Rock Meets Classical, Part 7: Pervasive Discipline

In my last post, I did an in-depth analysis of the title track from King Crimson’s Discipline. I’d recommend reading that before delving into this one. Here is the sheet music of my full transcription of that song, which I will occasionally reference in this post. This week, I will discuss how the song "Discipline" is connected to the rest of the album, and how ideas from it show up in KC’s later work. As a reminder, here is the Discipline motive as it appears at the start of the title track (m.1 in the score), in canon:

The title track is the final song on Discipline, and thus ends side two of the vinyl record. Side one of Discipline ends with a contrasting track called "Indiscipline", and it acts as a foil to "Discipline". While "Discipline" was a tightly composed, structured and restrained piece, "Indiscipline" is a chaotic and dissonant track with a more abrasive, Larks-esque harmonic language, in which Bruford plays against the beat in any way he can while the guitarists improvise wild and noisy solos. It is based on a much slower version of the same motive (bottom staff) against a syncopated 2-bar 4/4 pedal ostinato (top staff), maintained by Tony Levin throughout the song (excerpt from 0:30):

"Indiscipline" score

The Discipline motive doesn’t just appear in the title track and "Indiscipline" - it also appears in most of the other songs on the album. The transformed version of the motive that appears in the B-section of "Discipline" (m.29 and m.53 in the score) serves as the basis of Fripp’s guitar part in the album's opener, "Elephant Talk", a funk-influenced track with spoken vocals. Fripp often incorporated the original version of the motive into the track when performing it live, but the studio version uses only the transformed version from the B-section of "Discipline" (see "Discipline" score, m.29, top staff). Here is the transformed motive at :22 seconds into "Elephant Talk":

(Note: the three examples that follow are all in treble clef)

And at :55 into the song:

And then at 1:30:
With each occurrence of this motive in "Elephant Talk", the top note rises by a semitone from the previous occurrence and the rest of the motive is transformed accordingly. These are not exact transpositions - the intervals change in order to fit the accompaniment. A variation of this transformed motive also appears as the basis of Fripp’s guitar parts in the opening track of side two, "Thela Hun Ginjeet":
This 7/8 ostinato is played over Belew’s syncopated 4/4 guitar chords. A variation on the original Discipline motive also occurs briefly at 3:30 in the instrumental "The Sheltering Sky", also played against 4/4:
Let’s take a look at "Frame By Frame". Here's the full score: "Frame by Frame" Score
This song is built from the following pentatonic motive, first presented as a 6 note motive played polymetrically against Belew's syncopated 4/4 chords (see m.1):
This motive first appeared in the song "Ooh! Mr. Fripp", performed live by Fripp’s band The League of Gentlemen. Just as I discussed in my analysis of "Larks Tongues", this motive is transposed up by minor thirds - it is initially presented in C#, then moves to E, then G, outlining a diminished triad. Those who followed my Larks analysis may predict that it would then go to B♭ and form a diminished seventh, but instead, it breaks the pattern and goes to G#. It then moves down to F#, taking the same pentatonic motive and reorganizing it into a 7 note variation at half speed (1:08), which is then played in canon:

This version of the "Frame By Frame" pentatonic motive feels very closely related to the Discipline motive, as both are purely pentatonic motives presented in groups of 2 and 3 eighth notes, played with completely straight rhythmic values. It may not be the exact same material, but it’s certainly the same basic idea. Not only that, but it's used in the exact same way. Compare the last page of the "Discipline" score with p.21, rehearsal mark B2 (m.178) in the "Frame by Frame" score. The outros both follow the exact same process, which I described in detail in my last blog entry. As in "Discipline", The outro in "Frame by Frame" begins with the two guitars alone, unaccompanied by drums, bass/stick or vocals. Fripp and Belew play a 7/8 pentatonic motive of straight eighth notes in unison ("Discipline" used a 15/16 pentatonic motive in straight 16ths). Fripp then drops the last beat of every other 7/8 repetition (m.179 in the score), creating a new 13/8 motive which he plays while Belew continues to play the original 7/8 motive. This polymetric cycles keeps going until the 7/8 subunit of Fripp's 13/8 pattern lines up with Belew's 7/8 (m.192), and they return to unison and repeat that for a while.

The outro in "Discipline" ended at this point, but "Frame by Frame" keeps going - the motive is transposed up a minor third from F# minor to A minor (m.193), where they continue to play it in unison. Fripp then switches to a variation of the sixteenths version of the motive (m.194), phrased in groups of 4 sixteenths this time (instead of the earlier 3), creating a 7/4 feel to complement Belew's 7/8. They continue to play this until the end of the song.

