There are three articles here on the rock group, King Crimson. I was invited to write them by their co-founder guitarist, Robert Fripp. This task enabled me to go back and look at a band that was very influential at the outset of my adult formative years. Each article focuses mostly on the first incarnation of the band, that is 1969 and, with it, their first LP, In the Court of the Crimson King.
By doing these articles, I have brought much of my subsequent experience and training to the task; some personal, academic, and transformative. They each therefore offer different levels of analysis:
The first is on approaches to Creativity;
The second uses a socio-cultural perspective
The third is very much a personal recollection.
I refer to these as ‘stages’ between the objective and subjective.
As a group they seek to go beyond both and offer a synthesis of the two.
Creativity is worth an entire study in itself; for example, its nature, where it comes from, why some seem to have it and others not, how it operates in any one particular locale, whether it is a individual or collective event? It is also the subject of a large literature. Any study of creativity includes a wide range of themes and topics: definitions, theories, debates, myths, sciences, literacies, and applications. For example, Rob Pope (2005) writes of creativity as ‘extra-ordinary’, ‘original’, ‘fitting’, ‘full-filling’, in(ter)ventive, ‘co-operative’, ‘unconscious’, ‘fe<>male’, and ‘re-creation’. Obviously, all of these are valid to an extent. Creativity as both a process and product can appear as if it comes ‘ex nihilo’ as it were – literally, out of nothing. Such is experienced in different ways. For Robert Fripp, in the earliest days of King Crimson, ‘the music just flew in the window – we could do no wrong’. Certainly, the experience of the creative act can be sublime, divine, even transcendent. However, it can equally be mundane. Yet, if music is experienced as ‘divine’, then its source must equally be ‘divine’; therefore, creativity is a divine gift – or is it?
For a large part of human history, in the Western World at least, art and music were not seen as particularly divine, rather a representation of the divine (God, the King), and its creators were more appreciated as artisans, those with the skill and craft to represent it in the world, not particularly gifted or divine in themselves. It was not until the mid-nineteenth century, and the emergence of the notion of ‘art-for-art’s-sake’ that artists and musicians began to take ownership of both their work (content) and how it was produced (process-technique). In the fine arts, the Impressionists were the first to behave as an autonomous artistic group independent of their would-be patrons. Music followed in a similar path and, if we take example from the beginning of the apex of the German classical canon – Bach, Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, one part of this group’s story is their respective struggles with patrons and relative increasing independence.
Even so, since then, all artistic practice, including music, can be seen in terms of a fundamental distinction between the amateur and professional; in other words, those who produce ‘for the fun of it’ and those who do the same in order to gain money and/or to earn a living. Amongst the amateur, the ‘arts and crafts’ musicians are particular in that, in recent years at least, some attempt to occupy both positions – establishing a high cultural form and gaining a wage whilst operating on a part-time basis. Of the professional musician, the field is highly differentiated: working musicians for commercial hire, popular and classical musicians, accompanists and world super stars. Some of these would not be involved in creativity per se (in terms of composition) at all but would simply do what they are told; whilst others musicians would be involved in writing/ creating their own material, either on commission, for a specific purpose, or for their own unique expression.
The creative musical idea can come in various forms: as a point of inspiration – an insight, idea, even melody – or from sheer craft, the process of working at pieces from functional experience in order to shape them to a form ready for and acceptable to public scrutiny. At some point in the creative process, the musical idea is stabilised and developed – or let go of; both are creative in their way, but the former is expressed as a reproducible form (in structure at least), and as worthy of sustained consideration.
This discussion raises further questions concerning what is ‘good’ in art and music. Clearly, the quality of any particular piece of music is always relative but what it is, is always positioned in relation to other pieces of music, what comes before and next. This positioning is an important part of aesthetic judgement. King Crimson emerged and established a significant national and international profile very quickly. But, why them rather than one of the many hundreds of groups that existed at the end of the 1960s? Because they were better – different, more original – is rather a weak answer to this question; albeit true. Similarly, it is possible to see the antecedents of King Crimson in the various groups in which its members participated before 1969. Such tells us a lot, if not explaining entirely ‘why this band and why this music at that time’? Such questions are, in part, academic only: is Beethoven a better composer than say Mozart? It is debatable… It all depends on what and how you judge. And, of course, public, social assessment cannot be left out of the equation: Beethoven just does have a higher reputation than say Schubert (although the latter is very near the same). The core question is ‘what makes them so good?’ What is that extra special something? Someone like the German writer Max Weber, would attribute it to plain charisma – literally meaning ‘gift from god’; in other words, something beyond rational analysis. The members of KC1 were all very accomplished musicians in their respective fields, but then so were many others who did not attain the same success. So, what makes that extra special something? Can it be attributed to plain ‘gift’, or is there something more to be said? Of course, it is possible to answer these questions in terms of the obvious attributes of music: rhythm, melody, harmonies. For example, a chasidic master once said, ‘The soul can ascend to its divine source through melody’. The poet William Blake also writes that ‘music as it exists in old tunes and melodies…is Inspiration, and cannot be surpassed – it is perfect and eternal’. Harmony is then seen as being more for the ‘fallen world’. So, to assert melody is to bring the centre and fullness of our human experience back into focus. In the West, we might argue that it is melody that tends to be constrained by harmonic structures. We add harmonic colour and tension but always at the expense of melody. Modern Be-Bop jazz, for example, is awash with all manner of harmonic sophistication, and yet the melody line can often seem lost and the whole rather impressionistic. What we do know about melody is that it tends to be scalar and does not jump large intervals, generally; take for example, the beautiful horn solo from the second movement of Tchaikovsky’s 5th Symphony: based on just five notes – A G# F# A G#. Around just these five notes an entire symphonic movement is constructed; indeed, the whole symphony is somewhat dominated by it. On analysis, and in this example, we can see that the strength of the melody seems underpinned by the second dotted A which pauses before finding home again in the G#. We seem to experience ‘homeliness’ in these notes, which simply move us from A to G# : or the fourth of the E key to its minor dominant; a classic 4 -> 5 chord progression (incidentally, so popular in Blues music). We can certainly see that King Crimson worked with strong melody lines – from ITCOTCK – but set these were also against multi-layered rhythmic and harmonious tonic textures. The group also mixed classical with rock with folk with jazz (a derivative of the Blues) – all these styles were present in the formative experiences of its group members. Indeed, it is perhaps just the sheer strength of these individual elements – held in check and in balance in arrangement – that lie their major strength. However, all this is perhaps to state the obvious – after the event – and, indeed, one of the keys to a successful creative work is its obviousness: how could it be so? How could it not be so? The best of art and music always has this instinctive ‘ontological rightness’ – no matter how derived (instantaneously or through hard craft) – and King Crimson certainly share this.
