Ear-Tickler: “Fracture”

Here’s some more Crimson for you guys.

In the last post, we looked at an example of the ’80s lineup’s writing. Many saw it as a radical departure from the earlier lineups’ writing, but as far as I can tell, the interlocking, perpetual guitar lines go at least as far back as “Fracture”, from 1974’s Starless and Bible Black (and continued on to the band’s subsequent release, Larks’ Tongues in Aspic). While I don’t enjoy SABB as much as most other King Crimson fans, “Fracture” remains one of the most impressive pieces of the KC repertoire, technically speaking. The main section of this piece, the moto perpetuo, consists of a 3-minute-plus, alternate picking nightmare (Fig. 1), and guitarist Robert Fripp has stated that it is the hardest piece of music he’s ever had to play.

Fig. 1 Main theme.
Fig. 1 Main theme.

Tonally, nearly the entire piece is based on the whole-tone scale. The main theme, a 7(b5)-sounding idea, is shifted around various key centres, and separated by brief fills which span a large portion of the guitar’s range (see mm. 53-54). These sections are broken up with a lydian-based arpeggiated section, with chords moving up in major thirds (keeping with the whole tone/augmented sound).

Fig. 2 Guitar gymnastics.

My latest personal challenge has been to adapt this to electric bass, which poses its own challenges. Unfortunately, I do not have a video at this time to demonstrate, but maybe in the future. Whereas the main challenge of a guitar performance lies in the continuous alternate picking and finger gymnastics, this piece makes a great bass exercise for right hand technique, particularly involving raking and alternate plucking. Here is an example of the fingering I use to play this:

Fig. 3: Raking/alternate plucking on bass.

Also, for those who have seen my video of Rich Brown’s “Lua”, I often use a guitar-esque finger style approach for chordal and arpeggiated styles. The arpeggiated sections of “Fracture” also require this technique on bass, and it has been good practice in getting my fingerstyle technique together. Here’s another example of the fingering I have been using:

Fig. 4: R.H. fingerings for arpeggiated sections.

Overall, “Fracture” is a beast of a song, and some of the live performances really demonstrate this, with a feeling that it could come off the rails at any time. Musically speaking, it’s a good introduction to the whole-tone scale, and is also a great workout for BOTH hands, on either guitar or bass. I would recommend everyone try to dig into it at some point.

Check out the full moto perpetuo transcription here.