Sunday, January 25, 2015

Klaus Schulze - 1972 - Irrlicht

Klaus Schulze 

01. Satz Ebene (23:23)
02. Satz Gewitter (5:40)
03. Satz Exil Sils Maria (21:26)

- Klaus Schulze / all instruments

& Colloquium Musica Orchestra

The title of KLAUS SCHULZE's 1972 debut album translates, perversely, as "Will o' the Wisp", an ironic tag for some of the purest, most powerful noise ever recorded.

SCHULZE was of course a founding member of both TANGERINE DREAM and ASH RA TEMPLE, a Krautrock drummer in those days but with higher aspirations. So he traded his drum kit for a small roomful of primitive synthesizers, and proceeded to wage war on the more polite strain of meditative electronic music then coming into vogue.

Keep in mind this was during the age (at least in Germany) of the big cosmic drone: think of TD's "Zeit", recorded in the same year but sounding nowhere near as sophisticated as their ex-drummer's first solo effort. The album is subtitled "Quadraphonic Symphony for Orchestra and E-Machines", but SCHULZE was no RICK WAKEMAN (thank God), and his orchestra couldn't hope to compete against the sustained hum of his generators during the awe-inspiring 29-minute opening track. It goes way beyond the limits of a simple drone: this is ambient music for titans.

Imagine yourself attending a formal concert hall symphony. The woodwinds and strings are quietly tuning; the conductor is approaching the podium.when out of the ether some sort of otherworldly buzz gradually begins to overwhelm the auditorium, fading in and out, while the hapless musicians try in vain to play through it. That's the experience of "Ebene, Gewitter (Energyrise-Energycollaps)", before the track surrenders to a mind-bending, monster movie organ, played loud enough to scare away even the toughest headbanger, and about as far removed from New Age navel-gazing as synthetic music can get without threatening your sanity.

The remainder of the album (another 21+ minutes, very generous in its original vinyl format, but it needs to be heard on CD) is no less frightening, but on a much quieter level. "Exil Sils Maria" is music for contemplating the void, the soundtrack to an endless alien abyss recalling the cyclopean vistas of an H.P. Lovecraft cosmology.

These days, the popularity of serious electronic music is in direct proportion to its level of discernable melody: witness the very mixed reactions in this forum to the often amorphous, groundbreaking work of the earliest TANGERINE DREAM. Be forewarned, the 25-year old KLAUS SCHULZE was crossing the same sonic terra incognita, although his subsequent, sequencer-laced efforts were (not unlike the later TD) more easily accessible.

Final verdict: this is ideal Halloween music for misanthropes who hate trick-or-treaters. It's should be one of the cornerstones of any well-rounded electronic music library, but I wouldn't recommend the album to borderline manic-depressives for late night headphone relaxation.

KLAUS SCHULZE, one of the most illustrious exponents of the kraut-electronic musical current, was born on the 4th of August 1947, right in Berlin, the heart of the entire action. Before getting to know him as a master of electronic music, Schulze proved to be a skillful and talented young musician (with studies in modern composition at the Berlin University), hard to recognize (nowadays, perhaps) in the underground scene of the 60s. He first of all learned to play the guitar, starring afterwards in several bands as a bassist or a percussionist. His evolution in these ensembles can't be considered essential, still shows the consistency of moving up ahead: from the Düsseldorfian dance group Les Barones and cover-bands frenzied about Rolling Stones to the rock group Psy Free and, finally, to the moment when, from being invited by Edgar Froese to perform as a guest in his band, covering for the absence of the original drummer(I don't know if we're talking yet of Tangerine Dream, perhaps it actually concerns The Ones), he became a full, "registered" member of the group. TANGERINE DREAM's debut, though mainly a first solid album launched three years after the band (or the concept of it) started to form, is Electronic Meditation, the only one including Klaus Schulze. In a nebulous, experimental work, noisy and stoned, such as this one, the best thing we can notice is how Schulze adds flavor and intensity, through hallucinating percussion cliques, to a music that's anyway minimalistic, chaotic and instinctual.