I cannot explain this success in composition and performance, nor offer a description of their source. Instead, I offer a discussion of three angles on creativity – with reference to King Crimson. These are the Philosophical/ Sociological, the Psychological, and the so-called ‘Spiritual’. These terms, and their focus, are for the want of others; not that any one is necessary more real or convincing but that each refers to parts of a process. Ultimately, they need to be seen as co-existing co-terminously (and with others). Nevertheless, they do offer a spread of what might have been going on in the creativity of King Crimson.
Aesthetics (Philosophy/ Sociology)
What is the aesthetic experience? What does one experience when one listens to the music of King Crimson? Why might any one individual response to this particular music be stronger than others available? What does the band experience when they create this music? What is this ‘ontological rightness’ of music that is clear and definite?
The answer to these questions lies in what might be called the ‘problem of aesthetics’.
Aesthetics can be traced back to classical philosophy; both Plato and Aristotle were concerned with art as the ‘carrier’ of truth and knowledge. The father of modern aesthetics, however, was Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). Kant lived in a time that saw a division between the close fit that had until then existed between the God and the world; the body and the spirit; king and country. On the one hand, writers in the Age of Enlightenment acted as the founders of modern day science and rationality. On the other, those within the Romantic tradition sought a return to the realm of the emotions and individual experience. In the light of this dichotomy, there was an attempt by Kant to ground his philosophy in human experience itself.
The first part of the Critique of Pure Reason has the title ‘The Transcendental Aesthetic’. For Kant, aesthetics is not the preserve of art but actually relates to the Greek word meaning ‘sensation’ (the opposite being ‘anaesthetic’ – without sensation). One thinks of the sensationalism of those epiphanic moments of composition and listening experience in encountering the musical voice of King Crimson. Kant asks what is needed for such experiences to be so – a priori? By ‘a priori’, Kant means a transcendental need to go beyond direct immediate experience.
This is essentially a phenomenological process. Any one individual cognition forms a structural relationship to the world of self, objects and others as part of a mental process of control in order to produce psychic equilibrium. As a new-born child, that relationship is ‘pure and naïve’. However, in the process of maturation, and thus socialisation, it is a relationship, which is increasingly shaped by socio-cultural values. Such values have an emotional content: they are consequently sensational. Therefore, any one, or group, relationship to the world – including material and ideational (art, music, etc.) – includes elements of fact, value and procedure, which are developed in the dialectic of individual cognition and the ‘external’ environment. This can be thought of as the dichotomy of ‘subject’ and ‘object’: the subject knows the object by projecting itself (at least what it knows about it) into the object. There is then a kind of identity between subject and object. As such, and bearing in mind the above, the essence of that identity is also an expression of a certain relationship to the world, and in that there is variation between individuals as well as consensual assent.
For Kant, therefore, ‘sensation’ provides data to the mind, which is taken up and made something of by the (structuring power of the) faculty of imagination. It is the form, which this data takes that is most important – the structures of music in our current example. Content is always subordinate to Form for Kant as the latter implies structure as defined above. Nevertheless, data have a form, which carries representation. What is necessary for aesthetic experience for Kant is that there should be a priori knowledge – as the faculty of embodied form (expressed in innate concepts), which forms a link with incoming data. This a priori is fundamental to perceiving existence and its essential features. So, Space and Time shape Form (in time and space in the mind). Such concepts can, therefore, be seen as being a priori to experience itself – they exist prior to the experience. The ‘a priori’ element in this account then points to what lies beyond (or before) sensation (in the imagination), and thus gives rise to the essence of experience rather than being an element of existence itself. Space and time are hence a priori conditions of existence.
Kant contrasted such faculties of the Imagination with Understanding. Understanding, for him, is the power to form concepts as a representation of the content of Imagination as described above. It is through grounding concepts that Understanding knows: for example, concepts of Substance, Quantity, Quality, Relation, Position, Possession, Action, Passivity. Kant subsequently investigates the process and constituents of how judgments of knowledge (Understanding) are made. And, this can be true at an individual and group level – for example, musical audience, social reception, professional constituency, etc.
In The Critique of Judgement (1790), Kant then examines this power of judgement itself. The book actually forms the core of Kant’s exploration of aesthetics as we know it.
At this point, we connect with a perception of ‘pure’ pleasure or displeasure (subject-object identity), which serves to define the non-cognitive feeling itself and replaces the existing concepts available with a transcendent ‘other’ (the mass and the individual). Since in this case, there are no concepts to provide form, what is presented is the power to form in itself; a consciousness without anything to be conscious of. In this sense, what arises is termed disinterestedness (no identity between subject and object, or at least identity with a certain ‘disinterested’ relationship to the world), since there are no concepts with which to interpret them. This state results in a contemplative judgement (pure gaze), therefore, as opposed to a cognitive (conceptual) judgement. This is the heart of Kantian transcendental aesthetics – the pure gaze – which is the very experience of ‘high’ art and culture – the beautiful.
For Kant, as Hume before him, the ‘problem with aesthetics’ can, therefore, be reduced to this simple question: how can judgements which are essentially subjective in that they provoke feelings for individuals also relate to common assent over value? The brief answer is that there exists a shared experience of the pure gaze, because what is shared is a certain relationship to the world. Kant argued that a judgement can only be considered to be aesthetic when it is ‘disinterested’ (not governed by the sensations of pleasure and displeasure – straight pop music, for example); that is, free from any desires, needs, or interest in the actual existence of the objects apprehended which might distort that ‘pure’ appreciation: classical music versus. There is therefore assent on ‘disinterestedness’ – the power to form rather than the form itself. At this point, there is nothing to differentiate one person’s aesthetic response from another’s. It is shared sensibility (sensus communis) beyond the socio-cultural – above arbitrary and relative distinction.
Some objects, by nature of their form and appearance, encourage a ‘free play’ between the faculties of Imagination and Understanding. Understanding is prompted to speculate when faced by the beautiful; giving rise to both pure feeling and the pleasure of thought. Thinking itself has sensuality, which separates Understanding from Imagination, in such a way that Understanding no longer dominates Imagination – the latter is therefore free. Consequently, it creates feeling rather than transforming it.
In Kant’s four moments of his analysis of the beautiful, he sets out the nature of aesthetic pleasure in judgements of taste: namely, that they should be ‘disinterested’ and give an impression of finality; and, that it should comply to a universal assent, which distinguishes it from relative judgements of mere ‘agreeableness’. This appreciation of beauty is still tied to a recognition of form and design but one which is independent of content. In determining beauty, for Kant, much hangs in achieving this universal assent, on reaching shared aesthetic agreements; in other words, shared valued appreciation by dent of shared processes of rejection of sensation and the embracing of ‘beauty’. This is kind universal affirmation of what constitutes the beautiful or ‘high art’; it reflects a transcendental, ‘pure’ gaze in music and classical taste – as opposed to the merely ‘popular’. It is essentially philosophical.
