Fred Frith was born in England in 1949. He started
violin lessons at the age of 5, sang in the church choir,
and taught himself the piano by trying to imitate his father
and older brother. At age 13 he picked up a guitar at school,
and began trying his hand at anything from Django Reinhardt
to Villa Lobos, from Bach to Flamenco. Discovering the Blues
whetted an appetite for improvisation that has never left
him. At school he played guitar, bass, keyboards and harmonica
in groups whose repertoire ranged from the Shadows and the
Beatles to Ray Charles and Muddy Waters. His earliest public
performances took place in the relatively forgiving atmosphere
of British folk clubs in the late sixties.
Frith met saxophonist Tim
Hodgkinson while both were students at Cambridge University.
In 1968 they formed Henry Cow, a blues band which grew into
an unclassifiable collective enterprise with Chris Cutler,
John Greaves, Lindsay Cooper, and others; the group continued
for ten years, touring Europe on the independent circuit that
they helped to create. Drawing on an eclectic range of influences
and committed to the idea of teaching themselves to play (and
compose) as they went along, Henry Cow's repertoire included
complex written structures, tape manipulations, free improvisation
and songs. Their explorations of the potential of the recording
studio as compositional tool were pioneering and influential,
and their conscious decision to present uncompromising music
in a popular context was unique.
In parallel to this work, Frith
developed his skills as an improviser. Since recording Guitar
Solos in 1974, he has been regarded as one of a handful of
radical innovators on the instrument; his activities in this
regard have brought him into contact with kindred spirits
all over the world.
After Henry Cow's demise, Frith
maintained ties to his colleagues through Art Bears, a trio
with Chris Cutler and Dagmar Krause that allowed him to reassert
his roots in folk music and song-form. In 1978 he moved to
New York, where he became associated with the burgeoning 'downtown'
scene, along with Tom Cora, Lesli Dalaba, Bob Ostertag, Ikue
Mori, John Zorn and others. Frith's work since then has been
unusually diverse. In the studio, he has contributed to recordings
by (to name a few) Gavin Bryars, Amy Denio, Brian Eno, Half
Japanese, René Lussier, Material, The Residents, Robert
Wyatt, and YoYo Ma. He has produced albums for artists like
The Orthotonics, David Moss, Tenko, and V-Effect. He was bassist
in John Zorn's Naked City, violinist in Lars Hollmer's Looping
Home Orchestra, and guitarist for Heiner Goebbels' Man in
the Elevator project. And he has instigated a series of ground-breaking
groups, from Massacre (with Bill Laswell and (now) Charles
Hayward) through Skeleton Crew (with Cora and Zeena Parkins)
to Keep the Dog, the Fred Frith Guitar Quartet, and Que d'la
Gueule, a big band that resulted from a six-month residency
in Marseille working on the opera Helter Skelter with "sixteen
young, unemployed rock musicians from the 'quartiers défavorisés'.
In recent years, the narrative
quality that is perceptible in the whole range of Frith's
work has found its expression in collaborations with visual
media, be it theatre, dance, film, painting, or video. There
has also been a shift of emphasis away from performance and
towards composing. This has led to pieces like Long on Logic
and Freedom in Fragments for Rova Sax Quartet, Elegy for Elias
for the Abel/Steinberg/Winant trio, Pacifica for the Ensemble
Eva Kant in Bologna, and collaborations with groups like Ensemble
Modern, Asko Ensemble, andd Arditti Quartet.
On-going projects include The
Fred Frith Guitar Quartet, Tense Serenity (a six-piece group
exploring the integration of composed elements into an improvised
structure), Stone, Brick, Glass, Wood, Wire (graphic scores
for up to twenty-one players), and Maybe Monday, a trio with
Miya Masaoka (koto) and Larry Ochs (tenor sax). Frith is the
subject of Nicolas Humbert and Werner Penzels' award-winning
documentary film Step Across the Border.
He is currently Professor
of Composition at Mills College in Oakland, California, where
he lives with the photographer Heike Liss and their children
Finn and Lucia.
Born in England, 1949.
with Massacre (at London’s Meltdown
with Arte Quartet, Terry Riley, Tim
Berne et al, in Basel
with Jean-Pierre Drouet & Louis
Sclavis in Portugal
with John Zorn, Bill Laswell &
Dave Lombardo at FIMAV,
with Attwenger at Donau Festival,
as soloist at Moers Festival
Light at the End of the Tunnel for
small ensemble, commissioned by New MusicWorks,
Santa Cruz, first performed at the Avant-Garden
Party, June 2001
Landing for choir, Flamenco singer,
cello, saxophone and samples, commissioned by
Banlieues Bleues, Paris
Sideshow - music for dance,
commissioned by Peggy Piacenza, Seattle
K/nowhere - music for dance,
commissioned by Paul Selwyn Norton, Amsterdam
The Big Picture for saxophone quartet
with two soloists, commissioned by the Arte Quartet,
premiered in Switzerland.