Immediately after his singular appearence in Tangerine Dream (there's a mention about a similar guest appearence in AMON DÜÜL II, in a 1969 concert) - a specific moment turning out to be just as unique in TD's music - the next big step for Schulze is founding the band called ASH RA TEMPEL, together with two other young masters of that time, Manuel Göttsching and Hermut Enke. The boys bought equipment that was very similar to that used by Pink Floyd, a super-band for which the three had, apparently, a special affectio. The Ash Ra Tempel debut is however much more "drenched", being a stimulating example of kraut-rock, on the space, slow experimental, acid side. Many concerts follow afterwards. Schulze leaves though again after just one year, due to some disagreements about orienting towards blues, a style in whose popularity Schulze couldn't recognize himself. Although Ash Ra Tempel don't visibly slip towards that style which was desired by the other two founding musicians, it seems, anyway, that the album on which Schulze contributed is one of the band's best, if not actually the top one. Göttsching and Enke stick to Ash Ra Tempel for the next years, Schulze making a return only in 1973, in a "reunion album" called Join Inn, which is good, although perhaps arriving too late, after Seven Up, branded clearly by Göttsching, Enke and Timothy Leary, that's superior in every way. Instead, once stepping outside Ash Ra Tempel, Klaus Schulze is closer than ever to electronic music, which is exactly the next, "progressive" step, done by most "kraut-rockers", soloists or not. The electronic music of the renowned Berlin School (or, perhaps more broadly, of the German cult) flourishes powerfully, and Schulze is in the front line, subscribing to the current.

Many could imagine how the move from playing guitars, drums and bass towards using synthesizers and the pure electronic mechanics happened, so we shan't meditate at all over how Schulze created his universe of instruments and techniques (from the first synthesizer to the great Moog, up in 1974 or 1975), we can more likely cover the music itself. A first phase, composed of two albums that don't sound at all like initiating works but, on the contrary, unimaginably hard and minute, keep Schulze in the space-kraut-acid zone, much alike Tangerine Dream having quit their "underground expressionism" and bringing forth immediately cosmic, abyssal, electro-psychedelic and tensioned music. Schulze stays under contract with the Ohr label, releasing in 1972 Irrlicht, a drone album, tough and impersonal, experimental and processed at the same time. Bomb number 2 is dropped one year later - and we're talking about Cyborg - a monumental double-album, in which the same rough drone language has, this time, a more mechanical, robotic, metallic, somewhat lifeless, still intense and severely hallucinating sense. Out of personal experience, I can comment that the first album is a hostile one, the finale of the Satz:Ebene epic being a compressed apocalypse for the human ears, whilst Cyborg is even more of a challenge, given the force of four epics that exceed 20 minutes and adopt, separately, four expressions, rhythms and agressive atmospheres from the same machined and hard-hitting style.

Schulze eases on the drone style after these two works, although the same happened to many groups of the fresh electronic genre. The valences of the synth music are fully discovered, attenuating, as we could critically say, the old psycho-acid art. Schulze steps from Ohr and Brain to Island. Picture Music is announced in some places (including the official site) as the third album, dating 1974, while in other places (including...the official site!!) it is counted as the fourth, released in 1975. Nothing to comment if the first mentioned order is the good one, but in the spirit of evolution, Blackdance actually preserves some dark flavor, while Picture Music is mellow. In fact, this album has nothing special whatsoever, soaking a lot of expressionistic electronic sound with the repeatability that inspires reveries, hallucinations; worse, though, is that both of the album's epics come from the same material, which is really dull. Looking back (or forward?!) to Blackdance, here recitative vocals are introduced, an element sure to displease the electronic purists, though a lot less controversial than Cyclone by Tangerine Dream, four years later, or even unremarkable in comparison with, I should say, the total transcend into songs, regardless of styles, made by Ash Ra Tempel, when they introduced the famous Rosi. Anyway, though, Blackdance contains some savoring percussions, dark electronic "sequences", plus has a more special piece, called Voices Of Syn.

