My Favorite Albums – Discipline – King Crimson

“Discipline is never an end in itself, only a means to an end”

Discipline is the eighth studio album by the English progressive rock band King Crimson, released on September 22, 1981, by E.G. Records in the United Kingdom and by Warner Bros. Records in the United States. The band was founded by Robert Fripp, Michael Giles, Greg Lake, Ian McDonald, and lyricist Peter Sinfield in 1969.

After a seven-year hiatus, Only band co-founder and guitarist Robert Fripp and drummer Bill Bruford remained from the previous incarnation. The formerly British band now had hired two American musicians.

Guitarist, vocalist, and lyricist Adrian Belew and bassist and backing vocalist Tony Levin. Adrian was born on December 23, 1949, in Covington, Kentucky, and started out as a drummer. At the age of 17, he was further inspired by a club performance of blues rock guitar soloing pioneer Lonnie Mack, who later became a close friend. Belew has worked extensively as a session, guest, and touring musician, including periods with the Frank Zappa and David Bowie bands, Talking Heads, Laurie Anderson, and Nine Inch Nails, as well as contributing to hit singles by Paul Simon, Tom Tom Club, and others.

He released a top-10 single in 1989 with “Oh Daddy”, and his 2005 single “Beat Box Guitar” was nominated for a Grammy for Best Rock Instrumental Performance. Belew has also worked in instrument design and multimedia, collaborating with Parker Guitars[1] to help design his Parker Fly signature guitar, and designing his own iOS mobile apps, “FLUX by belew” and “FLUX: FX[2], the multi-effect audio processor app.” Tony Levin was born June 6, 1946, in Boston, Massachusetts. He began playing double bass at 10 years old, primarily studying classical music.

I met Robert Fripp one night in New York, at a club called the Bottom Lineer. I was playing with David Bowie at the time [1979/1980] and [we] went to see Steve Reich. When the lights came up, Robert was at the table next to us. So I went over, and he wrote his hotel number on my arm. We had coffee, and got to know each other. In nineteen-eighty I started with the Talking Heads, and when they arrived in England I got a call from Robert saying: ‘I’m starting a new band with [drummer] Bill Bruford and myself. Would you like to be a part of it?’ I jumped at the chance.

Adrian Belew

In high school, he learned tuba, soloing with the concert band, and also started a barbershop quartet. A prolific session musician since the 1970s, Levin has played on over 500 albums.

Some notable sessions include work with John Lennon, Yes, Sarah McLachlan, Paula Cole, Stevie Nicks, Pink Floyd, Paul Simon, Lou Reed, David Bowie, Joan Armatrading, Tom Waits, Buddy Rich, The Roches, Todd Rundgren, Seal, Warren Zevon, Bryan Ferry, Laurie Anderson, Kate & Anna McGarrigle, Gibonni, and Jean-Pierre Ferland.

Tony has also toured with artists including Peter Gabriel, Paul Simon, Gary Burton, James Taylor, Herbie Mann, Judy Collins, Carly Simon, Peter Frampton, Tim Finn, Richie Sambora, Ivano Fossati, Claudio Baglioni, and Lawrence Gowan. “Frame By Frame”, “Thela Hun Ginjeet” and the album’s title track in particular, showcase Belew and Fripp’s dovetailing guitar parts and Levin and Bruford’s cyclical grooves, forming a mesmeric sound unlike anything heard before on any previous King Crimson albums.

The shimmering, hypnotic textures of “The Sheltering Sky” and savagely raucous “Indiscipline” provide aleatoric counterweights to the album’s tightly-controlled complexity. The lyrics of “Indiscipline” were based on a letter written to Adrian Belew by his then-wife Margaret, concerning a painting she had made. The title of the ballad “Matte Kudasai” means “please wait” in Japanese.

“Thela Hun Ginjeet” is an anagram of “heat in the jungle”. While the track was being recorded for the Discipline album, Adrian Belew, walking around Notting Hill Gate in London with a tape recorder looking for inspiration, was harassed first by a gang and then by the police. On returning to the studio, he gave a distraught account to his bandmates of what had just happened to him.

Tracks (writing credited to all four members)
  • Elephant Talk 4:42
  • Frame By Frame 5:08
  • Matte Kudasai 3:45
  • Indiscipline 4:31
  • Thela Hun Ginjeet 6:25
  • The Sheltering Sky 8:22
  • Discipline 5:02

This account was recorded by Fripp, without Belew’s knowledge, as well and is featured on the Discipline version of the track (as well as almost all live versions), in place of those earlier lyrics that were based on Fripp’s New York recording. “The Sheltering Sky” is named after (and partially inspired by) the 1949 novel of the same name by Paul Bowles[3]. Bowles is often associated with the Beat generation, which would be an inspiration for King Crimson’s subsequent studio album Beat. “Elephant Talk” is the opener and my favorite song.