Everything that occurs prior to the key change also happens in the verses, which both start just like the outro. The song's 2 verses are mostly identical, but the full band enters at a different point in the polymetric cycle in each verse. In the first verse (rehearsal mark B, p.6, m.45), the guitars play the 7/8 motive in unison 3 times before launching into the polymetric cycle in m.48. The rest of the band enters in m.53, playing in 7/8, on the sixth bar of the cycle. On the eighth bar of the full band verse (m.60, when Levin first sings 'From within'), the cycle ends and the guitars re-enter unison, remaining there for the rest of the verse. At the start of the second verse (B1, p.14, m.113), the guitars repeat the unison 5 times before beginning the polymetric cycle at m.115, and the rest of the band enters on the fourth bar of the cycle in m.118. This means that the cycle ends and the guitars re-enter unison on the tenth bar of the full band verse (m.127, at the start of the second time Belew sings 'In your own'). 

There is only one song on Discipline I haven’t yet discussed - the ballad "Matte Kudesai", which is the only song on the album that doesn’t use the Discipline motive or some variation on that basic idea. "Matte Kudesai" is a rework of the song "North Star" from Fripp’s 1979 solo album Exposure, so it may initially seem that this song omits the motive purely because it is older than the rest of the songs on the album. However, upon further examination, it seems that Fripp had been exploring this motive long before 1979. A diatonic motive with the same contour as the Discipline motive first appeared in King Crimson’s music in the '70s, in an unaccompanied guitar transition at 2:07 in the song "One More Red Nightmare", the closing track on side 1 of Red. Not only does the funk influence on this track foreshadow the band's '80s work, but it also contained the motivic seed:

The motive appears again in 1980, 3:30 into the song "Trap" on the sole album by The League of Gentlemen. 

Related ideas can also be found on the other two albums by the ‘80s lineup, Beat (1982) and Three of a Perfect Pair (1984). You can hear a variation of the Discipline motive in the intro of "Neal and Jack and Me", the opening track on Beat:

A variation on the 7/8 Frame by Frame motive appears in the chorus of the title track from Three of a Perfect Pair:

Other motives are shared throughout the album Three of a Perfect Pair - for instance, compare the guitar lick in the left channel during the chorus of "Sleepless" with the riff at 0:57 in "Larks Tongues in Apsic, Part III" - they are identical. Or, for a different kind of connection compare the bridges of "Model Man" and "Man With An Open Heart" - both have the same chord progression in the same key at similar tempos.

The Discipline and Frame by Frame motives also appear in the title track from The ConstuKction of Light (2001), which combines the musical languages of Larks Tongues in Aspic and Discipline by alternating between octatonic sections using the Larks motive and diatonic sections using the Discipline motive. Here’s how said motive appears at 3:50 in the right channel of ConstruKction’s title track, during the song’s first diatonic section:

Belew plays this part continuously through all of the song’s diatonic sections. Fripp sometimes complements that with additional Discipline references - for example, the 7/8 Frame by Frame motive appears at 4:04 in the left channel:

Here’s another motive Fripp plays in the same section which can be viewed as a transformation of the Discipline motive (3:15, left channel):

This version of the motive also appears in "FraKctured" (initially at 1:48), another song from "The ConstuKction of Light". "FraKctured" is a sequel to "Fracture" from KC's 1974 album Starless and Bible Black. Notice that the second guitar is also playing a transformation of the Discipline motive with inverted intervals:

The opening of "FraKctured" has the same rhythm and contour as the Discipline motive (or the inverted Larks motive), except it is in the whole tone scale instead of pentatonic or octatonic. Here is the start of the song, in which the guitarists play hocketed interlocking parts, alternating each note (much like in the octatonic sections of the title track from ConstruKction):

If we reduce those guitar parts to their composite form, which is what we hear as listeners, here’s what it looks like:

The title track contains another motive from the '80s band. Here is Fripp's guitar part at 1:20 in the song "Waiting Man":

And here is Fripp's guitar part at the beginning of the vocal section of "ConstruKction":

Incidentally, the ConstruKction version is also identical to 5:24 in Gordian Knot’s "Reflections" - while Trey Gunn performs on both The ConstruKction of Light and the Gordian Knot album, he does not appear on this track, so it appears to be purely coincidence. A similar motive also appears at the beginning of the title track from Sunday All Over the World (1991), Fripp’s duo with with wife, singer and actress Toyah Wilcox, and in his guitar part in their song "Storm Angel". "Storm Angel" feels like an evolution of "Thela Hun Ginjeet", which contains what may be an early version of this motive (minus the second octave leap) at 3:26:

So now you’ve seen how the Discipline motive and other ‘80s KC motives are used in the diatonic sections of "ConstruKction", but the actual techniques are shared, as well. "ConstruKction" is filled to the brim with polymeters (and is more often polymetric than not), but I’ll discuss that more in a future post. In my next post, I will demonstrate how the ‘Larks’ ideas I discussed in part 4 of this series are used in the octatonic sections of "ConstruKction", along with some new techniques which almost resemble serialism.

Sheet music for 'The ConstruKction of Light' will appear in the Trey Gunn Score Book, which will be available starting next month.

Read and listen to more from this author at