The Transcendental Experience of Listening to Fred Frith

courtesy of
courtesy of

Back in September of ’98, I was living in Montreal, not long after Morphius first began working with the ReR Megacorp label. I took a trip to the Festival Internationale de Musique Actuelle de Victoriaville (Quebec) with my stepson Olivier who was five at the time.

UK-born avant-garde guitarist Fred Frith was playing the festival that year.  Other performers at the event included Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, Mike Patton w/ percussionist Ikue Mori, and Dutch post-rock pioneers The Ex.

Olivier had enjoyed the amazing Naked City debut album (which featured Fred playing with John Zorn), so it seemed like a good enough idea at the time.

Fred’s show was comprised of highly involved and intricate guitar interweaves, which were mesmerizing and meandering. However, the song choices required some patience, which frankly wasn’t very conducive to getting a five-year-old to sit still.

While I sat fairly transfixed in the large theater, Olivier spent the better part of the performance climbing in and out and over and under and around various seats, as if improvising a parcours exercise to the music.

Iconic—or even an iconoclast—among avant-garde musicians/artists/experimentalists and philosophers, Frith’s playing is a unique admixture of contemporary classical, industrial, experimental, and free jazz.

If his entire musical output had been the co-founding of the incredibly influential 1960s-1970s avant-rock band Henry Cow, that alone would have left a major footprint on music. But Fred went on to play with Art Bears, in various formations with ReR Megacorp founder Chris Cutler, on albums by the aforementioned Naked City (and other releases with Zorn), plus collaborations with Mike Patton (Faith No More) and with electronic music visionary and producer Brian Eno.

photo courtesy of

By the end of the show, Olivier was ready to jump out of his skin and I had to reward him with the promise of ice cream. He clearly wanted nothing more to do with musique concréte that day. But I needed to meet Fred. After I introduced myself, Fred reached out to shake Olivier’s hand, saying “hello there young man. What did you think of the show?”

Olivier turned up both his palms with a half-smile, uncertain about how to respond. Maybe he was afraid to include his impromptu parcours performance in his review. Then he smiled and said, “It was pretty good.” Fred laughed and said, “I’ll take that.”

We’re thankful for Frith’s vast contributions to experimental music and ReR Megacorp’s unrelenting dedication to the avant-garde, both of which go miles beyond “pretty good.” We’re thankful to have been part of even a small portion of it. Check out about 25 releases featuring Frith at


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