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The Ever-Changing Court of King Crimson

The Ever-Changing Court of King Crimson
M-Audio talks shop with the illustrious Crimson beatsman Mastelotto

Drummer/composer Pat Mastelotto on Live's & Reason's roles in Crimson Y2K+

by Randy Alberts

A Crimson fan is among rock's most devoted followers. Even the slightest mention of Fripp, Lake, Belew, Levin, and Wallace or larks' tongues, schizoid men, epitaphs, and crimson kings is enough to trigger an altered state. Add Bruford, Wetton, Gunn, Burrell, Mastelotto, and The Power To Believe to that list and you'll need sedatives to carry on, but today's King Crimson fan is unlike the other "retro proggers" who are content with hearing the same classic set lists re-hashed year after year. King Crimson, entering its fifth decade of experimental excellence, is every Crimson fan's favorite legacy and cutting-edge new band.

"A band like Crimson is always a work in progress," says drummer, composer, M-Audio user, and 8-year King Crimson conspirator Pat Mastelotto. "We nail our arrangements every time but the old and new arrangements alike are constantly evolving within each other. And dare I say, the band is known to improvise a wee bit at times."

The Power To Play Live

New songs are exactly what every Crimson fan is looking forward to when The Power To Believe---the band's 23rd album with founder Robert Fripp at the helm---comes out in early 2003 and Crimson tours to support it.

"With my combo acoustic/electronic drums for this record we're achieving a hybrid of human, organic qualities alongside a huge database of tones and technology," remarks Mastelotto via phone in his Austin, Texas home studio. "It's a palette of sounds and limitless performance-ability that by virtue of being organic is therefore totally adaptable. (Propellerhead) Reason and (Ableton) Live can be used to write and experiment on the fly and are perfect for an ever-changing band like Crimson."

photo by:Bill Munyon

M-Audio talked shop with the illustrious Crimson beatsman Mastelotto, known just as "P@" to his bandmates and local Austin friends Terry Bozzio and Bill Munyon, both avid Reason and Live users. He's been a vital cog in King Crimson's creative process since first touring with Fripp, Michael Brook, David Sylvian, and current Crimson touch guitarist Trey Gunn in 1994 and recording Vrooom, THRaK, BíBoom, THRaKaTTak, Heavy ConstruKction, and Vrooom Vrooom with the band. After sharing sticks with legendary drummer/percussionist Bill Bruford from '95 to '97, Mastelloto was the band's sole thrown man during the recording of 2000's ConstruKction of Light. Here he talks about the band's recently released Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With EP, the new full-length The Power To Believe, and, still a huge Crimson fan, about one of his early musical influences.

"I vividly recall hearing 'Cat Food' on headphones in the public library around 1970 and seeing them open for Ten Years After at the Cow Palace in San Francisco," recalls the Northern California-raised Mastelotto. "I was in an East Bay band at the time that was about to break up, so when I saw in a Rolling Stone mag that Crimson was headlining the Shrine (Auditorium) in L.A. the following week, I realized I could see them play for more than 45 minutes if I hustled down there. So I did."

Pat Mastelotto's overdub percussion kit >

For The Love of Music

Since sitting in the balcony at the Cow Palace gig twenty years ago, Mastelotto has added dozens of musical credits to his name, and now finds himself sitting behind Robert Fripp and King Crimson. A member of Mr. Mister ("Kyrie,” "Broken Wings"), his credits also include an appearance on one of the most-played television songs of all time (Jack Wagner's "Laura's Theme" from General Hospital). Nonetheless, the current line-up since 1999 of Fripp (guitar), Adrian Belew (guitar, lead vocals), and Gunn (touch guitar/electronics) continues to challenge Mastelotto. Inspired by former Crimson bandmate Bill Bruford, the self-taught drummer became one of the oldest freshmen studying drumming and Middle Eastern percussion at the University of North Texas and the University of Texas between tours.

