"With improvising, rehearsal is all you've done in your life up to date," insists Fred Frith.
For the 55-year-old avant-garde legend, that's probably enough to fill a museum. Guitarist and co-founder of prog-rock collective Henry Cow (a project that lasted from 1968 to 1978), Frith has toured with over a dozen experimental groups and appeared on more than 200 CDs with various artists, including the Art Bears, the Residents, Brian Eno, Skeleton Crew, John Zorn's Naked City and the Golden Palominos. Along the way, he redefined the sound of the electric six-string, exploring its limitless tonal capabilities while composing evocative scores for film, theater and dance. As a solo performer, however, Frith tends to make it up as he goes along, summoning otherworldly effects through unconventional methods, such as banging his guitar with a hammer or throwing grains of rice at the strings.
"My resources at this point are rather defined. I'm not looking for novelty in this regard," says Frith, who appears this Sunday at the King Center on the Auraria campus. "I've had the same tools on my table for many years -- brushes, slides, chopsticks, bows, string -- and mostly, they're about changing the attack of the instrument, making it possible to sustain tones, to counter the basic characteristics of the instrument. For me, they're no different from using a pick. They're a means to an end, that's all."
A soft-spoken virtuoso who combines everything from fragmentary jazz riffs to the breezy strains of Balkan folk tunes, Frith dwells at the intersection of anarchy and intuition, a place where "happy accidents" frequently occur. After spending fourteen years in New York's restless downtown scene, the Heathfield, England, native moved to Oakland, where he's been teaching composition at Mills College since 2000. Not that book smarts ever take precedence over a good, old fashioned Zen-fueled approach to music.
"I'm less concerned with what I think I ought to be doing," says the distinguished professor and former hippie. "I'm more sure of what I'm about, so it's really down to trying to get better at it. And I'm usually much more concerned with what to take out rather than what to put in."