“I’m often asked, ‘what can we expect to hear if we show up at an Orchestra of Crafty Guitarists performance?’” says Bill Rieflin, on a break from rehearsing with Robert Fripp’s ensemble of acoustic guitarists — 60 of them — appearing at Washington Hall Sunday.
“And my answer is always, ‘Well, I kind of have no idea.’”
Rieflin, 54, began his far-ranging musical career in mid-1970s Seattle’s developing punk scene; since then, the multi-instrumentalist has released three solo LPs, amid collaborations with artists from R.E.M and Nine Inch Nails to industrial cult acts Ministry, Pigface and KMFDM.
In 1989, he enrolled in a “Guitar Craft” class taught by King Crimson’s Fripp — who, for progressive rock fans, requires no introduction. The two collaborated on-and-off through the years; O.C.G., consisting of the course’s most gifted alums, began in 2009.
Discussing the project, Rieflin avoids relating it to either his or Fripp’s past bands — which makes sense, since this current one is even more unconventional.
An ever-expanding mass of players of all ages from around the world, O.C.G. exists solely in the live realm, its sets spontaneous, no two the same. Sunday’s performance — or “edition” — is its ninth so far.
“There will be smaller groups playing composed pieces,” explains Rieflin, “but the orchestra, nominally, is based in improvisation.”
In hopes of encouraging attendees to be as focused and present as the musicians, the group doesn’t even record its shows.
“It’s a singular event,” Rieflin says. “You can’t get it later. If you’re not there, then you miss it.”
Asked what exactly constitutes a “crafty” guitarist, he defers to two colleagues, Igor and Fernando. Each gives the same answer: “Discipline.”
Coincidentally — or perhaps not — the title of King Crimson’s 1981 album, its eighth, is “Discipline.”
Naturally, having a big-name director like Fripp — one of the craftiest to ever pick up the instrument — helps the orchestra’s draw. But Rieflin emphasizes that it’s a unified effort, not a glorified solo venture — not with 59 fellow players in the room.
“The analogy I like to use is driving. What makes a good driver? Well, you have to pay attention… because if something goes haywire and you don’t respond, the consequences can actually be fatal. Now, in music, no one’s going to die… but [with five dozen musicians onstage] things can go off the rails.
“The aim of the orchestra is to sound like one instrument… one guitar…one voice.”
7:30 p.m. Sunday at Washington Hall, 153 14th Ave S., Seattle; $30 (206-622-6952 or brownpapertickets.com)