Mastelotto, along with Bozzio, Simon Philips, Danny Carey, and other vital drummers, is fascinated by North Indian tabla teacher Aloke Dutta. "OK, a little therapy here, dude," he admits. "It's real easy for a player to not recognize their blind spots, especially drummers, and that kind of stuff stands right out in a band like Crimson. Bill (Bruford) or Robert never suggested I take theory or lessons, but my weaknesses were very apparent, so a little schooling helped. I'll never be a pro symphony player or tabla player, but the studies helped my awareness. It's little things like the way I can talk with them now that makes a big difference and is worth the effort. It's like breaking a musical code: Things just open up easier once you learn how to turn the combination; it can be a struggle using just intuition and a bobby pin."

On M-Audio, Mastica, & More

Playing with the likes of The King Crimson ProjeKct (Fripp's "alter-ego" band), BPM&M, Mastica, and Terry Bozzio has placed Mastelotto at the "bleeding edge" of music technology the past 20 years. He couldn’t wait to replace the phone book manuals and complications of his pitch-to-voltage-converted Polymoog and Simmons drum kit setups with cutting-edge, easy-to-use software like Reason and Live. His Austin shows with Gunn in November and with Bozzio on January 18th will rely heavily on Live and Reason.

"I remember working in the '70s with Michael Boddicker and the two of us reading a year's worth of manuals just to get a few sounds out of this one particular synthesizer," laughs Mastelotto, who recently used the Hardcore, Brush, Dub, and Chemical Redrum kits in Reason as starting points for a recent ProjecKt piece. "Reason, Live, the USB Quattro and Omni, my Studiophile SP-5B speakers, and all the MIDISport 2x2 USB boxes I have stashed everywhere--all the M-Audio stuff is pretty friggin' easy to use. In fact, I don't recall having looked at any manuals for Reason or Live. Trey (Gunn), Bill Munyon, and Bozzio have all taught me things in the process of working together, but it's really just a couple of keystrokes and off I went."

Mastelotto, Gunn, and some of the Crimson engineers rely on Reason and Live frequently, and for a variety of reasons. Pat has used each when composing, recording, and jamming live with the band, and he looks forward to doing more of the same on future Crimson, spin-off, and solo projects.

"Reason is a cinch and solid as a rock," he continues. "My lil' G3 is three years old and yet I've had the virtual rack like 30 feet tall and seldom crashed! Way more reliable than some other software I tried to take out. I can have a boatload of Redrums to alternate, a handful of Dr. Rexes, several NN19 samples, and dozens of various effects up and running without the CPU meter going above 50%. I'm having a gas improvising with Redrum - like when we're coming up on a corner and just going 'Boom' and adding some great fill on top. I can improvise on top of a solid foundation while the guys experiment and write. I can drop in outside things and never disrupt the time. That is really amazing and really speeds up not only my own creative feedback process, but the band's as well. It can sound tough and ambient at low levels and that helps the writing vibe when we're playing quietly circled around each other at Adrian's place in Nashville. "

"I'm Just Lovin' Live"
The other half of Mastellato’s duo BPM&M is video game sound designer and Reason fanatic Bill Munyon. Recently, the two have been enthusiastically delving into Live. "Live has become my frontline buddy, I'm just lovin' Live," concludes the Crimson drummer. "There's this thing where you can go into the sample and change its Warp settings, kind of like the way you use markers in ReCycle to chop up samples. It's awesome, you just move those things randomly, or when you put beats 1, 2, and 3 all within the first 16th note and then spread all the other events between beat 4 and the downbeat of the next bar across the next three beats. Just to move those Warp markers and flags around while it's playing, wow."

Check out King Crimson's current Happy With What You Have To Be Happy With EP and The Power To Believe, to be released in January, followed by King Crimson's tours throughout the U.S., Japan, and Europe in 2003. And be sure to watch out for P@'s work with BPM&M, Terry Bozzio, Mastica, and particularly the "wild Live remixes" he and Bill Munyon are doing of the German duo Centrozoon.