.

I began to pick up the pieces and learn the notes from people orally. There was no score at that time. It happened gradually. Then, learning the piece was not that long. It wasn’t a long time to learn the notes and the form. It’s an excerpt. It’s not the whole piece, which is 13 minutes long with an improv and other parts. The only part I always enjoyed playing is the intro a little bit and then the moto perpetuo. So, being able to play that from A to Z, that part–well, being able to develop a way of playing that with a degree of relaxation took a long time. And I’m still working on it. I think it’ll never end. I think, “Okay, I might twist my right hand just 0.0003 nanometers,” and then it sounds different. Or, “I can do that upstroke and it sounds different.” I don’t know.

Well, that being said, practicing… There are the 7 primaries of Guitar Craft . Are you familiar with them?

AG: I know a couple of them, but I’ve never seen them written out.

AF: One of the first seven primaries implies a motion sequence where certain notes will be held while others are not. This has a particular name and we don’t want to discuss that right now. But that is the principle of Fracture. So, that appears in the system of Guitar Craft and the Guitar Craft lore as one of the first 7 primaries. I think it’s the 6th. I’m not sure now. Notes are being held down and kept ringing while the others are not on an adjacent string. It takes a long time to acquire the flexibility inside of your left hand that allows you to articulate like that. It’s super extremely difficult. Little tiny movements. It should have this quality of effortless effort.

If you look at it, it’s as if there’s no movement almost. Just a little bit more than no motion. Then you begin to learn how to play. Up until then, it’s only work and labor. Like, 10,000 hours. Maybe more. This is not music. This is just notes and how to play them on the fretboard. Then there’s the right hand. This is particularly difficult because of inside picking. And you need to think inside the space between the strings instead of the strings themselves. This is something very refined. Very highly developed.

I never before in my life had a guitar teacher that was so precise about the right hand and how we may hold our picks. I’ve been to many guitar teachers in my life, but no one could explain as exactly as Robert did what might be an efficient way of holding a pick. No one claims they have the most efficient way. This way allows you to remain relax while dispatching incredible acrobatics. Cross-picking and alternate picking systems.

So, I did this, learned the piece, then practiced a lot, then abandoned it for quite a time. Then I got back to it and then just abandoned it and worked on some other aspects. I always revisited it over the years. There was a point where I was able to play from the beginning to the end of the moto perpetuo with a degree of comfort and not fainting and still being able to keep up with the tempo, which originally is a lively tempo. It’s quite something. I recommend a speed where the piece begins to lift up around 120-126 bpm. It seems to be a threshold for all players who begin working with this type of acrobatic picking technique, which I find to be very unique. It’s a unique approach to picking. For me, it was a complete revelation.

It also helped me to develop a sense of rhythm that was otherwise not available. It’s like an old-school made new. It’s super old school. I think in the 20s and 30s, dance band guitar players would just be rhythm players. They kind of developed a lot of these, maybe in a rougher manner, but maybe strumming effectively for about 3 hours without falling apart because people wanted to dance. There were no CDs, no mp3s, no mp8s. Bands had to play really long. So, I think it’s coming from a place and evolving and that place is live practice, in a live situation. Then I went offline with school.

I moved to Germany and began playing some other kinds of dialects in Robert-ism language. I sort of needed a grounding in terms of guitar playing and guitar tone and sound. That was my quest. I wanted the purest electric guitar sound I could find in recording history. So, I went back and back in time and began to listen again to the twangy guys like Duane Eddy, Chet Atkins, Merle Travis –all these people who could really play well with a clean tone. Not only jazz players, but a lot of country picking. Jimmy Bryant . Also Link Wray , for instance, is shockingly powerful with very little effort. Not very technical, he just gave a damn about it.

So, I began collecting all this information of playing purely in the old tuning with all the Guitar Craft background. I thought it might be interesting to revamp Fracture on it original tuning and positions and transitions. That gave me, again, a whole overview that was amazing. I had to “relearn” the piece from scratch on the old tuning. It was nice to do.

Still, I’m having the idea of having a double neck guitar with NST and OST and see what happens. As I was revamping Fracture on the old tuning again, I had my NST on my lap and kept switching. From there, I thought I needed a double-neck. Not a monster like a big Gibson, but something like a small Telecaster. It doesn’t need to be fancy, just something I can switch to properly.

Then, I don’t know why, I came across an old Guitar Player issue from 1986 or even older where there was a transcription of Fracture. It was the time when Robert was collaborating with them and presenting some Guitar Craft proto concepts. So, I learned it properly from that. That took not long to learn the notes, but to articulate inside of that, it took 15 years, maybe, to build up the muscles. Maybe if I just practiced Fracture, it might not be the right thing to do. You might need to practice Hey Joe. It’s all about the feeling. If you don’t feel it, it’s worthless to play it. You have to play it. This happened to me, weirdly enough, with Fracture, which is a piece that sounds like Stravinsky  on acid.

AG: One thing in my efforts in learning it, I remember Robert saying, “Your relationship with the pick changes your relationship with the instrument,” or something like that. At first I thought, “This is ridiculous.” One of those deep-sounding quotes. And now that I’m into the study, post Guitar Circle technique, I feel like it’s changed my life. The way I think about using my hand, the way I hold the pick, even the way I type influences how I hold the pick.