Appearances with John Zorn, Bill
Laswell, Dave Lombardo in Festivals in Paris &
London, and with Massacre in Warsaw Summer Jazz
Performs in retrospective of the work
of Christian Wolff, with the composer, Joan
Jeanrenaud, Miya Masaoka, William Winant, Bob
Ostertag and Gordon Mumma at the Other Minds
Festival, San Francisco.
Performs in a retrospective of the
work of Gordon Mumma at Mills College.
Conducts Mills College Contemporary
Performance Ensemble in memorial tribute to the
late Glenn Spearman, with guest soloists Oluyemi
Thomas, Spirit and others.
Appointed Professor of Composition,
Luther B. Marchant Chair, at Mills College, Oakland,
Weatherwise or Otherwise commissioned
by the Asko Ensemble, premiered in Amsterdam.
Centre Moving Out for the Ensemble
Aleph, premiered in Paris, second of a projected
series of three hommages to John Cage.
Land, commissioned by the
Konservatorium, Bern, Switzerland, performed by an
ensemble of students as part of Masterclass in
Final, for the Bologna Symphony
Orchestra, commissioned by the Angelica Festival.
Music for the Radio Hörspiele Mickey
la Torche & Raumschiff Titanic (with Alexander
Soloist in Concerto pour Guitare
Eléctrique et Orchestra de Chambre by Sylvie
Courvoisier, premièred in Luzern, Switzerland,
commissioned by Swiss Television.
Tours of Europe (Guitar Quartet) and
Italy (with Chris Cutler).
Appearances with Massacre and Tense
Serenity at Moers, Angelica, & Vandoevre
Part II of Traffic Continues (Gusto)
for the Ensemble Modern, performed in Köln
(Philharmonie), Frankfurt (Alte Oper), Berlin
(Hebbel Theater), Vienna (Mozart Saal).
Touring with new group TENSE SERENITY
developing same improvising/composing language as
the Ensemble Modern pieces, on a smaller scale.
Kaspar K’onzert, with François
Verret, Jean-Pierre Drouet and trampolinist Maturin:
a dance-theatre piece about Kaspar Hauser, at the
Théâtre de la Ville, Paris.
Improvisational performances: solo in
Poland, Germany, France; with Chris Cutler in
Lithuania, Italy, Spain; with MAYBE MONDAY (trio
with Miya Masaoka and Larry Ochs) in the USA; with
John Oswald and Anne Bourne in Canada.
Improvising workshop and performance
Resident Artist at Esalen Institute,
Performances of portable version of
Impur with ensemble of students and teachers from l’Ecole
Nationale de Musique, Villeurbanne (at Musique
Action, Vandoevre and Musik Triennale, Köln).
Pop Mechanics (for Sergei Kuryokin),
solo for Disklavier.
Music for three Radio Hörspiele -
Rabenstein, Traffic in Trouble, and Meister
Tours of S. America with C. Cutler,
Canada & Europe with Guitar Quartet.
Improvising workshops in Chile
(Santiago, Osorno) and Argentina (Buenos Aires).
Stone, Brick, Glass, Wood, Wire:
included in the Extended Play exhibition at the
Photographic Resource Center, Boston.
Back to Life (for trumpet, oboe,
cello, marimba) premièred by Asko Ensemble,
Contributions to music for The Tango
Lesson, film by Sally Potter
Performances with Louis Sclavis and
Jean-Pierre Drouet at Festivals in Gent, Le Mans,
Paris (Sons dHiver).
Visiting composer at Mills College,
Impur, for 100 musicians, large
building and mobile audience, premièred during La
Semaine des Compositeurs, Ecole National de Musique,
Tense Serenity, for trombone and
string trio, commissioned by Radio Bremen,
premièred by members of the Arditti Quartet with
Rogue Tool, music for choreographer
Paul Selwyn Norton and The Batsheva Dance Company,
performances in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
Solo performance and improvising
workshops with Israeli musicians, Tel Aviv.
Parts II and III of The Previous
Evening, completion of music for Amanda Miller,
premièred in Tiroler Landestheater, Innsbruck and
Hebbel Teater, Berlin.
Shortened Suite, for the Asko
Ensemble and choreographer Paul Selwyn Norton,
performed in Den Haag and Amsterdam.
Traffic Continues, a collaboration
with the Ensemble Modern, commissioned by
Klangspuren Festival, Schwaz, Austria.
Music for Hirsche mit Goldenen Hufen,
documentary film by Petra Maussnest.
Seven Circles for pianist D.
Vandervalle, commissioned by the Time Festival,
Music for Middle of the Moment, film
by Penzel and Humbert.