During this period, it can be mentioned that Schulze contributed, as a collaborator, in the works of other artists such as SERGIUS GOLOWIN, WALTER WEGMÜLLER and especially THE COSMIC JOKERS, aka the band that in a single year, and after a lot of LSD, came with a fabulous sequence of kraut-rock albums, easy to rate from incredible to miserable. Schulze's involvement in CODE III's sole album is a bit bigger, that brave experimental record having a bit of "electronic pattern" easily creditable to him. In 1975, Schulze's biography reminds us that he produced two albums of FAR EAST FAMILY BAND, a group which included KITARO, a much more simplistic and "aroma-therapeutic" future electronic soloist.

The year 1975 is, though, grand for Schulze's solo music, as much as it was a referential year for electronic by and large, composing Timewind, doubtlessly among his three fundamental creations. The album receives the French prize "Grand Prix International", in detriment of Edgar Froese's own nominated solo of that year, Epsilon In Malaysian Pale. Bayreuth Return and Wahnfried 1883 are unmistakably popular references and, most likely, any big Schulze fan can comment upon them on the spot. The sequencing is soft, hidden, glacial, much like how it sounds in Rubycon by the Tangs (and, off-topic, I often find enough similarities between that band's evolution and Schulze's own, inside the 1972-1975 years); meanwhile, the space-synth atmosphere utterly dominates, not at all fevered or dry, but in true ambient, ethereal forms. There's already a noticeable conceptual affectio for Wagner, a thing that's under no circumstances incidental. The impulse towards Nietzsche will arise soon enough too. If the first piece contains dynamics, the second side of the album is in a complete gassy state, gathering sounds, effects, impressions and "inner voices".

In 1976, Schulze releases Moondawn, following the same cosmic, synth-loaded style. He also releases the soundtrack for an erotic film called Body Love, a score that's not to be missed, especially for its sequence-loaded epic P.T.O., which sounds absolutely stunning. In this period, Schulze joines the big project led by Stomu YAMASH'TA, Steve Winwood and Michael Shreeve, Go, the album itself, plus a beautiful live, Go Live From Paris, being released that year.

1977 is again a year of reference, thanks to the second album of, most likely, the top three: Mirage, an album that's belissimo, and in which the synthesizing, sequential and ambient-marked electronic touches unbelievable expressions. After a non-vertebrate Velvet Voyage, aerial and yet sunken in an encumbered ambiance, Crystal Lake is of great interest, with a polyphonic sequence that brings more alike percussion - bells and xylophones - and leaves you breathless. Also in 1977, Schulze launched Body Love Vol.2, as good as the first one.

1978 is perhaps, in the view of the majority, the last major year for Schulze's electronic Berlin-school music, when he releases a conceptual (programmatic, I'd say) and ambitious X, considered an electro-symphonic work thanks to the adding of a string orchestra and through the seductive sound of the cello, mastered by Wolfgang TIEPOLD. Many memorable things in this third essential album, starting off directly with Friedrich Nietzsche, where the combination of sequences and percussion (played by Harald GROSSKOPF, member of ASHRA that time around) is tumultuous, continuing with the short Georg Trakl, where the repeated rhythm solely crowns the moment, then with Friedmann Bach and Heinrich von Kleist, dark-ambient pieces. Ludwig II von Bayern combines an elaborate ambient-symphonic start with a 10-minute long soft and "langsam" endless repetitive, variation-less vibrato (challenging as a listen, as it's perhaps just a tough moment to survive, or much more, such as a musical moment in which you have to look inside simplicity and stagnation and break their teasing spell). Anyway, at the end, in comes Grosskopf with the drums, making the finale a fantastic one.