A contrary point of view would be sociological; that is, one which sees aesthetic response more explicitly as a social derivative, in the same way as, above, I suggested that subject-object relationships were shaped by socio-cultural contingency. Bourdieu gives an example in the Introduction to La Distinction, where he announces his project as offering a sociological critique of Kantian aesthetics. In effect, his approach is to attack this very ‘separation’ as described above:
…(to abolish) the opposition, which has been the basis of high aesthetics since Kant, between ‘taste of sense’ (sensation) and the ‘taste of reflection’ (pure gaze), and between facile pleasure, pleasure reduced to pleasure of the senses (sensation), and pure pleasure, pleasure reduced (pure gaze), which is predisposed to become a symbol of moral excellence and a measure of the capacity for sublimation which defines the truly human man.
(1984/79: 6 my words in brackets and italics emphasis)
In other words, this is not simply a choice between ‘high’ and ‘low’ art but a reflection of the very worth of a man/woman. It is therefore a moral force.
Bourdieu argues that pleasure is reduced by the removal of sensation in order to make it beyond immediate experience. Such a removal would be antithetical to rock music, because it is per se ‘of the people’. This also implies a separation between ‘the individual’ and ‘the masses’. Pure art implies rarity as an expression of social legitimacy of exclusion; whilst the popular is the contrary – mass appeal, inclusive, undifferentiated. Bourdieu is, therefore, arguing for a much more socio-historical reading of aesthetics. For him, an aesthetic response ipso facto presupposes the possibility of a ‘non-aesthetic’ response. Such responses are by nature socially differential and differentiated – some people ‘have it’ and others do not, depending on social provenance. In this, Aesthetics is returned to the world and the social structure of societies rather than being definable in terms of a necessary transcendental philosophical logic.
Bourdieu further argues that the ‘pure gaze’ itself consequently implies a break with the ordinary attitude to the world, an ethic, ‘or rather, an ethos of elective distance from the necessities of the natural and social world’ (ibid.: 5). This break is, by definition, a mark of distinction, a claim and legitimation in the name of rarity by a certain faction of society in its assertion and justification of dominance. This is juxtaposed to a ‘careless abandon’ to the immediate sensations of life: where the masses will take you and the immediate pleasure to be found there. On the one hand, there is social exclusivity (distinction); on the other hand, social homogeneity (uniformity).
The aesthete personified might therefore be understood as nothing other than an extreme form of bourgeois denial of the social world when it is pushed to its limit; the aesthetic gaze amounts to the bourgeois’ own fascination with their own (classless) nothingness in the world (neither refined/ aristocratic, nor working class/ popular) and, with it, consequently, an aspiration to dominate the sensual world by transcending it in implicit denial. It is important to understand at this point that Bourdieu was not arguing that social class structure can simply be expressed in terms of bipolar oppositions between bourgeois and popular classes, or even a slightly more differentiated form of this split which included factions of both these social groups together with the aristocratic and ‘under classes’. He understood that class was in fact a multifaceted and dynamically evolving structure. Nevertheless, he argued that the dynamic of this structural relationship (which, by obscuring it, is allowed to operate) was conducted in terms of a common value currency, which was indeed defined in terms of opposing social classificatory forms and sites of distinction – hence, the pure gaze versus the populaire. In this case, what is at stake is the opposition between the refined, or the tasteful, and the vulgar/ sensational – the classical (elite) and the popular (common). There is then a kind of double play where ‘rarefied taste’ is opposed to ‘everyday taste’ (for example, in the way that classical music – opera, etc. – is mostly seen as refined but also the prerogative of those who presumably can afford tickets to concerts, etc.; whilst ‘popular culture’ is readily available without the need for excessive financial means to access it. Bourdieu’s own position hence argues for a fundamental dichotomy in aesthetic response between what might be crudely viewed as the bourgeois and an-other, which is more socially rooted. Ultimately, this situation conforms to the economic rules of supply, demand and capital value. Rock music is an interesting example since it implies a certain social milieu between the high and low (those with modest economic resources but high cultural values asserted through education and learning.
So, what of King Crimson 1969? Immediately, it seems that its music and style is very firmly set within the sensationalism of the popular vernacular: from pop, dance music, jazz of the 1950s and 60. It is not a form of classical aesthetics (the pure gaze). However, that is not entirely true: three members at least – Fripp, Giles, MacDonald – had close associations with classical music in their upbringing, and two – Fripp and MacDonald – were trained in formal musical composition and arrangement based on both classical forms and popular styles which required a musical literacy (dance and jazz music). Jazz and dance band music also are hardly ‘Pop’ either. Lake, as with Fripp, learnt guitar from a man who approached the instrument through traditional and formal musical morphologies – Don Strike. This involved, amongst other, practicing Paganini violin patterns. This traditional classical musical legacy, therefore, collided with 60s pop – Giles (The Trendsetters), Lake (various), and Jazz (Fripp) – and latter period rock developments coming out of the summer of love, etc., perhaps best personified in the music of Jim Hendrix.
The ‘fin de régime’ period of the Beatles in 1969 – surely, an avant-garde nearing exhaustion (John Lennon was to sing ‘the dream is over’ in 1970 Plastic Ono Band LP) – offered a perfect space for a new musical world to define itself. So far, we can see the musical elements of the KC I hybrid, to which we can add a liberal measure of literary exoticism – Sinfield’s poetic/faery vision based on his own background and upbringing which contains elements of English romanticism, Irish Celtic, and Asian cultures. ‘King Crimson’ – the word (well, two actually), the icon, the concept – sums up both the form and the content in Kantian terms: enough of the pure gaze (this was a very musical accomplished group) but expressed in a wildly sensational rock manner (both musically and literarily). The potent and powerful content of poetic terms such as ‘Schizoid Man’, ‘Epitaph’, ‘Moonchild’, and ‘In the Court of the Crimson King’ seem perfectly realised in the accompanying musical forms: highly rhythmic, modal, spare, focused, epic, melancholic, foreboding. Many of the latter characteristics themselves can be seen as stemming from an English pastoral tradition that we might trace back to: folk music, the Pre-Raphaeilites, Elgar/ Vaughan-Williams, and the English Voice tradition that stems from William Blake and further back to the fusion of Celtic and Saxon cultures that lay at the heart of the formation of England in the dark Ages. To this extent, and with the explosion of musical styles happening in the 1960s which mostly drew on Black and American musical genres, KC1 was definitely the reasserting of English Music, albeit layered over with exotic tinges. Could they have done otherwise?