Composer in residence at l’Ecole
Nationale de Musique in Villeurbanne, France.
Music for Eisenstein’s Battleship
Potemkin, Esslinger Stummfilm Tage.
Weeklong improvising workshops in
Bremen (Hochschule für Kunst) and Hamburg.
Pacifica, a meditation for 21
musicians with texts by Pablo Neruda, commissioned
by the Angelica Festival, Bologna, for the Ensemble
Portraits d’Inconnus, an
installation, with thirty fragments of music
triggered by movements of the public, and objects
and fragmented portraits by painter Béatrice
Turquand d’Auzay, opening in Paris at the
Banlieues Bleues Festival.
Music for the Zürich theater
production of Backroom by F-M Pesenti.
Nous Sommes les Vaincus,
collaboration in Paris with choreographer François
Verret and instrument inventor/builder Claudine
Second Nature: graph composition for
13 electric guitars.
Improvising workshops with
non-musicians while Resident Artist at the Esalen
Institute, Big Sur.
Living in Big Sur, California to work
on a number of compositions:
Elegy for Elias for piano, violin
& marimba, commissioned by the Abel/Steinberg/Winant
22, Rue Lacépède for solo accordion.
The Previous Evening, a tribute to
John Cage, commissioned by London Contemporary Dance
Theatre, choreography by Amanda Miller.
Freedom in Fragments, a suite of 21
pieces, commissioned by Rova Sax Quartet/Meet the
Endurance for solo double bass,
premiered by Stefano Scodanibbio at Angelica
Solo tour of Australia and the Far
Playing violin & home-made
instruments with Lars Hollmer’s LOOPING HOME
Forms the FRED FRITH GUITAR QUARTET,
with René Lussier, Nick Didkovsky, Mark Howell (later
with Mark Stewart). Festival appearances Moers,
Willisau, Bang on a Can (NYC), New Music America,
Saalfelden, Rive-de-Gier) and European/N.American
Stone, Brick, Glass, Wood, Wire:
graphic scores for up to 21 musicians performed at
festivals in Paris, Bologna, Victoriaville,
Improvising workshops in Bologna,
Italy with group of 25 musicians from all
Lelekovice (for Iva Bittová), string
quartet premièred at Nieuwe Musiek Festival in
Director of QUE D’LA GUEULE, big
band arising from Marseille residency. Concerts
Continued collaborations with
Japanese musicians in Tokyo.
Touring with Naked City & Keep
Stick Figures for 6 guitars and two
Helter Skelter, opera with
François-Michel Pesenti, the result of a six-month
residency in Marseille working with “young
unemployed rock musicians from the ‘quartiers
défavorisés.’” (Further development of
improvising workshop techniques).
Subject of the award-winning
documentary film Step Across the Border by Nicolas
Humbert and Werner Penzel.
Touring with Naked City & Keep
In Memory, for four guitars. four
voices, four percussionists and animated film (by
Pierre Hébert), with text by Sara Miles,
commissioned by the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
The As Usual Dance Towards the Other
Flight to What Is Not for four electric guitars,
commissioned by Roulette/Mary Flagler Cary Trust.
Allies for choreographer Bebe Miller,
performed at Next Wave, BAM, NYC.
Dropéra, collaborative song-cycle
with Ferdinand Richard.
The Top of His Head, soundtrack for
the film by Peter Mettler.
Forms KEEP THE DOG, six piece group
performing compositions from the previous ten years
(eventual tours N. America, Europe, Soviet Union).
Long on Logic, and other pieces for
Rova Sax Quartet.
Disinformation Polka, solo for
accordionist Guy Klucsevek.
Lecture on sampling and new
technology at ICA, Boston.
Bass player with John Zorn’s NAKED
CITY (eventual tours N. America, Europe, Japan,
Workshop with Dutch musicians at
Heineken Festival, Rotterdam.
Master class at Rotterdam
Technology of Tears and Jigsaw, music
for dance commissioned by
Rosalind Newman and Dancers,
premièred at the Joyce Theater, New York.
Propaganda, music for the play by
Creation Company, dir. by Matthew Maguire.
Duo concert with Butch Morris
launches the Knitting Factory in New York.
Guitar and bass in Man in the
Elevator by Heiner Goebbels/Heiner Müller.
Canadian tour and recording with
Peformance with Lebanese singer
Khalid al Haber in Tokyo.
US tour with Hans Reichel.
DUCK AND COVER, large ensemble with
members of Cassiber, Skeleton Crew, George Lewis,
Touring with Skeleton Crew.
Forms SKELETON CREW, with Tom Cora
and (later) Zeena Parkins, a ditionist attempt to
develop “one-man-band” idea three-fold (eventual
tours of N. America, Japan, and E & W Europe).