Starting with Dune, from 1979, Schulze creates his own label, IC. The album itself, the only one that year, is beautiful, dark-ambient, matching up with the desert loneliness from Arrakis, but developing much more music-derived sentiments, through the weep of the cello (the same Tiepold playing it) on the first part ("side") and with Arthur BROWN's lyrics on the second one. The great Brown becomes a friend and a collaborator of Klaus Schulze even since 1977, though it results, from more selected recordings, that the two didn't approach a fantastically rich repertoire at all. Important remains the already mentioned Dune, as well as possibly Time Actor, the first album of the RICHARD WAHNFRIED set, a side-project launched by Schulze that's far from the glow of his "own products"(?!), still makes you look into certain collaborations with certain big names: Brown, Tiepold, Shrieve, Michael Garvens and...Santana, as rumored! Time Actor is, very likely, one of the two better albums released under Wahnfried.

In 1980 we finally get an official live, called just like that: ...Live..., the recordings from 1976, in Berlin, and 1979, in Amsterdam and France (later, during the 90s, Schulze & manager & co. will get back on their classic database of concert recordings, stretching from 1974 up in 1979-80, issuing them in huge box-sets). The music is fantastic, a piece to try being the mega-saurus Sense, that lasts 50 minutes and is charged with A-class sequences.

If the rhythms of this kind, from this live, sound suspiciously open towards a more commercial (or, anyway, light-dynamic) electronic, nothing compares to the upcoming pleiade of beats and synthes from the 80s, years in which many classic bands faint for good, a thing that Schulze can't be accused of, even if his music isn't as good as back in the old great days anymore. Dig It (1981) adventures with prejudice into electro-digital, registering only here and there a combo of ambiance and synth-pop. Trancefer (1982) makes us suffer with the same uninspired stagnation that, in the middle of a full career explosion, Picture Music presented, but it's generally more experimental and concentrated. Things arrive to Audentity (1983), a double album that means and secludes a lot, including an avant-garde piece called Sebastian Im Traum. Besides this, one more work, a soundtrack actually, titled Angst, is released in 1984, sounding diffuse and simple, but having a dark color, with a pop expression that's, after all, electronic.

We stop to mention two new Richard Wahnfried albums, the rock-oriented Tonwelle and the disastrous Megatone. Schulze also collaborates with RAINER BLOSS, coming with Drive Inn, Bloss being also mentioned in the live album that samples a tour in Poland from 1984, Dzekuje Poland, though not even to this day I don't get what's Bloss's big contribution, since the music that's played is by Schulze, and Schulze plays it. Released in 1984 are also Aphrica, reuniting the efforts of Schulze, Bloss and Ernst Fuchs, an excruciating miscarriage, plus Transfer Station Blue, an album oriented towards synths + guitars, done together with the Shrieve brothers, something reminding of Ashra and sounding nice 'n' easy.

Schulze can yet again be accused of having stepped too hard into electro-pop when he creates Inter*Face, in 1985, but his next work, Dreams, is remarkably profound, consenting to refined electronic programming and containing an eclectic-ambient epic. A fourth Richard Wahnfried, Miditation, finally sounds more like good Schulze music, going on ambient and old-stuff.

At the end of the 80s, Schulze launches a very interesting conceptual album with Andreas GROSSER, titled Babel, a 60 minutes epic in three big parts, given the concentrated, sequential repetition of the themes, plus releases his own 23th solo album, En=Trance, very consistent. Shockingly, he is a co-producer for Alphaville! This is a period of many interviews, retrospectives, limited edition samples and other diverse stuff. After disbranching of the independent labels IC and Inteam, a return to Brain is made.