It begins with a mysterious oscillation suddenly brought into focus by the twitchy Martian bass groove of Levin’s Stick. It then bursts into a cyclical, minimal funk track: Fripp was still talking in terms of the band making dance music – maybe the original brain dance music – but you’d do yourself an injury if you actually tried to jive to this stuff.

Belew shows off his armory of effects, making his guitar mimic a swanny whistle and, yes, an elephant trumpeting, while Fripp takes a lazy solo, his sound both raw and serrated. What’s immediately striking is Belew’s very American vocal delivery – it’s in your face-and confrontational, though not without a certain quirky authority and even charm. In other words, he sounds a lot like David Byrne, though that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Fripp had been inspired by Greek-Armenian philosopher and mystic George Gurdjieff[4]. In his quest for truth, Gurdjieff’s books come across ancient myths such as those of the Celts.

That’s how Fripp came up with the Dara symbol[5] for “Discipline”; it comes from the Celtic culture and represents power and infinity. Illustrator Steve Ball[6] created his own version because the original is copyrighted.

  1. Parker Guitars was an American manufacturer of electric and acoustic guitars and basses, founded by luthier Ken Parker in 1993. Parker guitars were distinguished for their characteristic light weight and the use of composite materials. Parker’s most famous guitar was the Fly model, an electric guitar made with a slim, lightweight core of real wood (spruce, poplar, basswood, etc.) reinforced with a carbon fiber exoskeleton to provide unparalleled rigidity for a solid body electric guitar. The mixture of materials also resulted in a lighter instrument than what had been available up until that time, weighing a mere 2 kg. The early “Fly” models were highly appreciated by musicians and well-received by critics. The Parker company was acquired by the U.S. Music Corporation in 2003, which was itself sold to Jam Industries in August 2009. As of November 2016, the brand was inactive after the factory in Illinois was closed. [Back]
  2. FLUX:FX is a professional multi-effect audio processor app for the iPad that lets you ‘play’ your effects. Innovative, intuitive, and exciting, FLUX: FX lets you manipulate any audio signal into something entirely new, and redefines the possibilities of audio and live performance in an app with an almost unlimited range of effect options. FLUX: FX is a truly authentic digital platform for designing your sound. Winner of the ANR Sonic Joy award for Best iOS effects, an FWA mobile design award, and the prestigious Red-Dot ‘best of the best’ 2015 award for design. [Back]
  3. Paul Frederic Bowles (December 30, 1910 – November 18, 1999) was an American expatriate composer, author, and translator. He became associated with the Moroccan city of Tangier, where he settled in 1947 and lived for 52 years to the end of his life. Following a cultured middle-class upbringing in New York City, during which he displayed a talent for music and writing, Bowles pursued his education at the University of Virginia before making several trips to Paris in the 1930s. He studied music with Aaron Copland, and in New York wrote music for theatrical productions, as well as other compositions. He achieved critical and popular success with his first novel The Sheltering Sky (1949), set in French North Africa, which he had visited in 1931. [Back]
  4. George Ivanovich Gurdjieff (1866 – October 1949) was an Armenian philosopher, mystic, spiritual teacher, and composer of Armenian and Greek descent, born in Alexandropol, Russian Empire (now Gyumri, Armenia). Gurdjieff taught that most humans do not possess a unified consciousness and thus live their lives in a state of hypnotic “waking sleep”, but that it is possible to awaken to a higher state of consciousness and achieve full human potential. Gurdjieff described a method attempting to do so, calling the discipline “The Work” or “the System”. According to his principles and instructions, Gurdjieff’s method for awakening one’s consciousness unites the methods of the fakir, monk and yogi, and thus he referred to it as the “Fourth Way”. [Back]
  5. Celtic culture’s most easily identifiable symbols are the various beautiful knots that come to us from antiquity. The Dara Knot is one of several well-known knots and is still very popular today. It’s also seen as a Druid symbol. The Dara Knot represents fortitude and inner strength. The name has a Gaelic root, stemming from the word “doire” meaning oak tree. Therefore, it is a knot meant to resemble the Celtic reverence for oak trees, specifically the root system that holds up the tree. [Back]
  6. Guitarist Steve Ball is a Seattle musician known for his work with Robert Fripp. Besides playing in Fripp’s band, he also helped design King Crimson’s artwork. He also founded the Seattle Circle, a nonprofit organization that sponsors music workshops, seminars, and concerts in the Puget Sound area. [Back]

Further Reading


DGM Live
Louder Sound
Prog Archives
Poppodium Boerderij
The Quietus
Far Out Magazine

Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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