Above, I juxtaposed, for theoretical purposes, the ‘pure gaze’ of ‘high art’ to the ‘sensationalism’ of the ‘popular’, noting that the former implied a certain transcendence, whilst the latter was characterised by immediate pure please. However, the youth movement of the second half of the 1960s somewhat combined these in phenomenological terms. There was a transcendence: a certain separation (opposition) to society as it stood and the values on which it seemed to be based; a drug and sex fuelled expressionism; a ‘non-English’ exoticism; a displacement of now with ‘elsewhere’ (everywhere). The social position of its next logical form was exactly the one that KC1 personified in its literary expression – world-weary, romantic, cathartic, post-coital, neo-gothic – and with music that was thus both of ‘the people’ and separate from them, thus ‘new’. A return to earth but a very different one from the one that was left behind in the mid 60s, and one that looked more reminiscent of former times.
In this case, and faced with these social forces, the band members of KC1 could not act otherwise; indeed, the new world was on their shoulders asking to give it voice. In this sense, King Crimson was both object and subject of a generation – for a short time at least. Sometimes, it is said that Dionysian periods of exuberance give way to decadent forms – the Gothic revival in the light of the Romantic period being an exemplar – when the light becomes dark, the yellow sun becomes red – or shall we say Crimson (the colour, let us not forget, of a dying star). It is difficult not to interpret King Crimson, at least in its 1969 incarnation, in these terms. So, what was it like to experience such creativity from a psychological position?
Issues of creation and creativity have, of course, a very long history and involve the core of human experience. The Bible itself begins with a statement of something coming from nothing; or at least, everything coming from God. But, it is out of the void that the spirit of God creates light, the oceans, the firmament, indeed time itself. One thinks of Genesis Chapter 1 Verse 20 (‘And God said, Let the waters bring forth abundantly the moving creature that hath life, and fowl that may fly above the earth in the open firmament of heaven’).
Creativity and creation have been topics for philosophers and theologians for much of human history and often follow these notions of something and nothing, nothing and something. For example, Aristotle had the notion of the Plenum, or fullness – a kind of material chaos from which new things were formed by transforming old things. This is perhaps a materialist way of explaining creativity. However, a similar notion exists in metaphysics. For example, in early Christian Gnosticism there is the combination of the fullness with the void – being both co-terminus. In other words, every-thing comes from no-thing; a curious philosophical paradox. Of course, the notion of the Plenum that is at one and the same time both full and void, resonates very strongly with notions of creativity as ‘just plucking’ things out of the air, or of music ‘flying in through the window’. The Gnostic icon Ouroborus is a serpent with its tail in its mouth, signifying its birth and death at one and the same time. The point of birth of something is also its death – gnostically described as coming into the ‘fallen world’ – since at that point its eternal potentiality becomes limited. In Christian thought, this is akin to incarnation. The counter balance of materialism and idealism runs throughout the history of Western philosophical thought (and, some would argue, Eastern as well); for example, Hegel saw human history as progressing through higher forms of consciousness (incidentally primarily fuelled by the arts), whilst Marx saw material conditions themselves shaping that consciousness. It is only relatively recent that such issues have been taken over by psychology – itself a relatively young discipline; and indeed, many of its concerns can be seen as a modern day equivalent for the rather more mythico-poetic accounts referred to above; basically, they describe the same thing in more ‘scientific’ language. The key point here is that even in philosophy, these sorts of issues are not just mind games but reflect underlying human psychological experience.
Before proceeding, it is important to remember that all that we experience and describe has, at base, a neural-functional context that is the human brain which set limts to what we can perceive. In fact, humans can only ‘pick up’ a very small percentage of the wavelength spectrum – we cannot, for example, ‘see’ micro- or radio-waves – as is conditional on the faculties located in the biological brain. Here, also, ‘consciousness’, as we know it only takes up a small part of the actual material space, and the vast majority of the brain is used for automatic regulation and functional specialisation. We know that the brain needs to be regarded in terms of distinct hemispheres: the left associated with logical, conscious and language-based thought; the rights dealing with temporal and spatial awareness, as well as elements of creativity. In fact, there are also separate areas for logical and emotional thinking; and, even the simplest choice – say between one form of cheese and another – requires an emotional element as part of the process. This means that aspects of moral consensus – say, elective affinities on the degrees to which we converge or diverge with elements of both out material and ideational environment – still has a neural-functional aspect that has been ‘hot-wired’ in the formative years, and thus carries a specific socio-cultural ‘accent’. As stated above, subject-object is never value free, and indeed is embedded in actual, physical brain tissue and its underlying systems of ‘distributed memory’. But, the psychology I wish to address here is more conceptual in terms of actual relations to knowledge and the way they signify underlying processes of thought and creative activity. In other words, what is why creativity from a psychological point of view, and why? Again, we need to locate this enquiry as originating from the experience of children in their psycho-socialisation.
From a Freudian perspective, a child’s view of the world indeed starts with a kind of empty void from which they begin to search for object structures in the world in order to develop a syncretic vision; that is, one that holds vastly different objects analogous to each other. Creativity in art, for Freud, is therefore a form of ‘daydreaming’ – a return to this primordial state – where phantasies are used to mediate tensions between incongruent states. The problem is that in the course of socialisation certain forms of thoughts, attitudes, emotions (structural relations) are repressed as non-acceptable – the incest taboo, for example – so that such phantasies (art) take the form that they do more as wish fulfilment – or their prohibition. Art can therefore be seen as a way of correcting an unsatisfying reality. This is true for both the producer and recipient of art. So, in creating art, the artist is able to indulge their own repressed wishes; whilst for the recipient, it is a kind of escapism into the same – indeed, ‘love of art’ might be seen as a denial of the now. There is then an implicit/ complicit parallel link between the artist/ musician and their audience: they share the same tension, wishes, and need for fulfilment. Art becomes a form of compensation or comfort for what might, but could not, have been. The alchemy between the performer and audience is therefore critical in this form of creativity.
We can interpret KC1 in this way, as a certain tension that both audience and musician share. It is part of the nature of the ‘sensitive’ musician to pick up the conscious zeitgeist of the times and express it in art/ music. In a way, that is not simply to mirror what is going on but to embody and personify it. The being of King Crimson was the being of 1969. Similarly, according to the same analysis, that created urge came from one of psychic disturbance at the heart of the musicians: the new world was upon them, they were called – hailed interpolated – to give it expression. Necessity was all – they could not act otherwise – too much was the art/ music prescient. No wonder ‘music just flew in the windows’ – but what of the psychology?.
Anton Ehrenzweig (1967) takes the link between psychology and art/ music one stage further in understanding the processes between the two. He begins by accepting the repressed nature of individual psychologies, almost by definition, as a natural product of the social construction of people; also the ‘indeterminacy’ of much mental processing – a mind in free range. For him, under these conditions, neurotic symptoms appear – anxiety, irrational fears, insecurity, depression – as a result of the conflict between inner repressed needs/ wishes and outer socially acceptable forms of behaviour. The latter are always going to be stronger than the former, which only intensify them. Pushed to an extreme, such forms of neurosis become psychotic; that is, leading to delusions, hallucinations and other mental disorders (of course, these too can be a source of creative expression). In schizophrenia, for example, an individual may even be ‘split-minded’, losing touch with what is ‘real’, where an excess of individuality detaches itself from its surroundings. The result can be fantasy, which also is a source of creative expressions. Paradoxically, an inability to deal with incoming sensory data goes together with a heightened sensory sense: colours, sounds, touch, etc. become hyper real. Obviously, in extreme situations, such individuals exhibiting this state become psycho-pathologically unwell – no wonder some popular musicians take drugs to quell these impulses.
