Name coined by guitarist Robert Fripp for the technique of building up songs using a sound-on-sound technique with a long-period delay line. The delay line is set up with feedback so that anything played into it repeats a number of times, gradually fading out of a period generally from 30 seconds to several minutes. Playing into the line, a bit at a time, builds up a sound collage. The technique relies on psychoaccoustic principle, that when the delay time exceeds approximately two seconds, the ear no longer perceives the repeated sound as an echo, but rather a new sound.
Fripp has written that he was introduced to the technique by Brian Eno. (Eno, in turn, makes no claim to having invented it.) Fripp's original setup used a pair of Revox B77 open reel tape decks, with the tape running from the supply reel of one deck to the take-up reel of the other deck. The first deck recorded the sound and the second played it back, with the playback being mixed back to the first deck. The delay time was controlled by the distance between the two decks. The sound source was Fripp's Les Paul guitar.
Fripp and Eno did two albums using this technique between 1974-76, with Fripp playing guitar, and Eno providing real-time and post-production manipulation of the tapes. After this, Fripp decided to eschew the tape manipulation. Wryly dubbing his implementation "Frippetronics", he used it for backing tracks on his solo album Exposure, and then premiered some unaccompanied tracks on God Save the Queen/Under Heavy Manners.
In the mid 1980s, while working with that decade's reincarnation of King Crimson, Fripp gave the technique a technology upgrade, discarding the Revox tape decks for digital delays, and replacing the Les Paul with a Roland GR300 guitar synthesizer. It was at this point that Fripp applied the name "Soundscapes". He used the new setup for a few backing tracks on the King Crimson album Three of a Perfect Pair, and then debuted an album of unaccompanied tracks on his solo album 1999 (which, despite the title, was released in 1994). After releasing several albums of Soundscapes, Fripp is now releasing individual performances via download from his Web site. Fripp summarizes his continuing interest in the technique by saying, "It remains the best way I know of making a lot of noise with one guitar."