The next decade debuts both awkwardly, with an annoying Miditerranean Pads, and very good actually, given a new studio/live combo, The Dresden Performance, which is a hard listen but also tells you a lot about Schulze's new idea of a style: I don't know if it's globally acknowledged as "sampling", but anyway that's how I always call it, because it brings out the collage of sounds, mixes, voices and effects of all sorts, all paving a full way of expression and artistic experiment, a heavy alternative to the banal "digi-sequencer" dynamics and to the so-simply melodic, New-Age or ambient music. Almost every album up until 1996 - Beyond Recall (1991), Royal Festival Hall Vol.1 & 2 (1992), The Dome Event (1993), Das Wagner Desaster (1994) and the massive In Blue (1995) (with Göttsching as a guest, playing guitars) - are "sampling" albums - launched by Virgin, except the last two, which are released udner XYV, a private label, I think. From my point of view, in a really retro or new-age-y decade, what Schulze has chosen for his music keeps in mind artistic, representative, sometimes weird and othertimes insinuating valences, even if it's not the best music to follow up with or understand.

Less valorous albums of this period are the Moulin de Daudet soundtrack, though miniaturist, the electro-opera Totentag, flawed in its depth, and especially the transpositions from Goes Classic, where Schulze really hits a low, achieving nothing by comprising the essence of classical music works in the shallow variety of keyboards, MIDIs, Moogs and others. All these three were released in 1994!

Since 1993, Schulze collaborates with PETE NAMLOOK, a modern exponent of the eclectic electronic music, creating the mega-project Dark Side Of The Moog, that stretches so far to 11 albums. This style of project-music belongs more to Namlook, yet Schulze perceptibly contributes in the music, although tasting forbidden stylistic fruits such as techno and environmental. The project is tangently programmatic by paraphrasing a lot of works by Pink Floyd, as the name of the project(=of the album titles) suggests itself.

A sense of daringness is manifested in this period with the release of two box-sets, each made out of 10 CDs filled with music till the very last minute! Silver Edition is a fastidious incursion in more "sampling" works of the 90s, meant more for an expert than for a novice, culminating with the biggest concept epic ever, Picasso geht spazieren, that overall sums 160 minutes; the Edition also offers, however, two sessions of Berlin electronic music, extracted from 1975-6 concerts, plus from older recordings, dating back to 1972. The third CD, Was War Vor Der Zeit, is superb, highlighting great music from the mid 70s. Two years later, in 1995, Historic Edition is released, very inspired in offering, this time, an incursion into the pure, self-referenced as Golden Age concerts and compositions.

Schulze's next stylistic mutation is also his most commercial, as he finally leans on trance-techno clear variations and on electric-infused music, alike "dub" and "dance" (sometimes). Are You Sequenced? is a pretentious, virtual-centric double-album, while Dosburg Online is surprisingly more acclaimed, though, in a true sense, weak. But anyhow, summing all the official albums, we've reached Schulze's 80th album!

Three Wahnfried albums from the 1994-1997 period don't rehabilitate the modest quality of the side-project, Trancellation being a dangerous lick of trance-dance, Trance Appeal being artistic, but lacking any..."appeal", so that only Drums 'n' Balls is, in a late hour, the good-rate fusion of trance, ambiance, new-age and mixes, sounding relaxing, typical, nice.

A third box-set, Jubilee Edition, is released in 1997, marking, indeed, 25 years of solo career with...25 albums, which cover everything! Sure, we can talk already about exaggerations, but the essential is that every Edition, in its own way, uncovers facts about how much music Schulze truly composed, in 25 years, even if sometimes relying purely on stereotypes and programmed sounds, from the beginning. The level of the schulzerian art isn't reduced, this way, to just concrete albums, but to music composed/recorded tirelessly, for all tastes, inspired in deep steps or born out of simple impulses and experimentall results.

The Trailer compilation, from 1999, is solid, but basically announces the launch of The Ultimate Edition, the compilation of all compilations and the box-set of box-sets, one year later, all the 45 albums from the previous three Edition being re-issued, the extra thing consisting of 5 new CDs, one of them offering "alternative versions" to the classics Friedrich Nietzsche and Georg Trakl from X, both longer than the original. An excellent recording, under any circumstance!