However, the point for Ehrenzweig is that we all share this condition to a greater of lesser extent. In other words, creativity for him inherently involves a process of managing the essential neurotic-schizoid nature of the human mind implicit in the mind-society – self/ other, subject/object – dichotomy. Actual Creativity – from process to product – is then divided into three distinct stages, which need to be understood as points in processes of objectification, externalisation and re-integration:
In the first – schizoid – stage, the creator projects fragmented (i.e. un-integrated, thus unresolved) parts of themselves into work (which is structured according to some logical form). That is, these forms – images, words, musical motifs – then carry with them experiential fragments, some threatening, some comforting. This stage can be quite automatic and subjective. Thus, because the subject-object relationship carries with it a certain value (or values), which themselves can be dichotomous and unresolved, they are firstly externalised into other created structures (artistic, literary and musical) where they maintain those relationships in hypostatised forms.
In the second stage, there is a kind of unconscious scanning of the substructure of the artistic form (and the value systems expressed within them). This stage can also be experienced as a kind of manic depression as it also involves an awareness of and acceptance of imperfection. For Freud, there is a kind of self-disgust on the part of the child for what they have produced precisely because it is distinguished (experienced) as other – separate – and not as one, from which he/she originates. In this approach to creativity, the process continues in adulthood as a necessary base to creative activity.
A sort of ‘oceanic limit’ is reached where all differentiation ceases: the inside and the outside world become the same and ego is lost (this state might be considered as similar in actual experience to the Kantian disinterested transcendence of ‘pure gaze’). In this state, which can be both active and receptive (musician and audient), all fragmentation is lost and schizoid separateness is healed – all is one. There is a resolution of separateness. No wonder this experience can be described as ‘spiritual’. It is not spiritual, but the relationship to it is.
In a third stage, there is then a kind of Re-introjection, where what has been produced is now objectified or solidified: this is actual composition. In other words, the external production is now objectified as a re-integrated ‘other’. Creative products, hence, are the result of the resolution of underlying schizoid-neurotic tendencies. To personify this scheme is the very essence of our twenty-first century schizoid man – here both object and subject, product and process.
The process of Projection and Introjection is consequently conceived as an alternation between paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions. In the third state, there is a near post-coital experience after the creative act – and what is sensed is cathartic – and may even give rise to a sense of fun, lightening, and laughter since there is the relief from psychic tension (although the psychological intensity required to fuel this process may inhibit this). Moreover, it can be seen as occurring very quickly – outside of time – and not being once and for all; quite the opposite and may be part of a continual process. In this way, Creative energy is then sublimated into creative activity and output.
At this point, all the imperfections and fragmentations not seen in stage two now become painfully obvious and are accepted. We come down to earth. Part of the creative capacity is the strength to resist an almost anal disgust with the work that would make us sweep the whole ‘mess’ away. At this stage, the work is finally experienced at a higher near-conscious level of awareness, which can actually strengthen the ego. Secondary processes of revision can then articulate previously unconscious aspects of the work, becoming part of art’s conscious superstructure. In this way, there is an exchange between the conscious and the unconscious components of the work as well as the artist’s conscious and unconscious levels of perception (all of which of course require the functional capacity to actualise such revisions in practice).
Conscious knowledge can depend on craft, functional knowledge; whilst the unconscious is mostly experienced in an intuitive manner. The unconscious also serves as a ‘womb’ to receive split-off and repressed parts of conscious self. The external and internal processes of integration are different aspects of the same indivisible process of creativity.
This is essentially a Freudian reading of creativity, but more can be said about this relationship between an individual psychology and its social environment, which surrounds it; for example, in the work of Carl Jung. Here, it is important to understand the relationship between the psychological (individual) and the social (others). Jung was an associate of Freud but ultimately very critical of his version of human psychology. In fact, he argued that it was unnecessarily individualistic. For Jung, creativity existed more as a relationship between, on the one hand, a human being with a personal life and, on the other hand, an impersonal creative force (society). Moreover, for Jung, there were two complementary character types – introverted and extroverted – which expressed themselves in the very materiality of the creative project. The introverted attitude is characterised by a subject’s assertion of their conscious intentions and aims against the demands of the object. Artistic material is, therefore, subordinated to artistic purpose. This is creativity as conscious design or craft. The extroverted attitude is, alternatively, characterised by a subject’s subordination of the demands, which the material objects of art make on them. This is an overwhelming of the creator by the unconscious. Whilst his unconscious mind stands amazed and empty, it is overwhelmed by a flood of thoughts, images, which it never intended to create and which its own will could never have brought into being on its own. Of course, both are possible within one individual or individuals (in group situations).
A chief feature of Jung’s view of creativity is also that the unconscious is not so much individualised as being the product of a ‘collective unconscious’; in other words, social in provenance. This aspect of his work distinguishes him from Freud (although even he saw human psychic states as coming from societal states). What Jung is posing is that such states have a life and structure (values!) of their own, which themselves can be transmitted and articulated, almost in an independent way, through an individual. Art might, therefore, be seen as constantly at work with itself, so to speak, educating the spirit of the age though individuals, calling (or, hailing in Heideggerian terms) them to join with it. Clearly, there is a dichotomy here between Freud’s rather individualistic approach – creativity as a way of resolving inner personal tensions brought through contradictions between personal wishes and what is prescribed and proscribed within the collectivity – and Jung’s commitment to the collective unconscious – communis imaginalis – as the source of individual’s artistic expressions. Of course, both are equally possible in a form of dialectic that sees the individual as the point of instantiation, itself relative to that individual’s personal psychic condition, and a collective source which, through constantly feeding and being fed by individuals, seems to take on a quasi-autonomous character and evolution of its own. So, creativity is indeed a way for fresh adaptation of individuals to and of their own circumstance, but the totality itself has a semi-independent direction and content that seems to have driven its logical evolution; for example, the way painting and classical music – and rock music! – have developed over the centuries, each stage somehow (in retrospect) being auto-logically predicated on the antecedent (as individuals and society work out their psychoses?).
