‘Unlike anything else that’s ever been done’: Adrian Belew on his amazing new solo venture

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Adrian Belew’s recent exit from Nine Inch Nails has allowed him to return to a solo experiment that’s been years in the making: The appropriately named FLUX, an ever-changing interactive musical experience that taps into the long-time King Crimson guitarist’s adventuresome muse.

FLUX is music that is never the same twice,” Belew exclusively tells Something Else!, in his first in-depth interview on the project. “It’s an idea that’s been in my mind for several decades, but could never be technologically done — until recently. Unlike a record or anything before it, this is never finished. I can continue to add more parts to it, even as people already have it and start listening to it.”

These verite songscapes would be delivered via a streaming app, though the contours of that technology are still being worked out. Belew says he expects to have it up and running within the next three months or so. Once complete, his new songs will be deconstructed and randomized, built and rebuilt in entirely new ways, every time they’re accessed.

“I got a little off track, because we went off to do something in Nine Inch Nails that I wanted to try — and needed to try,” Belew admits. “It didn’t work. And that cut a few months off from the time I needed to work on FLUX. So, I’m really ready to catch up — and go further.”

Over the last weekend, Belew and his engineer Daniel Rowland reconstructed his home studio after the time away, and put his guitar set up back in place. Today, Belew is expected to officially return to work on FLUX.

So far, he has been the sole creator of these new musical items, which include fragments of every-day compositional elements and lyrical stanzas, as well as found sounds (like say, doors shutting or a toilet flushing), natural sounds and other effects. “The content of it is not just music and vocals, guitars and bass, drums and piano, and all of the things that I normally would do on a solo record,” Belew adds. “They are run together with the different parts of the music in a way that keeps it always different, and always surprising. You might be listening to the verse of song, and it will turn into some birds chirping and then maybe someone will talk and the door slams — and it’s another song.”

In this way, Belew is fashioning an open-ended construct, one that is not only difficult to replicate but also — in a broader sense — resistant to completion, since it doesn’t adhere to the structural rules of conventional songcraft. “As an artist, this is very appealing to me,” Belew says. “I’m a little tired of songs having to be one verse, then the chorus, then a second verse that’s pretty much another take on the first verse, and so on. This allows me to make my songs what they need to be. It allows me the freedom to do anything that I like the sound of — which is perfect for me. Sound is really what my whole career has been based on.”

NICK DERISO: Take us into the laboratory for this streaming project.
ADRIAN BELEW: There is a company in Amsterdam called MobGen, and I’m working with a brilliant guy whose name is Nick Mueller — he’s an Australian who has transplanted himself to Amsterdam. He knows everything there is to know about the new technologies, a bit like my engineer Daniel Rowland. In fact, when the two of them get together and talk, it’s like I am listening to a foreign language. (Laughs.) The idea is this: After I started trying to make this, one day I was talking to Daniel, and he said: ‘I notice we’re making a lot of short little things, things that cut off abruptly. How is this going to work? What is this?’ I said: ‘This is going to be a record that never plays the same way twice.’ And he said: ‘How’s that possible?’ Being the way that I am, the obvious always escapes me. I said: ‘I’m sure somebody will figure that out.’ So, I thought about it for a while, and I realized that streaming would be the answer. So, the way it’s going to work is, there will be a free app. It will lead you to FLUX, and you will be able to listen to it for free — at least once. Just so you know if you like it or not. Then, you’ll be prompted to purchase it, if you want to. I think what I am going to do is have it be in half-an-hour segments. Each one of those half hour bits would be different from any other time that any one else has heard it. That makes it a rather unique listening experience — and one that’s strictly yours.

[SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: Adrian Belew on the future of King Crimson, his brilliant orchestral reimaging of ‘e,’ and attending the Frank Zappa School of Rock.]

NICK DERISO: Given the complexity of what you’re talking about, it’s really no surprise that you’ve been working on this for a period of years.
ADRIAN BELEW: It’s interesting, Daniel and I have been doing this for going on three years, on and off, while we’ve been touring and doing other things — and we’re so used to it, the way this progresses and the way it changes so constantly, that I must admit when I listen to a song now by someone else, I get bored in the first minute and a half. It’s like: “I’ve got it now; what’s next?” So maybe it’s kind of a form of music for ADD people. (Laughs.) I think that a lot of people in the world today, because of the way we’ve grown up with television and now the Internet, things don’t last very long. A commercial lasts for 15 seconds, and then it’s gone. So I think of this as a modern, interesting thing that some people will like, if they get a chance to hear it.

