Principles of King Crimson

Today an email told me about the upcoming summer tour of the English rock band King Crimson. They began in 1968 and they continue to entertain their dedicated fanbase after almost 50 years but I still only know one of their albums.

In 1995 their new album Thrak was recommended to me by someone in a record shop near my childhood home. Having never heard of King Crimson, I gambled with my lawn mowing money and I won big. I enjoyed Thrak hundreds of times before I lost the CD. Unfortunately the band has not licensed Thrak for streaming or digital download. I miss it, but not enough to buy another CD and a device to play it.

I respect King Crimson’s decision to demand fair compensation for their music. Their reasons are principled. It’s just a bummer that I can’t listen to Thrak on demand. They sell much of their catalog for download but not Thrak. That’s why this post contains no album cover art and no links to their beautiful online store and amazing fan community: retaliation.

Licensing a group work requires agreement from every group member. The membership of King Crimson has changed many times over the years, including more than twenty artists, which explains why different agreements were reached for different albums.

Anyway, the email contained a list of principles that made me think about cooperative, creative endeavors in general and sensible defaults in particular.

The Seven Principles Of King Crimson 

1. May King Crimson bring joy to us all. Including me.
2. If you don’t want to play a part, that’s fine! Give it to someone else – there’s enough of us.
3. All the music is new, whenever it was written.
4. If you don’t know your note, hit C#.
5. If you don’t know the time, play in 5. Or 7.
6. If you don’t know what to play, get more gear.
7. If you still don’t know what to play, play nothing.

Item 7 is my favorite. It reminds me that silence is not less important than sound.

Teaching Pandora the facts of life

I’ve used Pandora sporadically for quite some time. I set up an experimental station called “Woman & Piano” and started training it to give me nothing but female pianist/vocalists. I seeded the station with Anne Heaton and Regina Spektor and let it run for several hours.

To improve the results I have given the thumbs-down to every song with male vocals or instruments other than piano. (I also thumbs-down songs or artists I dislike and thumbs-up songs I do like but of primary importance were the gender and accompaniment.) This has worked pretty well. About one in twenty new songs has a male vocalist and about one in five has instruments other than piano.

However this doesn’t work for all the reasons I’d hoped. When you ask Pandora why a song was played, it tells you: “Based on what you’ve told us so far, we’re playing this track because it features…” Here are the features I’ve seen in Woman & Piano:

  • folk influences
  • mellow rock instrumentation
  • extensive vamping
  • acoustic rhythm piano
  • acoustic sonority
  • meandering melodic phrasing
  • major key tonality
  • minor key tonality

Nowhere was the sex of the vocalist mentioned. Apparently Pandora or the Music Genome Project does not index vocalist gender.

Even so, it is 95% likely to play female vocalists. That’s pretty amazing.