The taste for huge compilations doesn't stop here, but, true, tempers, when two new Editions of (just [sic!]) 10 CDs each, called Contemporary Works, bring color in Schulze's activity from 2000, respectively 2002. The difference is, however, that Schulze already thinks in terms of present music, offering a new millennium style, which can largely be described as modern ambient, trance and meditational.

In 2000, the ASH RA TEMPEL reunion takes place, with a live adn a studio being released (Gin Rosé + Friendship); it isn't at all surprising that Schulze and Göttsching agreed on adopting a modern-ambient largo language, because both worked on this style during the same contemporary period (Göttsching released Die Mulde). The live is of a good quality, while the studio can divide its listeners. They're, nonetheless, of the same caliber, no matter from what perspective you look upon them.

In modern tempo, Schulze plays his own live concerts too, releasing the double offer Live@KlangArt Vol.1 and Vol.2, music that's generally very good. A new studio, long awaited, is Moonlake, unfortunately it inspires an artistic coldness, affecting especially the marks of sophisticated, modern ambient and sequencing.

Major health issues push forward a hiatus, sort of, from 2004 to 2007, Schulze being even forced to stay away from the stage. A massive re-release of the previous official albums kicks off, under the Revisited Records SPV brand, a banal act, if the beauty of it wouldn't consist of original bonus tracks, taken out of the archives almost every time. Right now, almost all the official albums have been actualised, a thing that practically doubles the collection of old fans & experts or refreshes, effectively, the offer for those who are just discovering (or want to discover) this music. A bit more arguable, for me, is decomposing the previous Contemporary Works collections into individual albums (Vanity Of Sounds, The Crime Of Suspense, Virtual Outback, Ballett 1-4 so far), although the original box-sets were, indeed, all!, limited.

Klaus Schulze finally came back with new music though in 2007, releasing acclaimed Kontinuum, where the feeling of old 70s is precious, but there's also modern music, with more attention given to details and outlines, with more richness implemented in the essences and dynamics, making out of the album something worthy.

2008 was equally inciting, first off with the unexpected 11th Dark Side Of The Moog (done, of course and as always, together with Namlook). In addition to a random compilation (Muting The Noise), another round of re-release focuses this time on rearranging and offerring once more the valuable but expended materials from the Editions, in a cycle of compilations titled La Vie Electronique.

But even bigger and better than expected ended up to be the collaboration with singer Lisa GERRARD (ex-Dead Can Dance), whose primary result was Farscape, a double-album presentation from what both artists called a serie of long, valuable, ad-lib improvisations, with a primarily mutual and ultimately surreal level of artistic expression. The album resorts to a languid ambient enclosure. What's truly grand about this collaboration is the follow-up (though not connected in any obvious way) Rheingold, foremost a testimony of Schulze's grand return to concerting (within the Lorelei summer festival), while assuredly an extremely-well received and incredible to hear electronic exposé, shrouded in the mysticism of the concept, and the deep aura and surround to which Schulze capably resumes, most of elegantly, preeminently. The more operatic, absorbing, impassioned and ensorcelled vocal poems done together with Gerrard represent themselves, almost beyond doubt, the real peak of the kind of matching artistry and vital essence that was sought after. This Lorelei concert was also released on DVD, Schulze's arguably first ever, completing the experience with a biographical story and interviews. The collaboration continues to this date, its fruits being apparently well savoured. Dzekuje Bardzo-Vielen Dank (2009), as a third release of this kind, is of the same ambitious caliber (if tad less profound and spot-on), highlighting two concerts in Poland and Germany. The touring fever itself hasn't yet gone cold - and the same can be said about Schulze's sparkling enthusiasm.



  2. Fantastic writeup! Unfortunately, the link has gone cold.

  3. New Link

  4. Very thanks Drago, thanks for keep kosmische music alive!