First invitation to join Derek Bailey’s
Il Diabolo del Blues: radio project
with RAI (National Italian Radio)
Solo tour of Japan/US tour with Phil
Speechless, record combining
song-form, folk music and ‘found’ sound using
studio editing techniques.
Moves to New York.
Gravity, record with an international
cast of musicians,exploring world dance music.
European tour with Belgian group
Solo performances throughout the USA
Guest artist on records by (among
others): Gavin Bryars, Lindsay Cooper, Ivor
Cutler, Amy Denio, Brian Eno, Lutz Glandien, Heiner
Goebbels, Seigen Ono, Golden Palominos, René
Lussier, Material, The Residents, Sovetskoe Foto,
Rebby Sharp, The Swans, Thinking Plague, Robert
Wyatt, Hector Zazou.
Performing as an improviser, mostly
on guitar and home-made instruments. An (incomplete)
list of playing partners would include Noël
Akchoté, Derek Bailey, Joey Baron,Werner Bärtschi,
Han Bennink, Anne Bourne, Peter Brötzmann, Sylvie
Courvoisier, Mark Dresser, Jean-Pierre Drouet, Vinko
Globokar, Shelley Hirsch, Joelle Léandre, Peter
Kowald, George Lewis, Christian Marclay, Miya
Masaoka, Butch Morris, Ikue Mori, Phil Minton, Larry
Ochs, Bob Ostertag, John Oswald, Hans Reichel, Louis
Sclavis, Sonny Sharrock, Co Streiff, Min Tanaka,
Richard Teitelbaum, Tenko, Christine Wodraszka,
Carlos Zingaro, and John Zorn.
Also improvises with dancers,
painters, and schoolkids.
Founder member of HENRY COW, three
women and three men playing both improvised and
composed material incorporating an eclectic range of
genres and influences. Toured throughout Europe as
an independent collective. Appearances at major
venues included Bath (Contemporary Music Festival),
Edinburgh (The Fringe), Bordeaux (Sigma), Nancy
(International Jazz Festival), Milano (Duomo), Roma
(Piazza Navona), Amsterdam (Concertgebouw) and many
First improvisations in folk clubs,
often based on exposure to Indian music.
With the Yellow Half-Moon and Blue
Star, composition for Cambridge Contemporary Dance
Group, performed by Henry Cow.
First public performances in folk
clubs and working men’s clubs in the North of
England, singing and playing traditional and blues
Growing interest in Indian, Balinese,
and Bulgarian music.
Guitar and bass in various school
bands (Shadows, R&B, Yugoslav folk tunes), also
learning folk and classical guitar repertoire.
Currently active in following
groups and configurations:
FF (guitar) Bill Laswell (bass) Charles
FRED FRITH GUITAR QUARTET
FF, René Lussier, Nick Didkovsky, Mark
Stewart: electric guitars
FF: guitar, violin
Claudio Puntin: clarinet
Lesli Dalaba: trumpet
Daan Vandewalle: piano
Chris Cutler: drums & processing
Miya Masaoka: koto
Larry Ochs: tenor and sopranino saxes
The International Occasional Ensemble
performing graphic score pieces
The Mills College Contemporary
Fred Frith has appeared on more than 350
LPs and CDs over the last 25 years, on labels ranging
from CBS-Sony and Virgin to Tzadik, ReR and Winter &
Articles, reviews and interviews with other
musicians contributed to:
Arcana: musicians on music (ed. John
Zorn, Granary Books, 2000)
Poetics Journal (USA)
New Musical Express (UK)
Let It Rock (UK)
OP Magazine (USA)
Ear Magazine (USA)
Trouser Press (USA)
1988-90 was roving correpondent for
France Culture (National French Radio), and has also broadcast own
program series on WFMU (NJ - 1980-86) and Freies Radio für Stuttgart
(Germany - 1997-present)
Subject of Step Across the Border
(1990), a 90m documentary film by Nicolas Humbert
and Werner Penzel, shown in cinemas in USA, Canada,
Europe, Japan and South America and on television in
USA (Public TV), Germany (WDR, NDR, SWR),
Switzerland (SR3), Austria (ORF) and France (Arte).
Subject of Streetwise (1991), a
documentary film by Charles Castella about his work
in Marseille with ‘unemployed rock musicians.’
Subject of Le Voyage Immobile (2000),
a documentary film about his trio with Louis Sclavis
& Jean-Pierre Drouet, for France 3 (National TV)
The subject (with The Residents, Blue
Gene Tyranny and Glenn Branca) of Cole Gagne’s
book Sonic Transports, (De Falco Books, 1990)
Fred Frith’s work has been supported by
grants and awards from:
The Arts Council of Great Britain
The British Council
Meet the Composer
The Readers Digest
The Mary Flagler Cary Charitable
Massachussetts State Council for the
Direction Régional d’Arts et
Ministry of Culture, France
City of Marseille
City of Bologna