To sum up, from this psychological viewpoint, creativity is a basic human attribute that finds expression in early cave paintings, and enshrined in a range of philosophical and theological notions in antiquity. More recently, the discipline of psychology has come up with various theories which suggest that creativity should be seen in terms of relationships: between child and (wo)man, the subject and the object, the individual and society, and what is and is not integrated within a particular psyche. We can question the notion of talent – in this scheme, we all are ‘creative’ – but it nevertheless does seem that certain individuals are more sensitive and responsive than others to what is described above and some, by accident or birth, seem to possess certain skill sets which allow them to articulate the outcome of creativity in a more socially conventionally acceptable manner; for example, the functionality of being able to hear music with perfect pitch or see visual perspective. Such sensitivities, it has been suggested, can even lead to big swings in any one individual’s mental stability. Jamieson (1994) in Touched with Fire, for example, suggests that there is an overlap between creativity and manic-depressive states, and cites a number of individuals in history who were both very creative and known for their depressions. One thinks of Anne Sexton, Van Gogh, and Lord Byron, amongst many. Jamieson does not argue that all manic-depressives are successful artists, or indeed that being depressive is a prerequisite to being creative. Rather he suggests that individuals prone to manic-depressive illness respond in various ways, in which creativity is one. Creativity might therefore be seen as a personal therapy and social necessity. All creativity is then driven, inherently, by a mental process that is manic-depressive, schizoid, and prone to paranoid reactivity. Some individuals evidently live out these processes in ways, which are less problematic than for others, where (artistic) sensitivity can lead to depressiveness. Certainly, some creative people are quite happy in their craft and seem to involve no depressive characteristics at all, whilst other struggle with their art – the tortured genius. Finally, the question of individual or collectivity as primary source of creativity needs to be answered in terms of ‘both’: a certain individual is creative, or is called upon to be creative, both from their sensible disposition and its development as a result of socialisation at a particular point in time, whilst the collectivity itself is evolving in a certain direction based on antecedents and what is logically necessitated by them at the next stage. The fact again that both sides of this equation needs to be seen in terms of health, expression, evolution, and refreshment draws our attention to the role that creativity plays in the human condition, both biologically and socio-culturally.
If one takes this perspective to King Crimson I 1969, it is possible to see what happened as a result of both personal and group psychology. Inherently, we see creativity in forming and writing King Crimson into being as following this process – more or less. And, the more-or-less is important here, since each individual group member will arrive with different motivational forces inscribed in their experience of the world, themselves and music. As noted above, maybe they recognise each within the other and/ or what needs to be done – necessitated – from the collective act of music by certain elective affinities, which remain implicit. In this way, musical prowess might not be ‘talent’ as such; indeed, might better be described as symptomatic of psychic disequilibrium. The more disequilibriated, the stronger the music – assuming the functional skill to translate it into practice (which they possessed) and a prescient socio-cultural context that implied a certain mood, zeitgeist, and/or vibe.
Lévi-Strauss at one point describes (wo)man as a kind of bricoleur picking up fragments of language and culture to reformulate them and re-express them for current needs, and we can see the impetus for that being the Freudian tension at the heart of Ehrenzweig’s conceptualisation of creativity. Actualised in forms, what we have in King Crimson I is: folk music (now rendered misty and ethereal – I Talk to the Wind): the epic/ pastoral/ melancholy (In the Court of the Crimson King and Epitaph); the esoteric (Moonchild and the general lyrical content). Such is expressed also in the actual musical content and instrumentation: folk music – acoustic guitars and narrative forms; the epic, etc. – modal-minor keys, mellotron (now bleached of it dance-hall string performativity and rendered as bleak and emotionless); esoteric – searing guitar power based on jazz/ rock/ classical fusions (again highly modal), and lyrical poetic style (past-romantic-Celtic/faery-religious/myth-archetypical; all distilled, with clarity and definition, to a high level concentrate. This was the zeitgeist in pure form – no wonder the band took audiences by storm. This group of ‘voices’ became the singular voice, articulation and expression of a single voice – that of King Crimson itself, as also visually personified in the album cover by Barry Godber. A cracked psyche of sorts on the road to repair (?).
This discussion has considered issues of the philosophical/ sociological and psychological with respect to King Crimson in its earliest manifestation – 1969. Not everything should be understood as simply ’personal uniqueness’ or ‘social construction’; there are clearly also aspects of engaging in any creative task, which involve both philosophical and psychological aspects of artistic practice that need to be considered in their own terms. In this section, I address further issues of creativity in terms of the realm of the ‘spiritual’ (I use the word guardedly). ‘Spiritual’ is by far an unproblematic word. It is often closely associated with religious belief or, more broadly, as affecting the human ‘spirit’ as opposed material or physical things. But, this ‘spirit’ itself is to be seen as distinct from the mental – psychological – aspects of (wo)man since it involves energies and forces which are somehow invisible; that is to say, meta(beyond)physical and esoteric. To explore the ‘spiritual’, therefore, is then to enter the realms of the not quite seen – can it be systematised in any way?
Esoteric is defined as ‘likely to be understood by only a small number of people’. Nevertheless, it includes an enormous literature of variety and heterogeneity. For the purposes of this text, I am going to concentrate on one version as expounded by the English writer/ teacher J G Bennett. I do this since I have undertaken extensive study of his work myself, and therefore I can say something about it. He was also the Director of the Institute for the Comparative Study of History, which Robert Fripp attended in the 1970s – incidentally, after Bennett’s death. I would not claim in any way that my interpretation of Bennett’s ideas are congruent with Fripp’s own, although they would share similar issues. It is also worth noting that Bennett was a student of Armenian teacher G I Gurdjieff, and therefore his ideas are similarly associated with the so-called Fourth Way approach to human transformation and development. What has this to do with King Crimson?
Bennett conceived of the universe as based on the fundamental distinction between the ‘worlds’ of fact and value. This observation is primordial for him since one is physical and the other is metaphysical; his interest then is to understand how these two world combine, in other words, how values are manifested in the material world.
The answer to this question is really to conceptualise a continuum between the two. So, at the top is World 1 – le soleil absolu – the main driving force beyond the material universe – the first degree of consciousness, where all is one – a monad – in essence (literally), pure Will.
It is quite difficult to conceive of such a thing as it hardly coincides with the strictures of the human brain and thus thought (a bit like an expanding universe that has nothing to expand into). However, everything follows from it for Bennett, expressed as a series of worlds – 3, 6, 12, 24, 48 – these numbers designating the number of rules that govern at each particular realm. World 3, for example, is a Triad of energy forces (see below); world 48 is conditioned by 48 possible rules, which is our everyday existence. There is also a world 96 – the world of delusion and fantasy – and even the ‘outer darkness’ (world 192), but I shall not deal with these here.