AF: Paramount. It’s paramount. The fingers and the thumb… It all has an influence on the tone it produces. If the fingers are set up to sound nice, then everything will sound nice. Why does it sound so good? Because you’re playing good. Why are you playing good? Because you’re sounding good. You’re listening, basically.

AG: He said to me, “Until you can do this [moving thumb from the bottom thumb knuckle], you cannot play Fracture.” I thought, “Okay, what could possibly be so important about moving a straight thumb from that knuckle?”

AF: Capital. Capital importance.

AG: Yeah! I couldn’t believe it. Can you talk about whether you had to go through physical change?

AF: Yeah, when I went to the first course, I held the pick like most guitar players. [Floppy hand picking] As if I was putting whipping cream on something.

AG: Right, loose floppy fingers.

AF: Right. Trying to play Fracture like that would be impossible. Maybe my bones would fracture or something. Then, I think in a personal meeting with him–back in the day he would kneel before you and take a few minutes of accommodation of your arm, wrist, and every joint. Once he found a middle road of relaxation, he would adjust your thumb and not allow you to loosen your thumb, then put the pick on the index finger in a perfect balance.

Every hand is different. Every body has a different feel, so he would very gently and generously do this and bring your hand to the guitar. He did that and he said something like, “Oh, you’ve really lost it.” That kept on popping up, like, “What was the meaning of that? What was lost? What exactly did he mean?” So I went back home and I began noticing that there are joints that we never use, I don’t know why and maybe that’s not important, but we don’t use them as requested by this technique.

But once you begin noticing the points inside–this is something you also need to feel or be aware of–then I began noticing a change in the tone that I was producing only in the right hand. Not to speak of the left, which is also another body of work. So, because the angle at which the pick hits the strings and moves back, it defines the world. It makes a huge difference. A tiny huge difference. Every little correction I was able to bring inside made a big change in the sound. It was able to sound rounder and fuller at will. Or smaller.

And then I began to understand a little bit. I noticed where I had too much pressure, too much relaxation, what made a horrible sound on the guitar. I practice this still, every day. I don’t know if I’ll be able to achieve a perfect right hand because I like to do fingerstyle and other things on the guitar. But, for this particular approach, I prefer to have a sound that is cultivated. Regardless of what I play, I have a high standard of how I play it.

AG: I found that it took me about a year and a half to figure this out. When I was practicing, the point of the pick would start moving forward. I found it was just because on my upstrokes, the pick wasn’t flat, so it was pulling the pick forward, and when you’re playing a zillion notes per minute, every fraction of a millimeter adds up.

AF: The Guitar Craft pick is a precision tool. It’s as if you have a very sharp soul. It’s a precision tool, unlike the regular rounded pick, which is more like a hammer. This is rather like a scalpel, so you do exactly what you need to. A good thing is that no one will die if you do this wrong.

AG: No one except the song and your reputation.

AF: And your audience. [Laughter] I noticed your approach to picking has changed radically in the last few years. I must also admit that I’m not an internet nerd. I don’t look at everything. I apologize for that. I’d rather go and play guitar. I don’t like to spend too much time on the internet. It drives me crazy. But, still, I think it’s a powerful tool to connect with others and share and exchange. It’s a super powerful weapon.

AG: So, any other things? One particular frustration with the pick? A story you can tell?

AF: Well, not a frustration. It was very interesting as I became more familiar with the whole bag of information, which is inside of this piece, to practice with reversed picking.

AG: Start with an upstroke?

AF: To practice it with reverse picking was crucial.

AG: Why?

AF: Because it schools you again about something you thought you already had. We guitar players have a particular talent to take things for granted. Especially guitar players. Maybe some other instrumentalists, I don’t know. But we guitar players have a tendency to take things for granted all the time. This gives us an opportunity to look at how much we assumed are able to, but are not. That’s not a frustration, though. That’s something that I find exciting always. I don’t get frustrated with guitar. Guitar is always loving. She’s fine. We are not.

Beginning to practice this with the reverse picking gave me yet another boost in terms of knowing and experiencing the space between strings, rather than the strings themselves. I had a feeling that, “Well, finally, that’s where music comes from, from the space between strings.” You know? Something happens there. You play the string. You pluck the string. You hit the string. What is the space in between? The twilight zone? This gives you the opportunity to visit all these unknown regions of string spacing. So, you have all these beautiful strings and the 5 spaces, or the 7 spaces if you go beyond the strings.

Practicing reversed picking sounds super different. But, when you go back to straight normal flat picking or alternate picking, something remains. I think it’s the quest for lightness. Light, not heavy. This is a piece you cannot play in a Zakk Wylde  manner. It won’t work. Maybe he can play it, I don’t know. Maybe he can. For sure, he’s great. I love him. But, he’s always like a bodybuilder. Fantastic. He plays amazing stuff, but I cannot play like that and keep a whole show doing that. I’m mortal. He might be a viking or something, I don’t know.

But, Fracture is clean first. Then, you can hit a Big Muff  or something. On the first run, it’s much better you do it clean. On an acoustic guitar, it’s extremely hard because of the action and the general construction, the strings are heavier than electric guitar. To play on the acoustic guitar and with this tuning, it’s close to a pain in the ass, but it is possible and it sounds okay. I like it.

AG: Thank you so much for taking the time to talk about this.

AF: You’re welcome.

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