NICK DERISO: Let’s go back to the beginning, the genesis point of FLUX. Did you have an a-ha moment?
ADRIAN BELEW: It goes all the way back to May 28, 1978. I was touring in Europe with David Bowie, and we had a day off in Marseille, France, which is a beautiful port town. I went down to the harbor area, and I was sitting between two cafes. Each of them had their doors open, and each of them were playing different radio stations. I was continually being bombarded with at least two different musics at once, as well as all of the activities that a harbor offers — boats and waves and seagulls, cars driving by, people walking, talking, laughing. Just sort of the whole sensation of life. I heard it in a way that I thought: “This is all very musical. This is the sound of life — being interrupted by music, then in turn being interrupted by life and so on.” I decided then and there that I would like to do that. It became my real artistic goal, and I’ve had it ever since then. Year after year, I have tried to figure out how to make it happen, and I’ve grown the idea over the years. It originally didn’t start as music that is never the same twice. The idea was just all of these things happening randomly in a row. Over time, I decided that, really, the sound of life never repeats itself. So then I got on this obsession trying to figure out how you would make music that was never the same twice.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Reexamining five favorites from Adrian Belew, including his work with King Crimson, the Talking Heads, the Bears and as a solo artist.]

NICK DERISO: Is there a recording of yours that connects with this new idea, something that gives long-time fans a clue as to where you were headed all along?
ADRIAN BELEW: I don’t know if you know this record called Op Zop Too Wah (an avant-garde pop solo record Belew issued in 1996). My idea was, something would be playing along and all of a sudden it would get interrupted by something else. Then that would get interrupted by another thing or two, then it might go back to the first thing you were listening to for a little bit. FLUX turns that into this very random series of events, although the events are music and they are songs. Every now and then, you will hear the whole piece. But most of the time, you will hear it in jigsaw pieces, like a puzzle. The beautiful thing about it is, as you listen to it more and more, you start putting these pieces together and it starts making sense. It’s kind of exciting, and a lot of fun — and always surprising. Because of the amount of content, and because you will get it in half-an-hour chunks, each time you listen, it is sure to be very different. You will be listening to this for a very long time before you hear all of the content. I’m not sure you ever will.

NICK DERISO: Is there an Adrian Belew album, eventually, to be made from this?
ADRIAN BELEW: Down the line, I think I will be able to make some CDs from the content of FLUX, like the full songs or other things that I have that don’t fit. For instance, I have a piece of music called “Variations of Wave Pressure” that’s 12 minutes long. If I put that in FLUX, it would completely ruin the idea. That would go on a CD. I don’t want to do that at first, though, because I really want to encourage people to give this a try. I really think it’s something so unique. I want people to at least hear it once, or twice, before they make up their mind. I think they’ll find something for just about everyone in it. There are no musical boundaries. It’s really fun, in that way.

[SOMETHING ELSE! REWIND: Here are a few more suggested King Crimson-related downloads, culled from years of hanging out in the archive section at DGMLive.com.]

NICK DERISO: Can you tour this project?
ADRIAN BELEW: I don’t think so. I haven’t gotten that far into my thinking about it. I don’t really see how, when I am listening to it. It happens so quickly, things move at such an accelerated pace, that I don’t know how you would rehearse that and cause that to happen. It really is random. There is an algorithm that tears it apart, and puts it back together a different way every time its triggered. So my thinking on that, for the moment, is no — it’s not a live entity. It’s a listening experience unlike anything else that’s ever been done, and that’s enough.

NICK DERISO: Is there are larger message here? Are you moving away from songs?
ADRIAN BELEW: Actually, these are some of the best songs I’ve written in a very long time. As musical pieces, some of them are amazing. Only now, they are doing things that I have never heard before, using different new software. And we’re using all of the different ideas that I have come up with on the guitar in the last few years. They are all in there. But it’s random, and it’s always changing. If you like anything that I do, or have done in the past, then you are sure to like some of this. And if you don’t like something, no problem. It will go away in 20 seconds. (Laughs.)

[ONE TRACK MIND: Adrian Belew discusses a key song from King Crimson’s ‘Thrak,’ the solo novelty hit “Oh Daddy” and his underrated work with the Bears.]

NICK DERISO: Strictly speaking, there is no terminus point for FLUX, is there? You could be working on this from now on.
ADRIAN BELEW: That’s the thing about it. It’s very liberating. Unlike a record, or a download, or anything else that I have ever heard of, there is no end. I can keep doing this as much as I want. I can add to it, change it. Even a year from now, two years from now, you’ll still be hearing things you never heard before. I can do a radically different version of the song, even change the melody or the lyric. It could have five different guitar solos. There are no limitations. The only two rules that I have set for myself are — first of all, nothing can be too long. The longest song that I have at this point is about four minutes long. I don’t want anything to be longer than that, because the pacing of it — the excitement of it, the surprise element — goes away if there is something that starts playing for a long time. Obviously, this idea is not for everything, it’s not for everyone. It’s just different than anything anyone else has done.

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso

Nick DeRiso has written for USA Today, American Songwriter, All About Jazz, and a host of others. Honored as columnist of the year five times by the Associated Press, Louisiana Press Association and Louisiana Sports Writers Association, he oversaw a daily section named Top 10 in the U.S. by the AP before co-founding Something Else! Nick is now associate editor of Ultimate Classic Rock.
Nick DeRiso
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