What is important is to see the essence/ ‘energy’ World 1 as ‘descending’ the ladder: from 3 -> 6 -> 12 -> 24, etc. This is a kind of incarnation of the one Will, but it comes at a cost, since each successive descent from one world level to the next involves greater constriction and adulteration; in other words, the Will is then somehow prone to material misplacement. This is a similar notion to the Gnostic notion of ‘the fall’. At its extreme, the force of the Will can even be put to wrong-doing; this is the price of entering the ‘conditioned’ world. However, if one direction is ‘downwards’ – from worlds 1 to 48 – there is also the possibility of an ‘upwards’ movement – from worlds 48 to 1. To this extent, part of the energy matrix is ‘returning to base’, ‘going home’. In this way, grace and redemption are manifest in the world through this process of purification. As world 1 is pure consciousness, one way of understanding other world levels is the extent to which consciousness is manifest in them.
Ultimately, this scheme is important since it attempts to explain why some things happen in the world and some things do not. For example, why King Crimson then and with these players?
Bennett then addresses the issue of how Will manifests itself in a world that is free; therefore, where determinism and arbitrariness are both not possible. The answer for him is expressed in terms of energies: ‘energies’ that interact in the process of creation, and expressed through ‘a triad’ – 1,2, 3.
First position: 1 is the active force.
Second position: 2 is the denying force.
Third position: 3 is reconciling force.
So, this is a dialectic: there is one thing, which is ‘opposed’ by another, the combination of which gives rise to a third thing. This is why our Gnostic plenum is able to be both full and void: even nothing is something against which another something will react, giving birth to a third.
This basic triad needs to be understood in two basic ways: firstly, the three forces – active, denying, reconciling; secondly, position – so, for example, the ‘active’ force 1 can be in the ‘denying’ or ‘reconciling’ position, from which emerges a different character of event. Clearly, there are many other variations: 1,2,3; 2,1,3; 2,3,1; 3,2,1; 3,1,2; 1,3,2.
It is important to note that Nomenclature can be problematic here, and it is easy to take these terms too literally. Bennett also refers to them in gendered terms in one example: active-man, passive-woman, reconciling-child; the active male moves to be attracted by the passive female, the result of their conjunction being a child. The triadic process can also be expressed as ‘affirming-1’, ‘denying-2’ and ‘reconciling-3’ forces. Obviously, such patterning needs to be read allegorically – not necessarily just as actual men and women – and, in fact, can associated with all creative ‘happenings’. However, positional permutations give rise to a number of implications. For example, the ‘woman’ – 2 – may move to the first (active) position and become the initiating/ affirming force; the ‘man’ is then ‘passive’ – in other words, the woman choses a mate. Or, indeed, the ‘child’ – 3 – may also move to the first active position. Here, astonishingly, the ‘child’ calls on the parents to be born! Different triads therefore have different conditions for the way the creative impulse enters the world: 1-2-3 (Involution), 2-1-3 (Evolution), etc.
One further addition is that each of the triadic elements may originate in the existential (conditional) world or the essential (metaphysical) world. This is designated by an * . So, for example, 1 originates in the conditional world, whilst 1* originates in the essential world. This is how, something that does not yet exist, may enter the triad of creation to be created. As there can be a mixture of essential and existential – 1, 2*, 3 for examples – there are now many more possible permutations.
Clearly, these are rather fanciful notions and are unlikely to appeal to anyone not already of an esoteric bent. Nevertheless, they still do raise issues of both philosophy and psychology as explored above. So, in the case of the triad, we might understand that that a certain type of music is occurring – expressing itself from ‘another world’ – and thus becomes the active force. As above, that other world, was quintessentially English in terms of the constitutional elements of the music of King Crimson 1 at a time when the 60s world was in need of rejuvenation. Here, the audience is the ‘mother’, the musicians are the ‘father’, and ‘the child’ is the music itself. We might even say that the requisite guitarists were called to be ‘born’ at that time to act as its vehicle.
And, so, the way that music just seemed to fly in through the window needs to be understood, in this scheme, as an expression of Will, creativity, as necessary of at a particular time and place. No wonder it feels strange when it stops! And stop it must.
In all creative acts, choices are made about what to include and/ or exclude, and thus what is necessary; and there were certainly an abundance of elements potentially on offer at the point when King Crimson became actively creative. What occurs then is the separation of the one form from the many in the creation of a new hybrid form. This is a general principle. For example, Michaelangelo spoke of freeing a fine sculpture from course stone, and the same might be true of a musical composition. Finally, it emerges – complete – after a lot of work (of course it may also arrive ready made – see below). In terms of triads, this is the 2-1-3 triad of concentration; where the essential notes of the music (melody, for example) (3) are ‘worked out’ from the inessential (2) (musical notes left out) by the affirming action of the composer’s wish ‘to make musical sense’ (1). The reason it is not so easy to do as it seems, is that it must first be preceded by the 3-2-1 triad of freedom – that is, bring (2) and (1) together (that is the wish and the raw material). Musicians in King Crimson have the freedom active (3) in front of music (2), which they would see as a reservoir of opportunities to create by slowly composing their own music (1), which appears as the reconciling force of this relationship. But, this process presupposes a special relationship, one based on the work of also engaging actively (1) in the 1-3-2 triads of interaction – that is, the active struggle to overcome the difficulties of becoming able (3) to work with music as a particular artistic medium (2) – and, as with King Crimson, such creativity also involves antagonism and opposition – indeed, these are necessary to the process for as long as the participants can tolerate them. Such a process also involves possessing the functional skills – having ‘the ear’ for music and being able to articulate what is heard on the guitar. And King Crimson clearly did have the necessary functional skills amongst its band members to manifest what was calling out to be heard, and so firstly created.
Bennett also sees the human vehicle for the expression of this creative process as constituted by Being, Function, and Will. ‘Being’ is really inner order (presupposing potential disorder); ‘Functional’ (the necessary skills set); ‘Will’ (as an expression of the one Will, albeit in some sort of incarnate, ‘fallen’, form). The whole is then driven by a series of related energy states: Automatic, Sensitive, Conscious and Creative. The Automatic is the semi-self-reliant processes of the body – heart, liver, etc.; Sensitive, the subtle forms of feelings and thoughts; Conscious – awareness; and Creative, new productions – art, music, ideas – which arise ex nihilo.
