Rigor Vitae: Life Unyielding

Wednesday, August 20, 2014


...the Beatles were recording the final session for Abbey Road. Three miles away, at Wessex Studios in Highbury, Robert Fripp and a new band christened King Crimson were recording “In the Court of the Crimson King.” Meanwhile, across the Atlantic, Miles Davis and a collection of jazz virtuosi, many of them not yet well known, were at Columbia's 30th Street Studios in New York City, recording Bitches Brew. While the Beatles wrapped things up on the 20th, both Crimson and Davis would conclude their sessions the following day.

Upon their release, all three recordings confounded the critics, few of whom recognized their importance, but in retrospect, one can't deny that they're three of the most innovative and influential (and, I would add, the best) albums ever made. Strange that they were recorded simultaneously...or is it?

Such multiple accomplishments in the arts have a lot in common with the technological multiples that have received a lot of recent attention, like the invention of the calculus, telescope and television, and the theory of evolution by natural selection, all of which were simultaneously achieved by two or more parties. The simultaneous nature of Abbey Road, ITCOTCK and Bitches Brew had something to do with the level of recording technology that had been achieved by 1969, as well as the introduction of new instruments like synthesizers and mellotrons, and the fact that the LP record album had been in existence for a generation and was now the comfortable standard of music consumption. Most important of all, though, was the artistic culture of that moment, a culture of ambition and innovation—a pale and wimpy version of the zeitgeist of the early 20th Century, but still not too bad, and something even to strive for now.
Abbey Road cover designed by Kosh; In the Court of the Crimson King cover painted by Barry Godber; Bitches Brew cover painted by Mati Klarwein