This can be expressed as a Tetrad:
A hierarchy is implied in this tetrad: Automatic -> Sensitive -> -> Conscious -> Creative. Creativity referred to here presupposes the necessary Sensitivity and Automatic (functional) skills; and the Conscious awareness to notice what is on offer (as it flies by). A key point is that most of us exist in an empirical state of Automaticity and Sensitivity most of the time. So, what happens is arbitrary. Bennett’s consequent aim is to develop Consciousness and Creativity in people. Creativity here is seen as the true expression of the ‘higher’ human Being. Spirituality is the ultimate aim of a higher Will, and therefore needs to be understood as both coherent and necessary. Being and Will are consequently primary conditions for Bennett. If ‘Higher Will’ (which is a manifestation of Universal Love) needs to express itself, it can only do this through a higher state of Being. Consequently, the calculation is made that it is possible to do so by increasing Sensitivity, which will lead to greater Consciousness, allowing the ‘doors of perception’ (a phrase of William Blake’s) to be opened more fully to the imagination. How then to develop Being? The answer is ‘Functionality’ – bodily and mental discipline and skills. The paradox is that the mind, with its ability to consciously plan, is the means to acquire such functionality and yet, ultimately, has to be by-passed to allow (‘the’) Will to express itself. Being, Function and Will are therefore co-terminus in the development of the psychokinetic man (a term used to denote someone in a permanent state of creative exegesis). And, King Crimson is a psychokinetic band! There is then another tetrad which sets out the levels of potential operation for musical/ artistic activity:
Two points here: Firstly, these positions can be read chronologically – an individual begins as an Amateur, becomes Professional and, with experience, evolves as a Master musician. These states can be defined in terms of reliability and ‘levels’ of innovation. So, the professional state is reliable but not necessarily innovative; the master is innovative but not necessarily creative. Only at the truly artistic level does creativity occur – ex nihilo – as if from nothing, as a new form/ expression.
Secondly, these states are not achieved once and for all. So, the amateur can have creative insights (acts of genius), even if they are not particularly reliable, in other words, reproducible.
If we follow the logic of this view of creativity as it applies to King Crimson, it is clear that its members were in fact professional musicians in 1969, with elements of mastery. As young men in their early to mid twenties, we can also assume they were in a state of high sensitivity. Biographical details attest to the range of struggles and striving the previous years had entailed: the essence for creative thinking for Bennett is also that it occurs best where/ where there has been a previous period of high level effort/ intention/ attention. Biographical accounts set out the conscious efforts that were being made in the period leading up to 1969 to establish themselves in the music industry. There is then almost the necessity ‘to look the other way’. As if to stop the band simply becoming a highly competent jazz group, an element of the amateur and whimsy was introduced, whose job, like ‘the fool’ in folk-lore, was to by-pass the mind – expertise – and to offer elements of the accidental and another world view. If creativity for Bennett involves high levels of conscious work and then the jolt to look the other way, King Crimson 1 did this; indeed, the speed of its inception to rehearsal to recording to success, was indeed an aspect of its elements ‘getting out of the way’ to let what was calling to be heard express itself.
As noted above, the ‘spiritual’, for want of a better term, contains a multitude of expressive forms, including the religious, mythological, and esoteric. It would be fair to say, that King Crimson, in its lyrical and graphic content at least, drew on a fair selection of these on ITCOTCK and subsequent albums up to Islands. What is ‘the Court of the Crimson King’?
Some might argue that the answer to this question lies in the title of the following album: In The wake of Poseidon. The reference here is to the ‘ages’ as set out in astrological systems. There is considerable disagreement amongst astrologers about dates, periods, etc. However, socio-culturally at least ‘the age of Aquarius’ was generally seen as ‘dawning’ in the late 60s and, with it a ‘new age’ of spiritual brotherhood. Aquarius following on from Poseidon – after all, a water sign, designating the material world in Neo-Platonic philosophy. And, in many way, as I have argued, it is not too fanciful to imagine that indeed a period was ending by 1969; certainly, the 1960s and with it a certain carefree exuberance on the part of the younger generation at least. But, the images conjured up by ITCOTCK are not very optimistic. The terror of 21st century is there for all to see on it’s the cover, and to hear in the opening track. Most of the rest of the album is dark and foreboding, as expressed in the joining of intense lyrical imagery set against minor/ model keys. Instruments key to the English pastoral idyll – strings, drums and flutes – now blanched of their warmth to become a somewhat inhuman counter-form. Yet, the overall atmosphere is never malevolent. The figure on the inside cover is, after all, smiling, and is raising one hand in a Christian benediction and seemingly offering an open (welcoming) hand with the other. No matter how dystopian the general outlook seems to be, there is a sense of progress through destruction. Indeed, it is possible to argue that the excesses of the 60s generations were, increasingly, not about spiritual brotherhood at all but individual indulgence – a state of affairs that only intensified as the century drew to its close. Interestingly, the tension between individual freedom and group responsibility – the whole King Crimson and the sum of its parts – continued to be a defining characteristic of the band as the various formats and personnel changes came and went.
In this piece, I have considered KC1 – King Crimson 1969 – from the perspective of Creativity, and this so as to contrast it with other personal and socio-cultural accounts. In three separate sections I have explored various approaches to creativity and how these might be pertinent to King Crimson 1969; especially with reference to the formation of the group, the music it produced and the aesthetic it shared with its audience. Section 1 addressed the philosophy of the founding father of Western aesthetics – Immanuel Kant – and the notion of the ‘pure gaze’ or ‘transcendental aesthetics’. My attempt was to show how associated issues needs to be understood as a relationship between subject and object and the very nature of that relationship. I also contrasted a philosophical account with a sociological one; in particular, KC1 as the front-runner of an emergent Rock avant-garde, and what that signified in terms of what came before and occurred next. Why is the music of KC1 so powerful? What are the energetic forces at play? What was going on at the time, which necessitated this music?
In the second section, I explored creativity from the perspective of individuals’ psychological processes; an essentially Freudian/ Jungian account of how artistic product can be seen as the outcome of innate processes of exteriorisation and internalisation which regulate psychic equilibrium between individuals and their environment. Once again, the issue of the relationship between the individual and the group as a whole is central to understanding creativity in this way. Finally, in a section on ‘the spiritual’ aspects of creativity and KC1, I drew on the work of J G Bennett to consider the extent to which his interpretation of creativity illuminates what was going on in those days and why.
By way of conclusion, I would like to make three principal points.
Firstly, I do not see these accounts as competing with each other for salience. They are indeed all valid in their way as just different ways of talking about the same thing. Although, more than that, they are all also interconnected. So, for example, the Kantian ‘pure gaze’ needs to be understood as it is experienced in an individual psychology, which in turn involves energies outside of the merely scientific. All are co-terminous.
Secondly, there is always an everyday element in which ‘life is lived’ empirically: of accidents, chance meetings, arguments, financial considerations, mutual antipathies and personalities. Versions of life are always contested by those who live it together and, certainly, the members of KC1 have different accounts of 1968/69, what occurred then, how and why. Such events are both the epiphenomena and the force majeure of what did and did not happen to bring about King Crimson and In the Court of the Crimson King – even the highest spiritual is articulated in and through the most mundane.
Thirdly, and nevertheless, these accounts and explanations, individually and together, have the potential to tell us an awful lot about issues within the dynamic of creativity generally and its occurrences in the music of King Crimson in particular. Through them, we can understand something of why this band came about, why at that time, what it did and how, and the powerful impact of its music. However, my personal belief is that this still only explains a percentage of what happened. There is part that is inexplicable and must always remain – thank goodness – a mystery.